The Bullpen in 1998 and 2013

During the last week of play, numerous bullpen woes have led Padres fans to question what has been, historically speaking, one of the more sound aspects of the organization. Huston Street is allowing too many HRs to continue being pedaled out there in save situations and the man who would appear to be his potential replacement, Luke Gregerson, blows every save opportunity that comes his way. Just last night, Gregerson blew a save opportunity for the 4th time, and Tommy Layne picked up the loss as the Padres fell in 13 innings to the Phillies. This is not the bullpen Padres fans have grown accustomed to in recent years.

Is it possible though, that the last week is not indicative of the true identity of the 2013 bullpen? In their haste to shout through the interwebs that, “Street, Gregerson, et al. SUCK!” fans forget that just a short while ago the Padres’ bullpen accomplished something it hadn’t done since 1998: Hold an opponent scoreless for 11+ innings in one game.

On May 31st the Padres defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in 17 innings in large part to a monumental effort by the bullpen. Jason Marquis departed with 1 out in the 6th inning of a 3-3 game, leaving Tyson Ross with a bases loaded jam to clean-up. Ross induced the routine 3-2-4 double play to end the inning and then 6 more relievers ( Joe Thatcher, Dale Thayer, Luke Gregerson, Tim Stauffer, Nick Vincent, and Clayton Richard) combined to throw 11.2 scoreless innings.

Dale Thayer was fantastic in the 8th inning, striking out the side, and Nick Vincent took care of the 13th-15th innings allowing only 2 hits. In a bullpen twist, Buddy Black warmed the next game’s starter, Clayton Richard, and sent him out for the 16th and 17th innings in what proved to be a winning strategy. The beleaguered Richard allowed only 1 hit and struck out 2, earning his 1st win of the year.

The next day, Fox Sports San Diego made mention that the last time the bullpen had pitched as many scoreless innings as they had thrown against Toronto was April 25th, 1998 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. I took note of this factoid.

Let’s take a closer look at that game in 1998. Below is a chart providing key details from the performance of each bullpen.

The Comparison

Date Relievers Used IP H R BB K Final Score
5/31/13 7 11.2 5 0 0 10 4-3 (17)
4/25/98 6 13 4 0 2 7 4-3 (16)

On that Saturday night in 1998 the Padres bullpen got to work earlier than their counterpart in 2013. Sterling Hitchcock lasted 3 innings, allowing 3 runs on 3 hits before being lifted for pinch hitter, Ed Giovanola, in the bottom of the third. The Padres would rely on Donne Wall (3), Dan Micelli (2), Trevor Hoffman (2), Don Wengert (2), Brian Boehringer (3), and Carlos Reyes (1) to get the team through 16 innings and a victory against the Pirates.

Wall pitched 3 innings of hit-less ball, while Trevor Hoffman struck out 3 in his 2 innings of relief. Boehringer did yeoman’s work in the 13th-15th innings allowing o hits and striking out 3 batters before Carlos Reyes came in for his 1st win of the year.

Man, Carlos Reyes was an integral part of that NL Championship squad. Don’t recall Carlos Reyes? Reyes was traded to Boston on June 20th, 1998 with Mandy Romero and Dario Veras for Ethan Faggett and . . . Jim Leyritz. Pretty important, eh?

That was a nice stroll down memory lane but what does it mean for 2013? With the way baseball is today bullpens are in constant use, and consequently, they experience their fair share of ups and downs. Phenomenal success and catastrophic failure are the natural ebb and flow of any season and accepting this will only serve to make life easier for yourself. I’m not preaching to you but reminding myself as well.

Huston Street has been terrible this year so I’m not confident in suggesting that he will return to the form he displayed in 2012 but there are other bright spots. When rested, Dale Thayer has been great, and Luke Gregerson has had far more successes than failures. Nick Vincent does solid work each time he takes the hill and Tim Stauffer and Tyson Ross have been reliable in long relief – maybe it’s time to use them in higher leverage situations as the summer moves along? Such a move could buy some valuable rest for the likes of Thayer, Gregerson, and Street thus returning the ‘pen to its proper form.

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I contribute to Padres Public on Thursday mornings and when I’m feeling particularly inspired. I can also be found on twitter at @AvengingJM where I abbreviate, 7 days a week.

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