The Nats Bullpen Hasn’t Prevented Struggles in Extra Innings and One Run Games

As soon as the Nationals lost Saturday’s game against the Padres the internet burst to life with Soriano memes. Soriano blows too many saves, he lives on the edge, he gives up too many base runners, and all the other same old tripe. Soriano has done none of those things this season. He does have two blown saves, but he has only given up three runs all season and has a WHIP of 0.96. Soriano has been dominant this season. It just happens that the three runs he has allowed have been in two separate innings and both resulted in blown saves, but not blown games.

That brings us to the most puzzling aspect of the Nats bullpen. The Washington Nationals bullpen has the lowest ERA in the majors at 2.17. Four Nationals relievers have an ERA under 2.00, five under 3.00, and every one of the regular seven aside from Ross Detwiler has a FIP 3.00 or lower. When it comes to the Washington Nationals bullpen there are six relievers performing at a great to excellent level and with those types of numbers the Washington Nationals should perform far better in extra-inning games. Both times Soriano blew the save the Nationals were on the road and neither time did it result in a walk-off victory for the other team; that would happen later when another reliever would relinquish the tie.

The Washington Nationals are 28-2 when scoring at least four runs. That is a fantastic record in those situations and above league average, but all teams have a winning record with at least four runs just like the average team has a losing record with three runs or less. That is the flip side for the Washington Nationals. Not only do they have a great record when scoring at least four runs they have to score at least four runs to win. When the Nationals score three runs or less their record is 4-27, a .129 winning percentage. The average NL club has a winning percentage of .207. Not great but nearly double what the Nationals have and if they had that winning percentage they’d have a record of 6-25 in those low scoring games, and stand alone in first in the NL East.

This should come as no surprise as the Nationals 1-6 record in extra-inning games and 6-12 record in one run games is one of the reasons they’ve underperformed their expected record. The Washington Nationals have the second best run differential in the NL and an expected record of 35-26. Nine games over .500 and leading the NL East by three games instead of tied with the Braves and Marlins. Clubs that normally have the struggles that result in this disparity, particularly the struggles the Nats have had in extra innings and close games, have a bullpen that isn’t performing well. The Nationals bullpen has been nothing short of spectacular and yet the Nationals struggle in the exact types of games a great bullpen should be helping them to win.

Baseball is gonna baseball and there are times it makes no sense. Statistical anomalies are common less than halfway through a 162 game season. If the Nats bullpen keeps performing as they have then the Nationals results in one run and extra-inning games should turn around. The Nationals last ten losses have all been by a margin of three or less runs with six of them being by one run. The last one run game the Nationals won was on May seventh and since that time the Nationals have lost seven one run games.

Another way to look at this is in recent wins the Nationals have won big and in recent loses they’ve lost small. This is a sign of a team play tremendous baseball, and the fact that the Nationals still haven’t had that long winning streak should give fans hope. A winning streak of six or more games is coming and if the Nationals can continue to play as they have over the last week and a half it will be sooner rather than later, and if the bullpen keeps performing as they have they’ll start winning the Nationals some of these one run and extra-inning games.

4 comments

  1. Without delving into the stats myself, I do see a large potential sampling error problem, extra inning or 1 run games only measures the final outcome and may not reflect the game as a whole. For instance a blown save in the top of 9th to tie the game, but then a 2 run homer wouldn’t qualify as a one run game, even though it was when the home team reliever was on (which is the subject at hand).

    Another problem is the arbitrary 3 vs 4 runs scored. That looks like a major staticstical breaking point, but about 2 vs 3 or 4 vs 5? If a larg percentage of the losses when scoring 3 or less were games with 0 or 1 run scored, it makes that 3/4 run dividing line less magical, just for instance.

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    1. Your first paragraph kind of misses the point. Sorry if I wasn’t clear enough but the main point was the bullpen is very good and yet the Nationals struggle in the types of games a bullpen should help them win such as one run games, low scoring games, and extra inning games.

      As far as the breakdown in those low scoring games the Nats have a winning percentage of .000 when scoring one run compared to NL average of .139. With two runs scored the Nats are at .091 compared to a league average of .256, and with three runs scored the Nats are at .273 compared to NL average of .345. So obviously a league average team or a .500 team doesn’t have a winning record in those games, but the Nats with their pitching staff should actually be better than league average instead of worse. As I said in the piece this is probably a statistical anomaly and things will regress to the mean by season’s end and as I also pointed out in the piece the Nats recent loses have all been close games while their wins have been blow outs.

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      1. David – where did you find those winning percentages separated by runs per game? I’d love to be able to check out more of those numbers.

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