Checking In on the Bullpen Revolution

Earlier this year, there was a lot of discussion around Bryan Price’s bullpen management in terms of which players he used in the highest leverage situations. Given the monumental improvement of the relief core in 2017 compared to 2016, Price seemed to make a big adjustment in how he managed the talented group. FanGraphs even wrote an article comparing the Reds to the juggernaut that helped push Terry Francona’s club all the way to the World Series. However, recent trends had me skeptical this was still occurring and I started by looking at Iglesias and Lorenzen to see how their usage has changed.

From April 7th to May 9th, Iglesias went two innings five times, appearing only ten times in that span of over a month. Since May 9th, he has not pitched more than one inning at a time and has appeared in six of the last nine games. That is trending away from the multi-inning usage that Price talked about and showed us for the first month of the year. Lorenzen was a very similar story, going two innings or more from April 10th to May 9th and only one inning or less since then. He also has the three inning game in Pittsburgh, coming on with bases loaded and no outs in the 5th inning, which really sparked the conversations about Price’s new philosophy. Let’s give Price the benefit of the doubt and go a little deeper.

The two statistics that I will rely on for this will be FIP and LI, or Leverage Index. FIP is a pretty common stat but some may not be as familiar with LI. LI is the metric that quantifies the pressure a player is facing at any given time. The iteration of this stat we will look at specifically is gmLI, which measures a pitcher’s average LI when he enters into the game. This is a good way to evaluate if a pitcher is used more during high or low leverage situations.

In order to provide some context about where the Reds stand, we will first look at all 178 qualified relievers in the league.

FIP vs gmLI

The correlation between FIP and gmLI exists, but it is not very strong. There are some pitchers who have performed well that are pitching in low leverage situations and some pitchers who have struggled but have pitched in high leverage situations. The below charts give some more detail and break out the top ten players by gmLI and FIP. Keep in mind that gmLI is rated as 0.00-0.85 being low, 0.85 – 2.00 being medium, and 2.00+ being high. 1 is rated as average.

Top Ten MLB Relievers by gmLI

Leverage gmLI FIP FIP Rank Player Team
High 2.17 2.71 47 Joe Biagini Blue Jays
Medium 1.91 2.06 22 Chris Devenski Astros
Medium 1.9 1.76 17 Greg Holland Rockies
Medium 1.9 4.76 139 Edwin Diaz Mariners
Medium 1.89 4.32 118 Seung Hwan Oh Cardinals
Medium 1.87 2.5 35 Cody Allen Indians
Medium 1.87 4.26 113 Fernando Rodney Diamondbacks
Medium 1.87 5.31 158 Tony Watson Pirates
Medium 1.85 0.35 2 Craig Kimbrel Red Sox
Medium 1.83 2.67 44 Alex Colome Rays

 

Only one pitcher has averaged entering games in high leverage situations, though the rest of the list is still well above average. The callout here is only one player, Craig Kimbrel, breaks the top ten in FIP. There are also quite a few players in the bottom half of the league, including Tony Watson who has been one of the worst relievers in baseball so far but has pitched in a lot of high leverage situations. Overall, a pretty mixed bag.

Top Ten MLB Relievers by FIP

Leverage gmLI gmLI Rank FIP Player Team
Medium 1.5 37 0.13 Kenley Jansen Dodgers
Medium 1.85 9 0.35 Craig Kimbrel Red Sox
Medium 1.18 93 0.67 Blake Parker Angels
Medium 1.39 53 0.89 Dellin Betances Yankees
Medium 1.55 33 1.07 Andrew Miller Indians
Low 0.28 175 1.26 Paul Sewald Mets
Medium 1.12 100 1.27 Tommy Kahnle White Sox
Medium 0.9 136 1.33 Ross Stripling Dodgers
Medium 1.57 27 1.34 Trevor Rosenthal Cardinals
Medium 1.68 15 1.56 Koda Glover Nationals

 

Ranking the pitchers by FIP we recognize a lot more names but still seem to get another mixed bag in terms of usage. Kimbrel is again on the list and nine of the ten pitchers fall into the medium leverage category. However, some are falling in the bottom of the list in gmLI, including Mets rookie Paul Sewald, who has performed very well this year but has only come into games with that are significantly below average in terms of leverage.

