There have been 2,681 appearances by a relief pitcher so far this season. Three of the worst bullpen performances by Win Probability Added took place on Friday night. In the same game. Three of the best bullpen performances by Win Probability Added also took place on Friday night. In the same game.
The same game.
The match up in question pitted the Chicago Cubs against their National League Central rivals the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Matt Garza was on the mound for the Cubs, sporting a 2-1 record and a 2.67 ERA in five starts. Crafty lefty Randy Wolf took the ball for the Brewers with a less impressive record: 2-3 and a 6.68 ERA in six starts. It was a pitchers’ duel through the first six innings, with the Brewers holding a 1-0 lead.
Jose Veras came on for the Brewers in the top of the 7th after Travis Ishikawa pinch hit for Wolf in the 6th. After getting Wellington Castillo to ground out, Veras gave up a triple to Darwin Barney, hit Ian Stewart and walked Reed Johnson to load the bases for the Cubs with one out. Veras departed with a -.192 WPA for his troubles, replaced by Kameron Loe. With the bases loaded, David DeJesus stepped to the plate and did this:
Loe retired the next two batters and departed with a -.396 WPA, the 82nd-lowest WPA recorded by a reliever so far this season.
On came Carlos Marmol for the Cubs. Marmol was Chicago’s closer until a few weeks ago when he was replaced by Rafael Solis. More on him later. Facing the top of the Brewers order, Marmol retired Nyjer Morgan and Rickie Weeks after going 3-2 on each of them and then walked Ryan Braun on another 3-2 pitch. Aramis Ramirez took a different approach, launching a 0-1 pitch into deep right-center field, scoring Braun. It turns out that Marmol has bigger problems than just a lack of a closer’s mentality.
Michael Bowden relieved Marmol, but things only got worse for the Cubs. Corey Hart singled and George Kottaras walked, loading the bases for pinch hitter Jonathan Lucroy, who did this:
Bowden faced three batters, all of whom reached base, and recorded an out only on a base running mistake by Lucroy. Bowden’s WPA for his 1/3 of an inning? -.581, the 42nd worst WPA by a reliever this season.
The Brewers held a 5-4 lead into the 9th inning. Brewers closer John Axford trotted in to try to nail down the victory for Milwaukee. Axford was riding a saves streak dating back to April, 2011. Fifty save opportunities, fifty saves. But not on this night. After an error and a wild pitch, the Cubs had a runner on second with one out. David DeJesus, already with a grand slam in the game, came to the plate:
A strike out/wild pitch and a single later, the Cubs had a 7-5 lead heading to the bottom of the 9th.
Axford left the game with a -.767 WPA for his efforts, eighteenth worst this season, and his save streak in tatters. But Axford didn’t sulk for long. He showered, quickly dressed and headed straight for the hospital — where his wife was in labor. He left this wonderful note at his locker.
Back to game action.
Rafael Solis, the new Cubs closer, headed to the mound hoping to nail down the come-from-behind win for Chicago. That hope didn’t last long, though, as Solis walked Aramis Ramirez with one out, bringing Corey Hart to the plate.
To the 10th, tied at 7. Manny Parra took the mound for the Brewers. Once a top prospect for Milwaukee, Parra began his career as a starter but converted to a relief role midway through the 2010 season. He then sat out all of 2011 with back and elbow injuries, returning to the bullpen this year. Entering Friday’s action, he’d thrown 14 1/3 innings with a 2.51 ERA. In the 10th, and then the 11th, he faced eight batters, giving up two walks and one hit, but no runs. He left the game with a .263 WPA, good for 37th-best this season.
Kerry Wood pitched the 11th and 12th innings for the Cubs. Yes, that Kerry Wood. The young phenom who broke into the majors with the Cubs in 1998, going 13-6 and winning the Rookie of the Year. The Kerry Wood who struck out twenty batters in a game, on May 6, 1998. The Kerry Wood who’s been injured as much as he’s pitched in his career. On Friday night, he allowed three walks but no hits and no runs. He left the game with a .261 WPA, good for 38th-best this season.
Which brings us to Vinnie Chulk. Yes, that Vinnie Chulk. The former Blue Jays reliever traded to the Giants with Shea Hillenbrand for Jeremy Accardo in mid-2006. The Vinnie Chulk who signed a minor-league contract with the Pirates before 2010 season, and then had his rights sold to Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan. The Vinnie Chulk who then spent another year in the minors with the Oakland A’s before signing with the Brewers before this season. The Brewers called him up on April 28. He entered Friday’s game having given up 3 runs in 3 inning of relief. But on Friday night, he was the stopper. He pitched the 12th and 13th for the Brewers, giving up 2 hits, no walks and no runs. He matched Manny Parra’s .263 WPA, good for 36th best this season.
Lendy Castillo pitched the bottom of the 13th for the Cubs. Well, somebody had to. Castillo hit the first two batters he faced, then gave up a single to Aramis Ramirez. Corey Hart ended it with a bases loaded single, giving the Brewers an 8-7 victory.
Three of the best bullpen performances of the season. Three of the worst. All in the same ballpark, all within a few hours of each others.
We call that the Impact Index Bullpen Double Trifecta.