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Tag:Jason Berken
Posted on: May 15, 2011 12:09 pm
 

The Bullpen: What of it?

There's no getting around it: the Orioles bullpen has been terrible this year. Its 4.92 ERA is good for 26th in MLB, and at times it has seemed like every relief pitcher was struggling simultaneously. Only five clubs in MLB have allowed more walks from their bullpen. The .258 BAA is 24th in MLB. I do, however, see reasons for optimism in this area as the season progresses. It may never be turned to the strength many thought it might be, but it could and should be a serviceable unit over the long haul. Why do I feel this way? Well, it might get long and circle back on itself, but I think my reasoning is sound.

It really starts, though, with this: The Orioles bullpen is sixth in MLB in innings pitched. After watching years of this team feature a bullpen with decent arms that starts getting shelled at some point in the season, I have come to realize more and more that, for the most part, to find a good bullpen one should look where the starting pitching is best, and where that starting pitching is lasting the longest. Obviously it's not going to be a 1:1 tradeoff, but at a glance the trend does seem to more or less hold. Why is that? Because for the most part, pitchers are in a bullpen because, compared to other MLB pitchers, they are average to bad. There are, of course, exceptions - but almost all of those are closers or setup men. Middle relief is middle relief because those guys aren't very good. Given a small sample size (fewer innings) they are more likely to have better numbers than if they pitch more often.


After three straight nine-inning starts, the bullpen is going to be rested. I think we are already about to see a localized drop in their ERA and an improved performance. That won't hold up if our next three starters go 3, 5, and 2 1/3 or something, but the last couple of days have been huge for that unit.

On  a second note, I think we, as fans, have overreacted to a couple of bad performances by these guys. If we look at them one at a time, I think we will all take comfort in what we see.


Kevin Gregg has blown two saves in nine tries. That's not ideal, but here is a list of pitchers other than Greggwho have blown two or more saves this year:

Ryan Franklin, Cardinals (4)
Brandon Lyon, Astros (4)
Matt Thornton, White Sox (4)
Fernando Rodney, Angels (3)
Sean Burnett, Nationals (3)
Brandon League, Mariners (3)
Nick Masset, Reds (3)
Tyler Clippard, Nationals (3)
Ryan Webb, Marlins (3)
Craig Kimbrel, Braves (3)
Mariano Rivera, Yankees (2)
Kerry Wood, Cubs (2)
Rafael Betancourt, Rockies (2)
Joe Nathan, Twins (2)
Joaquin Benoit, Tigers (2)
Brian Fuentes, Athletics (2)
Jeremy Affeldt, Giants (2)
Matt Belisle, Rockies (2)
Bobby Jenks, Red Sox (2)
Chris Ray, Mariners (2)
Chris Resop, Pirates (2)
Clay Hensley, Marlins (2)
Matt Capps, Twins (2)
Carlos Marmol, Cubs (2)
Jose Veras, Pirates (2)
Jeff Fulchino, Astros (2)
Joakim Soria, Royals (2)
David Robertson, Yankees (2)
Jordan Walden, Angels (2)
Mike Dunn, Marlins (2)
Luke Gregerson, Padres (2)
John Axford, Brewers (2)
Fernando Abad, Astros (2)
Vinnie Pestano, Indians (2)

That's a list of 35 guys, including Gregg, representing 23 teams. Only seven MLB teams lack a pitcher with two ore more saves, and of those the Rangers, Mets, Blue Jays, and Diamondbacks all have three or more pitchers with one blown save. Only the Rays, Phillies, and Dodgers are in such good shape that they have had two or fewer pitchers blow only one save. I think that should give us some perspecive on where Gregg really stands among his peers. He isn't lighting the world on fire, but he's not close to the bottom of the barrel, either. Of the 34 pitchers listed above, 27 of them have worse ERAs for the season than does Kevin Gregg. Most of the damage was done in one bad outing on April 18th against the Twins...since that outing Gregg has pitched ten times and surrendered just one ER. So, we probably owe him a break at this point. Oh, and another tidbit: Gregg does have the lowest ERA among Orioles pitchers.

Koji Uehara is next in the O's bullpen in ERA, with an even 3. I am not so worried about him, to be completely honest. He's still the guy in this bullpen that I have the most confidence in when we hand him the ball. Consider: despite some struggles in late April/early May, his WHIP on the season is 0.93. He has struck out 18 batters while walking only 4. He hasn't walked a batter in May, so he looks to be back to pitching like himself, and all of th damage this month came on one swing. Since that outing, his ERA for the year has dropped by nearly a full run.


