Chicago Cubs Bullpen in Review: 2011 QAR

Having now overcome the technology gremlins that ate my computer, I am back with another Quality Appearance Ratio analysis.  This edition will highlight the Chicago Cubs bullpen.  When you think of bright spots in the National League Central, the Cubs are not the first team to pop into your mind.  Sure there are many reasons to view the Cubs as an abject failure in 2011 but the truth is they are not the utter failure they might appear to be at first glance.  Let’s analyze the Cubs bullpen and see if this was a problem or if any of the relievers might be part of future solution for the Cincinnati Reds?

Any discussion of the Cubs bullpen must start with the starting rotation in Chicago.  Cubs starters failed to complete even 5 IP in 31 starts.  Seven times this happened in back to back games inflicting exponential damage on the bullpen arms.  By comparison Division Champion Milwaukee’s starters failed to compile 5 IP just 17 times and World Champion St. Louis (feels like I should wash my hands with soap just typing that phrase) only failed to reach 5IP 14 times all season.  Our own Redlegs, whose 2011 rotation would never be confused with a good one, completed at least 5 IP all but 25 times.  Pittsburgh did suffer a worse fate 32 times but most of their damage piled on in the last month of the season after the wheels had already fallen off the Pirates bus.  128 games into the season Pittsburgh starters had failed to reach 5 innings 18 times, in the last 34 games of the season they failed 14 more times.

When your bullpen is taxed so highly the expectation is that bullpen failures will rise.  The Cubs are no exception but they did better than every other bullpen in the Central with the lone exception of Milwaukee who benefited from the success of Francisco Rodriguez after he was acquired by the Brewers.

First a reminder of the criteria establishing what a Quality Relief Appearance is and how the Quality Appearance Ratio is determined.

Criteria for a Quality Relief Outing (QRO)

  1.   Reliever allows no inherited runners to score.
  2.   Reliever records at least one out.
  3.   Reliever allows no runs to score or maintains a 3.00 ERA in extended outings.

Criteria for a Failed Relief Outing (FRO)

  1. Reliever allows an inherited runner or runners to score.
  2. Reliever records no outs.
  3. Reliever does not maintain a 3.00 ERA for the relief outing.

Criteria for a No Decision Outing (ND)

  1. Reliever allows more hits/walks than outs but allows no runs to score.
  2. 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

Now for the Pirates results:

Three Cubs pitchers break the challenging 50 QRO level, Jeff Samardzija at 51, Sean Marshall at 59 and closer Carlos Marmol also at 59.  Marmol failed twice in the last week of the season or he could have reached the elusive 60 QRO plateau still reserved exclusively for Brewers closer John Axford.  Another interesting note is the success that Andrew Cashner had at the end of the season in just 6 appearances.  Cashner struggled in 2010 with an ERA of 4.80 in 53 appearances over 54.1 innings and in his brief time this season had a 1.69 ERA.  He might have turned the corner and be worth a look in the future, at 24 years of age it is at least an interesting thought.

Carlos Marmol presents another interesting conundrum.  He is discounted by many as a quality closer because of his ERA of 4.01 while accruing 34 saves.  The thing is if you remove just 4 appearances where he allowed 19 runs in 1.2 innings of work, the rest of his season is actually quite good.  if you take away just those four outings he has an ERA of 1.74 for the other 72.1 innings of work during the season campaign.  He just made sure that when he melted down he did it in spectacular fashion.  Just for fun I calculated his ERA for those four outings and it is an amazing 142.5 runs per nine innings.

Two pitchers on the Cubs did not have as much success as the rest posting obscene Failed Appearance Ratio’s,  Kerry Wood ended with a FAR rate of 35% but he at least managed a QAR of 64%, not great but not too bad.  The same cannot be said for John Grabow.  He led the team with 22 Failed Relief Outings and a Failed Appearance Ratio of 38%.  When a manager sends a pitcher to the mound he has to count on the reliever to succeed more than just half of the time.  Grabow would not be welcome on any team I built.

We have just one more Central team to visit then we will begin to look around the rest of the league for potential trade targets to help the Reds in 2012.  Stay tuned this week for our analysis of the Houston Astros bullpen.

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