Things to Ponder: WPA in the Brewers Pen

My original plan for today was to do another graph similar to the shortstop UZR one I did yesterday to look at Win Probability Added, showing which Brewers have been the best (and worst) in high-leverage situations. The trade for Francisco Rodriguez is taking most of the digital ink in the Brewers blogosphere today, but the trade fits in nicely with what I was planning to do, anyway.

Apparently in breaking down the K-Rod trade last night, MLB Network had some kind of graphic showing that the Brewers’ bullpen “cost” the team 20 wins already this season. All they did was count up the losses charged to bullpen pitchers this year, which is oversimplifying things a bit too much. I’m still not totally convinced that it was a necessary trade to make — the bullpen could have been improved by keeping Cody Scarpetta up or even calling up Tyler Thornburg or Wily Peralta — but I can understand why the front office thought something needed to be done.

As a whole the Brewers bullpen has been good for 1.4 Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs. That’s not a terrible total for a bullpen, but the problem is that John Axford accounts for 1.2 of that total and there have been eight pitchers who produced at or below replacement level. WAR is context-neutral, though, meaning things aren’t adjusted for the situation. When talking about relief pitchers, that can be a bit of a problem. WPA might be a better measure, which is why today I bring you this:

Again, Axford accounts for most of the production, with LaTroy Hawkins coming in a distant second place. Everyone else (from L-R: Mitre, McClendon, Kintzler, Green, Braddock, Estrada, Loe) has done more to hurt the team’s chances of winning than help. (Note: Since I limited this to those who have thrown at least 10 innings, Takashi Saito, Mark DiFelice, and Mitch Stetter do not appear).

Admittedly, late-inning relievers are going to be helped (or hurt, in the case of Loe) more when it comes to WPA because they’re pitching in higher-leverage situations. Still, this does highlight why Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke wanted to add a late-inning reliever. Axford won’t be able to do it all himself all year, and the more games the Brewers can shorten to 7 innings, the better their chances of making the playoffs out of a tight division will be.