While the O’s 2011 starting rotation had its share of problems, their bullpen also struggled throughout the season. Baltimore’s bullpen had the 4th worst ERA (4.18), 4th worst FIP (4.31), and second worst HR/9 rate (1.21).
Although the 2011 bullpen was awful, there were some positive signs towards the end of the season that point towards an improved bullpen for 2012:
- Kevin Gregg’s struggles forced Jim Johnson to become the team’s closer, which is a move that should stick in 2012.
- Troy Patton emerged as a viable middle relief option who can go multiple innings.
- The Mike Gonzalez trade not only got rid of Mike Gonzalez but brought over Pedro Strop, who has looked a possible setup man.
- Alfredo Simon, with improved command and more movement on his pitches, looked better than ever and could be a setup man assuming he’s in the bullpen and not the rotation.
- Zach Phillips, who came to the Orioles when the Rangers traded for Nick Green, pitched well in 8 innings after being promoted from Triple-A.
I’m projecting the bullpen based on my 2012 rotation prediction which consists of Zach Britton, Jeremy Guthrie, Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, and Brian Matusz. Those starters are obviously not considered in this exercise.
Assuming the Orioles go with an eight-man bullpen, this is who I’d select:
Throughout the entire 2011 season, fans, coaches, and even Buck Showalter have hinted that the Orioles could try Jim Johnson as a starter next season.
While I do believe Johnson has what it takes to become a solid starter in the AL East — good sinker, gets a ton of ground balls, two other above-average pitches — moving him into the rotation would create an enormous hole in the bullpen.
In the end, I do believe Johnson will, and should, remain as the Orioles’ closer.
When I spoke with Troy Patton during 2010 spring training, even he knew that his MLB future was in the bullpen. Yet the Orioles kept sending him out as part of Norfolk’s rotation.
Finally, in 2011 Baltimore gave Patton about 40 innings as a reliever in the minors before calling up to the big league ‘pen. He established himself as one of the best and most reliable relievers on the team.
Despite his lack of velocity, Patton’s deception and ability to locate his secondary pitches enable him to succeed at the major league level. His ERA was 28% better than major league average and his FIP was 29% better than league average.
The best way to build a bullpen is with young, cheap, cost controlled players, and Patton is just that.
Pedro Strop came over to the Orioles when they sent Mike Gonzalez to the Rangers. Strop not only impressed but positioned also himself as a top candidate to setup next year.
Strop flashed a 93-96 mph fastball, a nasty, late breaking 81-84 mph slider, and a drop off the table splitter. Over his 22 innings with the Rangers and Orioles, he struck out 23.2% of the hitters he faced and held them to a .190 average.
While he did walk slightly less batters when he came over to the Orioles, Strop’s slightly below average command prevents him from becoming a closer despite his closer-like arsenal. That’s not a knock on him, though, and he should serve as one of Baltimore’s better relievers in 2012.
Kevin Gregg is an Orioles fan’s nightmare. We saw the Orioles hand out $12 million dollars to Mike Gonzalez, a “proven closer”, only to see him struggle and ultimately be shipped off to Texas.
You think the Orioles would have learned.
Now comes the 2011 off season and the Orioles hand out another $10 million to Kevin Gregg, another “proven closer”. You know how that’s turned out. He was so bad that as soon as he entered the game, fans knew that even if he didn’t blow the lead he was going to put runners on and make it interesting.
Even though he contributed the second most negative value among O’s relievers (-0.3 WAR), the Orioles will still be shelling out $5.8 million to Gregg next season. Hopefully they are smart enough to relegate him to a middle relief role.
Alfredo Simon spent the first few months of the season in the Dominican Republic because he was the lead suspect in a murder case. He returned to the majors on July 19th. It’s hard to believe he has thrown 111.2 innings this year.
Even with all of the missed time, Simon’s stuff looked much better than it has in previous years. His breaking ball looks sharp and all of his pitches move more.
He spent most of 2011 in the rotation but he’ll likely be forced into the bullpen due to a lack of rotation spots, and his stuff plays better there anyway. In 21.1 relief innings, Simon put up a 3.63 FIP and struck out 7.17/9 IP while walking just 2.95/9 IP. That’s much better compared to his 4.59 FIP, 6.30 K/9, and 3.15 BB/9 as a starter.
Along with Strop, Simon’s another setup option.
Chris Tillman is out of options, so the Orioles must either stick him in the rotation or bullpen, or risk losing him to another team. While he has struggled at the big league level, it’s highly likely another team would be willing to take a chance on a young arm like Tillman.
Velocity has been Tillman’s biggest issue, so perhaps a move to the bullpen would allow him to find that 91-94 mph heat that he once had.
Buck has shown some hesitation when it comes to carrying a LOOGY, but if he chooses to hold one on the roster next year, Phillips is the likely choice. There may be an argument for Clay Rapada over Phillips, but both were equally impressive against left-handed hitters last year.
Phillips faced 20 lefties and struck out 40% of them, held them to a .100 average, and didn’t walk any. Rapada faced 53 lefties and struck out 34% of them, walked 7.6%, and held them to a .102 average.
40% of the hitters Phillips faced last year were righties, while only 23% of the hitters Rapada faced were righties. The Orioles at least showed signs that they are more confident in Phillips as a guy who can retire righties as well.
Rapada and Phillips are obviously similar players, and there probably isn’t a huge difference between having one or the other. Still, I’d rather go with the younger, slightly more versatile, pitcher in Phillips.
Jason Berken was the most inconsistent O’s reliever in 2011, just a year after he was one of the more reliable relievers the previous year. There are a few reasons for his 2011 struggles:
- His BABIP jumped from .306 in 2010 to .353 in 2011.
- His HR/FB% more than doubled, jumping from 7.1% in 2010 to 16.4% in 2011.
- His GB% fell from 47.1% in 2010 to 40.3% in 2011.
Other than that, his BB/9 jumped from 2.97 in 2010 to 4.02 in 2011. Even during his miserable 2009 rookie season, Berken walked just 3.31/9 IP. He was clearly hampered by the shoulder injury which put him on the DL.
Despite his control issues, Berken still posted a 2011 xFIP of 4.32, which isn’t far off from his 2010 xFIP of 3.92. If he remains healthy next season and improves his walk rate we should see the 4.32 xFIP fall down a bit.
Berken isn’t the 3.03 ERA guy we saw in 2010, but he also isn’t the 5.36 ERA guy that we saw in 2011. And that’s enough for him to hold down a spot in the Orioles’ bullpen.
What’s your prediction for next year’s bullpen? Let us know in our Orioles forum >>