Yesterday, we heard the news that the Miami Marlins were demoting struggling closer Heath Bell and employing a closer-by-committee approach with the pen for the time being. Of course, that is just a fancy way of saying that, instead of treating the ninth inning as super special and giving the reliever that gets his own entrance music, the team will treat it like any other inning and mix and match relievers according to platoon advantage and other matchup observations. In essence, the ninth inning will be like the eighth inning, but more important.
But who will the Marlins turn to for their most important innings? Aside from Bell, who have the Marlins even trusted in these high-leverage situations? We will use Leverage Index (LI) to find out.
Before we dive in, let's take a look at a quick definition of Leverage Index. Essentially, LI is a measure of a given situation's potential impact on the game. The more impact that PA can have on a game, the bigger the LI. A bases loaded situation is much more important in the ninth inning of a tied game than in the first inning of a tied game. A runner on second with no one out barely matters with your team down ten runs, but it is critical when the difference is one run. Basically, it helps tell the story of how important a given play is.
The scale for LI is that an average play gets a 1.0. More important plays get higher numbers; for example, an LI of 2.0 implies a PA is twice as important as an average PA. Subsequently, less important PA get lower numbers; for example, an LI of 0.5 implies a situation that is half as important as an average PA.
So, who have the Marlins given the most important situations? Leverage Index can tell us.The Leverage Table
These are the seven relievers that the Marlins currently have in their bullpen. You can generally tell what their roles were prior to the Bell demotion just by looking at their entry LI (gmLI on FanGraphs), which is the LI of the situation when the reliever was called into the game. This gives an idea of how much trust Ozzie Guillen put into each guy. Before Bell's demotion, Randy Choate and Steve Cishek were seeing very important innings and situations as well. In fact, both players entered into games in situations almost as important as Bell's, so they certainly have been "thrown into the fire" of the closer this season, even if they were not "ready" before this year.
What have we garnered from this? Heath Bell, Randy Choate, and Steve Cishek have been the three relievers that Ozzie Guillen has trusted the most in the most important situations. We know Bell is likely to be part of "the committee," although obviously he will not be the only member. If you look at Guillen's trust, it seems he would look to Choate and Cishek next, and given the lefty-righty combination there, that is not a bad place to turn.
For the Marlins, the decisions needs to be made based on who the team believes are the two or three best relievers on their side. This means that they need to look at how good those pitchers will be in the future rather than concern themselves about their ERA in the present. We all know that ERA for relievers is flimsy anyway, so let's look at those same relievers and look at two metrics designed to project their future: SIERA (Skill-independent ERA) and ZiPS projected ERA going forward.
|Player||SIERA||ZiPS Proj ERA||Entry LI|
What did we learn from this table? It shows that, if you are looking at the future, many of the team's relievers are not separated by much. Bell's SIERA indicates that his skills shown this season do not bode well for the future, and his 3.30 ERA is not all that different from the three or four other middle relievers. Randy Choate, on the merit of being a lefty specialist and the player with the best projections, should almost certainly be involved in the committee as the official LOOGY.
The question of whether Cishek, Mike Dunn, or Ryan Webb should be a part seems to be unimportant, as all three players project very similarly. Cishek has been the most impressive this season, and given that all three seem fairly interchangeable going forward, he seems to be confirmed as part of the committee. Guillen has shown more trust in Dunn recently since his last recall from Triple-A; in 10 1/3 innings since being recalled on June 21, Dunn has struck out seven batters and, more importantly, walked just two. On the other hand, batters have been making a lot more contact on Dunn's pitches this season, to the tune of 84 percent of swings versus 76 percent last season. Webb, on the other hand, has never been able to miss bats and seems to have lost a lot of his ground ball touch from previous years, as his ground ball rate is down to just 47 percent to just over 60 percent from last season.
Based on the numbers we expect from the future, Cishek, Dunn, and Webb would be interchangeable parts going forward. If one has to be a part of the committee, it would be Cishek, with Dunn and Webb both lagging behind due to performance concerns. Dunn's disadvantage is that he is a lefty and Choate already serves as the committee's LOOGY, but Dunn has been the better of the two relievers thus far this year.
Ultimately, I suspect Dunn and Webb will remain in the seventh and eighth innings while the team figures out the committee with Bell, Choate, and Cishek primarily. Do not rule out guest appearances, however, if Guillen chooses to utilize either of these players earlier in the game.
This Friday, we will begin seeing if this move will bear any fruit. Given that Bell's struggles have been so fantastic that it is hard to believe he is merely stumbling on some bad luck, this move cannot be a bad thing. Cishek and Choate do show significant platoon splits (and understandably so due to their throwing motions) and it seems logical that, if you were to tie one down to the ninth inning, you would at least consider having the other ready for the potential pinch hitter. Just by matching the righty relievers with mostly right-handed batters and Choate with primarily lefties, the Marlins are likely to come out ahead over their previous one-pitcher method. So if that is the only advantage, it will still be a visible advantage.
The Returning Members
Keep in mind two pitchers mentioned yesterday by Joe Frisaro who could also get involved. Edward Mujica, despite his significant struggles this season, was still the fourth most trusted reliever by Entry LI (1.43) for Ozzie Guillen. That means that, unless this method is working well, do not be surprised to see Mujica enter as the third non-Bell reliever. Mujica has been on the disabled list with a fractured right pinky toe after taking a batted ball to the foot.
The other player in a few weeks will be Juan Oviedo. Oviedo is serving his suspension while working through his kinks in the minors, and he is set to return by the end of July. If so, the Marlins are almost certain to insert into the equation, if only because he once picked up saves for this team. The difference is, if he shows signs of pitching well while Bell does not improve, Oviedo may steal the job outright. His career 3.80 SIERA along with career 4.34 ERA and 4.29 FIP, however, all indicate that he is no better than any of the other three Marlins middle relievers in contention for committee membership.