Much to their frustration, Detroit Tigers fans have been watching bullpen meltdowns for years.
Detroit Tigers bullpen pitchers, especially closers, tend to have memorable disasters after the starting pitchers throw outstanding innings.
Even though this will not offer any succor for Tigers fans, several other teams around the league have had to deal with dumpster fire bullpens, too.
After searching for bullpen problems in the MLB, the results were not limited to the Tigers. In fact, the Tigers did not show up on the first page at all. The five teams that appeared on the first page included the Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Rays, Washington Nationals, and Texas Rangers. But they are not alone, even the Boston Red Sox had issues with their “elite” closer, Craig Kimbrel.
K-Rod Is Too Consistent in 2017
In his 16th season in the MLB, Francisco Rodriguez is showing signs of age. With the exception of the clean inning he threw in the first game of the season, he has given up hits in every game in which he has pitched. In his 6.2 innings pitched, he has given up five runs, all of them earned. Two of them were home runs. He currently has an ERA of 5.40.
In his first seven games in 2016, his stats were actually worse. He had an ERA of 7.11 in 6.1 innings pitched. He gave up seven runs, two home runs, and five hits. But, the big difference was that he did not give up hits and runs in so many consecutive games. Out of those first seven games, he gave up hits in three of them. So, when he blew an inning, he really blew it.
Now, he’s simply creating drama with the hopes of cleaning it up. And, he has. In the games he has pitched in 2017, the Tigers have only lost one – the ugliest game of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The New Metric for Bullpens
Because so many teams are having struggles with their bullpens, a new stat has worked its way into the lexicon of baseball: The Goose Egg. The stat is actually named after ace closer Rich Gossage, who is best known to Tigers as Goose Gossage, the pitcher who gave up a home run to Kirk Gibson in 1984.
Lately, Gossage has been ranting about one inning pitchers like Mariano Rivera. In an interview with Randy Miller with New Jersey Advanced Media, Gossage said about the difference between closers of yesterday and those of today:
"“I’d like to know how many of Mo’s saves are of one inning with a three-run lead. If everybody in that [bleep]ing bullpen can’t save a three-run lead for one inning, they shouldn’t even be in the big leagues.”"
This rant brought about the question of what makes a closer successful. So Nate Silver designed a stat that separates the elite from the rest. In Silver’s article on FiveThirtyEight, he defines the goose egg as:
"[A] pitcher gets a goose egg for a clutch, scoreless relief inning. Specifically, he gets credit for throwing a scoreless inning when it’s the seventh inning or later and the game is tied or his team leads by no more than two runs. A pitcher can get more than one goose egg in a game, so pitching three clutch scoreless innings counts three times as much as one inning does.”"
Looking at the goose egg stat makes it easy to see why closers seem so over-rated. For example, K-Rod’s save numbers put him in fourth place with overall stats. But, his goose egg numbers place him the 17th spot overall. Today’s closers should focus more on achieving goose eggs rather than saves.
Too Many Hits and Runs in Late Innings
Today’s closers give up too many hits and runs as they look for saves. Just the other day, Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox threw an eight-inning game with 13 strikeouts and no runs. In the bottom of the ninth, Craig Kimbrel came in so he could do his job, but he couldn’t get it done. He gave up a home run to Kendrys Morales that tied the game and took it to extra innings. It also killed the win for Sale with Kimbrel getting it instead. This isn’t the first time that Kimbrel didn’t earn a goose egg – remember when he pitched against the Tigers on April 9? He gave up a run, but still got the save. Most critics today look at Kimbrel as an elite closer, but using the goose egg metric, he isn’t.
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Most critics today look at Kimbrel as an elite closer, but using the goose egg metric, he isn’t. According to Silver’s figuring from 2016 statistics, Kimbrel doesn’t even cut the top 10 and neither does Aroldis Chapman. The top closers include Jeurys Familia, Andrew Miller, and Zach Britton. Miller and Familia threw 42 goose eggs and Britton threw 40. For comparison purposes, in 1975, Goose Gossage threw 82. It is safe to say that the standards for closers have dropped. Post 1990, the most goose eggs belong to Doug Jones -he had 67.
The most K-Rod has ever thrown was in 2008, when he had 47 of them. Mariano’s most in one season was in 1996 when he had 54. Willie Hernandez, in 1984, threw 65.
Until closing pitchers can focus on the goose egg and not the save, more games will come down to scary late innings. This new metric needs to be thorough embraced if anything is going to change with closing pitchers and the rest of the bullpen.