One Way to Dissect a Scenario You Hope Will Never Happen

A few weeks ago, Mike Axisa at Fangraphs took a cursory look at who would serve as a replacement for Huston Street in the event of an injury.  Jeff discussed this at the time, but I want to take a closer look at how the three people mentioned have performed in different situations. 

Last off-season featured a variety of hypothetical arguments about who should fill in, but with Street and Betancourt healthy, plus Lindstrom, the team is long on late-inning experience (for what that's worth).  This off-season's closer picture is (so far, knock on wood) much better than last year. 

Continue with me as we get an idea of whether Betancourt, Lindstrom and Belisle deserve to be the first three mentioned as replacement closers...

It's with experience in mind that Axisa drafted his list.  The metric cited, gmLI, is an indicator of the expected level of difficulty for the situation into which a reliever enters the game.  If that sounds complicated, it's not.  Here is the explanation from the creator of Leverage Index (LI):

  • gmLI is the Leverage Index when the reliever enters the game. Its use is mostly to show a manager perspective, as it indicates the level of fire that the manager wanted his reliever to face.

Tracy, being old school in many ways, is probably going to want someone who's done it before if he needs a spare closer.  If he knew about it, gmLI would allow him compare the average level of difficulty for the situations that he expected Betancourt or Belisle to handle last year, and the average level of difficulty that Brad Mills expected Lindstrom to handle.  If he then used it, he would arrive at Axisa's list.  In reality (and without making a judgment on their abilities), I'd guess that Tracy would probably go to Lindstrom first in an emergency situation. 

I won't be getting further into LI methodology for this, but it's important to understand that gmLI is, in some ways, a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Axisa's list is both about the actual difficulty of the average situation in which the pitcher was used and the overall perception of that player's ability to handle tough situations.  This is why Betancourt is much higher on the list than Belisle, even though they both had good years.  Belisle (20%) had a much lower concentration of high leverage innings than Betancourt (28.5%).  Was Betancourt better than Belisle?  Betancourt had a better FIP and xFIP, and amazing K and BB rates, but that's not really what I want to answer today.*  The important takeaway on gmLI is that it's not necessarily Belisle's fault that he couldn't match Betancourt in high leverage opportunities. 

*Betancourt, in my mind, is the second best reliever on the team after Street.  He is the "relief ace," the one out of these three that should be used in the tightest situation prior to or after Street's appearance in the game.  Lindstrom has the potential to be that good, but hasn't had the same results.

Hopefully you did not get annoyed by reading so many B sounds over and over in that paragraph, and will continue on to the actual analysis: Which of the three is more deserving of late, high leverage situations?  Or, who should fill in as emergency closer?

First, here is a look at 2010 and career numbers in each leverage set for each pitcher.  For more information about each type of leverage situation, check out B-R's comprehensive writeup.  Or, suffice to say that they're meant as technical terms and use your imagination about what each situation entails.  Keep in mind that the 2010 numbers are snack size samples.

Belisle:

Belisle

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

FIP

xFIP

2010 High Lev.

18 2/3

6.27

2.89

1.45

4.90

4.13

Career High Lev.

46 2/3

4.82

3.66

1.29

5.05

4.66

2010 Med. Lev.

27 1/3

9.55

1.32

0.66

2.35

2.54

Career Med. Lev.

173

7.02

2.03

0.99

3.86

3.84

2010 Low Lev.

46

9.59

1.17

0.39

1.97

2.62

Career Low Lev.

245

6.72

2.17

1.29

4.33

3.96

 

 

It's easy to see that there's a huge drop off in Ks and BBs from low and medium to high leverage situations.  Belisle's overall career FIP (4.23) and xFIP (3.98) most closely align with his career low leverage rates, although it's encouraging that his career FIP in medium leverage situations outperforms his overall FIP a bit.  When you look at this breakdown, it's easy to see why some think that 2010 was a happy anomaly for Belisle.  His HR/9 is in for some severe regression (you can see it was drastically reduced in 2010 low leverage situations) and the K rate will drop some, but overall his tremendous control over the past two years and an above average K rate will continue to make him a valuable piece. 

Now Betancourt:

Betancourt

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

FIP

xFIP

2010 High Lev.

17 1/3

11.42

2.08

0.00

1.23

2.57

Career High Lev.

121 1/3

9.20

2.89

0.82

3.22

3.81

2010 Med. Lev.

17

13.24

1.06

2.12

3.55

2.34

Career Med. Lev.

157 2/3

9.99

2.34

1.08

3.24

3.44

2010 Low Lev.

28

13.50

0.64

1.61

2.61

2.10

Career Low Lev.

