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Diamondbacks Late Inning Bullpen Meltdowns

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When every button you have to push is the self destruct button and you can’t disconnect the phone

New York Mets v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

We’ve all talked about the bullpen issues for the Diamondbacks ad nauseam. Most of us intuitively know that the relievers have been the main culprits in contributing to late inning losses, or close games turning into blowouts. The hitting and defense have played a role too. But I wanted to highlight some simple to understand stats that really show pretty clearly just how horribly relievers have performed when they were needed most.

Here is how I broke it down:

  • Relievers
  • 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. (I didn’t include extra innings due to Manfred rule and low leverage guys being forced into extra inning games)
  • High and Medium leverage situations. (So when game was still either tied or reasonably close)
  • NL only. No DH is a different animal. So apples to apples.
  • The Average is with the D-backs taken out of the average, so you can compare D-backs agains the average of the other 14 NL teams without the D-backs numbers dragging down the league average, (which they most assuredly do)

Original League Table Link Here (Click around to Standard, Advanced and Batted Balls)

Nearly 50% more runs allowed, and just terrible pitching up and down the line. Very few K’s, and a ton of hard hit balls, (over 30% more than the average) resulting in a super high Home run rate and hit rate on balls in play. The only metric they seem to do well in is the walk rate, but I suspect it’s because the relievers throw so many meatballs that hitters are clearly feasting on, so that in a twisted way it suppresses the walk rate.

You can see a hint in the numbers here of defense problems too. League wide ERA is half a run higher than FIP/xFIP. (Peripherals based metrics, taking out balls in play handled by the defense). The Dbacks ERA is 2 runs higher than the FIP which is already 1.36 Runs higher than the league avg and 2nd worst in the league. So that’s about how much the defense comes in. It pushed the 2nd worst pitching performance to the worst. It’s noticeable to us who watch every game, and it’s frustrating, but in truth, defense is still a relatively minor cause of their issues.

In case anyone is wondering, their offense ranked 2nd in the NL in runs scored in these same situations, with 103. (But 2nd most PA, so counting numbers will be higher) Their wOBA ranked 10th at .294, and their hard hit rate of 32% ranked 6th. They were not terrible at the plate in these situations, but not nearly good enough to overcome the pitching. HITTERS REPORT LINK

So failure in late inning, close game situations is clearly overwhelmingly a reliever issue.

Here are the individual pitchers, sorted by Total Batters Faced. I’m inserting both table and table image with additional notes and commentary below

Relievers High and Medium Leverage

Name TBF R wOBA ERA FIP xFIP K% BB% HR/9 BABIP Hard%
Name TBF R wOBA ERA FIP xFIP K% BB% HR/9 BABIP Hard%
Taylor Clarke 75 15 .337 8.27 4.58 6.04 16.0% 9.3% 1.1 .315 37.5%
Joakim Soria 61 8 .323 4.70 2.97 3.37 26.2% 1.6% 1.2 .357 36.4%
Noe Ramirez 55 9 .279 5.25 4.00 5.14 27.3% 10.9% 0.8 .267 41.9%
Tyler Clippard 47 2 .258 1.64 3.80 7.20 14.9% 10.6% 0.0 .212 39.4%
Stefan Crichton 44 7 .338 5.56 6.43 5.82 15.9% 4.5% 2.4 .200 36.4%
Joe Mantiply 43 14 .462 10.57 4.99 5.39 16.3% 11.6% 1.2 .433 38.7%
J.B. Wendelken 30 6 .338 7.36 5.35 4.47 26.7% 6.7% 2.5 .278 40.0%
Alex Young 29 8 .545 12.00 11.50 5.80 13.8% 6.9% 6.0 .263 43.5%
Kevin Ginkel 27 4 .319 5.40 5.42 3.65 25.9% 0.0% 2.7 .235 31.6%
Matt Peacock 26 7 .509 12.46 7.09 4.91 15.4% 15.4% 2.1 .529 33.3%
Brett de Geus 22 4 .374 5.40 3.77 4.12 13.6% 13.6% 0.0 .438 31.3%
Caleb Smith 20 4 .213 6.75 3.73 2.96 40.0% 10.0% 1.7 .111 50.0%
Chris Devenski 15 4 .582 15.43 7.45 4.17 20.0% 0.0% 3.9 .600 72.7%
J.B. Bukauskas 15 7 .635 21.00 12.84 6.54 0.0% 6.7% 6.0 .333 50.0%
Ryan Buchter 13 2 .464 6.75 7.29 4.42 30.8% 15.4% 3.4 .500 57.1%
Yoan Lopez 10 2 .445 7.71 5.31 2.79 40.0% 0.0% 3.9 .400 66.7%
Sean Poppen 10 0 .333 0.00 3.60 5.12 10.0% 10.0% 0.0 .375 25.0%
Jake Faria 9 6 .730 40.50 12.92 8.51 0.0% 0.0% 6.8 .500 66.7%
Humberto Castellanos 7 3 .743 27.00 19.17 7.95 0.0% 14.3% 9.0 .400 50.0%
Tyler Gilbert 6 0 .262 0.00 2.57 3.64 33.3% 16.7% 0.0 .333 33.3%
Taylor Widener 5 2 .220 13.50 1.67 4.34 20.0% 0.0% 0.0 .250 0.0%
Riley Smith 5 4 1.074 108.00 42.17 13.85 0.0% 0.0% 27.0 .750 60.0%
Miguel Aguilar 4 2 .000 13.50 1.67 3.00 25.0% 0.0% 0.0 .000 66.7%
Anthony Swarzak 3 1 .669 13.50 22.67 11.18 0.0% 0.0% 13.5 .000 66.7%
Brandyn Sittinger 1 0 .000 0.00 3.17 3.17 0.0% 0.0% 0.0 .000 0.0%
Corbin Martin 1 0 .000 0.00 3.17 8.51 0.0% 0.0% 0.0 .000 100.0%

