When predicting playoff teams or serious World Series contenders, prognosticators will often focus on the depth of a team’s starting rotation, along with its ability to play defense or hit in the clutch.

Overlooked is usually a team’s bullpen, and just how effective it can be at shutting the door and protecting key late inning leads.  Certainly, a rotation’s ability (or inability) to go deep into games can negatively affect a team’s ‘pen, too.

But just how important is it to have a solid bullpen?

By simply doing some quick stat crunching on the current 2014 season, that answer would be… not as important as one would think.

In fact, three of the five worst bullpens in baseball would be American League playoff teams if the season were to end today.  The Detroit Tigers (4.77 ERA – 29th), Toronto Blue Jays (4.51 ERA – 27th) and Los Angeles Angels (4.49 ERA – 26th) are the three teams in question.

The Jays would currently be the strongest at the back end, with Casey Janssen (1.20 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 12 saves) playing very well since returning from injury.

The Tigers and Angels, on the other hand, have struggled to protect leads, with Joe Nathan (6.18 ERA) and Ernesto Frieri (5.83 ERA) each struggling at various points in the season.

joe-nathan-detroit-tigers

It has been a long and frustrating season for Joe Nathan in Detroit (Credit: Getty Images)

As for the previous mention about a starting rotation failing to consistently go deep into games, there are no glaring stat lines to point to that being the culprit for the trio in question.  In fact, all three teams land in the middle of the pack: Angels (42 quality starts – 11th), Tigers (42 – 11th) and Jays (39 – 14th).

By no means is this a suggestion for each of these squads to stand pat during the stretch run.  It is one thing to make the postseason, but another to win a title – and each of these three teams should seriously consider dealing for some bullpen help.

That goes especially for these American League contenders, what with an Oakland pitching staff lurking and showing little to no weakness across the board.

Among the relief arms that potentially could be available heading into next month’s trade deadline include Huston Street (Padres), Joaquin Benoit (Padres), Grant Balfour (Rays) and Jonathan Papelbon (Phillies), among others.

Since the last edition of MLB Power Rankings at TWHS, the Angels and Tigers each made positive moves, while the Blue Jays have suffered through a rough patch, falling seven spots to 10th place.  Only the Cleveland Indians posted a more brutal score since two weeks back, as outlined below:

Cleveland Indians: -48 points

Toronto Blue Jays: -43 points

Miami Marlins: -38 points

Houston Astros: -34 points

Atlanta Braves: -33 points

Elsewhere, the Phillies and Rays – two teams that headlined the last Power Rankings as “hitting rock bottom” – each posted high marks, and amongst the best in baseball:

Philadelphia Phillies: +41 points

Kansas City Royals: +39 points

Tampa Bay Rays: +34 points

Cincinnati Reds: +27 points

Los Angeles Dodgers: +26 points

The A’s maintain a large lead, with the Brewers replacing the Giants in second place.  The latest poll is as follows, highlighting the clubs that had positive or negative jumps:

KP’s MLB Power Rankings: June 23, 2014

Note: Statistics and point totals as of Monday morning (6/23/14) and do not include night games

1. Oakland Athletics (166 points) – Previously: #1 (+12)

2. Milwaukee Brewers (119 points) – Previously: #4 (+25)

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (100 points) – Previously: #7 (+26)

4. San Francisco Giants (99 points) – Previously: #2 (-25)

5. Detroit Tigers (77 points) – Previously: #9 (+15)

6. Los Angeles Angels (75 points) – Previously: #8 (+3)

7. St. Louis Cardinals (74 points) – Previously: #12 (+23)

8. Washington Nationals (72 points) – Previously: #5 (-16)

9. Seattle Mariners (68 points) – Previously: #6 (-7)

10. Toronto Blue Jays (63 points) – Previously: #3 (-43)

11. Kansas City Royals (63 points) – Previously: #15 (+39)

12. Baltimore Orioles (61 points) – Previously: #14 (+20)

13. Cincinnati Reds (35 points) – Previously: #18 (+27)

14. New York Yankees (29 points) – Previously: #17 (+18)

15. Pittsburgh Pirates (25 points) – Previously: #16 (+10)

16. Atlanta Braves (22 points) – Previously: #10 (-33)

17. New York Mets (15 points) – Previously: #22 (+16)

18. Miami Marlins (13 points) – Previously: #11 (-38)

19. Colorado Rockies (3 points) – Previously: #20 (+1)

20. Boston Red Sox (2 points) – Previously: #23 (+8)

21. Philadelphia Phillies (0 points) – Previously: #29 (+41)

22. Minnesota Twins (-2 points) – Previously: #24 (+8) 

23. Cleveland Indians (-5 points) – Previously: #13 (-48)

24. Texas Rangers (-8 points) – Previously: #21 (-8)

25. Chicago Cubs (-11 points) – Previously: #26 (+2)

26. Chicago White Sox (-21 points) – Previously: #19 (-27)

27. Tampa Bay Rays (-26 points) – Previously: #30 (+34)

28. San Diego Padres (-42 points) – Previously: #28 (-24)

29. Arizona Diamondbacks (-42 points) – Previously: #25 (-32)

30. Houston Astros (-50 points) – Previously: #27 (-34)

* All stats per MLB.com and ESPN.com

Note: RED = Falling 3+ spots from last week, GREEN = Rising 3+ spots from last week

The Wife Hates Sports’ MLB Power Rankings system has a method to its madness, attempting to be different and not just rank by popularity and record.  It mixes a secret formula of six completely different categories, meshed into a points system.  The categories don’t just include team results regarding record, but how each team has performed recently, as well as incorporating some statistics on both a team’s offense and pitching staff, too.

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