Posted on: May 15, 2011 12:09 pm
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: February 18, 2009 12:24 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2009 12:27 pm
So, entering Spring training the Orioles have two sure answers for their opening day 5-man rotation and a wealth of solid options in the bullpen. What they have beyond that is an astounding number of question marks, and it's hard to see them being immediately competitive (or even climbing out of last place this season) because of that. However, it seems to me that Andy MacPhail and the rest of the front office are doing exactly what they need to to get better in the long run. They have solidified all of the positions on the field and spots in the lineup, right down to the bench and acquired a wealth of young (and not-so-young) arms to experiment with. Now the Orioles will have a year or two of evaluation, to hone things down to a solid starting staff of the future, and 2 or 3 years from now will be the time to supplement all this great young talent with a big Free Agent signing or three to get them over the hump. This is all, of course, provided they evaluate the talent they have properly and bring it through the organization at the right pace and with the right mindset. With some coaching staff adjustments and a trend toward more control, the O's are in a very good position to do that.
Now to the immediate problem: The Orioles have 27 pitchers on their Spring Training Roster, and 10 more as non-roster invitees. So how do you hone 37 guys down to a 13 man staff, and 5 starters, in a month? It is clear that the 13 guys they begin the season with will not be the same 13 they end the season with, as more younger guys will get a shot if they fare well in the minors, but who do they break camp with? This is my attempt to sort out the madness before any live competition takes place.
I'll start, just like the O's will, with the list of 37 players.
On the Roster
Wow. That's quite the list of names. For non-Orioles fans I'm sure few of them jump out as great options, but there is a TON of upside attached to a number of those names. But who's ready?
Step 1 - The Obvious Stuff
Now it's time to begin whittling down the list. Some of this process will be easy, but in a way it will make the next couple steps even more difficult.
1A. Locks for the rotation:
Koji Uehara (we didn't sign him to pitch in the minors)
1B. Locks for the bullpen:
Danys Baez (I know they've said they'll look at him for a starting role, but after the injury and a career as a reliever, with all the guys the O's have acquired, I'm just not Baeing it).
Jim Johnson (Some have tabbed him as a potential starter, but the way he pitched in his relief role last year tells me that would be a mistake. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.)
Chris Ray (I can't wait to see if he's the pitcher he was before he got hurt.)
Dennis Sarfate (I suppose he COULD get upstaged by someone else, but his experience is invaluable)
George Sherrill (Who will be the closer? Personally, I like Ray in the ninth with Sherril and/or Johnson in the 8th)
Jamie Walker (I could see him being released or traded sometime this year, but with this much experience we'll break camp with him on the parent club)
1C. locks for the team:
Mark Hendrickson (he's a special case and will wind up in either a starting or long-relief role, depending on how the Spring goes. I'd put Albers here but he may need to rehabilitate in the minors first)
So, that leaves the Orioles with a shorter list of players competing for a short list of spots. Nine spots on the team seem guaranteed with 4 remaining...either 3 rotation slots and one reliever or two and two, depending on how Hendrickson's value is determined. It sounds less overwhelming put this way, until one realizes that there are 28 names vying for those 4 spots. Yikes!
Step 2 - Sorting out the relievers from the starters
Keep in mind that this is based primarily on what they've done so far in their careers...many of the "starters" could end up pitching in relief at some point or vice versa, but I think there's a good chance that a career starter won't break camp in the MLB bullpen or vice versa.
Brian Bass, Bradley Bergesen, David Hernandez, Rich Hill, Radhames Liz, Brian Matusz, Troy Patton, David Pauley. Hayden Penn, Chorye Spoone, Chris Waters, Jake Arrieta, Andy Mitchell, Chris Tillman
Matt Albers (because of the injury - he could start later in the season), Jim Hoey, Bob McCrory, Kam Mickolio, Jim Miller, Wilfrido Perez, Alfredo Simon, Alberto Castillo, Scott Chiasson, Fredy Deza, Brad Hennessey, Ryan Keefer, John Parrish, Ross Wolf
So it looks like an even split with 14 guys competing for the last spots in each role. Time to thin the herd a bit.
Step 3 - Identifying the top candidates to start
3A. Who's (definitely) not ready:
Brian Matusz He should progress quickly but has virtually no professional innings under his belt. Not a guy to break camp with.
