Friday, July 24, 2015

Lessons From FIP: Midseason Report on the Lions' Bullpen

Norio Tanabe has had the task of navigating an inconsistent bullpen that has so far fared well during the early part of the year.

We're back with more statistical analysis of the Lions and this time we look at the bullpen which has been known to be a weakness of the team with the exception of the back end. Here we will look at 6 relievers, because those are the only ones that have built enough of a sample size to warrant getting a part in this statistical analysis.

Overall, the unit as a whole is one that is quite interesting. As a unit, they don't give up a lot of home runs, with the exception of low leverage reliever, Yosuke Okamoto. In fact, excluding Okamoto, the unit has given up a total of 4 Home Runs, which has allowed for many of these relievers to glide into lower FIPs that indicate that they should be performing better than they really are. That's a great sign, a bullpen that gives up a lot of home runs is a bullpen that will single-handedly ruin games by lighting the fuse to any explosive situation. This bullpen may be giving up the lead, but they have still allowed their highly touted offense the opportunity to come back in the game if they have given up a few runs do to hits and walks.

The only consistent problem for Lions relievers has been their lack of command, a lot of walks have been charged to the Lions middle of the order and that has led to plenty of problems when it comes to Tanabe's trust of his relief corps outside of Masuda and Takahashi. Now let's look at individual relievers.

2015 Stats are reflective of games completed after July 21. 

Yosuke Okamoto

There's only one way to describe Okamoto's season: UGLY. As the Lions' de facto "garbage time" reliever, Okamoto has piled up 35.2 IP and is allowing 2 home runs per 9 innings. This is in 14 relief appearances to go along with 3 starts. He's bounced around from the ni-gun and the big club and the results have not been good. We've seen before how an FIP tries to take a player back down to earth because of some crazy, low ERA numbers but here it's the exact opposite. Everyone needs a garbage time reliever, but it would be nice if Okamoto could be just a bit more competent in completing his role. Quite frankly, the 29 year old has never seen numbers this bad in his career. He got to start 16 games last year and half-way through this season, Okamoto has already reached the amount of home runs he gave up last year. There's not much to suggest when it comes to improvement, only that the only direction to go is up.

Kazuki Miyata

Well, that's a trend that's not promising, isn't it? The 26 year old, former 6th round pick has the shortest sample size in this study and he has seen nothing but problems in a low leverage role. Luckily for us, there is a little bit of good news when we look at Miyata more closely, we can see that he is at least striking out a good number of hitters and that's somehow kept his FIP at a reasonable rate despite having a walk rate of 7.2 per 9. More needs to be seen from Miyata but after 15.0 IP this season and 14.2 IP, there's no real role for him in the Lions' bullpen.

Esmerling Vasquez

ERA: 4.06
FIP: 3.32

We move into the middle relief options for the Lions and we start with their power right-hander, Esmerling Vasquez. The former Arizona Diamondback has followed similar performance to what he had when he pitched in the states. Walks continue to be the problem for the 31-year old but the good news is that his walks allow Tanabe to make the necessary moves before things get too out of hand. He hasn't given up a home run this year and that is his most redeeming quality. If he can somehow get his walk rate to pedestrian levels, the Lions would be quite happy with him as their 7th inning guy. I do think there's some level of luck involved with Vasquez's higher ERA but with the amount of walks given up, it's not surprising that his ERA is above 4.

Shota Takekuma

The left-handed specialist has had a puzzling year for my liking, he really hasn't made it easy for me to analyze him and give him a proper label. He has a WHIP of over 1.6, yet a solid ERA and FIP, color me amazed. His walk rate has been quite high just like Vasquez, but his strikeouts have been real high to go along with a continuing streak of having not given up a home run since last season. I wouldn't be surprised to see his ERA start to inch up a bit in the second half but we have to be happy with his production so far.

Tatsushi Masuda

Now here's a guy who's fun to analyze. The Lions set-up man has been the best Lions reliever and his ERA has really been unfair to him, because he deserves to be doing so much better. He doesn't allow home runs, he strikes out nearly 10 per 9 innings and his walk rate is decent. That's a reliever I want on my team. A 2012 first round pick of the Lions, Masuda is having a breakout season and really making those scouts who evaluated him look really good. I expect his ERA to join his FIP in the second half of the season.

Tomomi Takahashi

The Lions closer is having another solid year but not as good as the previous year. Last year he had a strikeout rate of 11.5, while this year he has a more pedestrian rate of 7.3. That explains the elevated FIP numbers but then again, years like 2014 are quite rare so it's hard to hold that against him. He's already tied his career high in home runs, but that doesn't appear to be a huge concern. Overall, I expect more of the same from the Lions closer.

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