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How Much (or little) of the Bullpen Can We Really Expect to See in 2011?

The Phillies have signed Cliff Lee to a 5-year, 120 million dollar contract, so, naturally, we here at The Good Phight can find nothing better to talk about than the bullpen. As David noted yesterday, the addition of Cliff Lee has the dual impact of further improving the Phillies starting rotation and taking pressure off of the bullpen by adding yet another durable ace who can pitch deep into games. This got me thinking: on average, just how much would it be reasonable to expect the bullpen to work on days that one of the big four pitches?

Here are the innings per start for the four aces in 2010:

Halladay: 7.59 IP/S

Hamels: 6.32

Oswalt: 6.58

Lee: 7.58

If you compile all four starters total innings pitched and divide by the sum of their starts combined, moreover, we arrive at the average number of innings pitched per start for the group:

882.31 IP / 126 GS = 7.00 IP/S

So, on average, in games started by the big four in 2010 (and in the cases of Lee and Oswalt, games that were not necessarily pitched for the Phillies), the bullpen got around two innings of work on average. Of course, this average was a bit lower for games started by Halladay and Lee given their higher IP/S. Also keep in mind that there were extra innings games, road losses, and rain shortened games in which the bullpen may have been called on more or less. Over the course of the season, however, these three things seem to cancel each other out, and the average number of innings pitched per game tends to sit around the expected 9.

For comparison's sake, the Phillies' actual average IP/S in 2010 was 6.4.

How much can we expect to see the bullpen in big four starts next season? Well, using Bill James's 2011 player projections--which I understand have their flaws--and assuming they are all able to stay healthy (knock on wood), here are the projected IP/S for next year:

Halladay: 7.66

Hamels: 6.64

Oswalt: 6.90

Lee: 7.45

Which comes out to a group IP/S of 7.15 (901 IP / 126 S). In other words, if Bill James's projections are correct, in about four of every five games the Phillies play, fans can once again reasonably expect to see the bullpen pitch about two innings. In games that Halladay and Lee start, it becomes even less likely that the bullpen will be asked to get more than six outs while in games started by Oswalt and Hamels, it becomes a bit more likely.

Since we don't yet know for sure who the fifth starter will be in 2011, if we are to account for the remaining 36 games in the season by assigning them to an imaginary starter that pitches the 2010 league average 5.91 innings per start, we get an additional 212.66 IP, which brings the projected team IP/S to 6.87. If we assume the entire Phillies pitching staff combines for 1458 innings pitched (or 9 IP per game), this means the Phillies bullpen will log approximately 344.33 innings in 2011. Compare that to the league low 420 bullpen innings logged by the team in 2010 and the pen could very well see 75 fewer innings in 2011 than they did in 2010!

Obviously, this would mean seeing a lot less of Danys Baez, David Herndon, and Chad Durbin (should he return) pitching in close games and would line the pen up nicely for the simple one two punch of Madson and Lidge. One final thing to consider: with both Madson and Lidge missing time to injury in 2010, the Contreras, Madson, Lidge back-of-the-bullpen triumvirate still managed to record 155 innings. While it is admittedly a long shot, if these three are able to stay healthy for all of 2011, they could conceivably combine for 200 innings--leaving only 140 or so innings to be distributed among the murky underbelly of the pen. Overmanage THAT, Cholly.