Much though it may seem difficult to believe, by a lot of measures, the Arizona bullpen was not as horrifically ineffective as it seemed. Their ERA of 4.09 was equal sixth-best in the league, without any park adjustment, and batters' OPS against them was also better than the National League average. They weren't particularly "unlucky" either, with a BABIP exactly on the mean at .298. Yet, somehow, they posted a record of 17-28 over the season: As a comparison, Houston's bullpen had exactly the same ERA as us this year, but they went 26-23 - if the Diamondbacks had done that, we'd have won the league.
Even breaking it down to individual innings doesn't shed any particular light on things. Our worst inning, by quite some distance, was the first, where the opposition scored 92 times. Next was the third, at 86 - neither of these can be blame on the bullpen. The last three innings were down at 79, 77 and 74 runs respectively, and each of them was also almost spot-on the average OPS for the team (.716), with figures of .716, .715 and.718. Yet the team lost fifteen games they were winning after six innings - almost twice as many as the eight dropped last season, when the bullpen ERA was only fractionally better, at 3.95.
Again, that slump in results would be the difference between first and second, right there. It begins to look as if the bullpen was simply remarkably unclutch. They didn't allow a particularly large number of runs, but the ones they did had a nasty habit of proving crucial in deciding the outcome. The 'Late and Close' stat - 7th inning on with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck - does give some hint of that. The team figure for OPS was .729, and it'd be higher if you remove our starters in that situation: Haren (.710), Davis (.675), Johnson (.650) and Webb (a stunning .538), who combined for about 20% of those at-bats. Some of our bullpen did thrive there, led by Qualls (.641) and Cruz (.655). Others didn't.
Here's are the stats for our seven top relievers, by innings pitched, and some comments on each.
G W-L S IP ERA H R ER HR BB SO Qualls 77 4-8 9 73.2 2.81 61 29 23 4 18 71 Pena 72 3-2 3 72.2 4.33 80 38 35 5 17 52 Lyon 61 3-5 26 59.1 4.70 75 34 31 7 13 44 Cruz 57 4-0 0 51.2 2.61 34 17 15 5 31 71 Slaten 45 0-3 0 32.1 4.73 33 20 17 4 14 20 Rosales 27 1-1 0 30 4.20 32 15 14 2 15 18 Rauch 26 0-6 1 23.1 6.56 27 18 17 6 9 22
Chad Qualls. Started the season very well, with a scoreless streak of 16.2 innings, and finished it almost as strong, with another one of 14.2 frames. In the middle, however, he had his struggles, most notable a spell where he suddenly couldn't stop inherited runners from scoring. From June 2-July 4, his own ERA was only 4.38, but he allowed eight of ten base-runners who were there when he arrived, to cross home-plate. He also was the victim of the defense: on May 7, he had an 0-3 record, despite an ERA under one, because six of the eight runs he'd allowed to that point were unearned. Probably was our best reliever, keeping opponents to a .601 OPS. Shame it took Melvin until mid-September to make him the closer.
Tony Pena. He was the Mark Reynolds of the bullpen; he would have a streak where he was incredible, then suddenly, would struggle in a way that made you wonder if he'd ever be good again. 40% of those earned runs came in just four outings. He was particularly good with two outs and runners in scoring position, holding opponents to a .184 average, and generally pitched much in close games. When tied or in one-run games, batters hit .203 in 153 at-bats; if the margin was two or more, the figure was .274, and when four or more, he seemed to give up entirely, with the OBA was all the way up to .333.
Brandon Lyon. Poor Brandon. Partly the victim of a .342 BABIP. Was it over-use? Pitching after working the night before, his ERA was 6.92, compared to 4.08 after a rest. We'll never know for sure, but his season imploded on July 19. ERA before that date: 2.37. From that date on: 8.86, and certainly, asking a reliever with known arm issues to throw 27and 28 pitches on consecutive days, seems a questionable decision by Melvin. A small nugget of hope: after being removed from the closer's role, he finished the season with six scoreless innings. I'm just glad it is not my decision whether to offer this free-agent arbitration or not this year, because I have no idea whether he would be worth the risk.
Juan Cruz. We got pretty much what you would expect from Cruz: lots of walks and a phenomenal strikeout rate, 12.37 per nine IP, trailing only Grant Balfour (12.65) among major-league pitchers with 25+ innings. He missed three weeks in July and, despite the best ERA of any of our relievers, seemed to fall out of favor with Melvin - there was a two-week spell in August where he threw just a single inning. That came immediately after the game on the 9th, in which his throw to second led to Hudson's broken wrist. Cruz was particularly tough on left-handed batters, who hit a mere .159, with 35 strikeouts in only 82 at-bats. Like Lyon, he's now a free-agent: estimates suggest, unlike Lyon, he'll be a Type A, so would bring a very nice haul if he signed elsewhere.
Doug Slaten. Did a credible job at what he was supposed to do, retire left-handed batters, keeping them to a .232/.317/.375 line - though as noted above, Juan Cruz was even more effective. Leaving Slaten in there to face any right-handed batters was highly-questionable, as their OPS against him was a healthy .866. He had an odd home/road split: while the OPS was very similar (.801/.778), his ERA was far better away from Chase (6.48/2.87). Slaten saw very little action after the All-Star break, partly due to injury, but was also sent down to Tucson in late August. That all combined to limit him to six innings of work in the second-half of the season.
Leo Rosales. Following his recovery from a broken hand caused by an argument with a wall, Rosales made his debut on June 15 and quietly had himself a decent little season. Though at age 27, he no longer really qualifies to be called a "prospect". Control was probably the main issue, allowing fifteen walks in only thirty innings, but over his first eighteen games and 21.1 innings, his ERA was a respectable 2.53. A couple of bad outing inflated his numbers in the last couple of months, but he is likely among the leading contenders for a full-time bullpen spot from Opening Day in 2009.
Jon Rauch. He picked up six losses for Arizona, in only 23.1 innings of work: as far as I can see, that's an all-time record [the nearest I could find were Jaime Navarro, who went 0-5 in 18.2 IP for the 2000 Brewers, and Ed Farmer, 0-6 in 26.2 IP for the 1983 Phillies]. The main reason is his ineffectiveness when the game was tied. Batters hit .320 (16-for-50), with an OPS of 1.027 - basically, with the scores level, Rauch made opposing hitters look like Manny Ramirez. That losses then ensued, is not really surprising. Small sample size? Probably. But I do not want to see him in any of those "close and late" situations, until he has proven the ability to retire batters when the game is not on the line.