Tag:Jeremy accardo
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...
 
 
 
 
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