Behind the Numbers: Pirates' Relief Pitchers Edition

Craig Toth

In the first installment of my “behind the numbers” series I focused on starting pitchers; asking all of you to pick from a list of 12 pitchers, based solely on their stats. The spirit of this article will be exactly the same, only this time we will be looking to the bullpen at the relief pitchers. 

As I have said previously, and as you guys and gals probably already know, the Pirate’s bullpen struggled mightily last year, to say the least. As a unit they sported a 4.91 ERA, blew 24 saves, gave up 102 home runs, walked 304 batters ( 4.37 BB/9) and combined for a 1.47 WHIP; all of which were at least in the bottom half, if not the bottom third of the league. Things have to improve, right? All I know is that they can’t get much worse. 

Many of you will point toward the returns of Chad Kuhl, Edgar Santana and Nick Burdi from injury as possible lights at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The key word for me here is “possible." Many more have pointed toward the free agent market at players we should pick up, and to the Pirates own bullpen at players that we should surely get rid of before the start of the season. Now I guess it is time for all of you to put your money were your mouth is and see if the players you pick, without their names listed of course, are the ones that you are all but certain should be here or should be gone. 

For those of you who participated last week please bear with me as a I once again go over the rules for those who missed out the first time. I will be giving you a list that is made up of current or former Pirates, free agent targets that have been discussed on various platforms, and free agents that have signed this off-season. Voting will take place from the moment the article is published on Wednesday morning, until Thursday morning. Once all of the votes have been tallied, I will write a follow up article revealing all of the names of the player from that week’s list and discuss what players have been chosen as the “most wanted” to be in a Pittsburgh Pirate’s Uniform. 

Now with all that being said, I am relying on all of you to be on the honor system. Please do not look up statistics to try to figure out who each player is! Please do not tell anyone who a player is, even if you know it for the same reason I might; which is that I am total “stats nerd!” Please no arguments, only fun discussions! Now that we have all the formalities out of the way, let’s get started!

In this, the second week of my little “experiment” I will be asking yinz to focus on relief pitchers, which I previously stated . Every player will be judged and chosen using the same statistics. The statistics that will be used to compare the list today will be: 

  1. K-BB% (Strike Out to Walk Ratio)
  2. WHIP (Walks/Hits Per Innings Pitched)
  3. xFIP-(Expected Fielder Independent Pitching) Where the lower the number you have the better. For example if your xFIP- is 85, you are considered 15% better than the league average. If you have an xFIP- of 115, you are considered 15% worse than the league average. 
  4. LOB% (Left on Base Percentage)
  5. ERA (Earned Run Average). 

If you need further explanation on any of these statistics, FanGraphs has an excellent glossary that will go into further detail.

Here is the list of 14 relief pitchers and indicate your selections in the comments: 

Player
K-BB%
WHIP
xFIP-
LOB%
ERA

A

8.7

1.56

108

79.0%

4.76

B

11.1

1.65

98

71.2%

4.75

C

7.9

1.35

112

68.0%

4.68

D

9.4

1.18

94

72.3%

4.04

E

8.6

1.91

121

67.7%

6.95

F

19.2

1.26

97

79.9%

3.99

G

14.5

1.14

112

81.8%

2.47

H

9.2

1.47

112

70.3%

5.98

I

11.5

1.45

111

70.4%

5.71

J

11.5

1.55

120

76.8%

4.96

K

6.0

1.62

120

70.5%

6.59

L

14.7

1.57

93

65.3%

5.73

M

9.3

1.36

111

76.0%

3.47

N

17.8

1.18

91

72.5%

3.81

First of all thank you to everyone that participated. It is not easy to put yourself out there, with the possibility of being “wrong” in your assessment of a player, that your reaction to an available free agent can be clouded by past performances or general like or dislike or that your frustration with a current Pirate does not allow you to see their potential or how well they actually performed. It is definitely a unique exercise and some of the answers given may surprise you. Without further ado, here are the mystery men behind the numbers that were listed in the article yesterday.

