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The Texas Rangers’ bullpen has a new take on an old saying this year: You
scratch my back…and I’ll stab you in the back.

In last Thursday’s game against the Orioles, the Rangers’ Jeff
Zimmerman
relieved Francisco Cordero in the seventh inning with
the bases loaded, one out and the dangerous Albert Belle at the
plate. Zimmerman did a good job of limiting the damage given the situation,
coaxing a sacrifice fly from Belle and an inning-ending popout from B.J.
Surhoff
.

But when he came out to pitch the eighth, Zimmerman ran into some control
problems. After a couple of runs had scored, he turned over to Mark
Clark
essentially the same situation he had inherited an inning
earlier: bases loaded, two outs and Albert Belle salivating at the plate.
This time, Clark served up a gopher ball to Belle, and the "R"
total next to Zimmerman’s name in the box score shot up like a pinball
machine. In the end, despite pitching that wasn’t all that bad, Zimmerman’s
line was nightmarish: 1 1/3 innings, five runs, all earned.

That outing was a microcosm of Zimmerman’s season. On the one hand, he’s
been fabulous at getting his teammates out of jams. Zimmerman has inherited
26 runners this year. Given where those runners were and how many outs
there were at the time he entered, about 11 of them would be expected to
score, on average. Thanks to Zimmerman, only five actually did score, and
another four (representing about one run, on average) were turned over to
other relievers.

The end result is that Zimmerman saved his predecessors nearly five runs
that average pitching would have allowed. That makes Zimmerman the
third-best reliever in the majors at handling inherited runners.

On the other hand, when Zimmerman has turned over his own jams to
teammates, the results have been disastrous. He’s turned over 15 of his own
runners to relievers, of which less than five would be expected to score,
on average. Zimmerman’s successors allowed nine runners to score, costing
him more than four runs more than average pitching would have allowed. That
puts Zimmerman second on the list of unluckiest relievers in terms of runs cost by successors.

Put it all together, and Zimmerman is far and away the reliever most underrated by the
conventional method of charging runs to pitchers. Even after adjusting for
Arlington’s offense-friendly stadium, Zimmerman has been charged with 6.91
runs per 9 innings. But if you look at how he’s contributed to run
prevention overall—incorporating his excellent handling of inherited
runners and discounting his teammates’ terrible handling of his
runners–he’s pitched like a pitcher who allows only 4.37 runs per nine,
well above average.

The Rangers’ bullpen has had its share of problems this year, but Jeff
Zimmerman is the last person you should blame.

Michael Wolverton can be reached at mwolverton@baseballprospectus.com.

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