The O’s Bullpen Bytes

Today, guest contributor Dan Reed weighs in on the O’s mysterious ability to consistently outperform their projected W-L record…

The O’s Bullpen Bytes

We Think We (Finally) Know Why the O’s Beat Their Projections. The Question Is…Who Deserves the Credit?

By Dan Reed

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays

Here’s a fun question: why does the most advanced computer projection model, programmed by the smartest guy in the room, always seem to underestimate the Orioles win totals? Since 2012, the O’s have outperformed their PECOTA projections by 66 games. This accumulative trend is now up to five consecutive years and counting. Recently the always entertaining Sam Miller recently wandered down the Bird’s Byte rabbit hole to try and answer the question of why. Even if you’re not a stats-type, the story is something every O’s fan should read. So what gives with the O’s vs PECOTA?

SPOILER ALERT FOR THE ARTICLE AHEAD.

Sam’s conclusion—it’s the bullpen. He gives several well thought out reasons for this, which we won’t go over here. Sam comes up with an entirely satisfactory answer. But it’s also an incomplete answer. What goes unanswered is why the Orioles bullpen is so effective.

Let’s start by ruling something out. With so much turnover since 2012, the idea that a few bullpen anchors might be skewing the stats doesn’t hold water. Britton was on the 2012 team…as a starter. O’Day was there. Chris Davis logged one brilliant inning. But 2012 was a team that had a great bullpen anchored by Jim Johnson, Luis Ayala, Pedro Strop and Troy Patton. For reference, Johnson has produced a career 9.9 WAR. But just .2 since the O’s parted ways with him.

That seems to leave us with two possible conclusions. It’s either:

  • How the bullpen is built.
  • How the bullpen is managed.

Of course, each of these options can be further simplified to the elephant in the argument. It’s either:

  • Duquette
  • Showalter

Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t have an answer to which deserves more credit for the bullpen. So with that weasel of a non-answer, what I do have is an opinion.

Unlike players, managers and General Managers don’t follow a straight forward aging curve. Managers might lose a clubhouse when their messaging gets old, or their management style might start wearing on players. Likewise, General Managers might get intellectually left behind (holding a fist-full of confederate money)  But for both manager and GMs, there are no physical tools that atrophy with age. It’s entirely likely that knowledge and experience would accumulate with age more like a counting stat.

Both Duquette and Showalter have been around baseball for a while and accumulated quite a bit of knowledge. Both came to Baltimore with obvious warts. And both have made public gaffs while here.

Even in a binary game like baseball, there are few absolutes. The most likely answer is that both Duquette and Showalter share in creating the secret sauce that is the Orioles bullpen. That said, it’s all but impossible that Showalter doesn’t deserve the lion’s share of the credit. For one thing, we know that Buck has a great deal of input when it comes to the roster decisions. Back when Duquette was flirting with the Blue Jays, Showalter even went so far as to suggest the organization had reached a sort of equilibrium where a strong GM wasn’t needed. On the other hand, we can be pretty certain that Duquette doesn’t have much input when it comes to how Showalter manages his bullpen.

Still, I think it can be further simplified. Former Reds manager Fred Huchinson once said, “For five innings, it’s the pitcher’s game. After that it’s mine.” Once the lineups are turned in, managers don’t do much for the first five innings, or at least as long as their starter is effective. However, once you get into the bullpens, pinch hitting and thinking of the coming games, managers matter more. If anything, bullpen usage would seem to be a disproportionally important skill.

Occam’s razor suggests that the simplest solution is usually the correct one. In the end, it’s Buck who’s directly interacting with the bullpen. Day in and day out, the bullpen is his. The blame, and the credit, should go to him. We started this discussion with some sabermetric analysis and readily acknowledge “our opinion is that it’s Buck” is far from a scientific conclusion. So let’s just call this a hypothesis, and one we’re tossing out there to be disproven.

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