Now we can take a look at the Red’s players and see how they compare.

Leverage gmLI gmLI Rank FIP FIP Rank Player
Medium 1.15 97 2.61 40 Raisel Iglesias
Medium 0.98 125 3.62 87 Michael Lorenzen
Medium 0.92 132 2.70 46 Wandy Peralta
Medium 0.86 138 4.08 107 Drew Storen
Low 0.65 155 2.82 52 Blake Wood
Low 0.64 157 6.47 171 Robert Stephenson

 

The two names that we would hope to see at the top of the list are in fact there, which is a good sign for Reds fans. This list instantly seems to have more of a pattern compared to looking at the whole league. Even spot-checking a few other teams showed me that the Reds appear to be more in line than most. When I ran the correlation coefficient with the 6 players above for comparisons sake, the R2 value came out to 0.3138, significantly higher than the league as a whole (0.0859).

This chart shows that Blake Wood is potentially being under-utilized compared to Drew Storen which further solidifies Wesley’s point that Storen should be used in more low leverage situations. This is also an interesting data point because Price recently took some heat from Marty (and probably some others) for putting Wood in the tied-game in the 8th inning against the Blue Jays. Wood did give up the deciding home-run but that doesn’t mean it was a bad decision. Sometimes that is just how baseball works.

The main takeaway is that the Reds three best relievers are being put in the game with the most on the line, following the anecdotal evidence that has been popping up since the beginning of the year. Wandy Peralta has come on very strong this year and supplemented Iglesias and Lorenzen, who at times show the potential of the next coming of the Nasty Boys. Price is taking advantage of his new and improved unit and has certainly gained some favor among the fans.  When compared to the rest of the league, it seems that he might indeed be adhering to the bullpen revolution closer than most.  Most importantly, he has managed to win a few more ballgames than a lot of people expected him to. And at the end of the day, that is all that matters.

The Reds Hit the Unhittable Bullpen

Prior to the trade deadline acquisition of Andrew Miller, the Indians had strong bullpen. Dan Otero had a terrific year and was arguably a top 10 reliever in baseball. Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Zach McAllister were a strong relief core that came alive late in the year. At the end of the season, they sat in 7th in the league in total WAR of 5.0, aided by Andrew Miller’s 1.1. Miller instantly added a new dynamic to the bullpen and Indians were able to ride them through all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. Ever since that point, Cleveland’s relievers have been nearly unhittable.

Up until May 21, just before the Indians and Reds series began, the tribe bullpen was spotting an ERA of 1.97 through 145.9 innings, which was first in the league. They had a .184 batting average against and a .248 opponent wOBA. As a unit they had converted all 18 save opportunities they had been given, never relinquishing a lead from the 7th inning on.

The Indian’s opponent for the next three days happened to be the Cincinnati Reds, who, believe it or not, currently lead the majors in WAR for position players while also sitting 5th in OBP, 5th in SLG and 6th in wOBA. They have four players with double digit home runs, the only team in the league that can claim that. Zach Cozart leads all shortstop in AVG, OBP, SLG, wRC+ and WAR. They also have a former MVP who is slashing .351/.510/.608/.1.118 for the month of May. While it might not have been your first guess, this offense has been one of the league’s best so far in 2017.

The Reds offense showed it is the real deal in the battle of Ohio, particularly against the very tough Cleveland bullpen. In 7.3 innings in three games against the Reds, the Indian’s pen allowed 5 earned runs and gave up 10 hits and 2 walks while striking out 8. It’s not the worst line for a three-game stretch by any means, but given their performance prior to this series, it can certainly be classified as surprising. All of the run-scoring damage took place during two at-bats, Eugenio Suarez’s game tying home-run against Bryan Shaw and Zach Cozart’s go-ahead single against Cody Allen.

