This Guest Post was authored by Giants fan and blogger for CurseofBenitez, David Schubert. David specializes in comedic posts, baseball related photoshops and being an twitter troll extraordinaire. This is his second post for Firebrand of the American League therefore reinforcing the Giants-Red Sox well known alliance.
Look up some 2 Live Crew songs and you’ll notice that most of the time, you need go no further than the title to find a healthy dose of vulgarity. Ask any Red Sox fan their thoughts on a particular bullpen contributor over the month of April and you’re likely to find a grab bag of the same bad words off the 2 Live Crew discography. I’ve seen many questions posed from fans and writers alike, but I’ve narrowed it down to one conditional question and follow-up that I believe will allow proper alignment for your “$&*!-O-Meter” level. What does this Red Sox team (both at present and over the course of the season) require of the bullpen to win baseball games, and what change(s) must be realized for this to become a reality?
Now, before we even get into the meat of this exploration, I feel like there are a few things that ought to be put on the record from someone with no stake in either your team’s success or your fan base’s image. These are all very obvious things, at least to me.
First, your bullpen (just like any other in baseball) is going to blow games. The same is true of your starters, and the position players behind said pitchers. Your offense will occasionally look anemic, and you will make zany tweets about the 7-8-9 trio outperforming the 3-4-5 trio in some Skewed-Sample-Size-O-The-Week. I’m not trying to tell you how to be a fan of your team any more than you’re trying to tell me I shouldn’t huff glue, but this is where we’re at right now, isn’t it?
Second, everyone is trolling you. Everyone. They see you, they see you freaking out, and they are capitalizing on your unusual amount of concern over ERA, FIP and peripherals when all of your bullpen contributors have less than 10 appearances. Did I mention that reliever ERA is stupid? Because it is… It is. Oh, and some of you might not even realize that you’re trolling each other and perpetuating the madness. Well, some of you do, but some of you are jerks and you should pat yourselves on the back.
Third, Theo is not doing a sexy sax man trollface “PROBLEM?” at your entire organization right now. I swear.
Last but not least, I’d like to refer you to the article I wrote reflecting upon the ZiPS projections and what you might interpret them to mean for the 2012 season. I still believe what I said then about the starting rotation to be true, and if you read closely you’ll see that a couple of the things I mentioned have already reared their heads if not only slightly. What I find paramount to what was previously written, as it pertains to your bullpen issue now, is that your pitching need only be marginally better than your offensive output. Furthermore, your team ought to be scoring a significant amount of runs despite being in the most difficult division in baseball.
So, then, what does Boston require out of the bullpen to win baseball games?
As the original reference suggested, you need 2 Live Arms; a couple of guys who can pitch a couple of innings. Right now, the guys with the best FIP on the team are not the ones you might have guessed going into the season, but if you ask me that’s somewhat encouraging despite the sample size.
Junichi Tazawa (2.06), Scott Atchison (2.64) and Franklin Morales (2.90) are stranding runners, keeping the ball in the park and not walking hitters. I don’t expect them to sustain their numbers over the course of the season, and neither should you. Still, if they can maintain anything that closely resembles those numbers, you have now realized a group of pitchers who can eat innings, keep your team in the game should you trail in the later innings, or even be used in high-importance situations when preferred arms are unavailable.
Conversely, the guys you probably came into the season expecting to take on the majority of the work – while going through a very serious rough patch – are not going to remain garbage forever. They are throwing meatballs, putting guys on base, and either putting the team at a disadvantage or blowing an advantage. That won’t stay the same over an extended period of time, either. Mark Melancon and his 380,290,188.27 HR/9 aside, you have to assume that at least one, if not two of the four gentlemen pictured above will return to something near their career numbers.
When you consider the career numbers for the guys I thought were going to be vying for high leverage selection, I think you can agree with me that at any given moment later on in the season, at least one will be delivering when it matters. You’ll notice that I’m cherry-picking stats for these guys, but proper usage of these guys will take advantage of cherry-picked advantages.
-Alfredo Aceves (2.83 BB/9, 0.88 HR/9 over 122 G)
-Franklin Morales (0.92 HR/9 spending a lot of time in Coors, 8.0% HR/FB, 70.9% LOB over 146 G)
-Mark Melancon (3.63 BB/9, 0.95 HR/9, 53.9% GB% over 110 G)
It’s not a dream team by any stretch of the imagination, but people like Brandon Warne and myself are huge believers in the scrap heap bullpen. Especially when you have a team that led the sport in runs scored a year ago and ought to be right up there once again come September. What the team needs is a good deal of patience and understanding that while the April results for the bullpen have been as catastrophic on paper as they were to watch, they are but a small percentage of the overall season.
Bullpens will blow games, as will all other aspects of the team effort, over the course of the season. It must be disappointing to see the same component ruin chances repeatedly over a short period of time, but it won’t continue like that indefinitely. What you need to look for is a reliever or two starting to create some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack, and attempt to ride that out. It might relieve some of the pressure on other pitchers and permit them to return to their past form, who knows. It might buy time for another reliever to hit stride later on in the season. Tough to say, isn’t it? It’s still April.