The injuries to Tyler Clippard and Joakim Soria had a big impact early in the season. It forced guys that were supposed to be pitching closer to the middle innings and lower leverage situations into higher leverage roles. They cut bait quickly from Kevin Ginkel and Yoan Lopez. Stefan Crichton got a lot more rope, but ultimately flamed out and got cut. Chris Devenski had injury and personal issues and never got going. Joe Mantiply was a disaster early in the season, but somehow he keeps getting referred to as a dependable choice for Torey. I guess that’s been somewhat true. Pre All Star Break 20 Batters Faced, 21.0 ERA, Post All Star Break 23 Batters Faced 3.86 ERA. (but .373 wOBA against....some inherited runners have scored) The other lefty, Alex Young lost all his pixie dust and got sent to Greenland. (Ok...Cleveland...but he’s still struggling)

Soria came back, and was up and down, sometimes looking quite good, but with a few blowups. They seldom had anyone reliable to get the ball to him in the 9th though.

So Taylor Clarke of all people ended up getting a lot more high leverage appearances in the 7th and 8th inning than he should have. While it might be tempting to point to his injury, and bad numbers after returning inflating his ERA, the truth is he built his decent pre injury numbers in low leverage situations. In 53 High and Medium leverage PA prior to the injury, through June 14th he allowed 9 runs, had a 7.15 ERA and .332 wOBA against. In the 22 PA after the injury he was even worse, 6 Runs, 10.80 ERA, and .347 wOBA against.

Noe Ramirez did pretty well for a while, went down with Covid, and struggled a bit after coming back. Overall, he’s OK I guess...but there is a reason they were able to pick him up off waivers.

Tyler Clippard has gotten great results since coming back. There is certainly a smoke and mirrors aspect to it. A lot of hard hit fly balls to the track and wall that have been outs. (7.15 xFIP, 39% Hard hit rate). How many times have we caught ourselves saying “phew” after one of his outings. But I’ll take the results and say thank you very much.

And then you have the rest of the parade of young pitchers not developing, (Bukauskas, deGues, Faria), and scrap heap guys doing what scrap heap guys do.

One can go back to the injuries to Clippard and Soria and say what might have been. But if Mike Hazen’s plan was to depend on good health and consistency from 37 year old relievers and supposed comeback candidates like Devenski, and a bunch of unproven young arms struggling to find consistency, it’s almost always going to fail. Do I think another manager could have done a better job with this bullpen ? No, I don’t. I couldn’t always say that. I think Torey had some pretty big blind spots, especially in 2018, that directly cost the team. But this bullpen debacle really isn’t on him.

THE WAY FORWARD

Going forward, the only way I can see the team developing a bullpen that is at least functional is to quickly and accurately identify which pitchers in the organization should be converted to the bullpen and groomed for late inning roles. They are clearly not going to be able to spend their way to a good bullpen, and the scrap heap route has failed spectacularly. Heck, it’s been a failure for them since 2018, but 2021 obviously reached new levels of incompetence only once before seen by this franchise, in 2009-2010. And we know how that ended for the regime in charge.

I have expressed my thoughts before. I would start by converting Luke Weaver to late inning reliever and see if he can handle the closers role. I think he would be great at it. His two pitch mix is dominating in short spurts the first time hitters face him. He also is an emotional guy and gets pumped up in the moment. He just SCREAMS closer to me. I know there is concern that he’d be “wasted” there due to the decreased overall value of a reliever vs. a starter. But this is a team game, and there would be a knock on effect down the line by having a young dominant, cost controlled closer.

After that, they can figure out which other starters to convert now. They’ve already begun that process with Widener. We haven’t yet seen an uptick in Velo for him in the pen though. (92.8 vs. 92.4) But in truth him ticking up a couple of MPH isn’t going to be the answer. They need at least a couple of guys that can average over 95 with some movement and throw a reasonable amount of strikes. They don’t have anyone like that on the roster. In fact the D-backs have the 2nd lowest avg FB velo in MLB . The closest were Clarke and Lopez, who both average over 95, but it’s just too straight. They have to find a way to get some more high velo guys in the organization and get a couple of them into the bullpen. You don’t need all of them like that, but you need at least two or three. How they do that is above MY pay grade, but that’s why they get paid the big bucks, right ?