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How dominant is the back end of the Orioles bullpen?

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With Andrew Miller, is it possible that the back end of the Orioles bullpen is top in the league?

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

With the acquisition of Andrew Miller, the O's now have three relievers with ERA below 2.5 at the back end of their bullpen. That seems like a good idea to protect leads, but does it come close to being one of the best bullpens in the league?

There are 50 relievers who have thrown more than 40 innings this years and have had an ERA below 2.5, which is a lot more than I had imagined. There are four teams that have four of such relievers each (including relievers who have switched teams with their current teams), the Angels, the Giants, the Athletics and the Mariners. One similarity they have in common is that all of them reside in the West. Another is that they all play in run-depressing parks. To account for this, I will instead look at RA9-WAR. There have 55 relievers who have accumulated at least 1 WAR this season, the O's have three of them in Miller, Darren O'Day and Zach Britton. The only teams with more of these relievers are the A's with four and the Mariners with an astounding five. There are several other teams with three such relievers, including the Angels, the Giants, the Royals, the Pirates and the Nationals. The O's are certainly in the discussion, but nowhere close to the elite.

As always, we should not be as interested in past performance as we are in future performance. What we want to know is how will the O's bullpen fare in protecting leads over the rest of the season. For this I turned to Fangraphs Depth Chart and took the average ERA projections of the top three relievers in each bullpen according to the depth chart. It may be a little outdated, but I think this serves as a guide on how the Miller, O'Day and Britton would rank among each team's top three pitchers from the bullpen. For pitchers whose ZiPS projections include starts, I use only Steamer projection. Moreover, since ERA is unadjusted for each team's ballpark, I use each team's park factor in 2013 (There is none available for 2014) on Fangraphs to calculate adjusted ERA, which represents ERA in a neutral park. What follows is a rank of all 30 teams in terms of average projected ERA of their top three relievers.

Team

ERA

Rank

ERA Adj

Rank

Braves

2.43

1

2.45

1

Yankees

2.95

5

2.86

2

Reds

2.93

4

2.87

3

Rays

2.76

2

2.91

4

Dodgers

2.87

3

2.99

5

Red Sox

3.11

11

2.99

6

Royals

3.06

8

3.03

7

Pirates

2.97

6

3.06

8

Orioles

3.13

13

3.07

9

Athletics

2.99

7

3.09

10

Nationals

3.10

10

3.10

11

Phillies

3.12

12

3.12

12

Marlins

3.21

14

3.18

13

Cubs

3.27

16

3.20

14

Padres

3.07

9

3.24

15

Twins

3.32

17

3.32

16

Tigers

3.46

19

3.36

17

Blue Jays

3.48

21

3.38

18

Brewers

3.48

20

3.41

19

Angels

3.25

15

3.42

20

Rockies

4.05

29

3.49

21

Diamondbacks

3.67

26

3.53

22

Mariners

3.48

22

3.55

23

Rangers

3.78

27

3.57

24

Giants

3.35

18

3.60

25

Indians

3.54

23

3.61

26

Cardinals

3.61

25

3.68

27

Mets

3.60

24

3.75

28

Astros

3.81

28

3.81

29

White Sox

4.11

30

3.95

30

The Orioles are pretty good, but much closer to the median than the top. Their combined adjusted ERA projection of 3.07 ranks ninth in the league. The Braves, headlined by no other than Craig Kimbrel is far ahead of everyone else. The Reds with Aroldis Chapman is only two spots behind. And the Yankees, even with the retirement of Mariano Rivera, ranks number two on the list thanks to the emergence of Dellin Betances. On the other hand, the Giants and especially the Mariners have been performing over their heads so far this season.

Watching Zach Britton and Darren O'Day close out leads has been a delight this season. It is impossible to view them and the acquisition of Andrew Miller as anything but a top-notch bullpen, at least at the back end. The projections agree with this to a certain extent. While they are not elite, they are definitely above-average, which can hopefully keep the O's playoff run a little longer.