Fredi, leverage, and bullpen management, Pt. 1

Finally, I got to writing up this article. I’ve wanted for a long time to check out whether or not Fredi Gonzalez has been using his bullpen correctly. All season long, I’ve railed on the Marlins about pitching the right guys in the right innings and situations, so I checked out FanGraphs’ Leaderboards and got the team’s relievers’ leverage index (LI) data and FIP numbers for the seasons during which Gonzalez was the manager. I limited the sample to relievers who had logged at least 30 innings for the Marlins during the season.

In order to get some sort of ordinal value relative to the team’s average FIP, I took a sort of FIP+ approach, dividing the team’s average FIP by the FIP of the individual player. Using this format, we would expect a positive trend between leverage and FIP+; the higher the leverage index for a plate appearance, the higher the FIP+ we would expect, as a higher FIP+ would presumably mean a better pitcher. Here’s the graph, with the 2009 pitchers labeled first. On the x-axis is the average leverage index when the reliever enters the game (i.e. when the manager decides to have the reliever enter the game), while the

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Hmm, I don't quite understand...

Immediately you can see that there’s something wrong with this picture. Leo Nunez, the team’s closer and reliever facing the highest leverages entering the game, is the worst reliever on the team in terms of FIP. Of course, FIP doesn’t take into account the fact that Nunez isn’t likely to give up as many home runs as he has, but even if you move him up to where Dan Meyer and Matt Lindstrom are, you’re still dealing with a reliever who is not performing the best on your team. There is no way Nunez should be averaging a starting LI almost 0.2 more than the next closest reliever.

If you looked at the track record of the team’s relievers in terms of defense-independent pitching, you would likely conclude that Kiko Calero was the team’s best bet in terms of a good reliever. Sure enough, Calero has been very good at missing bats and keeping the Marlins’ fairly poor defense out of the situation. However, Calero has only faced the third highest leverages when entering the game, despite having by far the best FIP, xFIP, and tRA on the team.

Baseball-Reference keeps track of the leverage of situations in which a reliever first enters. Calero leads the team in appearances in low leverage situations (leverage index less than or equal to 0.7) with 28, one more than the great Renyel Pinto. Meanwhile, Calero only has 18 high leverage appearances (leverage index 1.5 or higher), while Pinto has 24! For some reason, Fredi has cast Calero as a 7th inning guy while deciding that Nunez and Pinto are worthy of high leverage situations. And you wonder why Marlins fans want to pull their hair off with regards to the bullpen this season.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the last two years’ worth of Fredi’s bullpen management.

Topics: Dan Meyer, Fredi Gonzalez, Kiko Calero, Leo Nunez, Matt Lindstrom, Miami Marlins, Renyel Pinto

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  • JoeA

    I feel like the team would be better off with someone other than Fredi. He is just too “old school”. Nunez is the closer because he throws hard. Bonifacio leads off because he’s fast.Etc…. Just way too many antiquated ideas that have been unproven by sabermetrics.

  • michaeljong

    JoeA,

    Totally agree. I hate these “Dusty Baker” managerial cliches that get rehashed over and over again to the ire of us fans.

    But to be fair to Fredi, not many managers have apparently gotten over this. Even the Joe Maddon’s of the world still bat their fastest guys at the top and their boppers in the middle, and the majority of them still use batting average as a big indicator of hitting skill. So I don’t know who would be a much better choice than Fredi.

  • JoeA

    Your right Michael. Can’t say too many good things about Joe Maddon’s BP management lately! The Rays as an organization though seem to “get it”. The Marlins are a strange mix of people who understand like Larry Beinfest and those who have no clue like Freddi.

    But you’re right about the old ideas dying hard. The funniest thing to me is listening to Joe Morgan do a game and realizing he has no idea why he himself was such a great player!

  • michaeljong

    JoeA,

    Joe Morgan’s a great example; there’s a reason why Fire Joe Morgan worked so well! And you’re right on the Marlins odd mix. I’m not sure that Beinfest & Co. really “get it,” so to speak, but I’m certain the guys at field level do not.

  • JoeA

    I definitely have my doubts after the Bonifacio/Hammer trade, but I’m inclined to give him a pass based on past perfomance. He’s been dealt a pretty tough hand as far as the payroll goes and always seems to field a competive team.

  • michaeljong

    I don’t have doubts that Beinfest and company have the scouting part down, in terms of building a farm system. Hammer trade aside, they’ve done a great job. I’m just not so sure they’re as good at fielding talent on the field as we like to think they are. It is totally possible that the Marlins just had a boon of great players pan out. We haven’t really seen what the Marlins are valuing when they make these moves. The goal I heard this year was “speed and defense,” and that simply didn’t happen. And it’s the only goal I ever heard from the front office, other than the obvious “get good talent.”

