2011 Marlins Season Preview: Were the bullpen moves enough?

Now that the entire bullpen has been reviewed, we can discuss one of the most important aspects of the Marlins’ 2010 offseason heading into the 2011 regular season as an entire unit. How much better are the Marlins off with this set of bullpen pitchers versus last season’s pen? In other words, the question is: Were the offseason bullpen moves enough?

Here are some numbers from last year’s pen to chew on:

Team K% BB% HR% ERA FIP RE24 ERA
Marlins 20.1 11.1 2.1 4.01 4.08 3.91
National League Avg 21.2 9.7 2.2% 3.97 3.87 4.07

When you look at those numbers, you really do not see a whole lot of difference between the Marlins and a league average pen. The National League relievers walked 1.4 percent fewer hitters and struck out 1.0 percent more hitters, but how much of a difference would this have really made? The difference between the 2010 National League average in terms of FIP and the Marlins FIP was 0.21 runs per nine innings, the largest of the three gaps. Translated to the 500 innings the team pitched in 2010, that would be a difference of just over 11 runs, which roughly translates to 1.3 wins last year when taking into account the team’s average leverage. In other words, last season’s Marlins pen was pretty close to league average in most respects, costing at most 1.3 wins for the team.

Why all the fuss for 1.3 wins? If it costs nothing to improve the team, sure, but the Marlins spent quite a bit more than usual on the bullpen this offseason. The team traded former prospect Cameron Maybin to acquire relievers Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica, and that had an obvious opportunity cost involved. The team also committed $2.5M for 2010 and 2011 total to Randy Choate, who is strictly a LOOGY. Will these changes bring results? Well, as I mentioned in this piece, the Marlins accomplished what they did in 2010 with their pen not only because of their talent but also in spite of it. Though the problems the team had with high leverage should not pop up again, the team’s relief core from last season simply wasn’t that good in terms of true talent. Replacing them may have been necessary in order to improve upon the group.

Unfortunately, it is not guaranteed that the team was able to improve. Consider that both Leo Nunez and Clay Hensley are due for regression, then consider the replacements coming in for the departing 2010 names:

Leaving Proj ERA+ Replacing Proj ERA+
Veras 105 Webb 98
Sosa 80 Mujica 104
Wood 81 Choate 106
Pinto 105 Dunn 92

It seems like the guys we got will collectively represent an improvement over last season’s group, but with Nunez and Hensley likely to drop back to an ERA level of around 3.60 to 3.70, we should expect the team to struggle to an extent.

Projection: 462 IP, 3.9 WAR

If you use FanGraphs’ definition of WAR (I used their replacement level for these calculations), you get that the Marlins pen this season is expected to pitch almost 40 fewer innings and record 1.4 more wins than last season. Ironically, that is a similar number of extra wins that the Marlins would have had had they just been an average team in terms relief FIP. Essentially, the improvements we’ve seen this offseason may just be enough to buy the team an extra win over last year’s club, provided they divide their good and bad performances evenly among the lower and higher leverage situations. While that is no guarantee, we can expect to see some regression in that department as well, meaning that some of this season’s improvement will just come from better luck.

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Tags: Clay Hensley Edward Mujica Leo Nunez Miami Marlins Ryan Webb

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