Player
K-BB%
WHIP
xFIP-
LOB%
ERA

Michael Wacha

8.7

1.56

108

79.0%

4.76

Juan Nicasio

11.1

1.65

98

71.2%

4.75

Andrew Cashner

7.9

1.35

112

68.0%

4.68

Jared Hughes

9.4

1.18

94

72.3%

4.04

Jimmy Nelson

8.6

1.91

121

67.7%

6.95

Michael Feliz

19.2

1.26

97

79.9%

3.99

Daniel Hudson

14.5

1.14

112

81.8%

2.47

Trevor Cahill

9.2

1.47

112

70.3%

5.98

Wade LeBlanc

11.5

1.45

111

70.4%

5.71

Kyle Crick

11.5

1.55

120

76.8%

4.96

Ross Detwiller

6.0

1.62

120

70.5%

6.59

Robbie Erlin

14.7

1.57

93

65.3%

5.73

Francisco Liriano

9.3

1.36

111

76.0%

3.47

Ryne Harper

17.8

1.18

91

72.5%

3.81

There were 4 overwhelming favorites among all of you for the top 3 or 4 relief pitchers available on this list. The craziest part to me is that 3 of the 4 are either current or former Pirates’ pitchers. The one that is still on the team and has the unlucky fortune of being a part of the Gerrit Cole trade, is Michael Feliz. He would have to go on to be Marino Rivera 2.0 for anyone to openly admit that the Pirates benefit, if even in a small way from this trade. However, if you look at the numbers, Feliz was one of the top pitchers in this bunch. Even my opinion is somewhat clouded by the pit in my stomach that still exists to some degree as McCutchen and Cole were traded away within days of each other, and the times last year when Feliz was not able to get himself out of jam or gave up a run or two when he was brought in for the hold. When I look at the numbers, I can see how well he pitched last year and makes me somewhat hopeful for what he can do this upcoming season. 

Next up is a former Pirates’ reliever, who always made a memorable entrance, Jared Hughes. This past year he is probably most famous for the GIF that shows JT Realmuto’s reaction as Hughes sprints in from the bullpen. If you look beyond this GIF, which is extremely funny, the numbers are not “earth-shattering”; they are solid, and, at 34 years old, I have to believe that there is something left in the tank for this man, who is still a free agent. 

The third pitcher on the short list is a little more well known by everyone across MLB because he closed out/shut down the now hated Astros to capture the World Series for his Washington Nationals; another former Pirates’ reliever, Daniel Hudson. Hudson wasn’t super flashy, because that has never really been his thing, but he was consistent. The 112 xFIP- could potentially show that he is destined for some regression this season and/or that he was a little bit lucky this past year. The key word is “could.” All the other numbers show that the Nationals were smart to lock him up for another two years, to the tune of $11 Million. 

The last pitcher that seemed to be a favorite of many was Ryne Harper. This is a name that is familiar to me and could be to others because some in the land of social media mentioned his name as a better option that Derek Holland and Robbie Erlin when the Pirates signed them to minor league deals and gave them non-roster invites to spring training and it looks like many of you agreed. Unfortunately for the Pirates and for all of you, Harper was recently traded from the Twins to the Nationals and is under team control through the 2021 season, so I don’t think we will be seeing him in a Pirates’ uniform anytime soon. 

To those that participated, thank you again. To Those that didn’t, there is always next week, as we take a look behind the numbers at infielders from a batch of current and former Pirates, free agent targets that have been discussed on various platforms, and ree Agents that have signed this offseason.

 Follow Craig on Twitter: @BucsBasement

Comments (8)
Gary Morgan Jr.
Gary Morgan Jr.

D, F, N

No. 1-5
BobbyNacho
BobbyNacho

F, G, and N.

1 Reply

BobbyNacho
BobbyNacho

Add D as my fourth choice. Sorry

Yark
Yark

F G N

Dougg
Dougg

I like D, N and G

Jared Martin
Jared Martin

Editor

N G and F
All have excellent K/BB ratios. I also like their WHIPs and LOB%.


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