Do We Really Know David Pauley?

Let me start by introducing you to my inspiration for this post. His name is Jim Bouton, former major league pitcher and author of ‘Ball Four,’ which reads as a diary of his 1969 season. If you haven’t read this book, you should, and maybe a few times. It’s dated, sure, but it’s an important piece of baseball history and by all counts one of the most influential and entertaining literary contributions to the sport. But I digress.

Bouton, while recapping his previous career exploits towards the beginning of the book, goes into some detail about his falling out of grace with Ralph Houk, then the manager of Bouton’s first major league club, the New York Yankees. He relates his belief that, before he was sold to the Seattle Angels, soon to become a major league expansion franchise as the Seattle Pilots, Houk choked Bouton’s talent by refusing to use him; “You can make a lousy pitcher out of anyone by not pitching him.” Bouton writes, “I’ll always believe that’s what Houk did to me.”

That got me thinking about David Pauley, introduced to us, fans of the Detroit Tigers, around this year’s July trade deadline. It is my opinion that Pauley, who came over from the Seattle Mariners along with Doug Fister, became known as a dud partly due to circumstances beyond his control. We casually dismiss him as a disappointment and it makes us even more grateful that Fister pitched far better than our expectations for him. That’s not really fair.

At the time of his acquisition, Pauley was the possessor of a 2.15 ERA and a reputation as a solid middle innings option capable of throwing some long relief. 14 appearances later, he had added a full point to his ERA and pitched himself off the Tigers’ playoff roster. Brad Penny, on the other hand, made it.

Why the regression after joining Detroit’s bullpen? Lack of use must have something to do with it. His first appearance for the Tigers came on August 2nd, seven days after his last with the Mariners. He was used sparingly for the next week and a half, entering just four games over a period of a dozen days and logging five innings. He certainly didn’t impress over his first few appearances, but it wasn’t a sample size large enough to make too many judgments. It seems that’s just what manager Jim Leyland did, however, and Pauley sat for nine days straight. He threw 14 pitches on August 24th, then sat three more days. He saw varied levels of success over his next three appearances in long relief, but was showing improvement concurrent with his increased usage. On September 3rd, his most impressive outing, he pitched three near perfect innings and needed just 29 pitches to do it. That performance, if you recall, allowed the Tigers to tie their biggest comeback in Comerica Park history, defeating the Chicago White Sox on back-to-back ninth inning home runs after trailing 8-1 in the fifth inning. Despite his regained success, he found himself watching from the bullpen for the next eight days. Following yet another long layoff, he returned to a state of great inconsistency and posted a 6.75 ERA over his final five games. As far as innings pitched, his workload was pretty fair in Detroit; it was three obscenely long breaks that killed Pauley.

Relievers across the major leagues this past season posted a 3.69 ERA in total, but that number shot up to 4.16 for relievers pitching on six or more days rest. It’s clear that, while pitchers can throw bullpen sessions and work out on days they’re not used, there is no comparison for real game situations.

EDIT–As pointed out by several readers, the statistics quoted in the above paragraph do not accurately prove the point I used them to. I am working to limit the sample to quality pitchers and I plan to provide an in-depth analysis on the correlation between a long layoff and performance in the near future.

EDIT 2–I can find no discernible correlation between a long layoff and effect on pitching performance for relievers across the board, but I tentatively maintain that certain pitchers can be affected by long rest periods and that David Pauley is one of those pitchers.

All in all, I think Pauley could be a pleasant surprise for us next year if he earns his manager’s trust. If you take out his 20 career starts, he has a 3.32 ERA and is holding batters to a respectable .246 average over 84 innings.

While much praise goes to the back-end of the Tigers’ bullpen, especially with the addition of Octavio Dotel, there is reason to believe their relief corp will be solid even beyond their big names.

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Tags: Ball Four Brad Penny David Pauley Doug Fister Jim Bouton Jim Leyland Octavio Dotel

  • timoteus

    Mr. Craig: that is an interesting take on Pauley. I certainly hope it proves to be true. I thought, when the trade was made, that he would be decent bullpen pitcher for us. Just didn’t happen last year. Good stats on how, across the league(s), bullpen pitchers had a significant increase in ERA when they sat too long. One of my (few) complaints about Leyland is how players can either be among the favored few (Inge, for example, maybe?) or get in the doghouse (I don’t know: maybe either Infante or even Santiago). Can’t wait for the season to get crankin; ….

  • MCBjohnverburg

    This would also suggest that an 11 man bullpen could be more efficient. Especially considering Detroit has 4 starter that could potentially crack the 200 inning mark

    • MCBjohnverburg

      I meant 11 man pitching staff with 6 bullpen guys

  • valordesign

    This article pretty much echos my feelings exactly with Pauley. As much as I think Leyland gets too much blame for the way he handles utility players and manages the lineups, two things I believe he manages well, I think he is one of the weaker managers when it comes to running the bullpen, and Pauley is the text book case.

    When used in the right situations David Pauley is a good reliever. In Seattle he was used in long relief appearances and pitched very respectively (as mentioned 2.15 ERA). He was used like the Tigers used Below, usually for 2 to 3 innings at a time. With the tigers, he was brought in to face one batter here, one batter there, overall, he was used very inconsistently and very sporadically – exactly not how you use a pitcher of his make up.

