Gas Out of the Bullpen: Not Exactly What I Had in Mind

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Danger, originally uploaded by Clearly Ambiguous.

So the bullpen’s been, um, run prevention challenged of late: tell me something I don’t know, you’re probably thinking. Well, ok smart guy, how about some numbers (courtesy of Inside Edge, courtesy of ESPN)?:

Red Sox bullpen — 2007 vs. 2008 (regular season, through Thursday)
2007 2007 MLB rank 2008 2008 MLB rank
ERA 3.10 2nd 4.56 27th
WHIP 1.21 1st 1.46 19th
Opp. batting average .226 1st .270 27th

The fact that the bullpen has cost us nine games already (NINE games, Mrs Bueller) is likely, as Tim notes, high on Theo’s radar.

Corey and Snyder are long since banished: the former for San Diego and the latter for Pawtucket. Tavarez was recently jettisoned, and according to Jason Stark the Brewers have some interest in the Crazy One. In the same piece, Stark mentions that both Aardsma and Lopez have been shopped – though individually – by our front office, seeking either a left handed relief pitcher or prospect. Though both have had their moments, I’m not going to be broken up if either departs (particularly Lopez).

Paps, outside of one Lugo blown save and one legitimate blown save, is still Paps: i.e. one of the best relievers in the league. His numbers, frankly, are inhuman. .560 OPS against? 23 Ks and 2 BBs in 18.2 IP? Screw the consecutive speed bumps, he’s fine.

Oki, for all the flak he’s absorbed for the admittedly hideous numbers with inherited runners, has been fine when not placed in exceedingly high leverage situations (bases loaded, no one out? c’mon). This assumes that the wrist injury doesn’t linger, of course. Apres that? Well, perhaps not le deluge, but close.

MDC has recovered somewhat from his late April string of four straight scored on appearances, but his 1 hit, 1 1/3 appearance today aside, he’s clearly not emerging as the relief ace that some had hoped for (and that I didn’t expect). Still, he’s here for the duration.

Timlin, as nearly as I can determine, is cooked. With the caveat that it’s an obviously small sample size, he’s been scored on in 50% of his last 6 outings, and has recently lowered his ERA to 9.00. The other metrics? In 10 IP, hitters are putting up a .405/.426/.714 line against him. That’s 17 hits in 10 IP, along with 3 HRs and 3 BBs and 10 ERs. Lefties are hitting him worse (OPS of 1.264), but righties aren’t exactly weak with the stick (OPS of 1.019). True, we all thought he was done last year – and he probably was – but nothing in his performance thus far indicates a bounceback is imminent.

Hansen, of course, was already up and effectively took Tavarez’ roster spot. On the surface, his numbers aren’t much better than Timlin’s in an admittedly small sample size – 8.44 ERA vs the aforementioned 9 – but his sample size is smaller and a closer look reveals some reasons to hope. First, he’s only allowing a line of .238/.333/.381, which is far from terrible. Second, he’s striking people out – 4 K’s in 5.1 IP. Unfortunately, Driveline Mechanics is extremely pessimistic about Hansen’s prospects: both in terms of performance and the potential for injury.

Help, we need. Clearly. But from whence shall it come?

Of the internal candidates previously discussed in this space, the news is mostly negative.

Masterson, since his electric debut in Portland and his outstanding spot start for the big boys, has been hit. His last outing on the 15th saw him give up 9 hits and 7 earned runs in 6 IP, though he only walked 2. Since April 30th, in fact, he’s given up the following in earned runs: 4, 4, 1, and 7. Haven’t heard what the problem might be, but he’s probably not going to be a boost struggling like that.

Richardson, if anything, has been worse. I saw him throw against Bowie down in Portland on the 9th, and he allowed 8 hits and 6 tuns in 5 IP while walking 3. None of the hits were cheap, either. His last five starts, by earned runs, are 3, 4, 1, 6 and 4. Which accounts for the 4.83 ERA. I don’t have the splits, so it’s possible his numbers left on left are better, but again, he doesn’t appear poised to help in the near term.