Troy Patton Love the kid's upside, but let's see how he pitches in AA or AAA before we promote him. Injuries like his need time to evaluate.
Chorye Spoone He's been highly touted within the organization, but he has put up mediocre numbers at the lower levels and we have far too many pitchers with more upside than him for Spoone to realistically have a shot.
Jake Arrieta Great numbers so far and great potential, but he's only pitched at A Frederick. Can't wait to see him, but the O's need to avoid rushing him.
3B. Who might not be ready:
Three guys had fantastic numbers at AA Bowie but have not yet pitched above that level. They are Bradley Bergesen, David Hernandez, and Chris Tillman. A fourth guy has had some success in a couple seasons at AAA Norfolk (Andy Mitchell) but is a non-roster invitee for a reason. I personally don't see any of these guys cracking the opening day roster unless they have dazzling Spring numbers.
3C. So, your contenders are:
Brian Bass, Rich Hill, Radhames Liz, David Pauley, Hayden Penn, and Chris Waters. None of them has great MLB numbers, but all have experience at the big show. As I've said, any of the four guys under 3B could surpass the field and get a spot, but I consider them long shots who may deserve a chance later in the season.
3D. My favorites and my prediction:
Personally, I think Rich Hill, Chris Waters, and Brian Bass deserve to make the cut...with Bass being the odd man out of Hendrickson is tabbed as a starter. I think Trembley will select Rich Hill, Hayden Penn, and Mark Hendrickson as his opening-day 5 (in unknown order) but personally I don't see Penn turning his career around in Baltimore and I think Hendrickson would be more valuable in the bullpen.
Step 4 - Identifying the top candidates for the 'pen
4A. Injuries to think of:
My heart tells me to put Matt Albers straght onto the MLB roster because he's a great kid with talent and success at this level. My brain tells me he needs to start the season in the minors and work his way back from that injury. Since he elected therapy instead of surgery, he needs to work back slowly.
Jim Hoey is also working his way back from injury, and his MLB numbers are terrible even before that. Kid needs seasoning and rehab.
4B. Need more time:
Scott Chiasson He simply hasn't performed well in the NL, and needs to pitch in the minors first.
Fredy Deza Promising numbers last year but only in 6 games.
Ross Wolf Same as Chiasson
4C. The other long shots:
As with the starters, the folks listed here would need excellent Springs to make the team. They are Wilfrido Perez (great at AA with no MLB experience), Alfredo Simon (mediocre and limited MLB numbers), and Ryan Keefer (his ERA wasn't very good in the minors as a reliever).
4D. So your contenders are:
Bob McCrory, Kam Mickolio, Jim Miller, Alberto Castillo, Brad Hennessey, and John Parrish.
4E. My favorites and my prediction:
Personally, I like Brad Hennessey and Mark Hendrickson to take the last two bullpen slots out of camp. However, as I noted above, I think Trembley will tab Hendrickson as a starter, and probably select John PArrish as his last reliever (along with Hennessey). A final thought is that Bob McCrory and Kam Mickolio seem to be much better than their lofty ERAs at the MLB level indicate. Keep in mind that McCrory has had two bad outings, and started with a 108 ERA by allowing 4 runs to TB in .1 innings. Any time you shave 93 points off of your ERA you're moving in the right direction. Mickolio had a similar spike in ERA (at 27) but has consistently brought it down since.
Well, I hope you stayed with me through all that blab, O's fans, and I hope you have found them interesting and useful in making sense out of the Spring. Please comment with any thoughts you may have. What did I miss? Who do you like that I didn't tab? Who do I like that you thinkis terrible? Please, weigh in.
Tags: Alberto Castillo, Alfredo Simon, Andy Mitchell, Baltimore, Bob McCrory, Brad Hennessey, Bradley Bergesen, Brian Bass, Brian Matusz, bullpen, Chorye Spoone, Chris Ray, Chris Tillman, Chris Waters, Danys Baez, David Hernandez, David Pauley. Hayden Penn, Fredy Deza, George Sherrill, Jake Arrieta, Jamie Walker, Jeremy Guthrie, Jim Hoey, Jim Miller, John Parrish, Kam Mickolio, Koji Uehara, Mark Hendrickson, Matt Albers, Orioles, Radhames Liz, Rich Hill, Ross Wolf, Ryan Keefer, Scott Chiasson, Spring Training, starting rotation, Troy Patton, Wilfrido Perez