photo © 2008 Eric Savage | more info (via: Wylio) What a difference a year makes. The 2010 season was filled with roadblocks, but the bullpen in particular was a major weak spot. Aside from Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard, the rest of the pen was league average or worse. Then came the off-season. With the additions of Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, Dennys Reyes and Matt Albers, the new Sox pen is set and much improved from a year ago.
In other words, Paps should once again be a 1-2 WAR pitcher in 2011. He may not be the dominant closer he once was, but he’ll hold his value in what is likely his last season with the team.
There is no question that Bard has the stuff to be a 1-2 WAR bullpen arm once again in 2011. There are still concerns, however, about his splits against lefties and the possibility of a regression in walk rate. Bard looks like the closer in waiting, but Bobby Jenks could have something to say about that with a solid season of his own.
Jenks’s peripherals looked a lot better than his ERA last season. He battled some back issues and given his body-type there is no guarantee that he won’t have similar issues this season. He’s likely to post 1-1.5 WAR in 2011, which is more than fine for a seventh inning guy.
For the past three seasons, Wheeler has been about as consistent as any reliever in the majors. He doesn’t issue very many free passes and should post a league average strikeout rate at the very least. Issues with the home run ball and ineffectiveness against lefties should once again limit his value to between 0-0.5 WAR.
Small sample sizes can make it hard to truly judge how legitimate a relievers’ stats are/were. Reyes had 19 innings pitched against lefties in 2010 and he walked 11 batters in those 19 innings, which was a big spike in walks to lefties compared to his career numbers. If he can keep from issuing free passes to lefties, he should be an asset in 2011. Like Wheeler, Reyes’s value may max out at about 0.5 WAR, but that would be an upgrade over most of last season’s bullpen arms.
Albers is not going to be used in too many high leverage situations, so his innings become a valuable asset. If he can take over for a struggling starter and “eat” two or three innings, he’ll help to save the arms of Jenks, Bard and Papelbon for another day. His good ground ball rates could translate to a sub 4.00 ERA with a little help from the defense, but at best we’re looking at 0-0.5 WAR, which is still an upgrade from any “innings eater” (Wakefield aside) the Sox had last year.
Having Reyes and Albers start the season in the big league pen allows some depth to develop at triple-A. Andrew Miller and Rich Hill can work on their mechanics and command/control while Alfredo Aceves can prove that he’s completely back to the pitcher he was before missing most of last season to injury. Having this depth becomes important, as no team goes through a season without replacing pitchers throughout the year.
Any major league team would be happy to have seven above replacement level bullpen arms. The Sox have the potential for that and more heading into the 2011 season.