Friday, February 27, 2009

Spring Training Questions: The Bullpen (Part Two)

Well, it's back to the on-field issues for me, at least for now. On Tuesday I began my run-down on the Nationals bullpen options for 2009, we'll need to sift through this spring to find five more guys after Joel Hanrahan and Saul Rivera. Having covered the most likely options to make the team, I now turn to the long shots and the "wing and a prayer" crowd.

Long Shots
  • Mike O'Connor
Among LHRPs, if Hinckley and Ledezma both fail, next up is O'Connor, a soft-tosser who throws lots of breaking stuff and deceives batters by hiding the ball till late in his release. It's a neat trick, but not enough to sustain success at the big league level. Last season was his first healthy year after 2006 elbow surgery. In just under 100 innings at Columbus last year he put up a nice 2.17 ERA, but he did that with a .257 BABIP. His fielding independent ERA was 3.61, which translates to a major league equivalent of 4.83. At best he'd be slightly below replacement-level filler.
  • Preston Larrison
NFA Brian told me he sees Larrison as a dark horse pick to click in 2009. Signed to a minor-league deal after being cast off by both Detroit and Cleveland last year, the 28-year-old accumulated an insane 68% groundball rate in 64 AAA innings last year. He doesn't miss many bats, but his command is ok. I haven't seen him pitch, but based on his statline he looks like an efficient, Saul Rivera-esque innings-muncher who will keep the ball in the yard.
  • J.D. Martin
A former #1 pick of the Indians who had Tommy John surgery in 2005, he finally had a fully healthy season in 2008 and posted a 2.49 ERA in 79.2 IP in AA and a 1.80 ERA in 10 IP at AAA. Even prettier were his nearly 4:1 strikeout to walk ratios. After being rumored as a potential rule 5 pick, he signed as a free agent with the Nationals. PECOTA sees him having the second best EqERA (projected ERA normalized for league and park) on the team (4.62) just after Saul Rivera.
  • Gary Glover
Because of the potential "G-Love's Special Sauce" jokes, I'm really rooting for him. But he's a 32-year-old replacement level bullpen arm, nothing more.

A Wing and a Prayer
  • Tyler Clippard
It's probably a bit cruel ranking Clippard way down here, but I just don't see how he makes the team. Scouts worry when they notice a pitcher who can't repeat his delivery. Clippard takes that to unheard of extremes, literally falling off to the third base side of the mound one pitch and the first base side the next. In about 40 big league innings he's given up 56% flyballs and walked almost as many as he's struck out. He's more like a batting tee than a pitcher. It's emblematic of our player development that he's sucking up a spot on the 40-man.
  • Bobby Brownlie
Last season, the 28-year-old had fielding independent ERAs of 5.17 and 6.66 in AA and AAA respectively. Why is he in major league camp?
  • Gustavo Chacin
Wacky delivery, lousy stuff. He was rocked for a 7.88 ERA (5.72 FIP) in high-A ball last year. If Tony LaCava decides to follow Jim's model by re-building the mediocre Blue Jays teams of yesteryear, Chacin and Towers will be a start. Otherwise, he's useless.
  • Justin Jones
A 24-year-old lefty with decent groundball rates to recommend him, his MLE FIP in 90.6 innings across A, A+, and AA ball last year was 5.33. He's not an option.
  • Josh Towers
According to MASN, the team sees the 32-year-old Towers more as veteran rotation insurance than as a bullpen option, but barring injury the bullpen is his only path to the 25-man. He's a command guy who hasn't performed at even replacement level since 2005. He spent all of last year in AAA with Colorado and finished with an ugly 6.27 ERA, but he was victimized by some bad luck and had a fielding independent ERA of 4.19. Still, even that wouldn't merit a promotion except under dire circumstances.
  • Luis Atilano
A TJ survivor who was traded for Daryle Ward in 2006, Atilano has conditioning problems and struggles to repeat his delivery. He's not ready.

The MASH Unit
  • Ryan Wagner
"Recovery from a torn labrum" remains something of a contradiction in terms. Until he proves otherwise, I'll consider Wagner damaged goods.
  • Matt Chico
Still recovering from Tommy John surgery, Chico could appear with the Nationals in 2009, but he won't be ready on Opening Day.

Fearless Predictions

The opening day bullpen will be: Hanrahan, Rivera, Bergmann, Mock, Shell, Colome, and Ledezma.

By the end of the season, we will conclude that the best seven relievers in 2009 were (in no particular order):
Hanrahan, Rivera, Bergmann, Mock, Colome, J.D. Martin, and Preston Larrison.


traderkirk said...

So that means the first player taken in the Rule V draft doesn't make the roster and is returned?

Young over Colome maybe? At least until Young "hurts" his elbow.

Steven said...

yes that's what I'm predicting. Young goes back to the Reds.