Pirates' stout bullpen saving grace for rotation

Relievers entered Saturday's action with best left-on-base percentage in Majors

Pirates' stout bullpen saving grace for rotation

PITTSBURGH -- Jason Grilli's ERA may be among the league's best this season, but he doesn't pay attention to it. He doesn't feel relievers should be judged on boiler-plate statistics like that.

The Pirates closer said the amount of inherited runners stranded is more important, while the "sexy" numbers, as Grilli described them, like strikeouts and ERA, aren't as valuable.

"ERAs are pretty misconstrued a lot of times for a reliever," said Grilli, who admitted he received some criticism for his high ERA and lack of strikeouts as a long reliever earlier in his career. "Because, you can have two or three bad outings in a month and it takes almost all year to recover from."

Pittsburgh's bullpen has thrived this season in the areas Grilli finds important. Entering Saturday's game against the Reds, the Bucs' entire staff had the best left-on-base percentage in the league at 77.8, while its bullpen alone had an even more impressive 81.9 mark, also tops in the Majors. That number is calculated not on runners left on base in the box score, but by hits, walks and runs allowed as a result.

Those impressive numbers are why, in part, the Pirates own baseball's third-best record despite the league's sixth-lowest batting average and ninth-fewest runs scored.

"You've really got to like our chances anytime a starter comes out and hands the ball to the bullpen," said Bucs starter Jeff Locke, who exited Thursday's win over the Tigers with two on and one out before Vin Mazzaro worked his way out of the jam. "They've been fantastic this year."

But not every team has the luxury of a bullpen that leads the league in ERA (2.80) opponents' batting average (.211) and WHIP (1.14). Locke says the rotation is getting a little bit spoiled.

"We've come to expect it," he said with a smile.

Lefty Tony Watson said the Pirates' bullpen takes great pride in stranding inherited runners. Because of the "law of averages," he says, a teammate he bails out one night could be getting Watson off the hook for a few runs later in the season. It's all a group effort.

Watson added that he doesn't pay much attention to statistics, but said he "doesn't like walks" and values first-pitch strikes and getting leadoff batters out.

"I'm sure it all evens out over the course of a season," Watson said. "But those are the things I pay attention to."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.