The bullpen, and the economic stratification of the Phillies' payroll

Jonathan Papelbon is one of three big-salary relievers on the Phillies roster. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

As we wrote in today's Daily News, the Phillies long ago reached a point where upgrading their bullpen became a necessity, not only for 2012, but for 2013 and beyond. Early in the offseason, we spent a decent amount of time looking at the potential strategies the club could pursue with regards to bolstering a bullpen that was thin on experience. We knew that they would prioritize a closer, with Ryan Madson the frontrunner. But we also assumed they would pursue some veteran depth for the seventh and eighth innings, given Jose Contreras' elbow surgery and the struggles that young set-up men Antonio Bastardo and Mike Stutes experienced in September. The Philies ultimately decided to make Jonathan Papelbon their lone significant upgrade, signing Chad Qualls to a $1.25 million deal late in the offseason.

In today's story, we noted that one of the ironies of the current administration's pursuit of a second World Series ring is that they have strayed away from the formula that won them their first title. In an attempt to quantify just how much their personnel strategy has changed, I crunched some numbers and calculated how much of their Opening Day payroll they spent on the bullpen compared to the rest of the team. I did this for 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 too. The table below breaks down what percentage of the Opening Day payroll was dedicated to the rotation, bullpen, lineup and bench in each of the last five years. 

Position-by-Position Spending as % of Total Opening Day Payroll

Pos. 2008% 2009% 2010% 2011% 2012%
Rotation 24.23 27.19 22.43 39.21 37.96
Bullpen 19.66 20.77 20.21 16.23 11.68
Lineup 52.16 48.03 53.84 41.94 46.61
Bench 3.94 4.01 3.52 2.63 3.4

Note: Numbers calculated using actual salaries, not Avg. Annual Value

As you can see, the amount of payroll space the Phillies spent on their bullpen has dropped in each of the last three seasons, from 20.77 percent of the total payroll in 2009, to 20.21 percent in 2010, to 16.23 percent in 2011, to 11.68 percent in 2012. 

But the more significant disparity is in their resource allocation within the bullpen. Of the 11.68 percent they spent this season, 6.38 percent is dedicated to the closer. In other words, 54 percent of the money they spent on the bullpen is tied up in Jonathan Papelbon, which is easily the greatest concentration of funds of the five-year span in question.

Compounding the problem is that the next two highest-paid relievers are Jose Contreras, who opened the season on the disabled list and is back there for the remainder of the schedule, and Kyle Kendrick, who is really a spot starter/long man. Along with Papelbon, those three players account for $17 of the roughly $20 million the Phillies have dedicated to their bullpen.

Essentially, what the table shows jibes with what you have seen. Despite new contracts for Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies are actually spending 5.5 percent less on their lineup than they did in 2008, relative to their total payroll. That payroll space is now being spent on starting pitching. 

Keep in mind that the lineup figures include salaries for Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, just like the bullpen includes Contreras. Take away those players, and the Phillies entered the season with roughly 38 percent of their resources tied up in the rotation, 10 percent tied up in the bullpen, and just 25 percent in the lineup, with 23 percent on the disabled list and the rest on the bench. That probably jibes even better with what you have seen.

None of this does much to explain how the Phillies have fared relative to the entire sport. To do that, we'd have to calculate how much each team has spent on its bullpen. But it does give you some sense of the way the organization's priorities have changed over the last four years.