Bard, on the other hand, might. The pitcher I’ve been notably skeptical of – he’s been walking better than a guy an inning professionally, remember – was recently promoted to good old Portland this week. Though old for the league, Bard dominated Greenville, striking out 43 of the 100 batters he faced over 28 innings, but more importantly only walking 4. The shift to the bullpen, it would seem, might be paying dividends; I’ll try to get to a few Portland games to see first hand. Will he be up? The last time they promoted a 22 year old in Hansen it set him back years, so I tend to doubt it. But with the bullpen in the shape it’s in, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Particularly if he puts up numbers at Portland similar to those we’ve seen in Greenville.

Who’s left? Well, Gronkiewicz was throwing well, but is hurt. Michael Bowden, with Masterson one of the top starter prospects at Portland, is throwing well (2.57 ERA in 42 IP with 41 Ks and 12 BBs), but doesn’t necessarily profile that well in a relief role this season because he doesn’t have a single dominant pitch like Bard (fastball) or Masterson (sinker). Hunter Jones might have been a candidate, after the lefty struck out 26 in 22.2 IP at Portland, but his Pawtucket debut was rocky (3 H, 1 ER in 1 IP).

My dark horse? Buchholz. If Colon comes back and can take his slot in the rotation, Bucky could be a real weapon – not to mention a godsend – coming out of the bullpen, and it would help keep his innings down.

As for external candidates, well, it’s best not to speak of that. Not because of how poorly the Gagne trade turned out, but rather because there really aren’t any obvious Gagne’s to trade for at the moment. Give the front office credit: while their bullpen construction is suspect, they are creative when it comes to trades.

It may take not just a portion, but all of that creativity to find a solution to this year’s bullpen crisis. Because a crisis it most certainly is. Unless you’re happy with how those nine (NINE) games turned out.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

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Jed Lowrie, SS, Hitting Third, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Bowing to the inevitable, I’ve basically accepted that this recurring feature is to become my own half-assed version of the Sunday Notes column pioneered by the inestimable Peter Gammons. Though it’s clearly blasphemous to discuss this space and Gammons in the same sentence, at least I’m not calling it a Notes column. Or claiming it’s particularly well written. Or informed. And so on.

Anyway, on to this week’s roundup.

Bill James’ Contribution

I am in no way an expert on Bill James or his contributions to the game. I’ve read a few of his books, digested countless interviews, and cheered his hiring by the Good Guys. But Edes’ piece on James this week did little to dispell the notion that he’s ultimately a very humble man, entirely unfocused on the scope of his contributions to the game. From my vantage point, James’ primary gift to baseball can be summed up in one simple lesson: Of Everything You Know to Be Right and True, Only Some Is. For that alone, the man belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Clay = Playah

So Clay has “gone out with” the Penthouse Pet of the Year, Erica Ellyson. Ok, good for him. But I have three questions after reading that item. First, he was seeing a Victoria’s Secret model last year and no one knew? Second, did he start seeing that one before or after the no hitter? Third, why is his Dad not only providing all of the above information, but providing it to a radio station?

Correcting Cafardo

Sadly, this is likely to become a recurring feature, given Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo’s frequently questionable conclusions. Cafardo, you might remember, is the one who argued that Sabathia was the fourth best pitcher in the AL last year and was subtly lamenting the innings caps imposed on young pitchers these days. This week’s pearls of wisdom from the unfortunate owner of Boston’s Notes responsibilities:

  • I know Jason Giambi makes $21 million this year, but I’d play Shelley Duncan at first. What energy.

    I mean, Who wouldn’t? Honestly, who among you would not sit Giambi and his $21M and his lifetime .411 OBP (.356 last season, in a down year) in favor of Duncan and his lifetime .329 (lifetime .337 in the minors). Because, after all, the latter has “energy.” As an aside, if some of the baseball purists wonder why statistics people tend to completely discard non-statistical arguments, well, after reading people like Cafardo, can you blame them?

    Some of you might rightly argue that the Yankees could could employ one player at DH and the other at first, but then the question becomes: why doesn’t Cafardo make that argument instead?

  • Boras also represents Matt Holliday, a free agent after 2009. Think the Sox might have their sights on him?

    Indeed they might, as Holliday was a legitimate MVP candidate last season. But you’d think that Cafardo – as someone whose job it is to report on baseball – might actually acknowledge that the Sox might have their sights set similarly on Holliday’s home/road splits (last three years: .370/.430/.676 home, .281/.343/.466 away). But maybe that’s asking too much.

