Because you have to be a Maniac to be an Angels fan

Leverage, Mike Scioscia, Mike Butcher, and the Bullpen

I have a lot of problems with how this bullpen was constructed and how it has been used.  Anyone can look at the 2014 season and point out what’s wrong but with the small sample size, I’d rather go back a year, especially since there’s the same relievers. So, let’s take a in-depth look at how the Angels’ relievers faired in 2013.

Analyzing the Stats:

Angels 12th in MLB for relievers K/9 ——-8.48
Angels 25th in MLB for relievers BB/9 ——3.94

Angels 19th in MLB for relievers HR/9 …. 0.93
Angels 27th in MLB for relievers GB% – — — -41.4%
Angels 15th in MLB for relievers in HR/FB …. 9.6 %

Angels 25th in MLB for relievers in LOB% – – – – – 71.9%
Angels 19th in MLB for relievers in BABIP – – –  – .293

So as it turns out, Angels relievers were pretty decent in K/9 but everything else was awful. Walks per 9 innings, ground ball percentage, and LOB% were the worst of the Angels problems. Walk per 9 innings and GB% are a by-product of poor development/coaching and the type of reliever is brought in to the bullpen.  Having a low GB% is not a bad thing, especially when you have Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos in the outfield, however the latter is no longer in the picture. Now the outfield consists of Hamilton, Trout, and Calhoun  (Hamilton and Calhoun are now on the 15 day DL, with J.B Shuck and Collin Cowgill filling in). Not a bad fielding outfield but not a great one either. Sure, a flyball is usually an out but there’s also a chance of a homerun occurring. We’ll get into the homerun problem later. If you’re interested in learning more about LOB% and BABIP, I recommend these two videos.

Analyzing the Number of Appearances and Leverage Situations

Angels pitcher with most appearances
1.  Dane de la Rosa 75
2.  Ernesto Frieri 67
3.  Michael Kohn 63
4. Kevin Jepsen 45

Since DDLR had the most appearances last year, I was concerned for his health since relievers who get used a lot (many appearances) or throw many innings tend to get hurt. Angels fan can look no further for evidence in the case of Sean Burnett.  Burnett averaged 71 appearances and 59 innings over the 2010-2012 seasons (3 seasons total)  and then he got hurt. Ryan Madson averaged 68 appearances and 68 innings over the 2008-2011 seasons (4 seasons total). Now these are just two cases and there are others but I’ll save that for my thesis when I graduate medical school. Continuing on, for AAA Durham, DDLR average 52 appearances and 69 innings over the 2011-2012 seasons (2 seasons total).  His next year he bumped up to 75 appearances and 72.1 innings and during Spring Training was put on the DL with a right forearm strain and after being called up to the Angels he averaged a fastball of 89 MPH, down 6 MPH from 2013.

This means that in 2014, everyone will be bumped up a notch in appearances, except that would be the case if Dipoto hadn’t signed Joe Smith. Smith was signed to stabilize the late innings and create a bridge of DDLR and Smith to the closer, A.K.A Ernesto Frieri. Now let’s go into how Scioscia used his bullpen with the context of leverage.

Angels pitcher with most high leverage situations
1.  Ernesto Frieri 45
2.  Scott Downs 39** (also played with Braves)
3. Dane de la Rosa 31
4. Michael Kohn 29

Percentage of High Leverage to appearances
1. Ernesto Frieri 67.2%
2.  Michael Kohn 46.0%
3.  Dane de la Rosa 41.3%

Unraveling Scioscia’s Brain:

 

Frieri – 88.1% of games in 9th inning
DDLR – 54.7% of games in 8th inning
Kohn – 57.1% of games in 6th/7th inning  also 44.4% of games in 8th/9th inning
Jepsen – 48.9% of games in 8th inning

Frieri – 9th inning
Rosa – 8th inning
Kohn – 7th inning “Utility Reliever”
Jepsen – 8th inning (until DDLR came)

Unraveling Scioscia’s Brain in 2014:

Unfortunately, Burnett and DDLR have been injured for most of the year but let’s check it out anyway (does not include game at Nationals on 4/23/14)

Frieri – 77.8% of games in the 9th inning
Kohn – 45.4% of games in the 8th inning
Smith – 70% of games in the 8th inning
Salas – 44.4% of games in the 7th inning
Jepsen – 88.9% of games in the 7th/8th/9th innings (2,3,3,)

Frieri – 9th inning reliever
Smith/Kohn – 8th inning reliever
Salas – 7th inning reliever
Jepsen – Utility reliever

I can already tell you using Smith and Kohn sharing 8th inning duties isn’t good. If anything, Kohn should be bumped down to the 7th innings and the rest of the relievers would move down a notch. Later on in the year, you’ll most likely see DDLR coming back and taking a late inning role, as well as possible promotions from the minors in the form of R.J Alvarez, Mike Morin, and Cam Bedrosian.

