May 25, 2012
Prospectus Game of the Week
Bullpens, Banana Suits, and Ryan Braun
The bottom of the eighth inning starts with a man in an orange tuxedo.
Normally, orange tuxedos don’t start appearing on camera until the game is in extra innings, the clock has struck midnight, the baseball is #weird. Other than the orange tuxedo, this game is totally normal in the eighth inning. The Giants lead 3-1. Madison Bumgarner is pitching well. He strikes out the first batter of the eighth inning for his ninth K of the game, and he strikes out the second batter for his 10th. He jumps ahead on Norichika Aoki, and Buster Posey sets up for a high fastball. Bumgarner throws a high fastball. Aoki grounds it to shortstop. Brandon Crawford backs up, rather than charge it, then fumbles it. It’s an error. Ryan Braun is coming up.
The first time I remember hearing about a team that could “shorten the game” with three outstanding relief pitchers was in 1990: the Reds, with Dibble, Charlton and Myers. That year, Dibble, Charlton and Myers combined for a 2.28 ERA and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings. That’s nothing compared to what relievers these days do. The Braves’ top three last year had a 1.66 ERA and 10.9 Ks per nine. The Yankees’ top three had a 1.66 and 9.9. The Angels’ top three had a 2.34 ERA, and the team was widely seen as needing to upgrade the bullpen in the offseason. The Rangers' entire bullpen has a 2.03 ERA this year, and their three lowest-leveraged relievers—Uehara, Lowe, Ross—have a cumulative 1.87 ERA.
This episode of Game of the Week didn’t start in the first inning, because, as they say, after the Ryan Braun home run we had a brand new ballgame. A ballgame that would see each team reach the six-pitcher mark and that would feature a Giants bullpen that, somewhat quietly, and perhaps only temporarily, but in this era darned-near predictably, has put up the following ERAs deep into May: