Milwaukee Brewers Bullpen in Rare Company? | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

With a 20 wins and nine losses, the Milwaukee Brewers have the best record in baseball. While the offense and starting pitching has been fine, the bullpen is the real reason for the highly unexpected success. What was expected, however, are the calls for regression. Many analysts, including Dave Cameron of fangraphs, have expressed concern that the bullpen will not continue to be as good as they have in April. This is most likely true and not worth much debate.

However, calls for steep negative regressions also mean that the player or players have thus far done something amazing. The natural question is: how does the Brewers’ bullpen performance in April stack up against recent history?

The Big Three:
Baseball is a strange team sport. While the team win is the most valuable part of the box score, it is unclear how teammates affect each other on the field. In fact, statistical evidence has shown that team concepts such as chemistry, pitching to the score and line up protection have minimal if any effect on the outcome of a season.

To that end, instead of looking at the Brewers’ bullpen as a wholesome entity, here are three individuals with amazing April performances that have most affected and defined Milwaukee’s relief work:

Best Brewer Relievers in April 2014

Francisco Rodriguez 16 0 4 23
Tyler Thornburg 14.2 1 5 17
Will Smith 12.1 1 8 18

We can see that the performance has been outstanding and, likely, nowhere close to the true talent level of the three hurlers. The question worth asking here is, if bullpen pitchers act independently AND if one month performances are subject to large random fluctuations, “what are the chances that three relievers had the same fantastic month on the same team?”

Baseball-reference play index:

The query:

From 2004-2013, how many relief pitchers have had a month of pitching 12 or more innings while giving one or zero earned runs?

Answer: 485

485 out of 60 months means that you’d expect 8.23 relievers PER MONTH to have a month similar to the one the “big 3” are having.

In fact, this holds true for 2014 as well. In March/April of 2014 there have been six non-Brewers relievers that meet the criterion.

Non-Brewers “ace” relievers from April 2014

Name Team IP ER BB SO
Chris Capuano Red Sox 14.1 0 2 15
Jean Machi Giants 13.2 1 3 10
Dale Thayer Padres 12.2 1 4 12
Chris Withrow Dodgers 12.1 1 10 18
Hector Rondon Cubs 12.1 1 4 14
Adam Ottavino Rockies 12.1 1 2 15

Next Question:

If roughly eight or nine pitchers are expected to have such numbers PER MONTH, what are the chances that three or more of them will be on the same team?

Assuming there are 210 relievers floating around at any given time (30 teams x 7 RPs) the probability that three of the 8.23 “ace” relievers are on one team is:

*drum roll*

0.17% (Per month)


While the Brewers bullpen, especially the Big 3, have performed extremely well, one realizes that this occurrence isn’t super rare. The fact that roughly eight relievers a month have such performances certainly does not seem exceptional and while it’s more rare for three of them to be on the same team, a 0.17% chance isn’t rare enough for it to be a pure statistical marvel.

Still, that performance has been a big reason why the Brewers have a five game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. And THAT’s special.

Baseball-reference, Play Index

Follow me on Twitter: @vbarot87

h/t to Steve, @BrewersKeepTUTH , for the idea.

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