Get Well Soon Al Al


Alburquerque’s first game on the DL ended in a Tigers loss on Friday night, due in large part to a failure on behalf of the bullpen (and a fortuitous snag of a Boesch liner, but that isn’t the topic at hand here). The Tigers bullpen has been second-worst in the American League thus far in 2011, barely above the lowly Twins, and Alburquerque has been one of the few things keeping them afloat.

Fundamentally, the contribution (not talent, but impact) of a reliever has to be measured with something that reflects the importance of the situation like WXRL or WPA (win probability added). If a guy comes in when the game is on the line, he can either add a lot of WPA or lose a lot of WPA. If a guy comes in when the game is basically over (like Don Kelly vs. the Mets) no matter how well he pitches he can’t add much WPA and no matter how badly he can’t cost the team a lot. Follow through the jump to take a look at how Tigers relievers in 2011 look in terms of leverage and Win Probability Added:

That aLI is the average ‘Leverage Index’ for that reliever when he has pitched this year, a situation which is more important than average will have an LI above one, so a pitcher with an aLI above one should be one that is typically used when the game is on the line. I have defined a ‘clutch situation’ as a game with an LI above one, you’ll notice that even the team’s top relievers (like Valverde) are often used in non-clutch situations. The stat ‘WPA’ is divided into clutch and non-clutch appearances.

Over the whole 2011 season, Alburquerque has the highest average leverage index, the highest percentage of high leverage appearances and has added more ‘win-probability’ than any other pitcher in the Tigers ‘pen -including Jose Valverde. Of course, Valverde lost about half of his stock of WPA with that outing on Friday – but that is how WPA works and how bullpen performance works, especially for closers. You might add 0.1 at a time with five scoreless outings, but then lose it all with one drubbing in a tie game. We have to hope that Al Al’s stint on the DL will, in fact, be short and that he will be equally effective when he returns – because there are grave doubts that anyone else will be able to fill his shoes.

The ideal management of a bullpen puts your best guys out there in the most important situations (as far as ‘leverage’ is concerned) but it is never really possible to use one or two guys in every key situation – these situations often come bunched together in specific close games. Someone other than Valverde and Benoit, who already pitch in high leverage situations later in the game, is going to have to take over those key outs from Alburquerque while he is letting his elbow recover.

The question is ‘who?’ Furbush has been used in some fairly important situations, with some success, but he’s been moved to the rotation. Coke has not pitched very well this year, including his pair of relief appearances in April: we know he’s capable of good things, but we do not know what to expect from him at the moment. Perry hasn’t been himself (or, more troublingly, perhaps he has), Schlereth’s rediscovered lack of command has earned him a demotion and the Tigers gallery of rookies and jouneymen has done nothing to earn confidence in high or low leverage situations.

When Zumaya when down last summer, he had an aLI of 1.23 and a WPA contribution of 0.476 – most of which had come in high-leverage situations. The bullpen was never the same afterwards.