|Hope you like grounders and saves|
#Orioles have never had a shutdown bullpen like this. Starters just need to get thru 6 innings with a lead. If so, O's win!Yes, I can recognize hyperbole and excitement. But have fans already forgotten about the 2012 O's bullpen?
— Joe Polek on Sports (@JPonSports) August 8, 2014
This post isn't meant to shame anyone; it's a reminder of the marvelous 2012 O's bullpen. That group was a driving factor in getting the Orioles back to the playoffs. That O's team had an excellent bullpen and a superb defense to go along with a middle-of-the-pack offense and a below-average starting rotation. This season, the O's again have a strong bullpen and great fielding, with a somewhat improved starting rotation and lineup.
So how do the two years' bullpens compare? Let's take a look:
(Keep in mind that there's still about one-fourth of the 2014 season left to play.)
Just about every category is close. Even the workload is similar: The 2012 bullpen threw the fourth-most innings in the majors (545.1); right now, O's relievers have thrown 376 innings, which is tied for third most. They even allowed a similar amount of home runs: 0.79 HR/9 in 2012; 0.74 HR/9 in 2014.
Both bullpens struggle(d) to rack up strikeouts, but they were/are adept at inducing ground balls and limiting walks. And a splendid, reliable left side of the infield, with J.J. Hardy at shortstop and Manny Machado (who was promoted in August of 2012) at third base, is unquestionably an asset for anyone who throws a pitch for the Orioles.
There are only a few remaining contributors from that 2012 group. The biggest remaining name is Darren O'Day, perhaps the O's best current reliever. Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz, who was particularly dominant after joining the bullpen late in the 2012 season, are both bullpen mainstays. Miguel Gonzalez is still around after working both as a reliever and starter in 2012, and Steve Johnson is still in the O's organization while he struggles to stay healthy. Gone are Jim Johnson, Luis Ayala, Troy Patton, Pedro Strop, Matt Lindstrom, and Kevin Gregg (covered here), etc. Jake Arrieta, who threw 13.1 innings in relief and struck out 13.5 batters per nine and yet still had a 6.75 ERA (fun with small samples), is also gone, unfortunately.
Now the main contributing relievers are Zach Britton, O'Day, Ryan Webb (who's in the minors for some reason), Hunter, and Brad Brach. T.J. McFarland has been a useful long reliever, and Brian Matusz has turned things around after an ugly few months. And of course you've heard of this recently acquired Andrew Miller fellow.
The O's, currently 68-50 and six games ahead of the second-place Blue Jays, have a +56 run differential, are 24-17 in one-run games, and are 12-4 in extra-inning games. In 2012, the 93-69 O's finished with a +7 run differential and went an incredible 29-9 in one-run games and 16-2 in extra innings. The O's still have that great bullpen and defense, though they are not nearly as lucky/fortunate/whatever you want to call it as that 2012 team.
Building around the bullpen/defense with a (mostly) average lineup and rotation may not be the most conventional strategy to build a consistent winner, but the Orioles also have a 246-196 record since the beginning of the 2012 season. Whatever they're doing has been working.
Stats, courtesy of FanGraphs, as of August 11. Photo via Keith Allison.