The bullpen has been the backbone of the Orioles success since 2012. The team has struggled to find consistent starting pitching (understatement of the decade) and struggled to fill spots in the outfield. However, the bullpen has remained consistently great over the past five years until 2017.
In 2017, the Orioles still have a pretty good bullpen results wise. They rank 10th in the majors in ERA with a 4.52. However, the rank 27th in FIP with a 4.52. The results have been decent, but they have even been slightly lucky to get those decent results. The bullpen has not been the shutdown force it was in years prior.
For example, in 2016 they posted the third best ERA in baseball and the 16th best FIP. In 2015, the relievers posted the fifth-best ERA and the sixth-best FIP. The numbers are similar going back even further. Under Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter the Orioles have found a way to have a top tier bullpen, until now. Here are three reasons why I think the 2017 bullpen has struggled to match the results of those in recent years.
An obvious and unavoidable problem with baseball players in general and pitchers more specifically is injuries. Injuries happen, they can really hurt a team, and they can really unfurl a bullpen.
In 2017 Zach Britton and Darren O’Day, two of the Orioles best relievers and two of their highest paid players have missed significant time. The two have only combined for 46 innings pitched before Tuesday night’s action. The Orioles have pitched a total of 344.2 innings out of the bullpen.
While injuries happen, injuries to a bullpen can throw players into roles they are unaccustomed to and force teams to put pitchers into high leverage situations that they would rather not have. Especially when the two injured relievers are your closer and one of your setup men. This places increased workloads on the remaining relievers that the manager trusts. Speaking of workloads...
Massive workloads and over use
The Orioles have been blessed with high quality relievers over the course of the past handful of years. This has helped them greatly. But, it has also put a ton of innings on some pitcher’s arms and that massive workload can wear pitchers down.
For instance, Brad Brach from 2014 to 2017 has pitched in 261 innings which is 4th-most among relievers over that period of time. Zach Britton from 2014 to 2017 has pitched in 223 innings, the 27th-highest in that period of time. Take out 2017 because of his forearm injury and from 2014 to 2016 Britton has pitched 209 innings good for 8th most among relievers over that period of time.
Next is Darren O’Day who from 2012 to 2017 has pitched in 326 innings good for 27th highest among relievers. Much like Britton, if you take out 2016 and 2017 because of sustained injuries, O’Day ranks 11th highest with 263 innings pitched between 2012 and 2015.
Lastly, Mychal Givens who has only been on the scene really for the last couple of seasons ranks 5th highest among relievers in innings pitched between 2016 and 2017 with 122 innings on his arm.
A point to be made here is that these guys have pitched lots of innings while other relievers have not because they have been good, which is fair. But, that still does not mean that these workloads become burdensome. They can lead to injures. They can lead to decline. They can lead to poor in season performances as guys pitch on back to back days or 4 to 5 times in a single week.
These numbers do not include post season innings either which for Britton, Brach, and O’Day increases their totals even more.
These key four relievers have had to pitch a lot, and they have been needed a lot in 2017 because there is not much help behind them.
Bad Backup Options
The core four bullpen guys have all been good or at least have produced close to good results. O’Day with an ERA of 4.22 has fared by far the worst in 2017. The rest of the bunch have ERAs closer in the twos or below. However, The rest of the bullpen has not been very good.
It has been a turnstile over the course of 2017. Alec Asher, Stefan Crichton, Jimmy Yacabonis are only a few of the 13 pitchers that have cycled in and out of the bullpen in 2017. Combined these pitchers have thrown 211.1 innings of the 334.2 innings pitched by the bullpen in 2017. Of those 13, only Richard Bleier and Donnie Hart have produced anything close to good results.
This compounds multiple problems. With the injuries, these pitchers were placed in situations they are not equipped to handle. On top of the that the abomination that is the starting rotation has thrown so few innings that the Orioles are forced to use bad relievers to keep them in games. Not a formula for success.
The Orioles were banking on a solid bullpen in 2017 and it has faltered. Injuries, piled up innings on the important arms, and a lack of a solid depth has left them with a weakened bullpen that has cost them games. Moving forward with everyone back and seemingly healthy, the bullpen may improve, or more guys may go down, or they might all be traded away in a deadline bullpen fire sale.