If This Isn’t the Luckiest Kid Ever…

I invite you to tell me who is. I mean, his first ball game?

Lowrie = Pedroia?

For those curious as to why I’m not terribly enthusiastic about the presence of Julio Lugo on our roster at ~$8M per, look no further than this piece. Entitled “Lowrie, Pedroia Have Their Differences,” it effectively proves the opposite. How does it do that? Well, in 1,216 minor league plate appearances for Pedroia and 1,263 for would-be shortstop candidate Jed Lowrie, their respective OPSs are .846…and .846. Granted, Pedroia’s includes a season’s worth of AAA ABs while Lowrie’s does not, but nonetheless: they are similar players offensively.

Speaking of Lowrie, apparently he told Kevin Thomas earlier this week that he’s been told to be “be ready to go to Japan.” Maybe that need has subsided in the wake of Lugo’s return to the lineup, but interesting nonetheless.

And for those of you who’ve decided that Lowrie can’t play after he’s put up a .167 average in 37 spring training AB’s, it might be worth considering that Pedroia’s average last spring after 51 AB’s was a robust .196.

More Cash vs Mirabelli

I’ve already said my piece on the Cash over Mirabelli issue, but three interesting tidbits that have emerged since then.

  1. I found the language Cash used in his interview with the Globe interesting. Apparently he “had an agreement” with the Red Sox at the start of camp.
    “They said come into camp and see where it goes from there. They’ve been up front and honest with me. No promises or no guarantees or anything, but they told me you will have opportunities.”

  2. Additionally, Curt Schilling’s take on the decision is worth a read. Not least for this subtle dig at the front office’s lack of recognition for Dougie’s Going Deep’s assets:
    In this market with all that goes on off the field guys like Doug have so much value beyond the 100 or so ABs they get each year, but people can’t quantify that, and many dismiss it.

    Or maybe I’m reading too much into that

  3. Last, I found the Herald’s take on the matter interesting (one commenter assumes it’s Mazz talking, but I don’t see a byline and I would have assumed it was Bradford:
    For what it’s worth, many members of the media did not like Mirabelli and found him to be arrogant. My relationship with him was quite good. Mirabelli had a dry, sarcastic sense of humor and was quite self-deprecating, though you probably had to know him to understand him. Regardless, his teammates generally liked him, which is all that really matters.

The Power of Jacoby

Lots has been written about my Navajo brother’s power – or lacktherof – in the months since he took Red Sox Nation by storm. And it was in that context that I found Grandmaster Theo’s candid comments on the subject to Baseball Prospectus’ David Laurilia intriguing:

He will eventually have more power than people give him credit for. It’s really a matter of him taking his BP swing into the game, because if you watch his BP, he has incredible natural backspin that he generates. He’s stronger now, and his ball really carries. But even from the day we signed him, he was able to go deep into the bullpens in Fenway in batting practice. I think that with any young hitter it’s a matter of refining your approach and getting comfortable, so that eventually you can take your best swing – your BP swing – into the game with you on a more consistent basis, against all kinds of pitching. For some players, that process takes them their whole career. It takes them years to make that adjustment. With him, once he does that, I think you’ll see a lot more power.

Intriguing. I’m not entirely buying it – though I do agree that Ellsbury will have eventually have more power than many project for him – but intriguing. Still, I lean more towards Rob Neyer on this one, who says:

A “lot more power,” though? Well, maybe. When Damon was 23, he hit eight home runs. When Ellsbury was 23 (last year), he hit five. From 24 through 26, Damon averaged 16 homers per season. Could Ellsbury do that? Sure. At 6-foot-1 and 185 (listed) pounds, he’s bigger than the young versions of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. But Damon never did become a superstar. And Ichiro hits them a long ways in BP, too.

Either way, I count myself as not terribly concerned. If Ellsbury becomes nothing more than Jonny Damon – let alone Ichiro – I’ll count myself as very pleased. And if he ends up developing the power that Epstein projects, I’ll consider that Gravy. Capital intended.

Trade Talk

More from Cafardo, who’s not terrible when he sticks to reporting and skips the analysis:

“Kyle Snyder, Julian Tavarez, and Bryan Corey are among the most scouted pitchers in the American League. One or all could be moved before the start of the season.”