Suarez’s home-run in the bottom of the 7th inning took the Red’s chances of winning from 18.4% to 55%, easily the most impactful play in terms of WPA for each player this season. While the Indians ended up coming out on top, it was still the first blown save for the Indian’s this year.

Cozart’s 9th inning, go-ahead single the following night would prove even more significant as it came in the Red’s final out of the game and added a whopping .648 to their win probability. It quickly became the second blown save in as many nights and ultimately resulted in a Red’s win. The one caveat about this play is that Billy Hamilton’s speed had quite a significant impact. He may be the only player in the league that scores from first base in that scenario which greatly affected the WPA for both Cozart and Allen. Nonetheless, Allen still got pegged for a loss in his worst outing of the year so far.

Going forward, this series will mostly likely come to be insignificant for the Indians. After all, Andrew Miller still turned in dominant performances and Shaw and Allen are likely to remain the strong, reliable setup men they have proven to be. For the Reds, this series is more evidence that the Reds lineup is up and down very much improved from last year when they posted 15.4 WAR (they are currently at 10.1) and an 89 wRC+. With Joey Votto continuing to put himself in the discussion at the best hitter in the game, this Red’s offense could continue to surprise some people down the stretch. It is safe the say they will not be a surprise to Cleveland any longer.

Put ‘Em In Coach

Nick Kirby recently posted an article on Redleg Nation about the potency of the Red’s starting lineup this year. He is definitely correct; the starters are raking right now and deserve a lot of credit for the team’s success. He also touched on the bench players briefly but we will take a more in depth look at that group now.

Thursday night against the Giants in the bottom of the 7th, Drew Storen ran into some trouble with runners on first and second in a 2-2 game. Price made two decisions that I really liked.

The first move was pulling Storen and bringing in Peralta, who has been really good this year. That is a luxury that Price simply did not have last year, and it is really fun to see multiple guys from the pen be able to be called on when the team needs a big out.

The second move was to compound the pitching change with a double switch. Price pulled Peraza and slotted Scooter Gennet into second base and the pitcher’s spot in the order, which was due up first in the top of the 8th inning. Scooter led off the 8th inning with a deep shot to center field that dropped just past the reach of Denard Span. The ball probably could have been caught by some other center fielders (Billy would have been waiting underneath it for a couple seconds, at least) but the fact is Scooter put a nice charge into it and things worked out for the Reds.  Gennet found himself on third base and one batter later was brought home on a gapper by Cozart. 3-2 would be the final score with Gennet recording the game winning run.

The fact that Peraza has been struggling is a different subject for another day. The refreshing aspect of the double switch was that the Reds have a bench that allows for moves that like that and can directly lead to positive results and even wins. The bench has been a real issue for the Reds in recent years but it seems to be a different story this year, with a good group of players able to contribute when their number is called.

Below is a chart that includes total WAR and average WAR per player for both the Red’s starters and bench players since 2010. It is an arbitrary cutoff year, but since that was the beginning of the playoff runs I thought it made sense to see a progression since then.

Position Player WAR by Starters and Bench Players

Reds Bench

Source: FanGraphs

2010 and 2011 saw some really strong teams, starters and bench players included. 2012 and 2013 had much of the same core, and therefore the starters were producing relatively the same WAR. However, a key dropoff was the bench. Guys like Ryan Hanigan, Laynce Nix, Paul Janish, Johnny Gomes, Edgar Renteria and Miguel Cairo turned into Derrick Robinson, Xavier Paul, Jack Hannahan, Cesar Izturis and Wilson Valdez. The difference was noticeable at the time, and the numbers bear it out. Jay Bruce’s “streakiness” was not the reason the Reds never won a playoff series. Much of that falls on the front office not providing enough depth.

