Man, this article title would have been a lot better if Evan Meek were still on the Pirates’ roster. (Checking…Evan Meek hasn’t pitched in Majors since 2014, pitching in Independent Atlantic League for Lancaster…hey, he’s in the right state at least!)
Not a lot has gone right for the Pirates in this drastically underachieving season. But lost in all the furor over down years from stars and the horrendous starting pitching has been the bullpen’s underperformance in a key area — keeping inherited runners from scoring when they enter the game.
The 2015, 98-win season Pirates had a very strong bullpen that held the door and did not let evil pass through. The 2016 bullpen, for the most part, has been like the little Dutch boy trying to put his fingers in all the holes sprouting up through the dike. Shown below is a chart of key players on both squads and/or a comparison to players that were pitching in the same roles:
|Player||Inherited Runner Score %||Runners Held/Chances||Player||Inherited Runner Score %||Runners Held/Chances|
If you were to take 2016’s inherited runner score % and apply it to the same number of chances as 2015’s group, they would have given up 47 runs compared to the 32 in 2015. Going by the rule-of-thumb that 10 runs equals 1 win, you’re looking at a 1.5 game swing just based on these five main guys.
Jared Hughes has been especially awful at it this year, allowing nearly 40% of runners inherited to be charged to the preceding pitcher. For the seasons prior to this one, Hughes was a dependable fireman that could be counted on to staunch the bleeding. Now he’s a strong candidate to be non-tendered after this season, as his projected $3.2M salary could be better spent on another Neftali Feliz-esque reclamation project, rather than trying to reclaim a middle reliever.
Caminero was a complete gas can when he entered any sort of heated situation this year, so his numbers are not shocking. What is surprising is that Melancon fared so poorly in his limited number of inherited runners.
So which is the truer part of the story? Was the Pirates’ bullpen in 2015 really good at preventing inherited runners to score? Or is the 2016 version of the bullpen really bad at it? Is this even a repeatable skill? The answer, as with most things in life, probably lies in the middle of all these questions. Relievers by their natures are volatile subjects from year to year, which is why the vast majority of them live on year to year contracts.
The Pirates have a bullpen in some degree of flux next year. Felipe Rivero is a lock for it, but everyone else (including Watson) is a candidate to be moved or non-tendered to some degree. How the 2017 bullpen fares at staving off inherited runners from crossing the plate will have a large part to say about the success of the 2017 Pirates.