First Pitch: The Bullpen, The Depth, and The Regression

I’ve spent most of the day working on finishing up the draft rankings with John Dreker. We will be writing up the draft rankings article tomorrow, and recording the rest of the draft podcast. All of that will go up on Tuesday as we prepare for the MLB Draft on Thursday. Because I spent most of the day working on those rankings, I’m going with a “thoughts” article tonight.

**How great was the bullpen tonight? Ten shutout innings was huge in keeping the Pirates in that game, and then keeping the game tied until the offense won. That’s been the story all season. It’s almost to the point in extra innings where you ask “when will the Pirates win this game?” You just ignore the fact that the other team could score a run, mostly because that has rarely happened for the Pirates’ bullpen this year.

Ryan Reid could be a good addition to the bullpen with his heavy ground ball rate and high strikeout rate. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Ryan Reid could be a good addition to the bullpen with his heavy ground ball rate and high strikeout rate. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

**On the flip side of things, the extensive use of the bullpen left them short-handed, and forced a few moves. Ryan Reid and Jared Hughes will both join the team in Atlanta, and we don’t know the corresponding moves yet. My guess is that a Jeanmar Gomez DL placement will be one of those moves. The other one could depend on the approach with Mike Zagurski. He hasn’t looked good so far, but he’s also made just two appearances. They will need a 40-man spot for Reid, so Zagurski could be a candidate.

Zagurski and Reid are similar stories this year. Both were added as minor league free agents. Both have been putting up amazing numbers with Indianapolis. Zagurski had a 2.14 ERA in 21 innings, with a 37:9 K/BB ratio. Reid has a 0.52 ERA in 34.2 innings, with a 31:9 K/BB ratio. Reid was also impressive in Spring Training, with a 1.13 ERA in eight innings, along with a 6:1 K/BB ratio.

I’ve talked a lot about the depth in Indianapolis this year, and as we’ve already seen, that depth gives players a short leash. In previous years the Pirates might have held on to Chris Leroux or Jonathan Sanchez a little longer to see if they could turn things around. They might not have sent Jared Hughes down so soon (he has given up one run in 13 innings since going down). They probably would have given Zagurski more time (and they still might). But they have so much depth now that they don’t need to give that extra time if someone starts struggling. If Zagurski doesn’t work out, they’ve got Kris Johnson and Andy Oliver as lefty options. If Ryan Reid doesn’t work out they’ve got Brooks Brown (who was great in relief, but struggled as a starter), Duke Welker, Brandon Cumpton, and Vic Black and Kyle Waldrop when they’re healthy.

That doesn’t mean the Pirates should just go cycling through arms with no concerns. But they’re in a situation where they can’t hold on to a struggling guy for a long time, and it’s easier to move on when you have so many options performing well in the minors.

As for Reid, I’ll be interested to see what he can do in the majors. He’s had some impressive numbers in Triple-A the last few years, with a 3.24 ERA in 169.1 innings, and an 8.6 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 ratio. As usual, he’s a heavy ground ball pitcher, with a 67% rate this year, up from 61.8% last year. Despite strong numbers throughout his minor league career, and an 88-92 MPH two-seam fastball that has gotten a lot of ground balls in his career, Reid has never gotten a shot. As I’ve pointed out in the past, the Pirates seem to have a good system in place with strong infield defense and ground ball pitchers. Reid plays into that system. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him come up and have success, just like Gomez and Mazzaro. Best of all, he can go multiple innings, which is what the bullpen needs in the short-term.

**We talk about regression a lot on this site, and often I’ll notice someone mention that 1-2 bad starts will even out the difference between a pitcher’s ERA and FIP. To give an example of how that’s not the case, let’s look at Jeanmar Gomez before and after today’s start.

Before: 2.30 ERA / 4.63 FIP / 4.27 xFIP

After: 3.07 ERA / 4.73 FIP / 4.41 xFIP

Difference: +0.77 ERA / +0.10 FIP / +0.14 xFIP

The ERA will go up, but so will the FIP numbers. Those don’t go up as quickly, but there’s still a big gap, even after a four run in one inning performance. But regression doesn’t mean that the ERA will eventually line up with the FIP numbers. A pitcher would have to be extremely unlucky for an equal period for that to happen, since that would counter the lucky numbers that originally suggested a regression.