2017 is a different story. While several reserves got off to slow starts, most everyone seems to be playing very well. Barnhart, Alcantara, Gennett and Kivlehan are all producing positive WAR and everyone but Tucker has a wRC+ above 112. If there is one negative about this group so far, it would have to be Tucker’s offensive performance to date.  While he does have a 7% walk rate and the lowest K% of the four reserves, his power is severely lagging, resulting in a 64 wRC+. His positive WAR is entirely from the defensive side, which is not a bad thing but it can be a little hard to rely on statistically. He does pass the eye test behind the plate though, so we will give it to him for now. (For the purposes of this post, I assumed that Mesoraco will be the starter going forward, provided he is healthy. For reference, Barnhart and Mesoraco have the same WAR currently, so including Barnhart as a starter would not affect the numbers.)

The other good news about this group is the future state. They average just over 26 years old and have anywhere from 3-5 years of team control remaining. While there are a lot of potential prospects the Reds hope can supplement this bench even further, this is a great baseline to have going into the next era of competitive teams. Taylor Trammell, Aristedes Aquino, Shed Long, TJ Freidl and Phil Ervin have all shown promise but still have a ways to go before we can pencil them in as future everyday contributors at a big league level. It seems inevitable that some of these guys will be around in the utility or potentially “super sub” role one day. Until then, let’s be thankful for the group that we have and hope they can keep contributing.

Rebooting While Rebuilding

Don’t think if it as giving up. Think of it like multi-tasking. Rebuilding while rebooting. While the Reds currently sit a game behind St. Louis for first place with an 18-15 record, they face a potential dilemma of competing this year or staying true to the rebuild. There is a lot of baseball still to be played, but they just might be able to see this season through into a playoff push. There are, however, some good players with trade value who do not seem to have a place on the next Reds playoff team. Let’s think about some potential deadline trades that could help continue to build organizational depth while maintaining the team’s chance at some late season magic.

Drew Storen

Storen as of now has pitched 15 innings with a 3.73/3.66 FIP/xFIP, not quite on par with his solid career line of 3.26/3.54. Storen started out the year very well but ran into trouble in his last outing, allowing two earned runs and hitting three batters in one inning against the Yankees. Maybe that was just a fluke, seeing as it was just the 31st time in MLB history a pitcher plunked three batters in an inning, or maybe Storen’s hot start was too good to be true.

The whole reason I wrote this piece is because I saw a tweet noting that the Nationals have a bullpen problem, following their 6th blown save in 16 chances. I checked into it and found the National’s bullpen has the 3rd worst FIP at 4.92 and the 15th best/worst xFIP at 4.22, all adding up to a -0.7 WAR (I do not miss those days). It took me a minute (and a comment from wvredlegs) to remember Storen came from the Nationals and a reunion would be highly unlikely. Another destination would probably not be much of an issue though, seeing as teams with even decent bullpens can still stock up on arms at the deadline.

Storen’s value at the deadline really depends on how he performs the next three months. The Reds signed him to a one-year, $3MM contract this winter, which is exactly the type of contract teams are looking for in deadline trades. If he can get back on track and bring his numbers closer to his career averages, a team in contention with bullpen problems might be more willing to part with a more promising prospect. As a pure rental though, anything too close to league average will not bring much value back.

Tim Adleman

Tim Adleman has been the definition of adequate, a word Chad brought to light regarding Adleman’s most recent start against the Yankees. He currently owns a FIP of 5.28 but an xFIP of 4.03. Including last year, he has given the Reds almost 100 innings of slightly above replacement level starting pitching. Definitely nothing to write home about, but he could be a player somebody might want to take a chance on as a fifth starter or a long man in the bullpen. Given the Reds deep pool of pitching talent that is slowly surfacing to the major league level, it does not seem there is room for the 29 year-old Adleman going forward.

Ideally, the Reds could flip Adleman at the deadline and try to profit from said adequasity.  A trade we can look at for comparison would be Mike Montgomery, who the Cubs picked up last July in return for a 2011 2nd round pick Dan Vogelbach, currently a poor man’s Kyle Schwarber. Statistically, Adleman doesn’t quite have the results Montgomery has, but his peripherals are pretty close, especially to pre-trade Montgomery. Montgomery, like Adleman, still had five years of team control which was probably another reason he appealed to the Cubs, who may end up moving him into their rotation as a 4th/5th starter at some point.

