After the top bullpen guys pitched seemingly every single day in April there was a lot of worry about usage, the “on pace for 124 games” and the like. With the season officially a third of the way done, a look at where the top guys stand.
K-Rod is on pace for 81 IP
Thornburg – 75 IP
Smith – 75 IP
Duke – 63 IP
Bunch of other guys projected for less
Compare that to the 2011 team, which I’ll use since it was the last competitive team where the bullpen would be pushed to the max and top guys would be needed frequently to close out games.
Axford – 73
Bunch of other guys with less innings
So its slightly over, but nothing huge. K-Rod is on pace for a lot, but he’s only pitched 11 innings in May, even recently coming into a non-close game because he needed work. Plus I think we’re all fine with burning him out this year while he’s going good and long term isn’t really a concern.
Brewers Schedule so far
Early season usage gets somewhat tricky because there are oftentimes a lot of weather related postponements and unscheduled off days.
The Brewers however, haven’t had many of those (thanks Miller Park!). They’ve played 54 games already. Two teams have played 55, and 19 teams have played 53 or less. The Tigers amazingly have only played 49 games.
Another key factor on usage is extra innings. Bullpen is obviously going to be huge for that. The Brewers have had to cover 17.2 extra innings. For comparison, they averaged 26 innings per year from 2011-2013. This team is either going to have LOT of extra innings to cover this year, or the first third of the season is an outlier and we’ll have much fewer of them the rest of the year.
They have played 18 one run games (multiply that out, 54 one run games). They averaged 49 one run games from 2011-2013. Is this team destined to play a ton of one run games due to the offense being less than it once was? Perhaps, though their 33% percentage of one run games is already very high, and much more than that seems like a reach. As others have pointed out, the offense has been better and creeping back up to previous levels.
What the above is getting at:
They have played an above average number of one run games. They’ve had to cover an above average amount of extra innings. They haven’t had many off-days (scheduled or otherwise) for breaks.
With all that in mind, the top of the bullpen can probably expect less work in the final 2/3rds of the season vs the first third.
There is the factor of September when pitchers may be asked to pile on the innings when games become literal must-wins. In 2011 Axford only pitched 11 innings, K-Rod 11.2. This might have been an outlier, just how the games fell, but even if its the most extreme usage needed I’m not sure it will be able to match the pretty high usage of this April.
Even projected out the first third, with above average extra innings, close games and few off days, the pitchers STILL aren’t projected for a crazy amount of innings. At most it seems like they’ll end up in the low to mid 70s in IP and while high, certainly seems do-able.
So I’ve made it this far in a post about bullpen usage without mentioning everyone’s favorite pitcher. Unbelievable I know.
Even with him taking a roster spot, the top tier bullpen guys aren’t on a Dusty Baker path to destruction with IP and it seems completely do-able at this point.
They may have gotten through the worst of the schedule/close games/extra innings where they’d be needed. When rosters expand in September and games really start to matter (fingers crossed) he’ll be a non-factor anyways.
Flexibility with options and injuries
The other nice thing about the Brewers pen, in addition to everyone being pretty good is that they have options and depth. Figaro, Hand, Nelson and Fiers are sitting in AAA, a phone call away. Wooten will probably join them when/if Henderson is ready. If they need help after a 12 inning game, taxing doubleheader or an injury, they have the guys ready to go.
This team seems like an ideal fit to bury a guy. A solid bullpen where everyone other than Wang has a sub 3.50 ERA, lots of options if needed in an emergency and a good starting pitching staff that averages over 6 innings per start.
There is of course the risk that they get into a 14 inning game and have to use Wang in a close game, but the rarity of that situation, plus Wang still being an MLB pitcher (3 of his 6 appearances have been scoreless, so you never know!), makes it worth the risk of keeping him around.