Does a great bullpen coincide with winning? Sure. But does having an average to below average group of relievers necessarily mean the team is going to struggle? Absolutely not.
Four of the last five World Series champions did not have a top 10 bullpen and two didn’t even make the top 15.
- 2013 Boston Red Sox: 3.70 ERA (21st)
- 2012 San Francisco Giants: 3.56 ERA (15th)
- 2011 St. Louis Cardinals: 3.73 ERA (17th)
- 2010 San Francisco Giants: 2.99 ERA (2nd)
- 2009 New York Yankees: 3.91 ERA (13th)
Meanwhile, their starter’s ERA fared better in terms of ranking.
- 2013 Boston Red Sox: 3.84 ERA (11th)
- 2012 San Francisco Giants: 3.73 ERA (6th)
- 2011 St. Louis Cardinals: 3.81 ERA (12th)
- 2010 San Francisco Giants: 3.54 ERA (3rd)
- 2009 New York Yankees: 4.48 ERA (13th)
Starting pitching and a high-powered offense are far more important than having a shut down, lights-out, intimidating bullpen. Without starting pitching, teams scuffle. Without a reliable offense, teams flounder. Without a great bullpen, teams still have a chance to compete, when their starting pitching and offense are up to par.
While having a strong bullpen comes in third behind starting pitching and hitting, a closer’s value should not be overlooked. A supreme closer can determine the difference between 20 losses and 20 wins.
Let’s take a look again at the last five World Series winners and see how they rank in terms of blown saves.
- 2013 Boston Red Sox: 24 blown saves (26th)
- 2012 San Francisco Giants: 13 blown saves (4th)
- 2011 St. Louis Cardinals:26 blown saves (29th)
- 2010 San Francisco Giants: 14 blown saves (6th)
- 2009 New York Yankees: 15 blown saves (5th)
The Red Sox blew a whopping 24 saves last season, but that wasn’t Koji Uehara‘s (Boston’s closer) fault. Uehara, who saved 21 games with a 1.09 ERA wasn’t named closer until Jun. 21. Andrew Bailey blew five saves before that and setup man Junichi Tazawa recorded eight blown saves. Without Uehara, despite a strong offense and reliable starting pitching, the Red Sox would not have won the World Series.
In 2013, the Milwaukee Brewers had the fifth-best bullpen in the major leagues in terms of earned run average, but didn’t make the playoffs. In 2012,they were dead last in bullpen ERA and didn’t make the playoffs. In 2011, they had the sixth-best bullpen (thanks to John Axford) and made the playoffs, but that was primarily because they had one of the league’s best rotations and offenses.
The team struggled last season because their pitching was dreadful and their offense was without a lot of weapons. It didn’t matter that their bullpen, that included a quality closer, was adequate.
The moral here is that teams should place more of an emphasis on starting pitching and hitting and less on relievers. Without the first two, they don’t have any chance to compete.