Consider too the Dan Straily trade (who also had five years of team control) the Reds made this past winter where they managed a very promising return, including Luis Castillo and Austin Brice. Adleman has not been outperformed by too much against Straily’s 2016 season, and another haul like that or the Mike Montgomery trade would go a long way to enhancing the rebuild.

Zach Cozart

It really hurts to put Zach on this list but this is not the list we needed, it is the list we deserved. Enough cannot be said about Cozart’s year so far and I am really happy for the guy. However, given that he will become a free agent at the end of the season it seems likely that he will be in the trade discussion come July. Next year will be his age 32 season, and based on the market value of similar shortstops, Cozart will expect something close to a three-year contract worth $35-40MM. That type of contract would not favor the Reds.

If the Reds wanted to try to keep him throughout the year and still add value from his departure, the qualifying offer is the next logical step. However, with the new CBA agreement, the compensation pick the Reds could receive might not be as valuable, depending on the team that would sign him. There is also no guarantee Cozart would decline a one-year, $17MM contract, depending on what other offers he had. Teams will certainly be considering the possibility of a quick decline given his age and position.

Looking at the numbers, we can see why Zach would be a great rental for teams with playoff run aspirations. Cozart currently leads all MLB shortstops in wRC+, OPS, BB% and is second in ISO to Franky Lindor. He has been more impressive than Xander Bogaerts, Corey Seager and arguably Lindor as well which is as good as it gets. Defensive metrics show some decline but still positive production at short.  It goes without saying that he is increasing his trade value mightily.

One team that stands out to me as a potential suitor is the Orioles.  J.J. Hardy has been with the team since 2011 and had some very nice years, after which he signed a 3 year deal worth $40MM. This year, however, he is sporting a .196/.232/.252 for a wRC+ of 29. According to the stats, his defense has also taken a step back too. That is not going to get it done for a playoff contender in the AL East. The problem with the Orioles is they have a poor farm system and they might not be able to provide enough value for the Reds to deal Cozart, especially if Zach keeps up his current production. A team that does have a deep farm system and is currently not getting production at SS is the Rockies. After Trevor Story stormed onto the scene last season with a 120 wRC+, he has come down to earth with a 66 wRC+ in his first 33 games. If the Rockies keep up their strong play and Story’s struggles continue, they might be interested in Cozart.

If we assume at least some regression for Zach before the trade deadline, a very conservative trade comp would be Asdrubal Cabrera in 2014. In 97 games in his contract season for the Indians, he slashed .246/.305/.386/.692 with wRC+ of 94. Not close to Cozart’s production right now, but Cabrera did produce several seasons very similar to Cozart’s career prior to 2014. Cleveland received a 2010 9th round draft pick in Zach Walters (currently with the Louisville Bats), who slashed .300/.358/.608/.965 at AAA in 2014 before the trade and also had a full year of 117 wRC+ at AAA in 2013. He did not pan out for the Indians, however, and only has 170 major league at-bats since 2013. The Reds would hope to do better than that if they were to part with their veteran shortstop.

Now, assuming the Reds were to trade the aforementioned players, what would they have to do to remain competitive this season?

In the cases of Storen and Adleman, the most likely source of replacements would be from within the ogranization. The Reds have a good collection of pitching talent, some which has been able to produce in the big leagues, some that has not seen success yet and some that has not had a real opportunity.  Bailey, Desclafani, Finnegan and Cingrani are all on the DL. Cody Reed, Rookie Davis, Ariel Hernandez, Sal Romano and Lisalverto Bonilla have all seen action this year and could be called on. There really are too many unknowns to name exactly who would take the spots but there are definitely enough viable options to stock a full pitching staff. The point is, if the Reds do catch a break and can get everyone healthy come August, they would have no trouble letting go of a couple arms.

