Saturday, May 7, 2011
Heath Bell's unheralded streak ends
By Tom McKean
Ethier Not the Only One Streaking
It didn't make front-page headlines, but Padres closer Heath Bell just finished an impressive roll. A roll to the tune of 41 straight saves be exact. Before Friday's blown save, his last came nearly a year ago (May 26) and the streak finished tied for the fourth longest in MLB history. Bell was a long way from catching all-time leader Eric Gagne, however, who racked up 84 straight saves between 2002 and 2004.
How has Bell been so dominant? Before Friday, Bell turned 0-1 counts into 0-2 ones 60 percent of the time, tied for tops among San Diego pitchers. That’s even more impressive when you consider he’s part of the best bullpen in baseball (2.28 bullpen ERA through Thursday). His offspeed pitches are hitting for strikes 68 percent of the time, seven percent better than league average.
A deeper look shows us what he’s been doing to be successful during this recent run. During the saves streak that began on May 29, 2010, he allowed opponents a miniscule .516 OPS while striking out over 27 percent of batters faced. His fastball was his main weapon, utilizing that pitch 70 percent of the time.
Opponents hit just .211 against his heater, but his curveball was even more effective. Thrown 20 percent of the time, batters had an average of .085 and a slugging percentage of just .106 against it during his saves streak. Both pitches are no doubt a big reason why he's allowed as many as two earned runs just twice in his past 59 outings.
Rays Bullpen Limiting Bases
Tampa Bay’s relief group has been able to avoid giving up extra-base hits, and it’s paid big dividends so far in 2011. Rays relievers have allowed just 82 total bases, 12 fewer than any other unit in the big leagues this year, and their 2.73 ERA is second-best in the AL.
It starts with closer Kyle Farnsworth. In his 12 previous seasons, he’s posted an ERA over 4.00 eight times, but it's hovering at 0.84 this year. Farnsworth relies on his slider over 40 percent of the time this season, which ranks sixth among AL pitchers who have thrown at least 100 pitches. He’s allowed one hit off that pitch all season.
Better than League Average
Seattle's Brandon League has been on fire lately. In three appearances since April 30 (Saturday), League has racked up three saves while giving up no runs. He's struck out four and has not walked a hitter in that span. He's walked just two batters this year, a considerable reason why he's been able to finish 14 games in 2011, tied for the most in MLB.