Jim Johnson has also struggled at times, pitching to an ERA of 4.05 out of the bullpen. And yet, his WHIP is an even 1.00 and he has a BAA of just .205. He has shown that he can be extremely effective at times while wildl ineffective at others. Well, isn't that what a bullpen pitcher usually is? A guy who isn't consistent enough to start but who can bring it on a given night? He's got some pitches that are simply nasty, and is still a valuable asset out there. He's the kind of guy who will win you some ballgames if used effectively, and one can tell almost right away if he has it based on whether his best pitch is working. I think Showalter is a good enough manager to make that work for us.


Jeremy Accardo is well behind his career numbers for the year. His 4.32 ERA is 0.34 high and his (atrocious) 1.62 WHIP is up by about the same total. Not that a 3.98/1.36 line is what you want to see, but this is a guy who has already appeared in half as many games (13) as in any year since 2007. He's not a guy I can guarantee we'll see a great improvement from...he had two great years, one awful year, and one virtual non-year while with Toronto...and so far, his numbers point to a mediocre but not awful year in Baltimore. BUT I firmly believe that the less we have to use him, the better those numbers will be.


With Jason Berken comes the point at which my thoughts begin to circle back on themselves. I don't think Jason Berken is good. I have always felt this way, and have virtually zero confidence in his abilities. The reason, in this case, that I think the bullpen is going to strengthen soon is that his innings will begin to be shared, and shared with someone better than Josh Rupe. Brian Matusz is about to return, and that return will push either Brad Bergesen (a pitcher coming off of a complete game, four-hit shutout) or Chris Tillman. Tillman is looking more and more like his destiny lies in the 'pen, but I think that could be a decent future. He seems to more often be the victim of a bad inning than sustained suck, and good managing (plus a little luck) can turn that to advantage in a reliever.


Michael Gonzalez, simply put, is just not going to be this bad over a full season. The last time he had a terrible ERA for a year was his first in the majors (2003 with Pittsburgh) when he appeared in just 16 games. Pitchers just don't, after 7 years in the lague, pitch to an ERA more than five runs above their career numbers. I just don't even acknowledge that as something that can happen. In his worst full season, Gonzalez had an ERA of 4.28, and if the 7.94 he's sitting on right now were to hold up it would be more than three and a half runs worse than that year. We just need to give him some time...this is a situation where, yeah, maybe he's not that good any more. However, even so he IS better than the numbers he has at this point in the year, and that wil prove out over the course of 162 games.


Clay Rapada. Well, I don't have a lot of positive things to say here. BUT an ERA of 11.12 is another number that isn't likely to sustain itself at that height. I would expect to see Rapada to continue to struggle, but I also expect him to be phased out with a healthy Brian Matusz.  Similarly, we won't be relying on the awfulness of Chris Jakubauskas or Josh Rupe.


All of this boils down to: Our starters beginning to go deeper into games as they get into midsummer form, the return of Brian Matusz, the cutting of the chaff, and a couple of guys pitching like the pitchers they have been for their careers should minimize the problem that the Orioles bullpen has become in the early part of the season. I don't expect greatness out of this group, but I also am growing increasingly confident that they will be "good enough" through the dog days. Now, if only the bats would wake up...
Posted on: July 6, 2009 7:34 am
Edited on: July 29, 2009 3:59 pm
 

If you've thrown a pitch for the '09 Orioles

And I don't get lazy and stop halfway though...Then I'm about to have some words of one kind or another for you.  I'm gonna cite your key stats, tell you what I think you're doing right and wrong, and then say what your value to the organization is going forward.  Be warned: I'm only pleased with a few of you. So, without further adeiu, and in order of innings pitched:


Jeremy Guthrie, you've pitched to a 5.20 ERA and a 1.4 WHIP, and that's not something I expected out of the guy who was second to Johan Santana in QS over the two prior seasons coming in.  Your 19 HR allowed scare me.  However, you still find the strike zone more often than not to the tune of a 2-1 K/BB ratio.  You're trying too hard, something that's been thoroughly analyzed by fans at this site.  You try to make every pitch the perfect pitch; consequently when you miss it's a meatball and it lands over the fence.  Other than all the HR, you look like the ace I remember, so I think we need to keep you in the organization for at least a few more years.  Your arm comes cheap compared to similar hurlers, and frankly you're our only veteran.

