Monday, May 24, 2010

ATB Reliever Strategy Has Changed Forever

The last two seasons ATB has seen a stark change in the relief pitching patterns used by owners. Historically, ATB followed usage strategies much like those employed in MLB today - closers close, setup men are key in the 8th and maybe 7th innings, and the dregs of the bullpen are responsible for mop-up and long relief duties.

Recently however, many owners have put a premium on not just the quality of innings pitched of the pen, but now the quantity of quality innings is equal if not more important. Instead of great setup men and closers, many owners now draft all aspects of the pen early and search for high durability "lights out" relievers.

Some evidence:
  • In ATB IX 22 relievers accumulated 90 or more innings.
  • In ATB X, the number rose to 28
  • In ATB XI again the number rose, this time to 36
  • In the current season an astounding 50 pitchers are on pace to exceed 90 innings, despite four less teams than then last season.
This isn't enough to prove anything though. Sure it is obvious long relief is a key aspect of the game now, but it says nothing to the quality of these players. For time out of mind, owners in real life as well as ATB have sacrificed games that seemed out of reach by saving their pen for the next day, and allowed sub-par relievers to mop up the un-winnable games.

Here's the key - the average ERA of the Top 10 pitchers with at least 90 innings pitched has improved for four consecutive years:

The Men Behind The Trend
Here are the standout seasons over the past four years.

Items to note:
  • Kent Tekulve and Jeff Zimmerman are the only two pitchers to appear twice
  • I personally love the ATB XI Zimmerman role the best. 140 innings, 1.88 RCERA, and he was the full time closer for DC as well as the starting setup man vs both Lefties and Righties.
  • How about Ellis Kinder's 17 (!) wins in relief in ATB XI?
  • Analyzing their usage we have 11 setup roles, 9 long relievers, and 5 closers
This season there are several high quality long duration relievers. All listed below are on pace for at least 90 innings of work.
  • Three qualifying relievers have yet to give up a run: Jeff Zimmerman (20.2 IP for LDS) John Wetteland (18 IP for BT), and Pat Jarvis (17.2 IP for SBD)
  • The best RCERA (0.45) belongs to Special Sauce's Jack Quinn
  • Several fairly unfamiliar players are having great starts: Fransico Liriano (1.91 ERA for PR), Phil Regan (1.14 ERA for PR), and Houston Street (1.64 ERA for LDS)
Perhaps The DC Chips epitomize this team strategy best, and their very own Frank Killen is the best example of an individuals success. On pace for over 225 innings in the the #1 Long Reliever, #1 Setup vs Lefty, #2 Setup vs Righty, and #1 Closer vs Lefty roles, the lefty has a 1.71 ERA and 0.71 WHIP in 42 innings. Killen proved himself last season for the Fishbiscuits amassing a 1.89 ERA in 148 Innings, and therefore with good reason do we expect he'll keep up a sub 2.00 ERA in an extreme amount of innings. This, coupled with high leverage situations as a setup man and closer, likely make Killen the most important reliever in the game today.

And he's not the only DC reliever used in this unique way. Steve Howe, Joe Neale, and Mike Jackson are all on pace for close to 100 innings of work and have combined for a 1.97 ERA thus far.

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