Baseball’s most valuable relief pitching ranked

Featured imageMiddle relief pitching is often overlooked, and is easily the most underrated aspect of a team.  While the closers get all the glory, a lot of teams are now finding that a quality bullpen is key as starters are not lasting as long as they used to and many games are being lost in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings.  Just ask Matt Williams!

With all that said, Sporting News has an interesting article ranking relief pitchers.  (Be warned it’s in slide show presentation.)

We have a great statistic to help us determine which players have contributed to their team’s success the most: Win Probability Added (WPA).

At every moment in a game, each team has a certain probability of winning (formed as a percentage out of 100). Each subsequent play, be it a strikeout or a home run, affects the win expectancy, either slightly or drastically. These changes in win expectancy are assigned to batters and pitchers and then grouped for each game and season. Each batter and pitcher accrues totals for all of the positive plays in which they contributed (WPA+) along with a separate total for all of the negative value plays (WPA-). The difference between the two (WPA) is where our greatest interest lies.

To be clear, this statistic does not tell us which pitchers pitched the best during this season or who has the most true talent. This is strictly about contributions affecting the wins and losses of a team. Results in high leverage situations are consequently weighted much higher as they greatly affect win expectancy, while performances in blowouts, which do little to change results of games, are largely discounted.

The list does leave a little to be desired.  I was actually shocked to see that my favorite mid relief pitcherlayer wasn’t on it.

6 thoughts on “Baseball’s most valuable relief pitching ranked

  1. This, in a nutshell. Relievers were once just those who couldn’t quite cut it but are now gaining importance as teams realize how much they can really make a difference. The Royals really proved that. Of course, the Tigers have demonstrated what a poor bullpen gets you over and over again. Now that games go longer and take more pitches, relief is a vital tactical piece of the game. And, maybe a guy has good stuff but struggles with long appearances. Having him for a first rate back-up increases your competitiveness significantly. This is where having depth of talent really adds value to a team….she says bitterly…

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    1. I’d say that the Orioles proved it right before the Royals did and the Yankees before either of them. Remember in 2012 when the O’s went 29-9 in one run games? That was a LOT of wins the team could or should have lost. The Royals just took that to a whole new level and rode their bullpen all the way to the World Series. It must be so demoralizing to know that even if you knock a starter out of the game, you are facing a uphill battle, or to even think that if you don’t have the lead after 5, you aren’t going to get one. It was one thing back in the Rivera days where the Yankees were basically playing a 7 inning game. Now to turn that into a 4 or 5 inning game is just brutal.


      1. You know I love the O’s, but y’all have needed some good starting pitching for some time (I am still so bummed about Bundy!). Your BP has been functional, but it could use upgrading as well. You’d be serious contenders — and I think a stellar BP could really make the difference for you. The Royals make me wonder if BP’s win championships (instead of starters), but you can’t read too much into that run. It certainly hasn’t gotten them all the way there. But, yes, knowing that you aren’t getting anywhere with the relievers makes a team tougher to beat. Unlike with the Tigers, you don’t have to just ride it out until the 7th or 8th when the starter leaves and then mash.

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      2. I fully agree. The current bullpen is still good, but not what it was a few years ago. That pen was just special. I’m worried we are going to lose O’Day which would be crippling. Bundy I think will never quite be what he was projected to be. Just can’t stay healthy. It’s such a shame to see such a promising career ruined before it even began.

        I think it’s a combination, but if you think about it, a good bullpen is there day in and day out, and really slams a door shut. A team facing a good starter can still try to work them out of the game or get something done in the 7th or 8th. A team facing a good pen knows they have to hit NOW and time is already running out. Seems to be a lot more pressure to me.


      3. Also, BP’s really offer an option for teams with limited budgets. Cultivating up-and-coming arms or those with limited pitch options allows you to cobble together solid pitching without spending big on any one guy. If you can’t afford a Kershaw, you have to build a smarter bullpen — which, again, fits the O’s well. You just have to be more mindful about managing your pieces.

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