218 2/3

9.38

1.69

0.91

2.89

3.54

 

The number that pops out is zero HR allowed in high leverage situations in 2010.  While that likely won't happen again, throughout his career Betancourt has posted his best HR/9 in high leverage situations.  His high leverage BB rate is also a candidate for regression, but his career mark in that category is still pretty good.  Especially when viewed with his K rate.  Overall, it's obvious that there's a lot less drop off from low and medium to high leverage situations than Belisle.  In that sense, he was more deserving of the opportunities to enter games during a high gmLI situation.  In addition, his career high leverage FIP and xFIP is not that far off from his overall career FIP and xFIP, which means the good high leverage numbers are not an anomaly. 

Now Lindstrom:

Lindstrom

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

FIP

xFIP

2010 High Lev.

17   

6.35

4.76

0.53

4.02

4.86

Career High Lev.

56 1/3

6.39

4.63

0.32

3.88

4.67

2010 Med. Lev.

12 2/3

7.11

1.42

0.71

3.00

3.37

Career Med. Lev.

60 2/3

8.16

2.67

0.30

2.66

3.67

2010 Low Lev.

23 2/3

7.99

3.42

1.14

4.09

3.83

Career Low Lev.

108   

7.67

3.67

0.75

3.83

4.17

 

It's unsurprising that Lindstrom underperformed in most leverage situations.  His overall line in 2010 is generally worse than his career line.  However, two encouraging things stick out: 1) his BB rate in medium and low leverage situations drove his 2010 BB rate below his career number, and 2) his HR/9 rate in each leverage situation in 2010 was worse than his career rate.  Unfortunately, his career and 2010 high leverage BB rates are not good.  That's in a total of 56 1/3 IP, so it's not set in stone. 

It would be nice to make a claim like, "If Lindstrom can post those career rates in medium leverage situations, he can post them in low leverage situations." but I think that would be irresponsible.  Instead, I'll say that Lindstrom's leverage splits indicate a pitcher that is capable of much better production than his 2010 numbers.  I'll also note that in 2010, Lindstrom threw his fastball about 5.5% less often than 2009, and his slider 8% more often.  Fangraphs' pitch values indicates that wasn't a bad switch, as the fastball was worth 7.2 runs below average and the slider was worth 3.4 runs above average.  Fangraphs' movement charts show that the fastball was a lot flatter than previous years, though it does seem like he recovered some vertical movement toward the end of the year. 

Conclusion

It's not an exciting conclusion, but Axisa's list holds up pretty well.  Hopefully it's interesting to know more about why that list makes sense.  Three thoughts emerge after looking over the numbers again:

1) Belisle's career line in high leverage situations is not encouraging, particularly the HR rate and the huge jump in BB rate.  Despite his stellar overall control, that bump combined with the career overall HR/9 and career high leverage HR/9 makes me wary about him being the emergency closer.

2) This forced me to take a closer look at Betancourt for the first time.  I'd always thought of him as a middling reliever.  He may not be a great, but he's very good.  Like Belisle, regression to his HR/9 rate will come.  Combined with his low GB%, that's a risk.

3) Despite how good Betancourt was last year, and generally has been in his career, I still might be more apt to go for Lindstrom as the emergency closer.  That keeps Betancourt available for the tightest of situations in earlier innings.  Lindstrom's control is the only holdup, particularly in high leverage situations.  Yet, he's always had a good GB%, and in his career he's done a great job of limiting HR in medium and high leverage situations.  That could a great combination as a Rockies closer. 

Maybe the real takeaway is that, in an emergency situation, having Lindstrom allows Betancourt to remain the "bullpen ace."  Lindstrom can take the ninth, and Betancourt can continue to handle the toughest situations prior to that time*, or be available if Lindstrom gets into a jam. 

*Say it's the bottom of the 7th in Milwaukee.  One out.  The Rockies lead 2-1, but Weeks is on second, and Braun and Fielder are up.  Street is unavailable or injured, so Lindstrom or Betancourt will close.  Betancourt comes in to get both outs and end the jam.  The Rockies score two in the top of the 8th, Belisle gets three outs in the bottom of the 8th, and then Lindstrom ends the game, 4-1.

Based on the above and their overall profile (including batted ball, pitch types) Betancourt and Lindstrom could both be good fill-ins in specific situations.  If you're worried about giving up a HR in a tight spot, Lindstrom comes in instead of Betancourt.  If you have the tying run on third and the winning run on second, maybe you look for the strikeout from Betancourt instead of bringing in Lindstrom. 

Any way it goes, beyond Street the Rockies have three above average options for tight situations in the last two innings.  That's a pleasant departure from recent seasons.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Purple Row

You must be a member of Purple Row to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Purple Row. You should read them.

Join Purple Row

You must be a member of Purple Row to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Purple Row. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker