Pittsburgh Pirates: Examining the 2013-2015 Bullpen Value


The Pittsburgh Pirates had one of the best bullpens in all of baseball during their 2013-2015 playoff run. But just how valuabe was it compared to the rest of the league?

The Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen was one of their most valuable assets during their playoff runs from 2013-2015. They rarely blew leads, with guys like Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Jason Grilli, Jared Hughes, and role players like Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, and Joe Blanton made their bullpen deep and effective. It even earned the nickname “The Shark Tank” for how much talent and depth they had. But just how valuable was it through these three seasons?

Simply put, their bullpen was one of the most effective among all teams. They tossed a total of 1553.1 innings. The Pittsburgh Pirates turned to their pen a whole lot as that is the 4th highest inning total among all teams and the most by any team that made the playoffs at least once in that three-season span.

All told, they had an outstanding 2.94 ERA, 3.48 FIP and 1.19 WHIP. Only the Kansas City Royals’ bullpen, which was another team that relied heavily on their bullpen to secure victories, had a lower ERA. In terms of FIP, they ranked 5th and were tied with the San Francisco Giants for second place in WHIP.

They didn’t strike out too many batters, only having a 20.9% strikeout rate. That was the 8th lowest mark among all teams. But they only allowed free passes at a 7.8% rate, which was the 5th lowest rate. They still had an above-average K/BB ratio of 2.69, coming in at 11th place. Preventing home runs was this team’s specialty. Their 0.68 HR/9 rate was the second-best rate throughout these three seasons.

ERA estimators also liked their bullpen. The Shark Tank had a 3.62 xFIP and 3.33 SIERA. They were 5th in xFIP and tied at 7th in SIERA. Still, very strong marks for how often they relied on their bullpen.

Overall, they only had a 9.1 fWAR. That only comes out at #15. But what I find more valuable is how well the Shark Tank was in high leverage situations. Their 2013 pen was the best when it mattered the most. Their 2.82 ERA was the best mark among all three seasons with all 30 teams. Their 2015 pen comes at #10 with a 3.83 ERA, and their 2014 pen ranks 27th with a 4.62 mark.

Their 2013 pen also led all teams’ single-season bullpen stats in wOBA (.211), OBP (2013), second in HR/9 (0.30), third in batting average against (.184), 5th in FIP (2.80), and 18th in K/BB ratio. The 2013 bullpen was definitely their strongest among the three campaigns, but they were also very strong in 2015 and solid in 2014.

Now the single most valuable reliever in terms of fWAR was Mark Melancon, coming in with a 5.8 mark. During those three seasons, he had an outstanding 1.85 ERA, 2.20 FIP, and .92 WHIP. He only had a 23.9% strikeout rate, but only allowed free passes at a tremendous 3.9% rate. The product of his solid K% and extremely impressive BB% led to a 6.15 K/BB ratio. Melancon combined that with his 58.4% ground ball rate, and .29 HR/9 rate.

Tony Watson was the second-best Pirates RP in this time with a 3.2 fWAR. He was used as a set-up man throughout these three seasons. Then comes Jason Grilli in the 3rd spot. The right-hander made the all-star game in 2013 after an impressive season but started off the 2014 season in a slump. The Pirates eventually traded him to the Los Angeles Angels for Ernesto Frieri. Freiri ended up being the primary reason the Pittsburgh Pirates lost the NL Central that year.

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The bullpen during these three seasons was one of the strongest not just in the league, but in Pirates’ history. They had some of the best relievers in the organization’s long-running history, with Melancon ranking 3rd all time in Pirates reliever fWAR, Watson ranking 11th, and Grilli ranking 15th in saves since 1950.