Replacing Cozart would be a tougher task.  There are two options that I will discuss but that is definitely not to say there are no other possibilities.  The first and simplest option would be to move Peraza to shortstop and have Scooter Gennet become the starting second baseman. Scooter has produced a career wRC+ of 97 while sporting a below average glove. However, he currently holds a 112 wRC+ in 59 at-bats and his career average was severely affected by a poor 2015 of 77 wRC+.  He appears to be a player who could hold his own and give the Reds slightly average production, while also adding in a bit of the grit factor (I’m joking, I promise).

The second option would involve a lot more moving pieces and rely heavily on player versatility. Given Duvall was a third baseman before last year, the Reds could move Duvall back to third base, move Suarez to shortstop and bring up Jesse Winker to fill in the OF. It would be a calculated risk given Suarez’s defensive improvement at 3rd base this year and Duvall’s Gold Glove Finalist defense in LF.  The Reds would also be hoping that Winker can find the power that has eluded him since his wrist injury (.082 ISO in 2016, .051 ISO in 99 ABs this year). Without that power, Scooter Gennet would be a comparable offensive addition and would result in fewer guys moving around.

This can all change so much in the coming months depending on the standings and injuries. The Reds interest in selling off pieces will fluctuate based on how many of their pitchers can stay off the DL. It is a little early to be thinking about, especially with the Reds currently playing exciting ball. But we cannot ignore the fact that the rebuild is not yet complete and this year’s trade deadline could prove important for future Reds teams.

Does Billy Make the Reds Go?

This post came about from a commenter who posed the question, “Does the Reds winning coincide with Billy getting on base?” It is certainly an intriguing question which anecdotally would seem to have a very obvious answer and has even been brought up by his teammates.

The idea that any single player can directly impact a team’s win/loss results more often than not doesn’t really seem intuitive in baseball. At least to me.  A quarterback in the NFL or a dominant basketball player (see James, LeBron) makes much more sense than a position player in the MLB. If a baseball player were to stake that claim, it would seem most likely to be a starting pitcher, such as Madison Bumgarner or Jake Arrieta, who have both been key parts of their respective team’s championships. Can a below average center fielder really have that much of an impact?

If we take the game vs the Giants which I am currently watching, Billy reached base in his first three at-bats, the Reds scored runs in each of those innings and have been in complete control the entire game. Not to mention this came against Matt Cain who had been pitching very well recently. Watching Billy get on base, effortlessly glide around the bases and get brought home by a Votto base hit seems like the most organic sequence in baseball history.

Let’s take a look at the numbers and see what we find. Keep in mind this is for each player’s Reds career only.

Wins vs Losses Chart

Source: Fangraphs

Before we go too far into the numbers, I do want to acknowledge that there is an inherent problem taking splits for wins and losses. If a team wins then they generally sore runs which means there has to be better offense. The easiest way for me to think about it was not t a single players splits, but rather the splits of different players compared against each other. There are more ways to look into this particular question, but this was the first question that I asked so I wanted to see it all the way through. The results did surprise me a bit.

Since the title of the article refers to Billy Hamilton, we will start there. The number that pops out immediately is the variance in Billy’s Weighted Runs Created (wRC+) between Reds wins and losses. That is very substantial as we can compare that with the rest of the Red’s lineup. I added in some former players to get a little bit more to look at. It definitely wasn’t nostalgia. Why would I ever get nostalgic while the Reds are playing the Giants?

Nobody else’s variance is even close to Billy’s and five players actually perform worse on average when the Reds win, including Joey Votto. If the Reds win a game, there is a very good chance that Billy had a good game for his standards. Unfortunately, that only is only barely above the average MLB performance, according to wRC+.  Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is also included and presents a similar story, though not as dramatic as wRC+. In Red’s victories, Hamilton is still producing an average wOBA that is 44% higher than that in Reds losses. The downside, again, is that this is still considered below average. Another way of saying that is that in Reds losses, Billy Hamilton is one of the worst players in the league (a .210 wOBA for 2017 would be 3rd worst among qualified players). This is just more encouraging/frustrating evidence that if Billy ever can perform at an average or even just slightly below average level consistently, the Reds stand to benefit. Pretty amazing.

