Thursday, May 06, 2004

Fraley wrong once again... 

Just finished reading the latest from Gerry Fraley...

In typical Fraley fashion, he oversimplifies, overgeneralizes, and ignores facts that fly in the face of his argument.

After getting the obligatory dig at Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez out of the way, he goes on to explain the Rangers' success by saying:

"Buck Showalter plus bad relievers equaled a last-place team in 2003.

Buck Showalter and good relievers equals a team that defeated Tampa Bay, 6-1, on Wednesday night at The Ballpark in Arlington to remain atop the American League West."

No doubt, the Rangers' pen is much improved this year. Ranger relievers have posted an ERA of 3.71 so far this year, against a 4.88 ERA for 2003. However, the rotation has made a much bigger difference, posting an ERA of 4.17 this year, after recording a 6.24 ERA in 2003. Moreover, the rotation has pitched 2.1 innings this year for every 1 inning thrown by the pen, compared to 1.4 innings thrown by the rotation last year for every 1 inning thrown by the bullpen. More innings thrown by the rotation means less strain on the bullpen, greatly reducing the chances of an effective reliever getting burned out early.

So Fraley can't recognize which aspect of the pitching staff has made the biggest difference to the team. But then, to compound his error, he goes on to say...

On teams with good bullpens, hitters relax with the knowledge a small lead will stand. Relaxed hitters are productive hitters. When a team knows three or four runs will be enough, it often scores six or seven.

The Rangers have relaxed and productive hitters. They lead the AL in average at .309 and slugging percentage at .507 and are near the top with 5.7 runs per game.

A very novel theory there...apparently, in Fraley's mind, the Rangers are hitting well because the bullpen is pitching well. I guess Fraley believes that, if the bullpen had blown a couple of games early, Michael Young and Laynce Nix would be hitting .250 right about now...

Fraley then goes on to take another shot at one of his avowed foes, those dreaded Moneyballers...

Even the "Moneyball" generation understands the value of bullpen roles. Boston tried the closer-by-committee approach last season, and the bullpen dragged down the Red Sox.

The Red Sox returned with clear roles this season. Boston's bullpen has been the best in the league.

Fraley completely missed the point. The problem with Boston's pen last year (particularly early) was that their bullpen was terrible. It wasn't the lack of a closer, it was the lack of good relievers that killed them.

The stathead approach to the bullpen is not that you don't have a closer, but that you don't save your closer to only pitch in the 9th with a lead. Bill James and other have argued that the best way to use your top reliever is to use him in 1 to 2 inning stretches, in high leverage situations -- generally in tie games, or with a one run lead or deficit. Those are the situations where one run is the most valuable. You shouldn't waste your best reliever in the 9th inning against the bottom of the lineup with a 3 run lead, just because that is a "save" situation.

Boston's pen has been great this year, but it isn't because they now have a "closer". It is because they have three relievers -- Keith Foulke, Scott Williamson, and Byung-yung Kim -- who are among the best at what they do, and who can pitch for more than an inning at a time. Boston is an example of a team applying the "Moneyball" bullpen principles.

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