Five Figures: Pirates' 'pen on familiar course

Five Figures: Pirates' 'pen on familiar course

Five Figures: Pirates' 'pen on familiar course
Sometimes a number merits discussion, but doesn't require an entire story. Sometimes a trend is worth keeping an eye on before it turns into an avalanche. Sometimes it's just fun to break down stats. Welcome to Five Figures, a recurring feature on MLB.com where we'll look at a few interesting stats from around baseball.

The Pirates' short-term starters: We've seen this movie before. One year ago, the Pirates relied on an exemplary bullpen to keep them in contention for the first half of the season, winning at a decent clip, despite an underpowered offense. But as the year went on, that bullpen became overworked, and it faded down the stretch. So did the club, and the season ended in disappointment.

Well, they're in danger of the same thing happening again. The Buccos rank third in the National League in ERA and in total runs allowed, but it's largely due to their relief corps. The Pittsburgh 'pen has the best ERA and the second-fewest relief losses of any bullpen in the NL. But they've thrown the third-most innings, thanks to a starting staff that ranks 15th in innings and 13th in quality starts.

The Bucs have distributed their relief innings more equitably than a year ago, when their top relievers all faded drastically in the second half, but it's still a concern. Few teams rely as heavily on their bullpens as the Pirates do, and any loss of effectiveness would be devastating.

Fernando Rodney's resilience: Closers are often treated like delicate flowers, pitchers who couldn't possibly be asked to get more than three outs or pitch more than a couple of days in a row. It's not at all uncommon for a closer, nominally a team's best reliever, to rank well behind other relievers on his own staff in innings and appearances.

Then there are the Rays, who have used Fernando Rodney aggressively, and with excellent results. Rodney's 19 appearances are tied for seventh-most in baseball, and no pitcher who has closed all season has as many. He's also tied for the most innings by any pitcher who has been his team's closer all year. One key to that is that he's been effective when pitching on consecutive days.

According to STATS Inc., Rodney is one of eight pitchers in the Majors who have pitched on consecutive days at least seven times this year. Of those pitchers, only he and Houston's Wilton Lopez have yet to allow a run on the second of back-to-back days. When you can use your closer frequently with confidence, it goes a long way toward having a stable and effective bullpen.

The Brewers' defensive issues: This was supposed to be a different Brewers team, stronger on defense to help make up for the offense that was lost over the winter. Then Carlos Gomez got hurt, and so did Alex Gonzalez, and suddenly things looked awfully familiar. Milwaukee is back to not catching the ball nearly as often as it should.

So while a cursory glance at the stats suggests that Brewers pitchers are struggling, be sure to share some of the blame. They're not getting nearly enough help from the defense. Brewers pitchers rank second in the NL in strikeouts, fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio and tied for seventh in home runs allowed. Yet they're 15th in ERA. That's defense.

Milwaukee has the second-worst defensive efficiency rating in the Major Leagues, ahead of only the Rockies. That's a simple measure of the percentage of balls in play that turn into outs and it's a reminder that run prevention isn't just about pitching.

Mark Teixeira in hitters' counts: It's hardly fair to put a team's struggles on one player, but it would also be disingenuous to pretend that the Yankees don't need Mark Teixeira to get going. The top of the Yankees' order is doing their job by getting on base, but the middle of the order is having a hard time converting those baserunners into runs. And Teixeira is having the most trouble of all.

Yet Teixeira is actually hitting ahead in the count slightly more than usual. He's been ahead in 37.1 percent of his plate appearances, compared to 36.2 percent for his career. He's just not capitalizing on those chances. For his career, Teixeira is a .339/.521/.656 hitter when he has the advantage in the count. This year he's a pedestrian .255/.390/.468.

The Rangers on the road: Arlington has a reputation as one of the best places in baseball for hitters, and with good reason. Yet the Rangers have been even more dangerous on the road than at their home ballpark this season.

Texas has a collective line of .272/.327/.456 at home, as opposed to .307/.365/.493 on the road. Some past editions of the Rangers have seen their offenses overrated a bit from the Arlington effect. Not this year, though. They're monsters anywhere, and top to bottom the best team in baseball. As they open a series at Minute Maid Park, don't expect the Astros to get any kind of relief.

Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.