The other huge callout from the chart is the huge increase in ISO from EVERYONE during Red’s wins. I am sure this is a trend that would hold true across the league as well. If a team wins a game, they are more than likely going to have more extra base hits than the opposition.  There are endless different ways to build a team, but as many of the writers here have been expressing for years, power is the safest bet there is.

The three former Reds are all extremely similar, which is interesting but not sure if it means anything at all. Those teams had much more stability compared to the constant changes the current roster has endured. Maybe that plays into it, maybe not. For what it’s worth, Frazier (.505) and Bruce (.502) are the only players listed with winning percentages above .500. Phillips barely missed at .499. Votto sits at .486 after the blood bath last year.

I was surprised when I saw how much higher Billy’s variance is compared to everyone else. I pretty much assumed that everyone would play better, on average, in wins compared to losses. Going back to what I said earlier, that’s just a super intuitive observation. Also thinking again about the nuances of baseball, it takes much more than one or two strong players to win games. Just ask Mike Trout. That said, the connection between the Reds going and Billy going is enough to make you wish Billy was able to go a bit more often.

Stay Great

My first encounter with Lake Superior was rather unassuming.  I had gone camping with my family before but it was nothing more than a night or two. Despite my lack of experience, my three friends and I set off on our 2000+ mile trek with the goal to make it to Thunder Bay, Ontario, the name alone promising excitement and eliciting a lot of ACDC on the 15 hour drive. We planned to camp along the way but I really did not know what to expect and figured it would be just like any other camping trip. Needless to say, Thunder Bay was a forgettable side note on an overall incredible journey. After 10 days of hiking, camping, frigid swims, dune climbs, a bear encounter, way too much Ramen noodles and Gatorade and a lot of frisbee on the beach, I had fallen in love with the outdoors. And with Gichigami.

Six years later, my girlfriend and I were able to experience Superior on a different level. Backpacking through the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (the same park I had stayed in previously) for 40 miles was all that it took to remember what a treasure the largest of the Great Lakes is. I had built this trip up since we had it planned, and it certainly did not let us down.

Kayaking around Miner’s Castle provided a unique perspective of the caves and rock formations that dot the cliffs. It was a gorgeous day and much calmer water than is normal for late summer. We paddled back and forth along the rocks and soaked up a postcard day with break taking views. It was the perfect way to get reacquainted with the waters that had treated me so well before.

 

Our four day hike was a mesmerizing combination of deep woods, calm beach, rocky cliffs and everything in-between. One second we would be surrounded by pine trees with only the fresh smell of Christmas present, the next we were seemingly at the edge of the world. It is at this point where the enormity of the lake can be comprehended (almost).  These spectacular views of the hike were not entirely new to me but Lake Superior didn’t seem to care, as not one bit of wonder was lost in that fact.

Picture #5Picture #6

The stars are what I remember most. Maybe it is the “Last Gas Station for 100 Miles” sign on the drive in that makes you feel secluded, but it’s not until you see the stars, and I mean a lot of stars, that you realize how isolated and pure the Upper Peninsula is. On my first trip, I remember thinking that I had never seen anything like it. When I returned, it was the same feeling all over again. Carolyn and I were even lucky enough to catch a meteor shower.

The Native Americans, specifically the Ojibwe, named Superior Gichigami, meaning “be a great sea”. If Lake Superior isn’t great, then I do not know what is. While the Upper Peninsula is certainly not easy to get to, it is absolutely worth the effort. Whether you go once or make it a regular spot, you will never be disappointed by one of our great national treasures.

Not to be forgotten on a backpacking trip is the first meal afterwards, which we were lucky enough to enjoy right on the lake. Great company, great view and great french fries.

We will be back, Gichigami, but in the meantime, stay great.