Back in June discussion of the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen was all the rage. On June 26, the Bucs were on a roll, a 7-2 roadtrip with a win over the Seattle Mariners was in the rear view. The relievers had thrown 3.55 innings per game. The Shark Tank was getting it done, often.
Justin Wilson was being worked like a dog throwing 723 pitches. Bryan Morris had thrown a substantial amount of pitches ranking him 14th since he was recalled at the end of April. Jason Grilli was 28th with 585 pitches, Tony Watson was right behind him with 575.
The Shark Tank was doing work. In fact, the second most work in all of baseball. Jason Grilli was piling up saves (he led the NL when on July 22 he suffered the forearm strain against the Nats)
The bullpen strand rate was over 80 percent, the highest since the DEADball Era. One of the keys to success has been the bullpen strand rate hasn’t disappeared like it did in 2012 when it dipped to 23rd in MLB after the break.
Josh Harrison, Kyle Farnsworth, Duke Welker and drumroll… Jonathan Sanchez all have 100% strand rates.
But seriously, Mark Melancon, Ryan Reid, Justin Wilson, Jason Grilli, Vinny, Tony Watson and Bryan Morris are all over 80 % strand rates. It’s been fun to watch. The high leverage numbers are also very strong for the first place Pirates.
The bottom line is the Bucs bullpen is very good. And remains good.
The quality of the pitches are strong. The ability of the relievers to pitch, while sometimes infuriating, multiple innings has been beneficial. The non-specialist shark tank has been effective against left handed hitters and righties. So yeh, the Bucs bullpen has been really good so it’s always easy to say they can’t keep up the pace.
Tell that to Mark Melancon who would be perfect in save situations if it weren’t for a rare Starling Marte blunder.
Now as we take a look at the Pirates bullpen work and the competitors in the NL Central race, the pitches are piling up.
Justin Wilson has thrown 1098 pitches, ninth most in baseball. Vin Mazzaro is 19th, Tony Watson has thrown the 35th most pitches in relief.
Mark Melancon has been so damn efficient he is 90th. Jason Grilli’s pace slowed and the hard throwing right hander has just 700 relief pitches thrown.
Something else to remember is Jeanmar Gomez made a few starts so he doesn’t rank high in relief pitches thrown, but he has thrown 1104 total pitches. If they would have all came in relief he would have the sixth most pitches thrown in the NL for relievers.
How does that compare to the bad guys in the NL Central?
The Cardinals Trevor Rosenthal (12.79K/9) is number eight with 1112. Seth Maness has become a starter but has piled up some pitches. John Axford has thrown 1012, good for 25th in baseball.
The Reds have three pitchers in the top 50. Alfredo Simon has fired 1096, good for seventh. J.J. Hoover is 32nd. Ardolis Chapman has flamed 944 pitches at batters, 47th most in baseball and 27th in the NL.
We don’t know about being the Bucs bullpen being overworked, but Bryan Morris who has been scored upon four times in the past nine games, Justin Wilson, and Vin Mazzaro have at least shown some wear recently. Then again, Mazzaro has a 1.65ERA in his past 27.1 innings pitched. Wilson while being scored on by the Cards has overall been shutdown–scored on just four times in last 28 appearances (30.2ip/7er – 2.05 ERA), dating back to 6/15.
For what it is worth, here are how the three teams add up with most relief pitches thrown in the National League:
Two Pirates in the top 15: Justin Wilson (6) Vin Mazzaro (12)
Two Cardinals in the top 15: The nasty Rosenthal (5) and John Axford (14)
One Reds in the top 15: Simon at number seven
Four Pirates in the top 40: Wilson, Mazzaro, Watson (24) and closer Melancon (40) who has the lowest ERA among NL relievers.
Two Cardinals in top 40. see above
Four Reds in the top 40: Simon (7), J.J. Hoover (18), Ardolis Chapman (27) and Sam LeCure
One good thing about all those injuries to Pirates starters? It is the fact that the Pirates have just one starter in the top 40 and that’s A.J. Burnett at number 34. The Cardinals have two in the top ten with the awful lately Adam Wainwright at number two with 3014 pitches thrown and Lance Lynn at number eight.
As the Bucs roll through Milwaukee tonight and head to St. Louis, the bullpen has been a strength all season. We don’t see that changing anytime soon.