Two Good Bullpens, Two Bad Bullpens, Wildly Unexpected Results, And A Nationals Resurrection

It seems like the most under-appreciated group of ballplayers on the field might be the most affordable and the most important. That’s right. It’s the bullpen.

Of the 12 worst earned run averages for team relief corps, only the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers have a winning record.

That’s right, two out of 12. Ten of 12 bad bullpens are losing teams. On the other end of the stat sheet: 16 of the best 20 bullpen ERAs have a winning record.

Interesting. So, what’s up with the outliers?

Well, if you’re Minnesota, the only way you end up in first with a bullpen’s awful start is to have a special combination of contact and power: 149 home runs in 80 games and a .273 team average. They’re first in both. Oh, and don’t forget a starting staff that’s fourth in ERA.

If you’re Texas, your middle-relievers just aren’t missing bats. Jesse Chavez and his 22 2/3 innings scoreless streak was the only thing keeping them out of last in most categories. They have the second-worst batting average against. And their starters aren’t any better.

But in the American League West, they’re second thanks to Elvis Andrus, a schedule heavy on Seattle, Baltimore and Kansas City (combined 70 games under .500), and Joey Gallo who’s gone from a 2.8-to-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio last year to 1.8-to-1 this year. That’s a big deal. He was hitting 70 points better than his average last year before a strained oblique put him on the injured list. Andrus is on a tear, hitting .343 in his last seven games. Hunter Pence was all but done after his stint in San Francisco, but he’s an All Star again in Texas as a designated hitter.

Of the best 10 bullpen ERA’s, only two: the Cincinatti Reds (second) and San Francisco Giants (fourth), do not have a winning record.

What’s wrong with the Giants? How about a .224 batting average. You can throw whatever stat you want at me and it will not disguise or obfuscate the truth: This team can’t hit.

That compounds a problem for a team has that was built on starting pitching. It’s bottom-fifth in every conceivable category as Derek Holland and Dereck Rodriguez have been home run derricks: 30 big flies allowed in the first half of the year. If this is the year the Giants finally pull the plug and rebuild after a couple milestones are reached –Manager Bruce Bochy just won his thousandth game with the club and is retiring and Madison Bumgarner is close to catching Tim Lincecum for fourth all time on the strikeout list– then the club should get a haul for Will Smith, Trevor Gott, Sam Dyson and Tony Watson, all of whom have a walks-and-hits-per-innings pitched of 1.13 or lower.

As for Cincinatti, they’ve had a surprising and equally-good starting staff, but unless the pitchers start hitting, they will have problems. And they really can’t hit, especially on the road (.220 average, last in all of baseball.) You might say Joey Votto has a stiff back and a birth certificate that says 1983 on it. Both are true, and in the first 38 games of the year (.205 ave.) he did not look looked like the same guy who had eight .300 seasons in 10 full seasons. But then he went on a 22-game stretch hitting .333 with three home runs. They need him. In a nine-game span, the team scored just 15 runs. It might help if they considered sacrificing a little more (only nine so far) and started taking a few more pitches. Only Eugenio Suarez is in the top 50 in pitches-per-plate appearance.

Perhaps the saddest waste of talent in the majors is Washington, who has been at .500 or a little worse almost all year. This is a team with Max Scherzer, Steven Strasburg and Patrick Corbin as its starters and Monkey McGoo, Scruff Gumbo, Oozey Barnflap and Goose Gumphries as its relievers. One group is second in strikeouts and fifth in batting average against. The other group? They’re last in ERA, fifth in blown saves, and are allowing inherited runners to score at a better-than-75-percent clip.

No wonder National starters are setting bear traps around the pitcher’s mound. If Manager Dave Martinez comes out of the dugout and there’s a runner on, it’s almost a guarantee the scoreboard operator is going to have something to do…and in a hurry.

So what does this all spell? T-r-a-d-e-b-a-i-t for the Giants and likely the Reds. Teams with a shot at the postseason are going to throw draft picks and money at teams with relievers who can help nail down wins in September and October.

The Nationals should be at the front of the line.

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