    He sometimes needs a batter or so for his secondary pitches to start falling in. Yanking him after walking a hitter and then waiting a week to have pitch again only to a single batter is pretty much just trashing him.

    However, I still have alot of hope Pauley will be a valuable middle relief asset to the Tigers, they just need to learn how to use him correctly.

    • garretkc

      @valordesign That’s a good point about his need to settle in. He was hit at a .240 clip this year during pitches 1-25 and .222 for pitches 26-50. That’s not a huge difference, but it demonstrates that point well enough. I wish I could set the cut-off point at, say, 10 or 15 pitches, but I can’t. I think that would show an even bigger difference.

  • opus132

    “Relievers across the major leagues this past season posted a 3.69 ERA in total, but that number shot up to 4.16 for relievers pitching on six or more days rest.”

    Might you not be confusing cause and effect? If a reliever sees no action for a week, it stands to reason that he is not one of the team’s better pitchers. Naturally, he would have a higher than average ERA. More relevant would be the era on shorter rest of these self-same pitchers who managed a congregate 4.16 ERA after their sabbaticals.

    • garretkc

      @opus132 That’s a good point. I’m not really sure how to go about comparing the statistics as you mention, but I’ll look into it and possibly follow up.

    • garretkc

      @opus132 Qualified AL relievers had a 3.22 ERA this year on five or fewer days rest and a 2.98 ERA on six or more days rest. If you just look at that, my statement actually looks very wrong. However, as I pored over data, I noticed a trend; as a reliever’s total innings pitched decreased, the effect of a long layoff increased. I’m still working to prove that definitively, but I think I’m on to something here. Stay tuned.

      • opus132

        @garretkc First of all, I am very impressed by how seriously you took my comment and the rational approach with which you studied it; this is typical of the quality of the website. I would be curious if there is a strong correlation between the overall stats of a reliever and how many innings and how frequently he pitches. If not, then my main contention is wrong, and a lot of managers need to be fired!

        • garretkc

          @opus132 Thanks for the kind words. Here’s a study I found on the correlation between days rest/innings pitched and performance:

    • ChrisHannum

      @opus132 It’s difficult to get a large-sample data set on this, but you can just look at any reliever’s splits individually on BR and that story seems to show up time and again. It looks like (and I know this isn’t scientific) the same guy pitches better with a day or two in between appearances than on back-to-back days or with long periods on the bench. It’s possible that this could even be part of the reason that closers appear to pitch badly in nonsave situations, since a closer would typically only come in with a 6 run lead if the manager felt that he desperately needed to get some work in.

      • jgorosh

        @ChrisHannum@opus132 I don’t usually do this, but speaking personally here, I always felt better after one day rest than back to back days. Throwing in the pen, on the side, or whatever, is completely different than game action. 10 pitches in the game= 30 or 40 pitches on the side. It’s just a different stress level altogether. It’s mentally draining, too.

  • sportz

    Do you not pitch because you stink..or do you stink because you don’t pitch..

    Bottom line, Pauley is without major league stuff, no discernable out pitch, unable to pitch in high leverage situations and doesn’t perform well unless used frequently..

    My guess, he doesn’t leave ST as a Tiger..

    • garretkc

      @sportz I would disagree with your statement that he doesn’t have major league stuff. By ‘Pitch Value/100′ (FanGraphs) his curveball was 15th among qualified major league relievers this year and his changeup was 12th. His sinker, his main pitch, is also serviceable. He has a slider, too, and while it’s not the greatest pitch in the world, he does have a slider.

      He also had a 8.25 K/9, up from his normal 5.35, in high leverage situations as defined by FanGraphs. I would go by FIP or xFIP, but those two splits are divided on whether he’s much better or much worse in high leverage situations.

      If you don’t think Pauley makes the 25-man out of spring training, who do you think will after Valverde, Benoit, Dotel, Coke, and Schlereth?

  • sportz

    Look..Dqavid Pauley prior to 4 months of 2011 was a mediocre to bad major league pitcher, he gave up an inordinate amount of HR’s and rarely was udes in portions of the game that are typically associated with winning..

    He reverted to those numbers after his trade to Detroit.

    Professional athletic sucess is not a complicated science, they use you, and continue to use you based upon your success rate. The fact David Pauley rarely appears in situations that require an important out or late in the game to maintain a lead is a function of the amount of success he has demonstrated in these situations.

    I’ll stick with the prediction of ..not a Tiger, when they break camp.

    • ChrisHannum

      @sportz Couldn’t agree more. Pauley hasn’t done anything particularly impressive outside of the first half of 2011, including as a minor leaguer. I think they wanted him included in the Fister deal more out of desperation than genuine faith in his ability.

      • jgorosh

        @ChrisHannum@sportz He was a throw in. He’s a nice arm to have in AAA when someone inevitably goes down with an injury in the pen. Could do much worse than calling him up. He’s not great, but then again, you only need to get 3 outs. Doesn’t matter how you get em.

        • ChrisHannum

          @jgorosh@sportz Of course, it does matter that you do get them.

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  • littlestclouds

    I feel like this also hurt Ryan Perry too, but I have nothing to prove that.