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Billy Eppler and the bullpens of insanity

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Feels like we have been here before...

Colorado Rockies v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Over the past 4 off-seasons since Billy Eppler took over the GM reigns, he has set out to transform the Angels bullpen. Wait, never mind. The reality is that so far the bullpen has ben a bit of a revolving door. But is that bad? Maybe. Eppler can’t seem to pick up good pieces he wants to keep around and build on and instead has overseen a long conga line of mediocre arms. Or perhaps that is part of his plan? After all, bullpen arms can be fickle and it’s possible his strategy is to spend cheap and buy low on good arms, use them up, then toss them aside for the next one.

Eppler has acquired 33 (now 34 with Luis Garcia) relievers over his tenure. Just 8 of them remain. I don’t have the comparison numbers from other teams, but 26 of 34 gone over 3 seasons seems pretty volatile. Let’s see how this looks by season.

2016

Considering he took over in October of 2015, Eppler did a fine job of getting some of his guys in to pitch out of the pen. There weren’t any gems in the bunch and Rule 5 pick Deolis Guerra was the best of the bunch in terms of overall value (innings pitched, WAR, etc.). Andrew Bailey and Cody Ege were promising pitchers as well but neither logged very many innings. This was also the year Eppler brought in JC Ramirez who was originally pitching out of the pen before being converted to a starter for the 2017 season. As you can see above, 5 of the 9 guys Eppler brought in put up negative WAR numbers.

2016 Bullpen Rankings

WAR: 26th (0.8)
ERA: 18th (3.77)
FIP: 25th (4.35)
K/9: 30th (7.23)
BB/9: 24th (3.13)
WHIP: 17 th (1.34)
BAA: 24th (0.255)

Eppler WAR -0.8

Spending: 30th @ $2.5 MM

The Angels spent the least in all of baseball on their bullpen and it showed. You can place at least some of that blame on Josh Hamilton’s $26MM wasted salary as well as CJ Wilson who spent the year on the deal and collecting $20MM. The Angels had the 7th highest payroll that year at $175MM but were still under the $189MM luxury tax threshold, so there there was room to spend - just not that much.

2017

Eppler’s sophomore bullpen did some impressive work. He had made over the bullpen much more than his first year. He got rid of some of the poor performers, kept a few of the better ones around and converted Ramirez to a starter. The bullpen overall was helped in a HUGE way from Yusmeiro Petit and Blake Parker with David Hernandez contributing the first half of the year (before he was traded) and Bud Norris making his mark until that mark was a skid mark in the second half of the season. Those 4 guys were responsible a huge chunk of the bullpen WAR.

2017 Bullpen Rankings

WAR: 5th (6.8)
ERA: 11th (3.92)
FIP: 5th (3.66)
K/9: 9th (9.51)
BB/9: 1st (2.66)
WHIP: 26th (1.20)
BAA: 12th (0.238)

Eppler WAR 5.8

Spending: 18th @ $11.7 MM

Those numbers above are pretty impressive and represent a huge improvement over 2016. The Angels had a good bullpen in 2017 that was also more in line with their spending. Interesting to not that although they had the lowest walk rate in baseball, they had one of the highest WHIPs - but also a .5 swing in BB/9 can moves you 10-12 spots in the rankings. Home runs bit the bullpen that year as well, placing the Angels at 9th overall in round trippers.

2018

By last season, a majority of the pieces in the bullpen were guys that Eppler picked up along the way - as would be expected. Ty Buttrey, of course, was one of the standouts - coming back in a nice trade that sent Ian Kinsler to the Red Sox. Taylor Cole, who had been inked to a minor league deal also impressed. Blake Parker, one of the 2016 heroes, had regressed to a 0.0 WAR and Yusmeiro, Petit was gone because apparently his price had been too high ok for Eppler. Petit’s 0.6 WAR in 2018 would have landed him 4th on the Angels. There was a whole chain of guys that did not work as you can see above and many of them are not back for 2019.

2018 Bullpen Rankings

WAR: 20th (2.2)
ERA: 13th (3.92)
FIP: 22nd (4.32)
K/9: 19th (8.59)
BB/9: 20th (3.69)
WHIP: 15th (1.34)
BAA: 16th (0.244)

Eppler WAR 1.0

Spending 20th @ $10.9MM

Spending decreased slightly in 2018 and the bullpen saw a dramatic drop in performance. Part of the conclusion is that 2017 was more of an anomaly. The top 5 guys from 2017 who combined for a 6.3 WAR had a 2.1 combined WAR in 2018 and all but .3 of that came from Petit, Hernandez, and Norris who were no longer with the team. Ouch.

