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381 Best Historic Bullpens

Posted by Charles Sun, 16 Nov 2014 18:27:15 -0500
Filed Under: science SPAR teams
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This is not a ranking of the best bullpens but a selective study of great or well-reputed bullpens. The kernel of the post is concerned with how much a bullpen's greatness comes from a single pitcher.

The sortable table below list team seasons along with the SPAR those teams' bullpens had that season. Post 380 defines this method of assessing bullpens. The next columns list the top reliever in each team's bullpen, determined by SPAR. The final column lists the fraction of the teams' bullpen SPAR that is accounted for by the best reliever.


TeamSPAREventsRVLTop RelieverTR SPARSPAR %
1999 Yankees7.3193628Mariano Rivera2.50.340
1990 Reds8.1204930Rob Dibble3.00.372
1975 Reds7.6190231Rawly Eastwick2.40.315
2003 Astros8.6248423Billy Wagner2.80.327
2003 Dodgers10.2194349Eric Gagne3.40.334
1990 Athletics7.6170438Dennis Eckersley2.80.366
1972 Athletics5.9149830Rollie Fingers2.80.475
2003 Angels10.7215545Brendan Donnelly2.70.252
2010 Giants7.0202923Brian Wilson2.30.329
1987 Blue Jays9.4213737Mark Eichhorn2.70.286
2013 Braves9.0194240Craig Kimbrel2.80.312
1995 Indians8.2181838Jose Mesa1.90.233
1998 Rockies8.1195033Dave Veres2.10.260
1984 Tigers8.8206835Willie Hernandez3.60.407
2006 Twins9.8211540Joe Nathan2.80.286
2010 Padres8.6211532Heath Bell2.30.267
2001 Mariners7.9195132Arthur Rhodes2.30.290
2004 Cardinals7.7189132Jason Isringhausen1.90.247
1979 Rangers8.2176540Jim Kern4.00.490
1994 Expos5.8156827John Wetteland1.90.325




In almost all cases the best reliever by SPAR is also the best by RVL. Mark Eichhorn of the 1987 Toronto Blue Jays breaks this rule. Tom Henke tossed the highest RVL for the Jays that year but threw many fewer innings.

The Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies enjoyed great bullpens in the 1970s but also starting rotations that did so much work the releivers spent little time in the game. Those teams' bullpens thus contributed less SPAR than the relief squads listed.

The 1994 Montreal Expos squeezed out 5.8 SPAR in 114 games. Extrapolating that linearly over 162 games gives 8.3 SPAR.

The 1979 Texas Rangers are an interesting team that was as much off my radar as possible until I looked at them. Aside from a great bullpen the everyday cast featured several noteworthy players, including Oscar Gamble, Al Oliver, Buddy Bell, Mickey Rivers, and the immortal John Grubb. The bullpen was almost all Jim Kern, who threw 143 innings in 71 appearances. Sparky Lyle threw some quality innings too. 1979 was the middle year of a five-season stretch of consecutive winning years for the Rangers, the team's first stretch of success.

There was much good relief in the Los Angeles area in 2003, notably for the Angels the season after their World Series win and a year following Troy Percival's last great season.

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