Yesterday, we showed you that the Astros' bullpen is the worst in baseball. And that's by the most comfortable margin of which you can think. So this got us* thinking...is this the worst bullpen of all time?
Let's first get a baseline of just how bad this bullpen is.
*They are allowing 5.32 runs/game (according to Baseball-Reference.com). They have blown 45% of the save opportunities they have inherited. League-average is a 70% Save%. 31% of the inherited runners have gone on to score, which actually is right at League-average (and means that the relievers are doing all of the damage themselves).
*They have a 5.29 ERA/1.56 WHIP.
*Opponents have an .848 OPS against the bullpen, with opponents hitting .279/.357/.491. And that's with a .307 BABIP. They have allowed 69 home runs in 1663 plate appearances, meaning 4.1% of plate appearances end in a home run. For comparison's sake, 2.7% of plate appearances facing an Astros starter have ended in a home run. Or, the bullpen has given up 69 homers in 369IP. The rotation has given up 76 homers in 630.1IP.
We've already posted one number that shows this bullpen is the worst of all time. Adjusted for historical context, that .848 OPS is the worst ever recorded. It comes to a 144 sOPS+, (OPS relative to league average in split) - easily the worst of all time.But that's just one number, and quite possibly not that important. Lets dig in deeper to see whether this bullpen actually is the worst of all time. I'm limiting this to post 1960, because of the change in bullpen usage. So, lets break down some key contenders.
2007 Devil Rays - Worst bullpen ERA of all time of 6.16. Adjusted for context, ERA- of 138 drops to a tie for 5th all time, but the teams ahead of them didn't pitch near as many innings. FIP a much better 5.31, which is only a 121 FIP-. -2.3 WAR only 24th worst since 1960. Had 103 melt downs to only 105 shut downs
1966 Mets - Superficial numbers don't look too bad, with a 4.44 ERA and a 4.77 FIP. However, adjusted for the extremely low run scoring context, the FIP- is the worst of all time at -136. Met's -4.5 WAR is also worst ever.
1999 Royals - Adjusted for context in the height of the 90's scoring boon, the ERA of 5.77, 6th worst all time, is actually not that bad - not even the worst in the league that year. The ERA- and FIP- of 114 and 113 is half decent. This is all about raw performance in preserving leads. They are one of the very few teams in history who blew more saves than they converted (29-30). And the SD/MD ratio is even worse. They had 101 MD, compared to only 74 SD. If there has ever been a worse ratio, I can't find it.
I believe those are the main competitors for the title - the raw ERA leader, the FIP- and WAR leader and the raw performance SD/MD ratio leader. Lets see how the Astros stack up. The Astros raw ERA of 5.29 is nowhere close to the 2007 Rays, and even the ERA- of 133 isn't quite as high. (you know, just 16th worst ever). But the FIP of 5.34 is actually higher than the Devil. Rays and the FIP- blows them out of the water. The Astros currently trail the Mets in both FIP- and WAR, but just barely. Astros are currently in 3rd with a -134 FIP, and the -4.4 is just a rounding error away from the Mets mark of -4.5. The Astros currently have 4 more saves than blown saves, though that is trending the wrong direction. Still, they have a healthy lead in the SD/MD department, and are unlikely to match the 99 Royals in that category.
The 2013 Astros are definitely, at this moment, in the conversation for the worst bullpen of all time. Where you fall depends on what you like: raw ERA or ERA-, more advanced numbers such as FIP, FIP- or WAR or the pure performance numbers of blown saves and SD/MD ratio. Worth noting, however, that the bullpen that produced these numbers is really no longer there. That's for better and for worse. Veras' performance as the closer greatly assisted the SD/MD ratio and save numbers. But some of the worst ERA and FIP offenders are also no longer there as well. It remains to be seen whether the overall picture is better or worse at the end of the season, with the rookie brigade taking over.
* Astros County started this post, and got depressed. (Not Hank) Aaron, who finds it oddly comforting that the Astros bullpen is this bad, because the bullpen should be easiest thing for Luhnow to fix, finished it up.