David Robertson Leads The Yankees In Rally-Killing, Dragon-Slaying

I can’t imagine how aggravating this must be for both top-quality set-up men like Adams and smart bullpen strategists like Padres manager, Bud Black.  Managers are expected to reward pitchers like Adams by making them closers, even when that decision isn’t necessarily in the best interests of the team.  Carlos Marmol is arguably the best reliever in baseball (he led MLB relievers in WAR in 2010 and is having another excellent season in 2011).  Lou Pinella leaned heavily on Marmol in ‘07 and ‘08, bringing him into a wide variety of high-leverage situations, because Marmol’s insane strikeout rate, combined with his durability, made him especially well-suited for that role.  But in 2009, pressure mounted from the Chicago press and from Marmol himself (who naturally wanted to bank on being one of baseball’s best relief pitchers), eventually forcing Pinella to make Marmol the closer.  The middle innings have been torturous for the Cubs ever since.

My question is this: How hard would it be to come up with a “stupid counting stat” which could do for the set-up man what the Save has done for the closer?

Sure, we have the Hold.  Mike Adams was second in baseball in Holds in 2010.  But the Hold is seriously flawed, even for a “stupid counting stat.”  One can “earn” a hold without recording an out.  In certain situations, one could walk six straight batters and still “earn” a Hold.  And Holds, like Saves, only apply to situations in which the reliever’s team has a lead.  In the case of the Save, that isn’t a huge deal, since managers rarely use closers in any other scenario.  But set-up men are frequently employed in close games, whether their team is ahead, behind, or tied.

I offer instead a handful of alternatives which apply to particular game situations during relief pitchers are forced to prove their mettle.

The Rallykiller (RK) – Applies to any situation in which a reliever inherits runners in scoring position and succeeds in stranding them.

The Bridge (BG) – For recording three or more outs without surrendering a run when entering either a tied game or a one-run game.

The Dam (DM) – For recording four or more outs without surrendering a run in a game seperated by three runs or less.

The Dragonslayer (DS) – For retiring the opponent’s #3, #4, or #5 hitter in a situation in which one swing could result in a lead change (or tie).

The Pensaver (PS) – Any relief appearance of three or more innings.

Perhaps, the adoption of such stats would merely exacerbate the problems caused by Saves and Holds.  However, I believe, as such stats would highlight other crucial game situations and provide relievers with alternative means of quantifying their contributions, it could very well diminish the idolization of the Save and eventually even make the salary margins for relievers more rationale (i.e. less overpaying of closers, more equal pay for quality set-up men).

It would take considerable time to compile a comprehensive leaderboard for these “inventions,” but I have put one together for the 2011 Yankees bullpen:

In retrospect, I wish I had also tracked opportunities for each category, as that would give us 1.) a clearer vision of how often these situations arise and 2.) a better sense of the efficiency of each reliever, as well as a deeper insight into Joe Girardi’s bullpen strategy.

That, I think, is perhaps the greatest gain to be had from further quantifying and tracking relief pitching.  It could put in stark relief the habits of big-league managers and test their effectiveness (or lack thereof).

Even from the limited data I’ve gathered, it becomes clear that Girardi heavily favors David Robertson and Boone Logan in high-leverage situations (middle of an inning, men in scoring position), while Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano usually come into close games at the start of frames.  And, although small sample sizes should probably be taken into account, one can see how valuable Luis Ayala and Hector Noesi have been since joining the bullpen corps, pitching effectively in a variety of key situations.

What do you think?  Would such stats be useful?  What qualifications might improve them?  What other situations might be worth tracking?

About Matt Seybold

Matt teaches at The University of Alabama. Roll Tide. He specializes in American Literature and Rhetorical Economics. Fate chose for him the peculiar perdition of rooting for the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Clippers.

11 thoughts on “David Robertson Leads The Yankees In Rally-Killing, Dragon-Slaying

    • Meltdown and Shutdowns are certainly worth consulting (they can be found in the win probability section of Fangraphs leaderboard), but as they are based on Win Probability Added, they aren't exactly the same as what's being suggested here. What strikes me here is, like the author says, the stats tell us about the specific situational usage of the pitcher and they are stats which, like the save, have a simplicity the casual fan can get behind.

  1. So, I don't know that relievers who show themselves to be INSANELY good in non-save situations and who aren't closers a) want to be closers or b) are necessarily that underpaid IF they are good enough. I'm thinking of people like Paul Quantrill when he was on the Blue Jays; IIRC, he was INSANELY good but floundered a bit (compared to his normal superlative numbers) when filling in for an injured closer? Worked out a 2 yr/$6.8mm deal with the Yankees 8 years ago which would be much bigger today (in theory)?

    PS – I LOVE the idea of the Dragonkiller stat. :)

  2. Love the Dragonslayer too, I'd also like to see "Fireman" used more, or "fire extinguisher" with "fire's extinguished" being a stat.

  3. Wow, brilliant stuff here. I'm always interested by the creation of new stats. Anything to gain insight into relievers and leverage is a + in my book, and like you say these counting stats can easily be augmented by including # of opportunities to determine %'s/efficiency. Not only insightful #s, but catchy names as well. Bravo!

  4. My friend was seriously doubting me for picking the Yankees as one of the top 3 bullpens back in late February. Right now here's how the Yanks bullpen stands.

    4th in the MLB for Relief ERA (1st in AL)
    4th in the MLB for Opponent SLG (1st in AL)
    5th in the MLB for Opponent OPS (2nd in AL, behind Oakland)
    Tied for 1st in the MLB for Balks (irrelevant but still 1st)

    Looks like they at least deserve a few arguments for a top 3 spot to me, especially considering what happened to their expensive new setup man.

    (On the other hand, their WHIP, K/BB, K/9, opp. on base and opp. B.A. were only middle of the pack)