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  • Deborah

    I THINK THAT FREDI IS A FINE MANAGER. IT’S THE GENERAL MANAGER THAT SUCKS. EVERYTIME THEY GET IN A JAM THEY BLAME THE PITCHING STAFF AND OTHER POSITION PLAYERS. WE SHOULD BLAME THE PITCHING COACH MR. WILEY FOR NOT HAVING MUCH OF AN IMPACT ON THE YOUNG PITCHERS. AND IT MUST BE THE HITTING COACH THAT IS NOT DOING US FANS ANY FAVORS. ANDREW MILLER IS BROUGHT BACK FROM THE MINORS AND INSTEAD OF LETTING HIM PITCH THEY BRING IN OTHER PITCHERS TO RELIEVE THE STARTERS THAT HAVE PROVEN THAT THEY KILL THE MARLINS CHANCES BY USING THESE PITCHERS INSTEAD OF FRESH ONES LIKE ANDREW MILLER AND OTHER PITCHERS THEY COULD USE. IT’S A SHAME THAT ANDREW MILLER HAD TO LOSE HIS STARTING JOB TO SEAN WEST OR VANDENHURK. HE SHOULD BE ABLE TO HELP THE MARLINS WIN. AT LEAST HE WOULD BE THE FRESHEST OF THE BUNCH.

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  • Stan Makowski

    In general, management has used the entire system to best advantage. I have two gripes and one question.
    1) as stated yesterday, come August 31st, this is the second time in three years that a journeyman reliever or two….at minimal cost to rent for the final month…just might have made an appreciable difference.
    2) We hear about saving our bullpen from overwork (see gripe #1 above for cure). Overwork from what? Free agency? They’ll move on if they are so good as to threaten Lorias pocketbook anyway. Pitch ‘em now…win now…there are few games left.
    Question: We seem to nearly always bring up youngsters to solve our pitching woes. Yet there are several pitchers who are AAAA non-prospects in our system who presently have excellent minor league stats. I’m talking about 29-30 year olds. Right now, I’ll take them over a Miller who will walk the side if given the chance. Actually our relievers as a group aren’t that bad provided we first have a picnic and burn Pinto at the stake (in effigy of course). I don’t think Lundstrom will ever be consistent until he gets rid of the little leg wiggle just before his delivery. Do you folks remember 2 years ago when a fellow named Owens won the closer role out of Spring training, was effective but blew his arm out. Where is he now?

  • michaeljong

    Stan,

    Henry Owens was out of baseball last year due to the injury you described, but he’s still in our minor league system. He pitched in A+ ball and Double-A Jacksonville this year for about 11 games, but he was not effective, walking 12 and striking out only 11 in total.

    As for the bullpen load, I wasn’t worried so much about next year as I am about this year. I’m not sure how well these guys can handle a heavy load, but if they struggle being pitched on three consecutive days or something, we need to be careful with them. My personal pet peeve is that the team just isn’t using relievers correctly in general, not just with workload, but more importantly with choice of reliever and leverage.

    And with regards to the Quad-A guys, they’re generally Quad-A for a reason. In fact, the team signs a lot of minor league contracts to fill out minor league rosters, and occasionally one of those guys gets the chance to pitch again in the bigs, like Sanches this year. But in general, the team should not waste time in a pennant race on players with inferior talent, in my opinion. Sure, Miller’s struggling, but you’ll never confuse him with a quad-A reliever, at least not yet.

  • JoeA

    I agree Stan. Joe Nelson coming back would have been nice. I bet the Rays would have loved to dump his remaining salary.

    Also, the handling of our young pitchers this year has been troubling to me. We are not exactly loaded with pitching in the system. I would rather have seen Miller and West get a full year at AAA and gotten a couple of journeymen to fill our rotation. But, as you say, that costs money.

  • michaeljong

    Deborah,

    All caps aside (I’ve never been a big fan of that), your questions are somewhat valid. I think the way Fredi writes lineup cards and manages his pen is a major problem, and it isn’t just a developmental one (i.e. the coaching staff). Even if you’re actively working to develop your guys, some people just don’t improve no matter the coaching. And for Fredi to keep tossing them out there is simply ridiculous. Pinto isn’t improving until he can throw that changeup for strikes, but until then there’s no reason to keep tossing him in high leverage situations.

