The Bullpen and Fastball Velocity
The Orioles entered the 2012 season with a much stronger bullpen on paper. As the season unfolded, there was clarity with that presumption on the field. With Jim Johnson and Pedro Strop manning the back-end of the bullpen most of the year, and Darren O’Day providing the Orioles with a very underrated season, it was truly a sight to be seen.
Before the beginning of the 2012 season, I took a look at bullpen velocity and how it translated to the Orioles success in the past four years. While it should be made clear that this is not an exact measure of how true a bullpens’ success is, I do think it is interesting and might correlate with the talent levels within a bullpen. Below is a chart detailing the fastball velocity of relievers in the Orioles bullpen dating back to 2008:
*I only added pitchers whom threw significant amounts of innings out of the bullpen. Guys like Dylan Bundy, J.C Romero and Chris Davis (!) were not added as there was a low sample size.
*** I calculated the average fastball velocity without outliers such as Darren O’Day, Chad Bradford and Cla Meridith. Essentially anyone that was multiple MPH away from the next highest. This is not entirely relevant, but something I thought would be interesting to look at.
As shown above, the Orioles bullpen velocity has gradually increased each year. In return, the bullpen success has increased. One aspect of this might be they simply have better arms in the pen now. There was not a significant core of pitchers in past seasons. Players like Jeremy Accardo, Will Eyre, Mark Hendrickson, and Dennis Sarfate saw significant time in the bullpen. Heading into 2012, there were a few arms to be excited about in the pen. Players like Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop and Matt Lindstrom was the best back-end they had in a while. They certainly came through as indicated by the numbers below.
*The numbers in parenthesis are their MLB rank.
Obviously the numbers in 2012 are better than the four years before. I think it is clear that the bullpen was heads-and-shoulders better than many of us even would have predicted. I said they would be good, but did not think this good.
The question is how much of this was due to velocity? Obviously more potent arms are going to increase the success. However, that does not mean a bullpen with better velocity will suddenly improve their success. In fact, one could argue that they could also be highly volatile. Regardless, I do think it has some effects. It mostly has to do with the increased talent level in my eyes.
Another thing to consider is the terrific job Buck did managing the bullpen. He is clearly one of the top managers when it comes to controlling a bullpen and managing innings. Take a look at the number of innings that the rotation pitched in 2012 compared to years past. While it is not entirely impressive on an overall ranking, it does show that Showalter managed to get a little more out of the rotation than years past. The talent level in the rotation is absolutely the main reason for that, but in years past the manager has overused the bullpen and it has really shown. Essentially the Orioles 2012 bullpen success should be attributed to an increased level of talent, more potent arms, and a manager whom knows how to work a bullpen.
***Thanks to FanGraphs for the PITCHf/x Data***