I was a big fan of the 70’s epic World War 2 movie a Bridge To Far, dramatizing the failed allied battle plan known as Operation Market Garden. It demonstrated the execution of a good plan under difficult circumstances that in the end did not allow the allies to succeed. Without trivializing the gallant efforts of soldiers, many of whom gave their lives, 2011 was also a bridge too far for the Milwaukee Brewers to succeed. The front office decided before the season began that they were going ‘all in’ on 2011 and made several bold acquisitions to make it happen knowing that at years end slugging first baseman Prince Fielder would be eligible to test the free agent market and with Scott Boras at his side would not likely stay in a small market like Milwaukee and look for a team willing to pay in excess of $20 million for 5 or 6 years. So the Brewers brought in Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to give strength to the rotation and then traded for Nyjer Morgan, who even more than his playing ability, has just injected life into the Brewers dugout.
But how about the bullpen? Did they have what it takes? They entered the season with limited expectations. They would definitely have the makings of a solid rotation but could John Axford really fill the closers roll? The entered the season with just a shell of the 2010 bullpen. They had 7 pitchers make 40 or more relief appearances in 2010 and of those only 3 made even one appearance in 2011. Manny Parra spent the entire year on the DL with a serious elbow/bone spur issue. Former Red Todd Coffey led the team with 69 appearances in 2010 but was released to free agency in December presumably for the contract space it allowed. Trevor Hoffman retired to complete his illustrious career. Carlos Villanueva was traded for cash to the Blue Jays. These transactions left just Axford, Kameron Loe, and young Zach Braddock as the only relievers from 2010 who were back for the 2011 campaign. Braddock compiled just 25 appearances and two trips back to the minors before being shut down for the season for issues relating to a sleep disorder that have never been fully explained out of kindness to the 22 year old reliever. Axford and Loe were in a word, spectacular.
So without further adieu, let’s turn to the numbers and see what kind of Quality Appearance Ratio (QAR) the Brewers can manage. First, for those new to the concept here is the definition of the terminology we will be using today:
Criteria for a Quality Relief Outing (QRO)
- Reliever allows no inherited runners to score.
- Reliever records at least one out.
- Reliever allows no runs to score or maintains a 3.00 ERA in extended outings.
Criteria for a Failed Relief Outing (FRO)
- Reliever allows an inherited runner or runners to score.
- Reliever records no outs.
- Reliever does not maintain a 3.00 ERA for the relief outing.
Criteria for a No Decision Outing (ND)
- Reliever allows more hits/walks than outs but allows no runs to score.
- Reliever gives up unearned runs but no earned runs.
I use a number of abbreviations in the tables so they must also be defined:
- RA = Relief Appearances: Total # of Relief Appearances
- QRO = Quality Relief Outing: # of Appearances where more outs are recorded than hits + walks and a 3.00 ERA is maintained for the relief appearance.
- FRO = Failed Relief Outing: # of Appearances where earned runs are allowed, inherited runners score or no outs are recorded. (See ERA allowance in the QRO description
- ND = No Decision. Does not meet the criteria for a QRO or a FRO
- QAR = Quality Appearance Ratio: QRO/RA
- FAR = Failed Appearance Ratio: FRO/RA
Here are the numbers:
This Brewers bullpen put together a strong campaign, a championship campaign, in 2011. They did it on the arms of closer John Axford and reliever Kameron Loe, late season support from Francisco Rodriguez, and the timeless veteran arms of 41 year old Takashi Saito and 38 year old LaTroy Hawkins.
Axford’s numbers are impeccable. He is the first reliever I have reviewed to earn 60 QROs, I think this number may in the end not be the best I record, but it will be very close. My educated guess would be that the only NL relievers who even have a shot at this mark are Craig Kimbrel and Johnny Venters from the Atlanta Braves, Drew Storen with the Washington Nationals and Joel Hanrahan with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Kameron Loe, also tallied an impressive 51 QROs for a 71% success rate. He did have a 28% FAR which is a bit high. My experience so far indicates that QAR rates above 70% are good, above 80% are great while failure rates should be below 30% and anything under 20% is noteworthy.
That brings me to the mid season acquisition of Francisco Rodriguez. At the All Star break, the Brewers bullpen had a QAR success rate of 61% and a failure rate of 33%. They had a record of 49-43 having just taken 3 out of 4 games vs Cincinnati. The season they felt they had to win was half way through and they were tied with St. Louis for first place with Pittsburgh a game behind and Cincinnati 4 games out. So the Brewers pulled the trigger and acquired Rodriguez for two minor league players to be named later (one of those was Danny Herrera who the Brewers had just acquired from Cincinnati on waivers). Questions were asked as to why the Brewers needed another top closer and ultimately at the end of the season, Rodriguez was unhappy he got few save opportunities but the numbers do not lie. The Brewers needed a setup man of John Axford‘s caliber so that Axford could even have the opportunity to earn saves, and more importantly, so the Brewers could win games.
Every game requires you score more runs than your opponent and to win you must earn 27 outs. Is the 25, 26, or 27th out more important than any of those before? I do not think so, and statistically the Brewers decision to use their version of the Nasty Boys proved to be a winning combination. July 26th marked the last day the Brewers were in second place and the first day of a 21 game span where they lost only 2 games. The bullpen statistics during this 3 week period are staggering, the Brewers had 54 relief appearances in 21 games and only failed 6 times with 2 no decisions. They had a QAR during the period of 85%. They totaled 53 IP and allowed just 6 earned runs, just a 1.02 ERA. That is how teams protect leads and win baseball games.
Francisco Rodriguez is understandably upset with the Brewers because his contract offered bonuses for games finished and he only got to finish 2. I would argue instead he should be thrilled he got to lift a team into the playoffs that may not have made it otherwise and then blame his agent, Scott Boras, for presenting a terrible and foolish contract built on individual statistics rather than a blueprint for a successful relief pitcher interested in playing in the post season. Saves are nice but they are no more important than the outs earned in the 7th or 8th innings.
I could never devise a better reason for the importance of the Quality Appearance Ratio than the example of Rodriguez.
Stay tuned as we continue to explore this theme throughout the bullpens of the National League. Be sure to check out previous QAR end of season articles highlighting:
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