As the hot stove begins to cool off, I can’t be the only one left with a feeling that something important is missing. The more I look at the names that will make up our bullpen next year, the less excited I become about the impending season. The thought of calling on Donnelly, Timlin and Pineiro to hold leads in Kansas City doesn’t leave me feeling unfulfilled. It leaves me feeling sick. Theo Epstein’s new approach to the Red Sox bullpen seems to be, “I give up!” I can see why. Last year Epstein added what he thought would be three solid bullpen arms in Julian Tavarez, Rudy Seanez and David Riske. In 2005, those three pitchers had a combined 3.09 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 3.20 K/BB ratio with 19 win shares between them. None of them worked out in the pen in 2006, and the Red Sox retained only Tavarez. You can see why Epstein would be so frustrated with his attempts at putting a bullpen together. Relief pitching is possibly the least predictable aspect of the game. This offseason Epstein has added 3 new arms in Brendan Donnelly, J.C. Romero and Joel Pineiro. They had a combined 5.86 ERA, 1.60 WHIP and 1.43 K/BB ratio last year with 5 win shares between them. So what’s he doing?
It appears that our GM has taken a rather unconventional approach to the pen. While he’s spent rather freely on the new Red Sox offense and rotation, he’s taken a more economically conservative approach to the bullpen. As much as I may criticize him for the way he’s put the bullpen together, he has done one thing well. He’s found a way to pay minimal amounts of money for pitchers that could bring high reward… in certain roles. There is one bullpen move he’s made that does deserve quite the pat on the back. That would be his pickup of veteran Japanese setup man, Hideki Okajima. Last year in Japan, Okajima posted a 2.14 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and a 3.71 K/BB ratio. His HR/9 numbers over his career are a bit alarming, especially for a pitcher in such a weak power hitting league. Fenway’s an extremely hard park to hit home runs out of though. Furthermore, the Red Sox will only be paying around $1.2 million each year for what could be an effective bullpen tool for the Red Sox. He could be especially useful considering that the he’s a lefty.
One other move that deserves similar praise was the pickup of another lefty, J.C. Romero. Shocking, huh? Not so much when you consider what his role will be in 2007. Even in Romero’s worst year last year (in which he had an ERA of 6.70 and a WHIP of 1.76), he pitched effectively against left-handed batters. Against lefties he had an ERA of 2.49 and a WHIP of 1.22. Between the 25 1/3 innings he pitched against lefties and the 23 innings he pitched against righties there was almost a 9 point difference in ERA and a difference in WHIP of 1.13. The year before in 2005, there was a difference of 1 in WHIP, a difference in BAA of .070 and a difference in K/BB ratios of 2.11. The past two years he’s given up twice as many home runs to right-handed batters as he’s given up to left-handed batters even though he’s pitched more innings against lefties. Romero’s another cheap option who will make only $1.6 million next year. He at the same time has the potential to be as effective a lefty specialist as any other in the game.
Epstein would have been a lot more successful in putting together an inexpensive bullpen if not for the addition of Joel Pineiro. He better have received a rather glowing scouting report on the former Mariner. What would have been something like a $7 million difference in bullpens, from last year’s bullpen to this year’s bullpen, will be something like a $3 million difference. Still, it looks as if Theo Epstein plans on evaluating the pitchers the Red Sox currently have in the bullpen. Then, once he sees what kind of additions would be necessary, he can pick them up at the trade deadline. And why not? Last trade deadline the Red Sox were releasing somewhat expensive additions to the bullpen. It appears as if he’s unwilling to waste big money again on more unpredictable additions to the pen. It would be especially wise to pick up help via trades at the deadline considering the currently incredibly inflated market.
One positive aspect of the 2007 bullpen is that it shouldn’t have to pitch all that much. The Red Sox rotation next year will be full of innings eaters. Tim Wakefield in his past 3 years with the Red Sox has pitched 6.09, 6.83 and 6.18 innings per start. Curt Schilling, with the exception of the 2005 season in which he was predominantly a relief pitcher, has pitched 6.58, 7.08 and 7 innings per start in the majors. Beckett’s pitched 6.20, 6.16 and 6.03 innings per start in his past 3 years while improving in this category every year. The other 2 parts of the rotation are a little harder to judge. In Japan, Daisuke Matsuzaka has pitched 7.45, 7.68 and 6.34 innings per start in his past 3 years (the 6.34 number having been from 2004). He was however pitching on 6 days rest and the Japanese season is shorter. Regardless, Matsuzaka has a rubber arm, having pitched almost 40 complete games in the last 3 seasons. It’s hard to believe that he won’t be able to manage well over 6 innings a start in the U.S. Jonathan Papelbon is the real challenge to predict since he’s only started 3 games in the majors. In the minors he averaged 6.92 and 6.21 innings per start in his last 2 stops in the minors before reaching the Show. In his first three starts in the majors he averaged 5 1/3 innings a start. Neither one are all that great an indication of how he’d do in a full season in the majors. If he averages somewhere in between the figures though, he should make the 6 innings a start mark. We won