Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why Are Astros Fans Afraid of the Bullpen? Because 7 8 9.

Astros fans around the globe (I know there’s at least one Astros fan outside of the US) let out a collective groan every time we see Bo Porter trot to the mound. We see Porter pat the ass of the starting pitcher and send him to the dugout and we want to cry. If the team’s ahead, we’re confident that won’t last long and if the team’s behind we feel as if all hope is lost.

Can you imagine how the starting pitchers must feel? The young arms of the future have done a pretty amazing job in the starting role the second half of the season. If we just look at Lyles, Kuechel, Oberholtzer, Cosart and Clemens, collectively their ERA is 3.96 in 307 innings. Kuechel and Lyles, of course have pitched significantly more starts than the other three so if we factor out the two of them? The three rookie starters have put up an impressive 1.92 ERA.

Yes, it's a small sample size as we're talking about a total of 89 innings pitched between the three. Still, with the late season starting pitchers doing so well, you'd expect a few more wins in July and August. We all know that's not happening and we all know why.

I doubt looking back on this bullpen will EVER make me laugh.

The bullpen.

I'm not saying they're the ONLY reason the Astros aren't winning more games, but that bullpen is a pretty darn big contributor. So let's look at how the pitching has panned out this season inning by inning.

ERA by Inning - Houston Astros 2013

The third inning is showoff time for Astros pitching. In fact, the team has the 3rd best ERA in the AL in the third inning and the 9th best in all of baseball. If only that were the only inning of the game. You'll notice that Astros' pitchers struggle in the 1st inning pretty mightily. I'm not completely sure what that's about and it's a conversation for another day certainly, but it's not what I want to focus on now. (*** Editing to add that I do realize that pitchers face really good hitters in the first inning, but the Astros 1st inning ERA ranks 14th in the AL and 29th in MLB, so they are comparatively struggling in the 1st.)

The 7th and 8th innings are killing this team. In case you'd like to see how far down the rankings this team has fallen in relief pitching, in the 7th inning the Astros ERA (5.93) is dead last in baseball. For the 8th inning as well, and if you look at the next closest ERA in the AL, it's the Cleveland Indians with a 4.36 ERA in the 8th. That's a HUGE differential.

There's no way to determine how many of the games lost to those bullpen ERAs the Astros could have won if there was a seasoned or effective bullpen pitcher on staff, but the Astros are 2-11 in save situations as a team. The record for pitchers as relievers is 12 -35. If half of those lost games had been won, the Astros would be 61-71, that's a .462 winning percentage. How happy would fans be then?

It's not as if this is news to anyone, but putting numbers to the problem was pretty darn eye-opening for me. The childhood joke, "Why is six afraid of seven? Because seven eight nine," is a pretty plain and simple way of looking at the Astros 2013 season. Why are Astros fans afraid of the bullpen? Because 7,8,9.