Thursday, September 1, 2016

Eighth Inning Blues

Once again, the Red Sox bullpen had trouble in the eighth inning. Once again they coughed up a lead. Once again it almost cost the Red Sox the game. Why does this always happen?

How come this bullpen chokes every single time they come into the game? 

But, here’s my problem with that question. Math.

Let’s say a pitcher has a 9.00 ERA. That means that, on average, he gives up nine runs every nine innings he pitches. Or, one run per inning. So, if a reliever that comes into the game to pitch the eighth inning has a 9.00 ERA, you should expect him to give up a run. Just one. If he gives up two runs, that means he’ll pitch a scoreless inning at some point to make the number work out. But, overall in one inning of work, you’d expect one run. So if there’s a two run lead, you’d expect a guy with a nine ERA to keep the lead almost all the time.

But, the Red Sox bullpen doesn’t have a 9.00 ERA. You may think it does, but it doesn’t. Heck, even Junichi Tazawa only has a 4.63 ERA. That mean, he only gives up a run about every other inning. So, if he gives up five runs in an inning, he must have thrown 8 shutout innings to make the numbers work. 

So, clearly, the Bullpen isn’t giving up five runs every innings. It’s not even giving up five runs every game.

So, why do we think that they do? I’m not sure. It could be as simple as we only remember crushing defeats. When Kimbrel comes out and shuts the opposition down, it’s just as we expect. But, when he comes in and gives up four runs, it angers us and burns in our memory.

Or, maybe it’s because the Sox use a few relievers every game. So, the odds of any one of them melting down increases. Say you have three guys each pitch an inning for nine games. By the numbers, a couple of them probably give up a run every game. So, as a group, the performance looks worse than any of them do individually.

And, that’s probably the actual answer.

Let’s get crazy and say you have a bullpen made up of guys with 3.00 ERAs. That means they give up a run every three innings or so. Pitch three of them an inning each in nine straight games. So, on average, the 7th inning guy would be expected to give up a run in games 1, 4, and 7. The eighth inning guy might give up a run in games 2, 5, and 8, while the closer gives up a run in games 3, 6, and 9. So, each pitcher has decent number individually. But, the bullpen gives up a run in every inning.

So, it’s not that the bullpen is made up of terrible pitchers. Although, I admit, it’s not like they have five Pedros out there. But, when you’re having them pitch two or three innings every game, the chances are that one of them is going to allow a run. And, every once in a while more than one run. And those are the ones we’re going to remember. Those are the ones we all remember.

The Red Sox have apparently blown the lead in 36 games this year and lost. That means there have been 97 games where they didn’t do that. 

Maybe those are the ones we should remember.

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