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The Bullpen Could Be Worse

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Life hasn’t gotten much better for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The batting is still atrocious (only the Padres have a worse batting average), the pitching is starting to show cracks in the dry wall, and their interim manager is 34-year-old A.J. Hinch, a former catcher with zero managerial experience. I believe the last person who can say that was Billy Heywood with the Twins.

But there has to be a silver lining with this team, right? After all, they were supposed to contend with the Dodgers, perhaps more so with a certain Manny Ramirez taking a league-mandated vacation.

The first place I looked for sanctuary was the bullpen. If the starting pitching is soft and the bats are softer, perhaps the relievers were saving the day on rare occasions the D’backs are able to scrounge up four runs. Through 46 games they have 14 saves, but only 20 wins. This gave them the highest percentage of “saved wins” of any team, a metric which unfortunately points back to the very truism I was trying to ignore: the hitting just isn’t getting it done.

Through eight innings, elite teams like the Dodgers and Phillies are having no problem blowing out their opponent. Meanwhile, Arizona’s lucky to have a three-run lead on any given night.

But is the bullpen at least decent? A quick sort of the bullpen stats revealed that, well, no they’re not.

The worst National League bullpen ERAs through May 25’s games:

13. Arizona: 8-6, 5.07
14. Chicago: 5-7, 5.23
15: Colorado: 4-9, 5.54
16: Washington: 3-17, 6.09

The first thing I thought of was how the hell does a bullpen lose 17 games through two months? Normally wins and losses are not indicators of an individual pitcher’s success, but it has merit with a collective bullpen. At 17 losses, the Washington Nationals’ bullpen is losing more games than their starters (15). Heck, The Tampa Bay Rays’ bullpen had only 17 losses for all of 2008.

Let’s take that number (17) and appease Niles Standish by doubling it. Only five bullpens have lost more games than that:

2004 Rockies (39)
2002 Rangers (38)
1980 Mets (36)
1989 Braves, 2007 Orioles (35)

The Nats relievers are on pace to lose 61 games. This incredulous find made me hope Nationals Park’s gift shops offer aspirin.

Naturally, getting sidetracked like this successfully diverted my attention away from the Diamondbacks’ lousy hitting. Things could be worse, I guess — they could be the Nationals. They could have a bad bullpen, bad rotation, bad lineup, and perhaps most damning of all, they could play in the National League East.

That’s the beauty of the NL West. The Padres have shown that one trade rumor and two good weeks is all it takes to go from laughingstock to legitimate NL West contender. Remember that team that I mentioned had an even worse batting average than Arizona? They’re at .500 now. Sure, they’re still 8.5 games back of the Dodgers, who seem to have no problem without a dreadlocked slugger, but they just may be the team that finishes second in the NL West. It probably won’t mean playoffs (it’s way too early to talk Wild Card), but rising to the zenith of the bell curve is a great way to conceal futility. Maybe the D’backs should try it sometime. Soon.

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  • Tony

    Matt, the Billy Haywood references was awesome. That movie detailed my greatest fantasy when I was like 10, except I obviously wouldn’t want to own/manage the Twins. I think Griffey was in that one, in his prime, playing the bad ass. Or was it the unit?

  • Actually, it was BOTH.

    I know!