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Bruce Bochy's annual bullpen strategy

You won't be that surprised, but it's still weird to see evidence to support it.


This is a post in search of a thesis. Or maybe a thesis in search of more supporting evidence. Or, perhaps, a call for you to finish the work that I didn't really start. Or it could just be a series of neat little factoids! We'll see.

A recurring theme this season has been Giants starting pitchers staying in for one or two hitters too many. You might remember this recurring theme from such years as 2012, 2011, 2010, or 2009. Or 2008. Probably 2007. It feels like the Giants and Bruce Bochy frequently allow a starting pitcher to start an inning, but replace him after a runner (or two) gets on.

But we're Giants fans, and while a lot of us have seen hundreds and hundreds of Bochy-managed Giants games, very few of us probably know the little tics of the other managers in the league. Clint Hurdle is purple, Don Mattingly is a buffoon, and Mike Scioscia grimaces a lot. That's about the extent of my in-depth knowledge of other managers. So while it seems like Giants relievers are always coming into games with runners on base, that's probably just cognitive bias.

Except …

The esteemed Steven Goldman pointed out that Baseball Reference actually keeps track of how many runners are on base when relievers come in. It's on the league pages, under relief pitching. Here's where the Giants rank for 2013:

Tm Runr Empt
SFG 59 104
LAD 52 103
SDP 49 100
NYM 47 116
STL 45 91
MIL 41 128
LgAvg 38 108
ARI 37 116
ATL 37 98
PHI 36 97
CHC 35 103
PIT 34 114
COL 30 118
MIA 29 112
CIN 26 116
WSN 17 100
574 1616

Ha, that's cute. It matches our perceptions. But the Giants haven't had the best pitching this year, and that's probably what's been going on. The worse the pitchers, the more runners. More runners mean more pitching changes with runners already on base. So while it's funny to point at that stat this season and assume it means that Bochy has been a master of the one-batter-too-many stratagem, it's probably just a quirk.

Except …

The Giants were 2nd in the National League in 2012, too. They were right behind the Astros, which is a team that makes sense atop the leader board. The Astros allowed 1,390 runs last year, give or take, so their relievers certainly had to dig out of a few messes. But, okay, fine, the Giants weren't exactly pitching juggernauts in 2012 compared to past seasons. Maybe that's another blip.

Long story short, here's where the Giants have ranked in the NL by games entered with runners on since Bruce Bochy became manager:

2013: 1
2012: 2
2011: 3
2010: 2
2009: 3
2008: 2
2007: 3

Since Bochy has taken over the Giants, they've never ranked lower than third in this category. Relievers enter the game with runners on base more with Bruce Bochy than any other manager.

So it looks like we have our answer. Bochy actually is kind of notorious for this. It isn't just our cognitive biases.

Except …

Here's how Felipe Alou ranked:

2006: 3
2005: 1
2004: 1
2003: 2

Every year. Every danged year, the Giants have more relievers start their appearances with runners on base than the typical NL team. The 2004 season was the only season this millennium in which a National League had over 200 reliever appearances that started with a runner on.

How about you, Dusty?

2002: 7
2001: 10
2000: 13
1999: 6
1998: 4
1997: 2
1996: 1
1995: 4
1994: 2
1993: 8

Dusty Baker was all over the place. But for his first three years at AT&T Park, he ranked from the middle to the bottom of the league. I don't know if it was necessary to go back to 1993, but I wanted to make sure this wasn't some sort of organizational philosophy passed down by the Council of Elders or something.

This is a good place to ask if it's a bad thing for the Giants to lead the world in this category during Bochy's reign. The pitching staff has generally been excellent for the last several years, including the bullpen, so maybe it's a good thing that Bochy's doing this. Or maybe it's just a thing -- a stat like "walk-off inside-the-park home runs" that doesn't have to correlate with anything.

My rule of thumb is that if Felipe Alou did it, it's bad for a bullpen. But that's probably unfair. To Bochy. Not Alou. Because while I respect Alou as a Giants player and institution, good grief, was that dude bad at bullpenning.

There you have it. When a Giants reliever comes into a game, he's more likely to have a runner on base than the typical National League reliever.

Note: McC contributor Bill Hanstock is going to die of syrup-related poisoning for charity. You should support the charity because he's going to do it anyway.