An Actual Middle Relief Report

Hey guys! I spent a good amount of time over the past 24 hours debating what should be my topic for today – with four games playing out yesterday, a detailed and interesting write-up on each game would be far too lengthy, and I wanted to change speeds a bit away from the recap-type stuff. Thankfully a ton of interesting stuff happened yesterday. In the AL, Texas took a 2-0 lead over the Blue Jays after a 14-inning marathon in Toronto and the Royals came back from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits to even the series at 1 game apiece. In the opening night of NLDS, starting pitching took center stage, as John Lackey out-dueled Jon Lester en route to a 4-0 Cardinals victory and Jacob deGrom fanned 13 Dodgers as the Mets took Game 1 in Los Angeles, 3-1. However, these are all things that hundreds, if not thousands, of baseball writers across America and the Internet will write about ad nauseum today. So, in the spirit of this blog’s namesake, I give you: the Middle Relief Report.

For the sake of this segment, we’ll broaden the term “middle reliever” to include any pitcher who DID NOT a) start the game, b) pitch more than 2 innings, or c) record a save.

Explanation of statistics:

Pit: Pitches thrown

Str: Strikes thrown

StS: Swinging strikes

StL: Strikes looking

IR: Inherited runners

IS: Inherited runners scored

WPA: Win Probability Added

Texas Rangers 6, Toronto Blue Jays 4 – F/14

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In an extra-inning game, it’s all about the bullpen – with your starter presumably out of the game (possibly many innings ago), you need to be able to shut out the other team long enough for your offense to score a run. This type of thing shouldn’t be too hard for a high-powered offense like Toronto, but it was on Friday afternoon. After Brett Cecil allowed the game-tying run to score, the Jays’ bullpen held on (despite a couple walks from Mark Lowe) until the top of the 14th when LaTroy Hawkins, after recording the first two outs of the inning, allowed three straight singles to put the Rangers up by 1 with runners on second and third. The first batter Liam Hendricks faced hit an infield single to extend the lead to 2 and seal the game for the Rangers. Meanwhile, the Rangers bullpen was fantastic as it had been all season – recording 6 strikeouts against just 4 baserunners over 6 innings of work before finally being given a lead. As the charts show, the Blue Jays’ pen wasn’t awful on Friday – overall, they increased the chances of a Jay wins by nearly 20% (0.194 WPA). Unfortunately, the Rangers’ pen was simply better across the last half of the game and in the end, it was the difference in the game.

Houston Astros 4, Kansas City Royals 5 – F/9

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It really goes without saying that the Royals’ relievers shined on Friday, getting 3 whiffs and walking none while allowing just one hit. Ryan Madson looked sharp, getting Evan Gattis to ground out before striking out Luis Valbuena and Chris Carter (both swinging) on an 85 MPH changeup and 97 MPH fastball, respectively. The Astros pen was a bit less successful, surrendering 3 runs total (1 inherited from S. Kazmir) over just 2.2 innings. Lefty Oliver Perez was first out of the gate behind Kazmir, and was on the business end of some bad luck in the 6th inning. First, Eric Hosmer reached out on what was presumably a hit-and-run and hit an 0-2 slider that was some 9 inches off the plate into left for an RBI single. Kendrys Morales proceeded to hit a single through a shift-vacated right side (that should’ve been a tailor-made double play ball) to put two runners on base, and then Perez walked Mike Moustakas to load the bases. Josh Fields entered the game and promptly walked in a run (in the most ugly fashion) before striking out a pair of Royals to end the inning. The fatal blow came off of Will Harris in the 7th after a leadoff triple by Alcides Escobar (which, once again, was aided and abetted by a questionable A.J. Hinch shift) and a hard single to left off the bat of Ben Zobrist. Tony Sipp and Pat Neshek were solid as usual over the last 1.2 innings, but the first three out of the Houston bullpen left a lot to be desired and ultimately cost the ‘Stros the game and a 2-0 series lead headed home.

Chicago Cubs 0, St. Louis Cardinals 4 – F/9

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Not many surprises here, at least on the Cardinals’ side. Kevin Siegrist looked sharp in relief of John Lackey, striking out the only two men he faced. First, Siegrist froze lefty Chris Coghlan with a 95 MPH fastball over the outer half and then got Addison Russell to whiff on a changeup to end the inning. Trevor Rosenthal allowed a hit and a walk in the 9th, but still did some more normally Trevor Rosenthal-like things and struck out the side to seal the victory despite it not being a save situation. Pedro Strop wasn’t great, allowing a homer to the first man he faced (S. Piscotty) with a runner on inherited from starter Jon Lester. Strop ended the inning with back-to-back groundouts, but the damage was done. While these two runs didn’t really matter in the end of it all, it certainly would’ve put more pressure on Rosenthal in the 9th if the score were 2-0 instead of 4-0.

New York Mets 3, Los Angeles Dodgers 1 – F/9

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Despite only accounting for 3 of the possible 18 innings in this contest, the bullpens in this game found a way to make things interesting. The Dodgers’ side of things was more disappointing than the Mets’ was, however. None of their three pitchers allowed an earned run (and just 1 hit in 2.1 innings), but Pedro Baez made a costly mistake to David Wright on the 6th pitch of the at-bat, leaving a 99 MPH sinker (!!!) over the heart of the plate, which Wright smacked into center for a 2-RBI single that put the Mets up 3-0. Baez bounced back to strike out the dangerous Yoenis Cespedes and escape any further damage, and the rest of the Dodger bullpen quietly did their part to keep Los Angeles in the game. On the Mets’ side, Tyler Clippard recorded a hold (which is TOTALLY a useful stat, by the way) but surrendered a run on an Adrian Gonzalez RBI single that brought home Howie Kendrick, who had doubled two batters earlier. Thankfully, Jeurys Familia was there to save the day for the Mets, and Clippard’s slip-up didn’t come back to haunt him. Overall, a disappointing game from both pens (negative WPA for each), but Jacob deGrom was too good for anyone to notice.

There you have it guys, the Middle Relief Report’s first actual middle relief report. Thanks for reading and exploring with me a side of baseball that most people don’t even notice. The next time I post might be a few days from now, as I’ll be busy with some personal stuff through Monday or Tuesday, but I’ll try my best to have something worthwhile to read to make up for the hiatus. Thanks again for visiting MRR, and tonight look out for some tweets (@MRRblog on Twitter) but most importantly, enjoy the games!

Credit for stats on this article goes to – how’d you know – Baseball-Reference.com and Brooks Baseball’s PitchF/X tool.

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