    As for Miller, I’m a fan, I think he can improve. Something is up with him regarding his velocity, though. When he first got a crack at starting in the majors, his fastball was at 92 mph average. Now, it’s sitting just below 91 average, down each of the last two seasons. I’m not sure what’s going on with him, but if his velocity continues to drop, he might be in some trouble. This may be one of the reasons why his strikeouts are dropping. If he can’t strike anyone out, he’s going to have to start getting even more grounders than he is now, because he’ll really have to limit his home runs to be effective. I don’t know what he’s becoming, but he might have to stop pitching like a strikeout pitcher and stark working like Derek Lowe. Maybe if he learns a sinker it’ll help.

  • michaeljong

    JoeA,

    Apparently Nelson really should stick in the NL, because the AL East is eating him up. He started walking way too many people and he couldn’t get them biting on his stuff outside the zone. They’re making more contact too, so they’re seeing his stuff better. Apparently they just make ‘em better in the Junior Circuit.

    I think the team brought up West too quickly. He was getting starts, so that’s good, but he was getting shelled often and needed more time in the minors to pitch more innings and get more work in. He’s been OK, but mostly because he hasn’t allowed a lot of homers. He needs to start walking less people, I think the strikeouts will come as he gains control of his breaking pitches.

  • JoeA.

    Michael,

    He’s not the only pitcher that should have stayed in the NL this year.

    I like West too. What do you think of Miller?

  • Deborah

    I THINK MILLER HAS POTENTIAL AND HE IS A GREAT PERSON ALSO BECAUSE NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS HE JUST DOES HIS JOB. WHEN HE WAS SENT DOWN TO THE MINORS HE DIDN’T COMPLAIN, HE JUST SAID THAT IT HELPED HIM TO GET BETTER AND HE DIDN’T HAVE A COW LIKE BRAD PENNY AND LUIS AYALA WHO COMPLAINED TOO MUCH. ANDREW IS A SPECIAL PERSON THAT IS GOING TO BE A GREAT PITCHER IN THE FUTURE. ANDREW IS LIKE RANDY JOHNSON BECAUSE RANDY AND HIS TEAMMATES SAID THAT IT TOOK HIM A LONG TIME TO BECOME THE PITCHER THAT HE IS TODAY. SO DON’T COUNT THIS KID OUT.

  • michaeljong

    I like Miller, he was a good sport about being sent to the minors to work on his stuff. He’s still young, so he definitely deserves a chance to improve. But his velocity is dipping and his strikeouts are following, and that’s something to worry about. I think with him I’d take the approach of having him work on a cutter, kind of like how the White Sox do with all their pitchers. If it helps him get more ground balls and keep the ball in the park like he’s done so far this year, it can perhaps mitigate his lack of strikeouts. Also, he obviously needs to stop walking so many hitters, because he’s killing his chances that way.

    As they say, you either keep it on the ground, up the strikeouts, or lower the walks. Andrew seems like he’s leaning towards Option 1, but he’s got to do one of the other two to be successful. I’m glad that he’s willing to work on it, and they honestly should keep giving him a chance, but after a while, he has to figure it out.

  • Stan Makowski

    Michael. you remind me of the Mets front office when they talked about Darryl Strawberry. He was only 23; then he was only 26; then he was only 30 or so and he still never reached maturity. Miller is young in one sense, but isn’t he older than West, Volstad, and Van de whatever? Furthermore, his motion is far less “controlled” than any of those other three. The only positive that I see is that he is left handed and for some curious reason they really do develop more slowly. I well remember Sandy Koufax and his early troubles. When the Phillies got Steve Carlton for an excellent, more mature pitcher, all of the scribes said that St. Louis got the better of that deal St. Louis did get a very good pitcher but Carlton developed into something else. I guess I’m sort of proving your point about Miller but given the choice, I’d let another team try to develop that potential, I just don’t like the inconsistency.
    With your answer about quad A pitchers. I naturally agree with your premise. However, don’t you think that a mature pitcher who has demonstrated good control and has an excellent walk/ strikeout ratio would be a more valuable asset for our next 25 or so games that the inconsistent Miller? I do. I’m particularly interested in Ungs and Graham Taylor (#1 pick but putting on a few years) Even Penn has had a few good games of late.

  • michaeljong

    Stan,

    The problem is that solid ratios in the minors, even Triple-A, don’t often translate to the bigs. I agree that good K and BB numbers definitely hold water, but you also have translate those numbers to major league values and consider age and time in the minors along the way. If you’re old for your level (Ungs is a good example, as he’s 30 and in AA), showing that you can shut down AA hitters isn’t really an accomplishment, so his numbers need to be knocked back a good deal. Your average AA guy should be around 21 to 22 years of age.

