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Marlins' Bullpen Once Again Frustrates in June

Edward Mujica is just one of many struggling Marlins relievers in the month of June. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Edward Mujica is just one of many struggling Marlins relievers in the month of June. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Last night, everything seemed to be going decently for the Miami Marlins. As the Miami Heat cruised along to their eventual championship, the Marlins were busy in Boston, slugging out a close game. The Fish held a 3-0 lead early in the game thanks to a three-run first inning. When that lead dissipated in the middle innings, the Fish once again climbed ahead, thanks in part to a laser shot by Giancarlo Stanton.

But as has been customary of the team during this terrible month of June, one part of the game always goes wrong. Yesterday night, it was the bullpen that failed the Marlins. Edward Mujica allows the game-tying home run to Will Middlebrooks in the eighth inning, followed by a succession of singles that allows the leading run to come in to score.

Amid the clamor about the lack of offense for the Marlins, the bullpen and its struggles have been obscured. The truth is that the Marlins have really suffered on that end this month as well.

Marlins Bullpen, 2012 K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
April 18.7 12.7 6.2 44.3 3.75 4.09
May 21.5 9.5 0.0 47.2 3.66 2.48
June 17.0 6.6 16.1 47.0 6.45 4.74

The Marlins bullpen has been horrific this month, but it has been hidden because it has been bad in games in which the Marlins were already performing poorly. But the Fish pen did allow a number of games to go from close to out of hand, and their poor performance should be noted.

Too Many Homers

You knew that the Marlins were not going to continue to hold opponents back on home runs. But this month's home run total has just been ridiculous, and there is no reasoning behind it. In 60 innings, the Marlins bullpen has allowed 10 home runs, only two fewer than the league-leading Houston Astros pen. That is one homer every five innings pitched, including last night's soul-crusher that tied the game. The homers have been spread out pretty evenly among the team's relievers. Chad Gaudin leads with three homers allowed, while Steve Cishek, Chris Hatcher, and Edward Mujica have each allowed two. It should be noted that Hatcher's two came in one inning, and he was immediately demoted that evening.

Too Much Gaudin

The consequence of the Marlins being behind so much forced the team into using their lesser relievers rather than their good ones. Consider that the team's most effective reliever in the month was Heath Bell (I know, the irony, right?), and he only pitched 5 1/3 innings due to a lack of closing situations. The Marlins have only been able to provide Bell four save opportunities this month, though he did convert all of them in strikingly solid fashion.

Chad Gaudin, the team's mop-up man and long reliever, has thrown 16 1/3 innings (!) by comparison, and that is because the Fish got behind a number of runs early in the game. When starters like Carlos Zambrano (4.25 innings per start) can only last a few innings at a time, you force your team to throw out lower-leverage relievers to pitch mop-up games. There is a reason why guys like Gaudin and minor leaguers Sandy Rosario (18.00 ERA in three innings) and Chris Hatcher (13.50 ERA in 2 2/3 innings) are at that end of the pen rather than the front end, and that is because they are not as effective and, if given enough innings, they will cost the team a good number of runs.

Room for Improvement

The Marlins were better last season in the bullpen, and they only improved theoretically by picking up Heath Bell. The team's 4.55 ERA currently has an underlying 3.65 FIP, so it is not the end of the world but rather a series of unfortunate setbacks. At the beginning of the year, the struggles were purely at the expense of Bell, who could not find the zone and blew a number of games. Now, the team is allowing an inordinate amount of home runs that is not likely to stick either. Other ERA predictors like SIERA (3.67) say good things about the skill so far seen in the Marlins' pen.

But it is not just the numbers so much as the talent. We expect a number of these guys such as Mujica to improve just based on regression. Ryan Webb, Steve Cishek, and Randy Choate all have good stuff and play their roles well. Bell has once again found his strength and has been throwing well in his last few outings. Regression should bring this team's pen back to respectability. It seems like this month is just another slump in a large group of them throughout the team.

Then again, this is the reason why teams do not pay for relievers and bullpens. The best bullpen in the National League has been the Cincinnati Reds' pen, and they only invested heavily in two players, Aroldis Chapman (who was slated to be a starter) and Sean Marshall The remaining guys who are succeeding this season were scrap-heap pickups and players that had wandered around and found success in Cincinnati. Expecting your bullpen to perform well year after year and be consistently worth the investment involves finding the absolutely right guys, and very few teams are able to do that. The Marlins poured in money for Heath Bell and Juan Oviedo, and they spent resources to get Mujica and Ryan Webb. Only Cishek is a homegrown product of this year's pen. Rather than promoting from within and filling in slots, the club has depended on acquiring from outside, and while this year's bullpen should get better, it serves as a warning to the fickle nature of investing in a bullpen.