Relief pitching is sometimes devoid of relief

Over the past 100 years, parts of baseball have stayed amazingly the same, while other bits have changed drastically. One of the aspects that has undergone the largest transformation is the prevalence/usage pattern of relief pitchers. Below is a graph which shows how relievers have been used more and more frequently as the game of baseball has evolved.

relief pitching %

In 1914, the year that Charlie Chaplan made his film début, relief pitchers accounted for a scant 5% of innings pitched. Starting pitchers used to be expected to pitch the whooooole game. Fast forward to today, and relievers are responsible for more than one third of all pitchin’ duties. The rule of thumb in today’s game is that you expect your starting pitcher to go ~six innings (maybe even seven or eight, if you’re really lucky!). He is followed by a series of set-up men and then finally the mythical Closer.

For a long time, the men who happened to pitch out the bullpen mostly only did so if 1) they weren’t considered good enough to start by their managers or 2) someone was unexpectedly hurt/overly-tired and they had to jump in with no warning/preparation. This has become less and less true as bullpens have become increasingly specialized. This specialization has manifested itself in an increasing difference in statistics between starting pitchers and relief pitchers. A few of these stats are shown below:

starter vs reliever - K%
starter vs reliever - HR%

For large portions of the earlier sections of these graphs, there’s really not much difference between starters and relievers. However, over the past 40 seasons, relief pitchers have gotten increasingly better than starting pitchers at striking out their opponents. A similar trend holds, over the past 20 seasons, for home runs allowed. I think that these two stats are fairly good measures of how “dominating” a pitcher is.

It’s not hard to imagine why relief pitchers would be more dominating than their starting pitcher peers. Relievers generally know that they won’t have to throw more than 20-25 pitches on any given evening, so they don’t have to pace themselves as much. Additionally, they won’t be pitching to the whole line-up multiple times, so hitters will be much less likely to be able to adapt their swing/approach in order to gain an advantage, as happens against many starting pitchers when they go deeper into games. Also, managers can bring in situational right/left handers to take advantage of any potential platoon splits. As such, it’s not entirely unreasonable for us, as fans, to have the expectation that the relievers on our team SHOULD be better at getting the other team out. They SHOULD record a lot of strikeouts. They SHOULD NOT give up a lot of home runs. And yet…

The Mariners bullpen has given up 44 home runs this year (in ~360 innings pitched). That’s a HR/9 rate of about 1.10, good for THIRD WORST in baseball. Oh, Mariners. That is not very good at all! Of course, some of these home runs were given up to big strong men. I’m not going to get too upset about the fact that Blake Beavan gave up a home run to Adrian Beltre, or that Lucas Luetge has given up a home run to Mike Trout. But some of these home runs…

Below, I present The Biggest Oopsies of the Year, as ‘earned’ by Mariners relief pitchers this year. I’ve designated “Oopsies” as home runs given up to players who have very low home run rates (HR/PA). These players aren’t necessarily bad at hitting. They’re just bad at hitting home runs; giving up home runs to them is embarrassing. (For reference, the league average HR/PA rate for non-pitcher hitters is 2.6% – the average player hits a home run every ~38 plate appearances.)

Biggest Oopsy #5 – click to watch

  • Date: June 6th, 2013
  • Pitcher: Blake Beavan
  • Homerer: Seth Smith
  • Home run rate: 1.7% (162 out of 204 players with 300+ PA)

It’s always sad to give up a home run. Especially when you’re ahead in the count. Beavan’s fastball is not good. Especially when he misses his spot. Especially when he misses his spot up and over the plate. When this happens, Seth Smith can yank the pitch into the right field seats for a home run. At least there wasn’t anyone on base…

Biggest Oopsy #4 – click to watch


I imagine it’s so hard to pitch with the bases loaded. There are so many things that can go wrong! Unfortunately for Maurer, on the above pitch, all of the things did go wrong. He threw a big ol’ 92 mph meatball right over the middle of the plate and McLouth turned a close game into a not close game.

Biggest Oopsy #3 – click to watch


Full count. He wants the fastball down and in. He puts the fastball up and out over the plate. BAM. Home run Pedroia. The last few seasons, Pedroia’s home run rate has actually been right around average, but he’s almost halved that number this year. As such, Oliver Perez should feel SHAME. And DOUBLE SHAME for giving up a go ahead home run to someone who can sit comfortably on a commercial airplane.

Biggest Oopsy #2 – click to watch

  • Date: July 24th, 2013
  • Pitcher: Hector Noesi
  • Homerer: Michael Bourn
  • Home run rate: 1.0% (188 out of 204 players with 300+ PA)


This one comes on a full count with the bases loaded. You can understand how Noesi might think he has to throw a strike in this situation, and that’s what it looked like he was trying to do, as Blanco set up on the lower outside corner. Unfortunately for Noesi, he missed up and over the plate with a 96 mph fastball. Bourn hit the ball. And he hit it far.

Biggest Oopsy of Them All – click to watch


This was the day that I realistically gave up hope on the Mariners having a winning record this season. How nice that they waited until the 9th game to dash any thoughts of the post-season. So here we have an 11 run game. In the fourth inning. At home. Against Houston. God dammit, Mariners… I can understand how Furbush might not have been the most focused in this situation. And It doesn’t even look like he missed his spot by very much. But come on! It’s Altuve!

So,  yeah. The above homerers have combined to hit fewer home runs than Edwin Encarnacion this season. While none of these players are by any stretch of the imagination bad at baseball, you certainly wouldn’t expect them to mash long balls. But they all have. And they’ve all done it against the M’s. At least the Mariners won’t play the Phillies this year, so they can’t give up a home run to Ben Revere

Unsurprisingly, the Mariners lost all five of the games that these home runs occurred in. It would seem that the baseball gods believe that some mistakes are unforgivable. I agree.


One thought on “Relief pitching is sometimes devoid of relief

  1. Pingback: The Mariner Memorandum - Mariners links - SoDo Mojo - A Seattle Mariners Fan Site - News, Blogs, Opinion and More

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