The Bullpen | The Process Report

The Bullpen

The loss last night to Boston was a familiar script throughout the month of April – Rays hang around early only to lose the lead in the later innings due to struggles in the bullpen. While the implosion last night was not on the same scale as the one Grant Balfour had in Chicago, it was equally disappointing. Brandon Gomes came out and walked the first two batters of the inning and Juan Carlos Oviedo struggled to command his pitches which doubled-down on the damage.

The fact of the matter is, this bullpen is not much different from previous seasons on a skill level.

The table below shows the performances of the Tampa Bay bullpen since 2009 at an outcome level:


The 2014 stat line is no worse than any of the previous seasons, and in terms of slugging percentage and wOBA, is better than previous seasons. Contrary to popular belief, the pen is not getting shelled on a nightly basis. At a skills level, the bullpen begins to stand out from the pack:


Despite getting ahead of batters out of the gate, the bullpen is struggling with walks. They are also striking out batters at the lowest rate since the 2009 season. They are doing a good job of limiting home runs so far, but the biggest difference between 2014 and recent seasons is the inability to strand runners.  Heath Bell has the second-highest total of innings worked in the pen, and has stranded just 53% of his runners. Josh Lueke, known for allowing baserunners to score, has the second-highest LOB% in the bullpen at 77%.

When the guy fans consider the white flag of the bullpen is stranding the second-highest percentage of runners, it speaks to larger issues. The fact Balfour and Bell are both struggling to strand runners thus far is not what the team envisioned when they paid the money they did for each this winter.

Where this bullpen does differentiate itself is the amount of work it is doing this season:


At the current rate the bullpen is being used, it is on pace to pitch 546 innings of baseball in 2014. That total would be the third-highest in franchise history, topped only by the 549.1 innings worked by the 2004 bullpen and the 556.1 innings worked by the 1999 bullpen. As bad as 2007 was for the bullpen, that team only threw 497 innings of work.

The level of work, and not the level of skill, should be the biggest concern for this bullpen. The team has used an eight-man bullpen in the past when situations dictate it, and may need to do so here again.  Brad Boxberger is eligible to be recalled from the minors again, and C.J. Riefenhauser will be as well in another day or two.

The only reliever with any option to be sent down is Gomes, who is currently the best long-man on the team with Ramos and Bedard forced to the rotation. If an eighth man is to be added to the bullpen, it will likely come at the expense of a positional player.

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