Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spring Training Questions: The Bullpen (Part One)

If you don't mind, I'm going to write a little bit about, you know, the game of baseball.

At the start of spring training, there are probably only two sure-things in the Nationals bullpen in 2009--Joel Hanrahan and Saul Rivera. They need five more for opening day.

You can check out the full list of pitchers in camp here.
Let's take these guys one category at a time.

The inside track
  • Jason Bergmann
Bergmann could still end up in the rotation if there's an injury or two. His strengths and weaknesses are well-documented: he's an extreme flyball pitcher (46.4% in '08) with average K-rates (15.6%) and average command (7.7% walk rate). It's overall a below-average package. With the miserable outfield defense we're likely to have, it's even worse. Further, Bergmann's platoon splits have always been brutal--he allows a 117 OPS+ to lefties vs. a 84 OPS+ for righties. If Manny can spot Bergmann the maximum number of righty-righty match-ups, don't be shocked to see Bergmann the RP sporting an ERA in the mid-to-low 3s at year's end.
  • Steven Shell
The former Angels prospect was converted by the Nationals to relief, and he posted a 2.62 ERA in Columbus before getting called up in June. Over 50 big league innings, he used his 3/4 arm-slot delivery to miss bats at a pretty impressive rate (20.1%), but he's another extreme flyball pitcher (45.1%), and his command is just adequate (10.1%). Don't be deceived by his pretty 2.16 ERA in 50 innings last year. His 4.43 tRA* is a better indication of what to expect, as he got by last year on an unusually high 85.7% strand rate (70% is typical) and absurdly lucky .225 BABIP (.300-.310 is average).
  • Jesus Colome
He's a non-roster invitee, but he's clearly on the inside track to make the team and could easily end up as the 7th inning man. He's one of the least popular players on the team due to his slow pace on the mound, but he's given us 137 innings of above replacement-level pitching, which maybe sounds like awfully faint praise till you consider the alternative. Last year, he posted a 4.31 ERA, but if you take out the 6 runs he allowed the Phillies on May 21 and the 5 runs the Twins scored on June 18, his ERA would be 3.01. Yeah, yeah--if worms had hips they'd wear six-shooters and shoot birds out of trees. Still, Colome throws hard (95 mph average fastball) and misses bats (17.6% K-rate in '08). His walk rate slipped from an adequate 9.4% in '07 to bad 12.5% in '08. And... he's another flyball pitcher (41% in '08).

The medium-shots
  • Wil Ledezma
A lefty who throws 93 mph, he may bounce around the league a long time. He sure can miss bats (19.9% K rate in '08), but he's not going to be more than a marginal mop-up guy unless he can get his command under control (he had a brutal 15.4% walk rate in '08). Either he or Hinckley is a lock to make the team as the left-handed reliever (though neither is accurately described as a LOOGY, since neither has particularly noteworthy platoon splits).
  • Marco Estrada
Hallelujah! Finally a groundball pitcher. Estrada is a converted starter with an fastball-change-curve repertoire that produced a 47% ground ball rate across AA, AAA, and the majors last year. Still, he was pretty bad in his brief call-up last year, allowing 4 homers in just 12.6 innings. Baseball America says he was overthrowing and screwed up his mechanics. We shall see.
  • Mike Hinckley
The lefty former top prospect rebounded from years of shoulder problems last year, and no matter what, he'll always have that pretty 0.00 ERA for 2008 on the back of his baseball card. But he was lucky, and his 4.82 tRA* and 5.56 major-league-equivalent ERA in Harrisburg and Columbus are truer indications of what to expect. He's not really a LOOGY, but by that I mean he isn't a good bet for getting lefties or righties out with much consistency. He walks way too many to be consistently successful in the bigs. Still, he'll always have that 0.00.
  • Terrell Young
The rule-5 pick from the Reds can touch 98 with his fastball. That's the good news. The bad news is that he doesn't really have a second pitch, has never pitched above A ball, and can't really find the strike zone (career in pro ball he's walked 5.49 per 9). I like that he's a young power arm, but I'm just skeptical that the team can afford to hide a nearly un-usable rookie in the bullpen given the weakness of the rest of the staff. We'd have been better off holding onto Jhonny Nunez and not sacrificing a roster spot.

The young, would-be starters

  • Garrett Mock
I wrote about Mock a couple days ago. I figure he's on the inside track for the bullpen, unless the team decides to re-commit to him as a starter.
  • Shairon Martis
The 22-year-old Olympic hero for the Netherlands was a Wowin' Curacaoan for his first two starts after getting called up last year but then turned into a Flailing Dutchman. Baseball America rated him our #13 prospect, but he slides up to #12 with Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo out of the top 30. His excellent change up, which comes in 11 mph slower than his 91 mph fastball, allowed him to miss bats at an impressive rate (20.6% across three levels last year), but his command isn't there yet, especially with his other off-speed pitches. And, you guessed it, he's another extreme flyball pitcher (45.6%). (My point, harping on this, in case it isn't clear, is that if you're going to load up on this many flyball pitchers, you would think you'd want a minimally decent defensive outfield. Or if you're going to have a bad outfield, maybe go after some groundball specialists. Not Jim.)

Tomorrow I'll continue with the long-shots and the loooong-shots.


estuartj said...

Having flyball RELIEVERS isn't necessarily a problem if you envision using a defensive replacement in the outfield. Given Manny's willingness to bench Dmitri Young for Robert Fick in '07 is there any reason to believe most these relievers won't have a Milledge/Dukes/Kearns outfield for a significant number of thier appearances?

Also, I think it might be easy to "hide" Young in the bullpen, if we going to be as bad as you and many others seem to think then there will be ample need for a mop-up guy to save the 7-8-9 guys for games we can actually win.

Steven said...

Sure that makes sense if you plan to bench Dunn and Willingham after the 5th inning most games.

redcottageaudio said...

I would still like to see the Nat's flip something for a real center fielder and play Milledge in left. I was really angry we didn't even make a run for Felix Pie.

Maybe we can get Atlanta to trade one of their many many centre field prospects for Willighams bat. But then again maybe they wouldn't touch him with a ten foot pole.

Michael said...

I've got little more than hunch to go with this, but I think if Milledge and Dukes are the two main OFs this year, and Kearns gets steady platoon time, the outfield defense will be good. Watching both Milledge and Dukes the past few years, its clear they've both matured a lot in the past 6-12 months, and both of them have the athletic talent to cover most of the OF. Hopefully those two factors will translate into solid defense. It's one of the few variables I'm actually anticipating going in the Nats favor this year.

Also, Steven, Dunn is almost a lock to play nearly half the season at 1B. If he doesn't, that would be an epically unexpected healthy season from Nick Johnson.

redcottageaudio said...

Grissom should be a very good addition for teaching Milledge a little something about center field. Although it's questionable whether center field is learned or instinct.

Will said...

Redcottageaudio, we already have Felix Pie, except his name is Willie Harris.

Harris' defensive numbers in CF have been fantastic, actually much better than Pie's.
On top of that, his offensive numbers have been slightly above average for a NL CF. He posted wOBAs of .325 and .340 the past two years. The NL average is .328.

An outfield of Milledge/Harris/Dukes would be very good defensively, and would make a noticeable difference on the bullpen's ERA.