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Game #78 Preview: 7/1, Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

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The rubber game of the series: will it be decided by the bullpens again?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Anderson
LHP, 4-4, 3.13
Robbie Ray
RHP, 2-3, 1.98
Enrique Hernandez - CF Nick Ahmed - SS
Howie Kendrick - 2B A.J. Pollock - CF
Justin Turner - 3B Paul Goldschmidt - 1B
Yasiel Puig - RF Yasmany Tomas - RF
Scott Van Slyke - 1B Aaron Hill - 2B
Alex Guerrero - LF Jake Lamb - 3B
Jimmy Rollins - SS Jarrod Saltalamacchia - C
A.J. Ellis - C David Peralta - LF
Brett Anderson - LHP Robbie Ray - LHP

Thus far, the games in the series have been decided by the incompetence of the bullpens, with first the Dodgers' relief corps, and then Arizona's last night, both melting down to cost their teams a lead. So far, this has been more of an issue for the Diamondbacks: our bullpen has been tagged with 17 losses so far, a number unsurpassed in the National League (the Braves have the same numbers of losses). While W-L are an imperfect metric, each one of these is a case where Arizona relievers were either unable to hold a lead, or couldn't keep the game tied long enough for the offense to get ahead.

That said, looking at the overall standings for bullpen records, I was surprised how relatively small the difference is between the best and the worst in terms of win percentage. The top - the Cardinals at 14-7 - are 6.5 games ahead of the worst (the Marlins at 9-15). That seems less than I'd expect, considering those same Cardinals are no less than 25.5 games ahead of the NL worst Phillies to this point. This is reflected in WAR: the best bullpen by fWAR (the Dodgers) is less than four wins better than the worst (those Braves) at the current time. Last year, over the entire season, the gap ended up at below six wins.

Now, obviously, that's not negligible, but it's relatively minor compared to starting pitching, where the gap in 2014 was 12.7 fWAR, or offense (a whopping 21.5 fWAR). I wonder if, much like batting order, it's an area which "seems" more important than it actually ends up being. Certainly, few things are calculate to aggravate a fan-base more than blown saves leading to defeat. Yet, it appears that over the course of a year, a really terrible bullpen is about as bad as a Jonathan Lucroy (6.2 fWAR last season) or Anthony Rendon (6.5) is good, which surprises me. A good bullpen may be nice, but it could be that there are better places for a team to use its resources.