The bullpen wasn’t the story on Thursday.  Kind of difficult when the starter coughs up nine runs on 11 hits in just under three innings.

How do you think Luke Hochevar reacted when he saw who is right fielder was?  Here’s another thing I can’t figure… Conventional wisdom holds that when you have a player with a history of leg issues, you keep them off the artificial turf.  At this point, I just shake my head, give a Frank White-like chuckle and say, “That’s Trey Hillman.”

Anyway, if you’re following me on Twitter, you may recall a Tweet from last week about my good fortune.  I was knocking around a used bookstore in Westport, where I discovered a no less than five copies of The Bill James Baseball Abstracts from 1983 to 1988.  (Missing is the 1986 edition, featuring a recap of the Royals World Series title.  Damnit.)  So, I’ve been revisiting these books and decided I’d start with the oldest and work my way forward.

It’s surprising how relevant this material remains after almost 30 years.  I’m going to probably glean three or four posts from this… At least.  Here’s number one…

In his section recapping the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, James ponders the importance of bullpens and exactly how often a game is decided in the late innings.  That Brewers team had future Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers in the back of the bullpen for most of the season.  (He missed most of September with an injury.)  James discovered that the Brewers actually lost some ground the longer the game progressed.  Through six innings, the Brewers were ahead 90 times and behind on only 50 occasions (with 23 ties) giving them a +40.  As James pointed out, had the Brewers split the ties, they would have finished with over 100 wins.  They did not and actually lost ground after the sixth inning.  Their final record was 95 wins and 67 losses, giving them a +28.  Looking at their position following every inning, we come up with a graph that looks like this:

The Brewers were a good offensive team, jumping out to early leads – they were ahead 65 times after the second inning and 80 times after the third – and had a bullpen that generally held those leads.

The ’82 Brewers were a playoff team.  The ’10 Royals most assuredly are not.  Fortunately, James studied a bad team to see how they fared in the later innings. In this case, the ’82 Reds ahead 60 times and behind in 89 contests (with 13 ties) through six innings, which gave them a -29.  They finished with 61 wins and 101 losses for a final score of -40.  That year, Cincinnati’s bullpen wasn’t very good, but neither was their rotation.

There’s an interesting dip from the fifth to the sixth inning, but that wasn’t the fault of the bullpen.  Reds starters threw an average of 6 innings per start.  Don’t get me wrong… The ’82 Cincinnati bullpen wasn’t that good, but they weren’t horrible either.

Remember, James did this exercise to see if he could determine when games were decided.  And his study at this point was admittedly cursory.

I just think the graphs are interesting.  On the surface, it certainly looks as though the majority of games are decided by the sixth inning.

That leads us to the Royals.  Here’s their chart:

This boggles the mind.  The Royals are playing over their heads offensively but they should at least be above .500 for April.

Here are the raw numbers.

This isn’t anything new. To those of us who have followed this disaster of a team, it’s quite obvious.  As the bats begin their drift to hibernation (and make no mistake – they’re headed for an extended drought) the graph will shift south in the early innings and the Royals will lose their positive marks.

I suspect by the end of the year, the 2010 Royals graph will look really close to the 1982 Reds.  At least by then, the bullpen is largely irrelevant.