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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Lester in the Pen, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

Running late, as usual. Blame the Red Sox this time. What would you have me do: watch the Sox/Yankees or crank out the ICYHBKUWCE that I owe you?

Exactly.

In the meantime, I’m not going to say anything about our play of late so as not to jinx us. But given that there’s another tilt with the empire coming in a littler over an hour, I’m going to keep this short and sweet. This week’s edition of In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events is player focused.

Enjoy, or at least read it.

Cash

Heard anyone complaining about his defense, and/or the impact it’s having on Timmeh? Me neither. The Sox should, of course, be actively on the market for catching because one injury to Tek and we’re in serious trouble (Brown and Kottaras’ success notwithstanding – more on that in a follow up). We could, in fact, find ourselves in a similar position to the Empire.

Colon

It’s not exactly throwing heat, but Colon – sidelined by an oblique injury – is at least back to playing catch.

Cora

Cora, on the other hand, was DL’d with Thurston replacing him. If Lowell wasn’t already out, I’d be less concerned about this, as it would offer Lowrie an opportunity to get his feet wet in an uber-utility role.

Delcarmen

Yes, his inconsistency is driving me crazy too. This past weekend, he gets couple of big outs against the Yankees. Last night? 2 free passes in an inning, and one hit by pitch scoring the at-the-time tying run.

How a pitcher with his stuff gets into so many 3 ball counts is beyond me, but until his command is better he won’t be the relief ace that we want him to be. Anyone else think it was interesting to see him replaced by Aardsma last night – particularly given their similarity?

Lester

Frustrating as MDC might be, however, it’s nothing compared to Lester. As Zach Hayes over at Fire Brand summarizes:

So far this season, Lester has thrown one outstanding start against weak hitting Oakland, one below average start against Detroit and two bad starts in Japan vs. the A’s and Monday at Cleveland. Lester isn’t being consistently pounded for home runs and hits (just two big ones- Emil Brown and Marcus Thames), but he’s constantly falling behind in the count, throwing all over the zone and putting too many free runners on base.

Remember when I asked whether his Oakland start was an adjustment or mere statistical variation? Well, we may not know the answer yet, but the initial data isn’t promising. It’s so unpromising, in fact, that Hayes asks whether or not it might be Lester rather than Buchholz that’s sent down when/if Colon arrives.

My own take is that Buchholz will be headed back down, unless Lester completely and utterly melts down, for the simple reason of innings. Buchholz’ professional innings totals? 22.2 IP Majors, 285.2 Minors. Lester? 144.1 IP Majors, 483.2 minors.

Lester’s far better positioned than Buchholz to handle a full season’s workload at this point, cancer or no cancer.

Lowell

Not much to relate here: the swelling’s down, but there’s been no further progress.

Lowrie

Congrats to the rookie for his first appearance, first major league hit, and first major league three RBI game. Particularly since the latter proved the difference in the ballgame. Oh, if you see him, wish him a happy birthday tomorrow.

Papi

I can’t say – apart from the hits collected – that I’ve seen much to convince me Papi’s back. But I have to say that the comment that Evan over at Fire Brand collected from Pizza Cutter was enlightening:

In general, Ortiz hits a lot of foul balls (including two strike fouls!) although he’s a power hitter and power hitters are generally high risk/high reward swingers, hence a lot of K’s and a lot of HR’s. Part of the reason that he’s so good is that his swing allows him to recover from a big swing midway and at least poke a ball foul to stay alive.

David Ortiz’s “slump” is nothing more than a run of bad luck. BABIP is generally within control of the hitter and Ortiz, a lifetime .310 BABIP hitter is hitting .114 this year…As much as I’d love it if he would politely hit like this for the next few months (or at least until the Red Sox get out of Cleveland tonight), I wouldn’t bet on that happening unless there’s some sort of (major) injury that we don’t know about. Patience is a virtue. Y’all waited 86 years. Ortiz will be fine.

Worth thinking about; I should have looked up his BABIP data myself.

Tek

Speaking of slumps, remember when everyone wrote him off after Japan/LA? I do.