Quality Relief in the National League Central Division

By John Heitz
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The NL Central review is complete, the numbers are recorded, and it is time to make sense of the 2011 season.  Before I begin piling numbers on I want to offer a single disclaimer.  The more data I have complied, the more important quality Starting Pitching has proven to be.  As the numbers will swiftly demonstrate, quality relief pitching can lift a club above the rest but at the end of the day starting pitching wins championships.

Just in case anyone reading this post has not seen any of my previous QAR posts.  Here is what all of the alphabet soup means:

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

The first table I want to use is the division results on May 25, 2011.  This was the first time I displayed comparative Quality Appearance Ratio results and it will allow us to see what changed as the season progressed.

Early in the season the Reds performed admirably while Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Houston had some success but tended to fail 5% more giving Cincinnati a slight advantage.   St. Louis was suffering from the complete inability of Ryan Franklin to perform with even the slightest hint of success.  One glaring number that showed up in this report was that the Reds needed 160 relief appearances, 7 more than any other team in the division and 25 more than the Cardinals.  Just 50 games into the season, 25 appearances meant one more reliever every other game which came as a shocking difference to me.

At the All Star Break, 92 games into the season the status quo has maintained relatively in place.

Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Chicago all witness slight performance improvement who Houston and Milwaukee slip just a bit more.  The Brewers knew they had to be all in this year and so they made the significant deal with the New York Mets to rent the services of Francisco Rodriguez for the remainder of the season.  This decision more than any other appears to be what the Brewers season pivoted on.  On July 10th the Brewers had a record of 49-43, tied for first place but mired in a four way race for the title.  The bullpen was not as consistent as the hoped, so they bring in K-Rod and suggest he will share late inning duties with John Axford ala the 1990 Cincinnati Reds “Nasty Boys”.  Rodriguez may not have liked the lack of save opportunities he was given but there is no question he became a driving force in the Brewers pennant drive as we shall see.

Inexplicably, the Cardinals awful bullpen actually regressed during the second quarter of the season yet they were still tied with Milwaukee for the division lead with Pittsburgh just a game behind.  The Reds, bullpen not withstanding seemed to find new and unusual ways to lose games in spite of the best bullpen in the division.

That brings us to the seasons end.  We know what happened from there.  Milwaukee ran away with the division winning more than 2 of every 3 games they played.  St. Louis were 6 games over .500 at the break and finished 18 games over edging out the Atlanta Braves for the wild card because Atlanta could only break even the rest of the way.  The Reds were consistent, they lost two more games than they won both before and after the All Star break to finish in a disappointing, and underachieving, third place.  But it is the QAR that paints a vivid story:

So after the addition of K-Rod to the Brewers relief corps the results are astounding.  Over the course of the last 70 games of the season the Brewers improved their Quality Appearance Ratio by 5.3%.  During this time frame the Brewers tallied 130 Quality Relief Opportunities on 175 relief appearances for a 74.3% QAR.  St. Louis also improved recording 135 QROs vs 215 RAs for a QAR of 62.8%, below the division average but 6.6% ahead of where they were at the All Star Game.  And the Reds, they fell back to the pack by recording a 62.7% QAR during those last 70 days with 138 QROs on 220 RAs.  And love him or hate him, without a Chris Carpenter-like ace, especially after Johnny Cueto went down to injury, the Reds just did not have the starting pitching to make a challenge for the division crown.

Tomorrow I will review the best (and worst) performers in the division before moving on to the National League East.

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