Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz laid waste to the recently lights-out bullpen. But, hey, they're in a pennant race, and there's no shame in losing this way.
My moment of the game occurred in the top of the 5th inning. After Catalanotto hit a 2 run homer to give the Jays a 4-1 lead, the Jays loaded the bases. Matt Clement made a great flip play on a slow grounder by Rios to get the force at the plate, and brought Gross to the plate with 2 outs. Zaun was the runner on 2nd. Gross had earlier in the season taken Clement deep, and had flown out to deep center in his first at-bat of the game. Clement pitched him cautiously. Varitek went out to talk to Clement, and I imagined that their conversation turned on pitches and signs, and the runner on second. Clement was tired, and threw fastballs. Varitek went out 2 other times. Did Varitek just say to Clement: "Look. Throw heat. I'll give you location for the next 2 pitches. Up and in, then low and away." Whatever he said, it worked. Gross grounded out to first, and the threat was over.
I had been doing bullpen reports every 2nd week until August. In lieu of completing the bullpen reports for the season, I decided that a summary of the bullpen performance and usage this year was in order now.
There are a number of ways of evaluating the performance of relievers. ERA or ERA+ is of less value for relievers than for starters because of the run attribution rules and the importance of the performance of the pitchers who precede and follow. Over the small number of innings pitched by a reliever, gross distortions can occur. More promising are fielding independent pitching (FIP) measures and win expectancy added measures. With the help of Baseball Prospectus and the Hardball Times, 2 different FIP measures (dERA and FIP) are easily accessible, and I will use those extensively. Baseball Prospectus give us also useful career numbers, and the Hardball Times provides helpful ball in play information, such as pop-up rate and defensive efficiency ratio (DER) behind the pitcher. All statistics are current as of September 29, 2005.
Miguel Batista, 4.00 ERA, 4.32 FIP, 4.39dERABaseball Prospectus DT card
Miguel Batista was anointed the closer in spring training after 3 consecutive years of starting. He was used as a conventional modern closer, coming in routinely in save situations regardless whether the lead was 1 run or 3 entering the ninth inning. Occasionally, John Gibbons called on him in the eighth for the long save.
Miguel's performance this year as reflected by his stats was completely consistent with his career. His career ERA and dERA are 4.43 and 4.46 respectively. There is no evidence that he is particularly more suited for the closer role than a long relief/swingman role. He does not seem to perform better under pressure than he does otherwise, and he has shown that he can throw 150 innings per season without losing effectiveness.
Jason Frasor, 3.27 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 3.64 dERABaseball Prospectus DT card
Jason Frasor in his 2nd year was used as a set-up man most of the 2005 season, except for a brief period in the middle of the season when he struggled and John Gibbons used him in lower leverage situations. He ended the season on a high note.
I did not start the season as a Jason Frasor booster, but he's sold me. His across-the-board numbers are solid. He now has 140 career innings, with an ERA of 3.59 and a dERA of 3.66. There are no oddities at all in his stat line. He gives up relatively few home runs, but that is a natural result of his good strikeout rate and his 1.51 G/F rate. His .11 Hr/fly rate is completely normal. The defence behind him this year was average, as reflected in the .704 DER.
In truth, he is now arguably the Jays' best reliever and a fine pitcher. Whether he is used as a closer or set-up man in 2006 really does not matter much. What does matter is that he be used consistently in a high leverage role.
Justin Speier, 2.56 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 2.70 dERABaseball Prospectus DT card
Speier was originally pencilled in as a closer for 2005, but was replaced by Batista. He struggled mightily in April, and found himself used mostly in low-leverage situations for the first half of the season. He recovered well, and by the end of the season was regularly appearing in a set-up role.
What gives with the 2 fielding independent pitching measures? Speier is an extreme flyball pitcher, with a G/F ratio of .7. He secured a high number of pop-ups, but the defence behind him was very good (or he was lucky) as reflected in the .789 DER. Speier's career ERA is 4.14 and his career dERA is 3.80. He was perhaps somewhat better than that this year, but a fair representation of his performance is probably an average of the two FIP measures.
Speier would make a fine closer or set-up man for 2006.
Vinny Chulk, 3.80 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 3.91 dERABaseball Prospectus DT card
Chulk's inning in 2005 was the seventh. He sometimes came on in the sixth, sometimes pitched into the eighth, but usually when he appeared, he threw in the seventh.
Chulk's K/W ratio was uninspired at 1.5/1, and his DER was .740, but he did get more than his share of pop-ups. His career ERA is 4.22, and his career dERA is 4.06. Again, his career numbers are probably a more accurate reflection of his performance this year than either of the 2 FIP measures. He is perfectly suited for his 2005 role.
Scott Schoeneweis, 3.37 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 3.53 dERABaseball Prospectus DT card
Schoeneweis was signed as a free agent to be a situational lefty. It took John Gibbons a couple of weeks to learn how to use him, without overusing him, but he did and Schoeneweis responded with the best season of his career.
The only oddity in Schoeneweis' line this year is his low home run rate. Part of this results naturally from his high G/F rate of 2.45. However, some of it results from an unusual HR/fly rate of .06. Intuitively, it would seem possible that a situational lefty might get more defensive swings from lefties at the plate, which might result in fewer home runs than normal. I would be inclined to view Schoeneweis' performance in this role as sustainable over the next few years. He will be back out there in 2006 doing the same thing.
Pete Walker, 3.32 ERA, 4.84 FIP, 3.28 dERABaseball Prospectus DT card
Pete Walker was used consistently as a longman in 2005, and continued to pitch effectively.
But, how effectively? He walked 33, struck out 43 and gave up 10 homers in 84 innings. His G/F rate of 1.31, pop-up rates and HR/fly rates were entirely average. The defence behind him was good, as reflected in a .740 DER. With respect, I cannot understand the dERA number at all. The FIP number appears to me to be consistent with his at best average fielding independent pitching.
Walker is well-cast as a long-man, but he'll have plenty of competition from young prospects for the job, should he be in camp in 2006. Chad Gaudin, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum and Brandon League, and even Francisco Rosario may make cases.
Scott Downs, 4.35 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 4.51 dERABaseball Prospectus DT card
Scott Downs was used as a lefty longman in the pen until Roy Halladay's injury. Inserted into the rotation, he thrived and, like Schoeneweis, had the best year of his career.
The oddity in Downs' record this year is his high home run rate. He's given up 12 homers in 89 innings, despite a G/F rate of 2.21 and a high K rate of 7.1/9 innings. This is encapsulated in a .19 HR/fly rate, that is almost double the league average. There is reason to believe from this that Downs can be even a little better than he has been this year. as HR/fly rates tend to congregate around the .11 mark. He certainly would make a fine lefty at the back of end of the 2006 bullpen, at least.
John Gibbons' bullpen management
It is probably fairest to describe Gibbons' management as conventional. He mostly kept Batista in the modern closer role and Schoeneweis in the modern situational lefty role. His greatest strength was his willingness to tailor the workload of the other relievers to their performance at the time. This flexibilty was a significant asset in 2005. In my view, Gibbons did not display any significant weaknesses in his bullpen management over the season.
I cannot remember a season in recent memory when I felt that all the pieces for the following year's bullpen were in place in September. I feel that way about 2006. I would be perfectly happy in 2006 if Batista was the 5th starter/longman, Speier was the ace reliever/closer, Frasor was the set-up man, Chulk and Schoeneweis were middle men and Downs and one or two of Walker or the younger pitchers filled out the back end of the bullpen.