When we talk about regression it’s about what a pitcher will do going forward if he keeps pitching the way he has been. Gomez had a 2.30 ERA, but if he continued pitching the way he was pitching, he would have had an ERA in the 4.27-4.63 range, depending on whether you trust FIP or xFIP more. Or 4.39 if you like SIERA. Or 4.65 if you like tERA. You know what? It would have been much higher no matter what.

Too often the focus is on the ERA, and how it will eventually reach the FIP numbers. That’s not what regression is. Regression just means that a pitcher will most likely put up the FIP numbers going forward. We may not see how that will play out with Gomez, but today was an example. There were several starts where Gomez was lucky in the first inning, didn’t allow many runs, or any runs, and then settled down the rest of his start. Today he wasn’t so lucky. If he continued on as a starter he would have more outings like today. He’d also have good outings. But he wouldn’t keep escaping jams like he was doing in the past.

**While on the subject of regression, there will be regression with the Pirates’ bullpen. That’s unavoidable. Eventually Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli will give up runs. We won’t keep seeing the Pirates combining for ten shutout innings, or however many shutout innings it takes to win. The good news is the Pirates will still have a good bullpen after any regression. The Pirates currently have the second best bullpen in the majors, with a 2.80 ERA. If we look at the xFIP numbers, the Pirates have the 6th best bullpen in the majors, with a 3.67 xFIP. So they’re one of the top bullpens, but if everyone keeps pitching the same way, and after everyone regresses, they’ll still be one of the top bullpens.

Links and Notes

**Save $8 On The Pirates Prospects Books With the MLB Draft Sale.

**Check out the latest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 6: The Battling Buccos, The Bullpen Usage, and The Pirates System.


**Draft Prospect Watch: Could Pirates Take Ryne Stanek?


**Prospect Watch: Pirates Farm System Combines For 15 Home Runs On the Day.

**West Virginia Loses 8-5, Glasnow and Allie Do Impressive Things.

**DSL Prospect Watch: High Priced Players Make Their Pro Debuts.

**Minor League Schedule: Oliver And Sampson Start On A Light Day In The System.

**Tony Sanchez is the Pirates Prospects Player of the Month For May.

**Joely Rodriguez is the Pirates Prospects Pitcher of the Month For May.


**Pirates Ride Jones’ River Shot, Superb Bullpen To 5-4 Comeback Win.

**Pirates Call Up Pitchers Ryan Reid, Jared Hughes.

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and please don’t focus on “crystal ball of doom” I was being dramatic, i know other things could even it out, but some people in some situations could think that at times


Again- as usual I completely disagree with your “absolute’ approach to advanced metrics. Regression will PROBABLY happen in some way, but there is no guarantee it will. Regression is points along a line of time, and its entirely possible however unlikely….that the point of regression lies beyond the season. We see players and teams quite often that way overperform their advanced metrics for a whole season. Might our BP way overperform all year and then come crashing down next year instead of some point later this year? Quite possibly. Or maybe for one reason or another, injury disallows certain overperformers the opportunity to underperform in order to even things out. There are too many variables. I understand the value of advanced metrics, but to give perspective, not to make it seem like its a crystal ball of doom.

Bryan Graham

Here is the problem with the bullpen regressing from amazing to good. The offense isn’t good enough over the course of the season to make up for it. They rank in the bottom third in about everything offensively. I hate to be a pessimist, but this season seems so similiar to the last 2 to me, little offense and a pitching staff that will come back to earth at some point. I will continue to enjoy the ride and cheer for the Bucs each game, but I can’t believe until they actually do it.

Lee Young

Because those pitchers are going to regress is another reason we need to start ‘finding some grass’ a little more often with our bats.

Of course, ‘finding water’ is okay, too.


joe g.

Tim, This is great. I’m starting to dig into advanced baseball statistics more and this article really helps. Question, is there a statistic predicting future pitching “performance” that incorporates defense? For example, What is Jeanmar’s expected era playing with the Pirates defense versus other clubs?

joe g.

I understand. A player like Gomez may not have a high value in the open market based on his predicted performance, which would effect his compensation and trade value. However, given certain characteristics of your ball club (great defense) and certain characteristics of the pitcher (high ground ball rate), the player might be a great value to the ball club based on the performance the club would get for the money. This would be especially important to a small market team like the Pirates.

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