    With regards to Miller, he’s 24, and yes he’s older than Volstad and West, though not VandenHurk. Scouting wise, I couldn’t tell you how good he looks, as I’m not a mechanics guy. All I know is that he needs to do something different, because his velocity is dropping and he’s pitching like a Ricky Nolasco type when he should be working like a Chris Volstad, aiming towards limiting walks and getting ground balls. I let the pitching coaches figure out how to do that, mechanics wise at least.

  • Stan Makowski

    Miller born 5/21/85
    Dutchman born 5/22/85

    Everything you say in 1st paragraph is true and obvious but it still doesn’t preclude one over Miller in my opinion. With Miller, at least this year. you pretty much know what you are going to get. I was also thinking of past years when they brought up Kensing, Tucker(sic?) and even the Dutch kid rather than a veteran. I will grant they brought up a journeyman lefthander and he was thoroughly lit up.

  • michaeljong

    Stan,

    Hmm, I thought otherwise. Thanks for the correction Stan.

    If we want to look at defense independent pitching stats, let’s use FIP as an example. Miller has a 4.22 FIP this season, which actually comes out as slightly above average (league average 4.33). I’m not sure if he can hold off the homers as well as he has so far, but you can’t argue with the results. He’s not been terrible, he’s been getting a bit unlucky on the order in which he’s giving up hits. He has a Left on base%, or strand% of 63%, when the league average is 75%, and pretty much all pitchers end up right around that normally.

    Teams are chaining more hits against Miller than usual. I’d rather take my chances with Miller’s luck turning than with a Quad-A guy who is likely less talented. Miller can definitely improve, he certainly needs to drop the walks, but how much better do you think that guy would be in the short term? Plus, if Miller goes to the pen, he’s likely to improve about a run’s worth in terms of ERA, so he’d be even better in the short term. Like I said, I’d rather have what I’ve seen of Miller so far compared to a lesser talent doing well in AA or AAA his third year in a row, I think the odds are better with Miller.

  • Stan Makowski

    Michael, I respect you, but still disagree…strongly. Another point to consider. If a quad A pitcher can get out players of like quad A ability,then how about that Mets lineup? And to a slightly lesser extent, that Washington lineup? And Cincinnatti coming up next week? At least half (or more with the Mets) of those lineups are of quad A talent at best. I want relief pitchers who throw strikes. Pinto, Miller, Lundstrum are all multi talented…but…the so-in-sos can’t get the damn ball over the plate. One last point, although it’s only marginally related to our discussion. I firmly believe that the law of diminishing returns is becomming more and more into play with major league roster makeups. Why pay a veteran several million bucks to be mediocre when a career minor leaguer can do almost as well at minimum salary. This point was well illustrated with the relievers that Beinfeld picked up off the scrap heap this past Winter. Low salaries, but fairly effective…in a sense some were what one could classify as Quad A talent. Let me ask you this. If it was the bottom of the ninth, and the Marins were up by one run with bases loaded by the opposing team and there were two outs and you had Miller and “Quad A” Sanches warmed up, who would you call on? I rest my case. If you like, substitute Wood or Callero for Sanches and the decision is still obvious…at least to my way of thinking.

    As I told you in a note some weeks ago, what makes our discussions interesting is that we utilize two entirely different approaches. Frankly, I don’t even know what FIB even means. I’ve got all of Bill James books dating back to the early 80s and love his arguments and agree with most of them, but abhore his statistics when formulas are involved. However, after closely following (and loving) baseball since 1949 when I turned 14, I do trust most of my ability to make rational judgements. So it’s fun to disagree and please understand that as stated above, I do respect your opinions…whether right or wrong. There’s probably even some gray area in between our two points of view.

  • michaeljong

    Stan,

    I appreciate and respect your opinion and where you’re coming from. On Miller, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. Though with regards to FIP, there is definitely some strong research done on trying to determining the value of pitching independent of defense. Shoot me an email and I can send you the link to the seminal defense independent pitching article; it’s mostly theory, not a lot of numbers work.

    The point you bring up about veterans being signed for millions vs. minor league, freely available talent is the EXACT premise behind the concept of replacement level. The basic idea is that certain players do not produce above the level of Quad-A talent, and thus do not provide any more value that freely available talent in a team’s minor league system. Paying for that sort of talent is not efficient. Replacement level should thus be the baseline for all production measurements. And that’s what I’m measuring above when I talk about WAR (Wins above Replacement) and other such things.

    Two good examples. For a position player, Willie Bloomquist, and for a pitcher, our good friend Luis Ayala. They’re basically replacement level talent. Yet major league clubs still pay them, and they still play the same way. Something about veterans just makes teams giddy about “grittiness.”

  • Deborah

    michaeljong is totally right. he is so very right because everyone can get better even with a lot of talent. people can improve. give andrew miller a chance.

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