Why Using Bullpen Roles Aren’t Smart:


kimbrel really pissed

*With Craig Kimbrel warmed and ready to go, the Braves’ manager Fredi Gonzalez elected to not go to Kimbrel, the best reliever in MLB, in a high leverage situation*

As said before managers need closers to establish some kind of stability in the pen. It makes the players’ lives easier knowing what inning/role they’ll pitch in. However, that’s not the way to go about things. If your starting pitcher is out of the game and you’re in a high leverage situation (bases loaded, no one out) you must go to your best reliever to get out of the jam (or a pitcher that fits that situation, a high GB% or high K% pitcher would work) and usually a team’s best reliever is their closer, so the manager should put him in. Not in the 9th inning later in the game when the other team is already winning, that’s dumb!

 

Best Possible Bullpen Scenario (and why a Frieri demotion from the closer spot is a blessing in disguise):

Usually my philosophy has been, there’s no need for roles in the pen, what’s best is leverage-based pitching. The best relievers pitch in the highest leverage situation and worse relievers pitch in low leverage situations. Simple. However, I’ve realized that most managers need a definite closer and being cost-efficient, the closer should be Joe Smith. Yes I know it’s dumb to have the best reliever on the team pitch in a specific inning rather than a specific leverage situation. However, Frieri earned 3.8MM through arbitration. That’s a lot of money to be paying for a reliever. Over his career he averages about 0.87 WAR per year, call it 0.9 Now, 0.9 WAR isn’t bad out of a reliever, but it’s not worth the 3.8MM, Joe Smith earned a 3 year 15.75MM contract after putting up 3 solid years in Cleveland, averaging 1.7 bWAR a year.  The reason why Frieri earned so much in arbitration was the amount of saves he got, which was 60. Arbitrators care about Saves, Runs, Home runs, Stolen Bases, RBI’s etc. Which is why I’m in favor of putting Smith as the closer, this spot would’ve been reserved for Burnett however he’s hurt and it doesn’t look like he’s coming back. Putting Smith as the closer gives us a good reliever and cost-certainty for the future. However, there is stipulation in his contract that adds 250k to his contract annually based on games finished. An extra 750k is worth the hit if it means Frieri won’t get a big bump in arbitration.

CL – Joe Smith
High Leverage Reliever*** – Ernesto Frieri
Mid-High Leverage Reliever/Closer (close game if Smith needs rest) – Dane de la Rosa
Low-Mid Leverage Reliever/Closer (big lead if Smith needs rest) Michael Kohn
Low Leverage Reliever – Kevin Jepsen
Lefty Specialist/Low Leverage Reliever – Nick Maronde
Long Reliever – Matt Shoemaker

Saying that DDLR and Kohn get shots at the closer role if Smith needs rest is because them getting a few saves here and there won’t be too much trouble once they hit arbitration. Plus they have experience in the 9th which should keep Scioscia somewhat comfortable.

In the offseason, Dipoto needs to sign/trade for one more high leverage reliever to push down Kohn and Jepsen down the ladder. However, there are two ways this can go, either sign a “proven closer” for 1-2 years and bump Smith down to a high leverage role or sign a high leverage reliever and keep Smith as the closer. Personally, I like pairs of relievers. A closer, that’ll rack up saves but otherwise is an okay reliever while I have a pair of high leverage relievers, one lefty, one righty. Next a pair of mid leverage pitchers, again a lefty and righty. And the last two spots go to a specialist (or a low leverage reliever, depends on need) and a long reliever. For this to happen without spending a lot of money, it needs to come from scouting and developing pitchers.

 

*** This is the part you were looking for in the beginning, why the heck is Butcher in the title but nowhere to be found on the article? Well this is where I will discuss that.

Why The Angels Should Fire Mike Butcher or Maybe They Shouldn’t:

Take a look at some Pitch F/X data of Frieri from his time with the Padres (2010-2012):

fireri pitch fx before

Now look at the same data but with the Angels (2012-2014):

frieri pitch fx after

Notice something? When Frieri was with the Padres he was a FB/CV (fastball/curveball) pitcher. Now, he’s mainly a FB pitcher and there have been many reports during the offseason that Frieri is learning a new pitch. In 2013, it was the CT and CH (cutter and changeup), well he really didn’t learn the changeup, it’s more of a refinement since he threw that pitch with the Padres. In 2014, it was the SL and CH (slider and changeup), again a refinement of the changeup and now he’s bringing back his slider he threw very sparingly with the Padres.