Brad Bergesen, you're one of four Orioles starters to win his MLB debut this season, and the only pitcher besides Guthrie to throw more than 90 innings so far.  Your 3.53 ERA and 1.16 WHIP means you've been the team's best starter, and you do it without walking people too much.  This organization needs pitchers who can find the strike zone and keep a good head on their shoulders.  You're going deep in games and truly dealing.  Your future is here and it's in the rotation.

Koji Uehara, your 4.05 ERA and 1.25 WHIP look OK on the surface, but the telling stat is when your numbers are split by time through the order.  You're excellent the first time through, below average the second time through, and god-awful the third time through.  They're figuring out your stuff and you're not adjusting.  However, you are stirking out four times the batters you're walking, and those are great numbers to have for a team that has struggled mightily with walks for the better part of a decade.  You belong as an Oriole, but your inability to adjust to hitters and to hold up with a high inning count means you need to be middle relief (when you get healthy).  In that role you could be very effective for a contending team, and so I think the brass needs to recognize this and keep you around.

Mark Hendrickson, The 4.86 ERA you've posted looks pretty bad on the surface.  However, as a reliever (3.20) it's better than 3 runs down from as a starter (6.32).  Once you were moved to the bullpen, you became effective.  Your stuff just isn't that great, but you have a career of moderate success and for a struggling organization that's valuable.  I don't think you have long-term value to the Birds, but for this year and perhaps one or two more your veteran presence and ability to go out and throw multiple innings, including spot-starts if necessary, is nice to have around.

Brian Bass, we're just past the halfway point and you hae a 4.71 ERA and 1.59 WHIP...the fact that you still rank in top 5 on the team in innings (and the secondary fact that it's below 50) tells us something about the state of our pitching.  You did have a couple of effective months, but like most mediocre relievers you are streaky.  Your stuff isn't great, and frankly you're just taking up a roster spot since we have several guys who could pitch to those numbers in long relief.  Unlike some of the other pitchers, you don't make up for your mediocre numbers by throwing strikes.

Rich J. Hill, you have a 7.43 ERA and 1.80 WHIP.  You've walked 31 batters (most on the team) and only struck out 39.  The raw ability we've heard about just doesn't seem to be there.  You don't command any pitch but your fastball, and it doesn't have great life.  You have a curve, but more than half the time you can't get it working.  You're wild, and are really the only truly wild starter left on the roster.  All of that combines to suggest that the Orioles should be done with you.  Perhaps you can get your stuff figured out in another organization.

Danys Baez, despite your 4.5 ERA you have at times been the O's most effective reliever.  After your surgery your fastball has newfound life, but like all pitchers who rely on one pitch you are sometimes vulnerable to good hitters sitting on that pitch.  One of the great moments of the season was when you blew one fastball right by a sick Ryan Howard only to have him jack the next one.  I don't blame you; it sure didn't look like he could catch up to your stuff.  I'm unsure if you have more value to the Orioles via trade or kept on for several years as a mid-to-late reliever.

Adam Eaton, I have little to say.  Your time has come and gone to the tune of an 8+ ERA and 1.83 WHIP.  While you were acquiring these numbers you had all of one successful outing which came when you were saving your job...which only served to convince the organization to keep you one or two starts longer than it should have.

Jason Berken, you had a great first start, winning your debut like so many have for us this season.  However, since your ERA has bloated up to 6.25.  What I see from you is flat stuff that is good enough to foll hitters no more than once a game.  I like the head you've got on your shoulders, because you've shown composure, but I don't think it's a good enough head for you to be crafty enough to get MLB hitters out consistently with what appears to be average stuff.  I think the organization should be patient with you in case I'm wrong, but I doubt there'll be much value in keeping you with the parent club in 2010.

Jim R. Johnson, I don't think the 3.00 ERA and 1.26 WHIP are indicative of how truly effective you have been for the most part...your numbers, like many short relievers, are highly inflated by your limited innings.  Hitters are frequently simplay outmatched by your stuff, and frankly I think it's between you and Chris Ray for the best ability among Orioles relievers (and you've been harnessing it to greater effect).  I, for one, would be most upset if the FO elected to part ways with you.

Matt Albers, while your ERA is close to 4 we're finally starting to see signs that you're the pitcher you were before your injury.  Batters hit about .400 against you in April, while in June that number was down to .250.  I still get the sense from watching you that you haven't pitched enough innings to be quite right again, but I think the O's should hang on to you because it wouldn't surprise me to see the hurler they had in early 2008 re-emerge for good.

I have again run out of time, at about the halfway point of this analysis.  I will again return and complete my evaluation shortly.


EDIT:  Way too late to update this and have the rest of the numbers make any sense.  Oh well, there's half of the pitching staff.


 
 
 
 
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