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Is Billy Buckner a Bullpen Option? | April
The Diamondbacks' bullpen continues to implode, and the team is struggling to find anyone to use in the late innings.  After Wednesday's 9-4 loss to the Cardinals, when the bullpen gave up 5 runs in the 9th Inning, the stats of the bullpen look like this: Leo Rosales:             6.2 IP, 2.70 ERA, 1.650 WHIP Blaine Boyer:            6.0 IP, 3.00 ERA, 1.333 WHIP Juan Gutierrez:         7.0 IP, 6.43 ERA, 1.143 WHIP Aaron Heilman:         6.1 IP, 7.11 ERA, 1.579 WHIP Esmerling Vasquez:   3.0 IP, 9.00 ERA, 2.000 WHIP Jordan Norberto:       3.0 IP, 9.00 ERA, 2.667 WHIP Chad Qualls:             6.2 IP, 10.80 ERA, 2.400 WHIP Bob Howry:               5.0 IP, 12.60 ERA, 1.600 WHIP Jordan Norberto has already been sent to AAA after walking 6 in 3 IP. Howry has been a disaster, giving up 4 HR in just 5 IP, and now has a .348 batting average against with a whopping .913 slugging percentage.  And Chad Qualls still does not seem to be recovered from last year's injuries after allowing runs in 5 of his 8 appearances, including a loss plus two blown saves. Earlier, we had looked at the relievers in upper minor leagues, and concluded that Daniel Stange (AAA) and Roque Mercedes (AA) were two possibilities from players already on the 40-Man roster. But as the Diamondbacks become more desperate for bullpen help, another option to consider is Billy Buckner. Based on his ERA, Buckner did not have a good spring training or a good start in AAA this year. But he does have a few things going for him: 1) He's a ground ball pitcher. Last year, he had a 48.8% Ground Ball rate and only a 30.0% fly ball rate. His career GB/FB ratio is around 1.5. 2) He doesn't give up too many Home Runs. Buckner's ground ball tendencies lead to fewer home runs allowed, which is a strong concern for pitchers in Chase Field. So far in AAA, he has only allowed 1 HR in 10.1 IP, and his career rate in the minors is below 1 per 9 innings. Unfortunately, his rate in the majors has been a little higher - 1.4/9 IP. 3) He has a solid K/BB ratio. Despite his struggles this year, Buckner has 12K/3BB in 10.2 IP in AAA, and also had a decent 18K/8 BB in spring training. 4) He's capable of pitching multiple innings. Right now, the Diamondbacks bullpen doesn't really have a true swing man, who can make a spot start or replace a pitcher who gets knocked out early. Buckner could fill that role, and be an option for the 6th, 7th, or 8th innings. 5) He's already on the 40-Man roster, and already has some major league experience. Buckner is already 26, and while he could eventually be a decent back-of-the-rotation starter, he doesn't project as an ace. So I don't think the Diamondbacks have much to gain by grooming him to be a starter. Why not call him up and see if he contribute some useful innings? In his last start in AAA, he actually threw 5 no-hit innings before running out of gas in the 6th. Maybe he could be effective in short stretches. Buckner will certainly not be a savior for the Diamondbacks. But he is one of the top 12 pitchers in the organization right now, and I think it might be worth calling him up and see if he can help in the bullpen.