From :02 to :06 you can see an example of Frieri’s CV:

Now, I have no idea what a pitching coach does, the media doesn’t exactly focus on Butcher as much as they did with Dave Duncan (former pitching coach for the Cardinals, now is working with the Padres) or have been doing with Don Cooper (pitching coach for the White Sox). Maybe Butcher is just a guy that works on approach and not learning new pitches or refining pitchers’ mechanics. I’m not sure however when a stud reliever says that he is going to change his repertoire,  you would think some coach, whether it be Butcher, Scioscia, or someone else, would step in and tell Frieri to keep doing what he’s doing. For some reason Frieri has strayed away from his curveball, it seemed like it was an effective pitch and generally, curveballs don’t have a platoon split (which means that a certain-handed hitter doesn’t have an advantage over it). So it’s concerning that Frieri would learn a cutter or slider since those pitches tend to have platoon splits (cutter’s generally don’t have a platoon split, sliders do well against same-handed batters), you’d think somebody would’ve noticed by now.

Now, there are a lot of variables, maybe Frieri isn’t that good of a pitcher and isn’t capable of learning a new pitch, which makes sense, since he’s relied on his FB more with the Angels than with the Padres, lack of confidence in his other pitches would lead him to overusing his FB.

What I can tell you is that with the Padres, he was death to RHB, they produced a measly .174/.256/.276 slash line. With the Angels? In 2013, RHB produced a triple slash line of .292/.357/.469 or about the same as Brandon Belt produced in 2013: .289/.360/.481. That isn’t good. At all. Good news is, is that he’s now death to LHB. Anyways, let’s carry on with the rest of the topic.

So who’s fault is it? The fault being, who is responsible for screwing up Frieri?

Well, I’ll give you newcomer Fernando Salas and then one more pitcher after that.

Here’s with the Cardinals from 2012-2013:

salas pitch fx cardinals

And with the Angels in 2014:

salas pitch fx angels

As you can see, Salas ditched his CV and has gone with a SL. Maybe it’s an Angels’ philosophy to have a SL over a CV but the stats say that CV have less of a platoon split, so I’d rather have a reliever that does well against both hitters, rather than just one.

 

Finally, I leave you with Jordan Walden.

Here’s Walden with the Angels from 2010-2012:

walden pitch fx angels

Here’s Walden with the Braves from 2013-2014:

walden pitch gx braves

As you can see with the Braves, they toned down his FB use and increased the use of his CH and SL. Walden has produced about the same but the difference is his control, as his BB/9 had gone down from 4.2 in 2012, to 2.7 in 2013. This most likely is the result of the drop in velocity in Walden’s FB. With some pitchers, they throw too hard and aren’t able to control it, so they dial it down and become effective.

 

Personally, I don’t know if he should be fired or not. That fan side of me says that he should be fired. But I want to make an informed rational decision and I’m simply not informed enough to make that kind of decision.  If I were a GM, my preference towards a coach is to have someone who can improve a player and help guide them throughout the season. I’d want to be able to have scouts find pitchers who are broken and have the confidence in the pitching coach and the other coaches to be able to fix that player and have that player become a complete steal, like Francisco Liriano or Tyler Skaggs.

Yes, Tyler Skaggs was broken. I’m not sure who taught Skaggs this or if it was just a bad habit. The habit in question was that Skaggs’ strike foot was inconsistent , in that it was usually shortened, leaning to a loss in velocity. The Angels acquired him in the trade with Trumbo and they fixed him and his FB is averaging 93 MPH, compared to 90 MPH with the Diamondbacks. I’m not entirely sure which coach fixed Skaggs, maybe it was Butcher, maybe it was someone else. Though Skaggs’ habit was easy to correct, so maybe it’s not that big of an accomplishment compared to Liriano.

To conclude, should Butcher get fired? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. What do you think?

Taking a look at Frieri’s latest outing:

Throwing way too many fastballs, isn’t usually a bad thing, Reds’ starter Tony Cingrani throws mostly fastballs (80% frequency) and he’s done very well so far, but what helps Cingrani is deception. Frieri doesn’t have that, so he must rely on locating and commanding the fastball.

frieri full HR

As you can see here, Frieri missed badly and Lobaton hit a HR

frieri full Werth DBL

Again, Frieri missed low away and Werth crushed it for a 2 run double.

There are some serious issues with this bullpen, how it was constructed, how it’s utilized, and how it’s coached. Hopefully they won’t be too much of a problem for the Angels this year, as help is on the way in the form of Cam Bedrosian, Mike Morin, and R.J. Alvarez.

 

 

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