Conclusion

Assuming 2017 was a bit of a fluke, Eppler has yet to put together a solid bullpen and he’s now working on his 4th shot. Even if 2017 was not a fluke, 3 of the top guys from that year were not back for 2018 and all 3 of them had pretty good 2018 campaigns. Now, we have the top pitcher from 2018 who won’t be returning for 2019. What gives? Eppler must know something we don’t - or perhaps he doesn’t. One thing for sure, is the bullpen is getting younger and more shaped in Eppler’s image. Two more holdouts (Alvarez & Paredes) from the pre-Eppler days are now gone, leaving just 4 pitchers from before Eppler took over. Those 4 are: Cam Bedrosian, Justin Anderson, Keynan Middleton, and Jake Jewell.

How Eppler acquires pitchers
Cash (or cash trade/purchased from team) = 5
Trade = 6
Free Agent = 11
Rule 5 Draft = 2
Waivers = 10

Does Dumpster Diving work?

An overwhelming majority of Eppler’s bullpen pieces (non trade) have come in at or around league minimum salary. Is it working? I’ll leave the list here and let you be the judge.

Free agents/Rule 5/Waiver Pickups:

A.J. Achter
Akeel Morris
Blake Parker
Brett Oberholtzer
Cody Ege
Daniel Wright
David Hernandez
Deck McGuire
Deolis Guerra
Hansel Robles
Ian Krol
J.C. Ramirez
Jason Gurka
Javy Guerra
Jose Valdez
Junichi Tazawa
Kirby Yates
Luke Bard
Miguel Almonte
Noe Ramirez
Oliver Drake
Osmer Morales
Taylor Cole

Afraid to spend?
It may shock you to learn that Eppler has not been spending much on the bullpen.

When it comes to waiver wire guys, they have all (but 1) been league minimum. The one that was not happened to be Blake Wood.

Free agent signings have been less than inspired as well, with only 4 out of 11 making more than league minimum: Al Alburquerque ($1.1MM), Bud Norris ($1.7MM), Andrew Bailey ($1.0MM), and Yusmerio Petiti ($2.2MM).

When it comes to trades, Eppler has mostly gone after (surprise!) the cheap guys as qwell. Only 2 of the trade targets made more than league minimum and there were Jim Johnson ($4.5MM), and newly acquired Luis Garcia ($1.7MM).

Getting younger / throwing harder

Although Luis Garcia is 31 years old, many of the players that have moved on from the bullpen the last few years have all been age 32+, including Jim Johnson, Andrew Bailey, Bud Norris, David Hernandez, Blake Parker, and Yusmerio Petit.

The average fastball velocity of the bullpen has also been ticking up:

Velocity - it’s all the rage - just ask Billy!

End the Insanity

So as Eppler continues to string together a budget bullpen with the hope that things will improve. Aside from getting guys that throw harder, not much has changed since he arrived.

Other Options?

It should be pretty clear by now that Billy Eppler does not like spending money on bullpen arms. He’s had options over these past 4 off-season to sign better free agents or target relief arms in trades.

I’m not going to dig into the trade options, but here are some free agent examples over the past 4 off-seasons along with their fWAR per year (average in contract).

Ryan Madson 3 years / $22MM (A’s) = .8 fWAR
Steve Cishek 2 years / $10MM (Mariners) = .7 fWARr
Koji Uehara 1 year / $6MM (Cubs) = .6 fWAR
Joe Smith 1 year / $3MM (Blue Jays) = 1.8 fWAR
Steve Cishek 2 years / $13MM (Cubs) = .8 fWAR
Yusmerio Petit 2 years / $10MM (A’s) = .6 fWAR
Hector Rondon 2 years / $8.5MM (Astros) = 1.3 fWAR

These numbers may not seems huge, but neither are the dollar figures and it’s clear there have been some guys out there Eppler could have targeted and chose not to (or failed trying). Some examples from this current off-season:

Joe Kelly $8MM AAV
Kelvin Herrera $9MM AAV
Joakim Soria $7.5MM AAV
Eric Goeddel - Available
Adam Ottavino - Available

We could go into a whole other article in terms of trade targets but this piece is already long. One last thing before we go is taking a look at bullpen spending in 2018 and ranks of those bullpens.

Last year, the #1 bullpen in baseball belonged to the Yankees. Where did they land in spending? First. The Padres snuck in at #2 because they had a whole slew of cheap guys who put up positive WAR but not many negative WAR guys. Their #2 name sounds familiar though - Kirby Yates. #3 was the Astros who were 3rd in bullpen spending. #4 was the Brewers (15th in spending) thanks to Josh Hader and the top 5 was rounded out by the A’s (8th in spending) thanks mainly to Blake Treinen with some help by Familia and Petit.

Let’s spend some money on that bullpen Billy!!!