18 December 2010
The Diamondbacks had many things go wrong in the 2010 season, but without a doubt the biggest problem was the complete collapse of the bullpen. How bad was the bullpen in 2010? It was easily the worst in the National League, and probably the worst NL bullpen of the 21st Century. Fortunately, GM Kevin Towers has turned the bullpen over almost completely, led by new closer J.J. Putz and new set-up man David Hernandez. In this article, we'll take a look back at the 2010 bullpen, and a look ahead to the 2011 version.
There are plenty of ways to show how bad the bullpen was in 2010. Here are the numbers for each team's relief pitchers last year:
The Diamondbacks finished last in virtually every meaningful statistic. They were last in ERA, and more than a run worse than every other team. They had the worst winning percentage, allowed the highest batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. They gave up the most home runs while striking out the fewest batters, and had the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio in the league. The Diamondbacks ended up trying 19 different pitchers in the bullpen in 2010, and only Mike Hampton (0.00 ERA, 4.1 IP) and D.J. Carrasco (3.18 ERA, 22.1 IP) managed to have an ERA below 4.00, while ten relievers had an ERA over 6.00, led by closer Chad Qualls at 8.29. One last look at how bad the bullpen was in 2010 - here are the 10 worst ERAs by NL bullpens since 2001:
Not only was the bullpen ERA the highest in the league, but it was the highest in the National League in the last 10 years.
OK, so the bullpen was a complete disaster in 2010. Will things be any better in 2011? Probably, since several players from last year are gone (Qualls, Howry, Boyer, Heilman, etc.) and several hard-throwing newcomers have been brought in. The 2011 bullpen will likely be built from this group of pitchers:
- RHP J.J. Putz
- RHP David Hernandez
- RHP Juan Gutierrez
- RHP Sam Demel
- RHP Esmerling Vasquez
- RHP Kam Mickolio
- RHP Brian Sweeney
- LHP Joe Paterson
- LHP Mike Hampton
Putz was signed to a two year, $10.5M deal to be the team's closer in 2011. Putz had previously closed for the Mariners from 2006-2008, with his best season being 2007, when he posted 40 Saves with a 1.38 ERA. Putz was injured in 2009 while with the Mets, but was healthy in 2010 and served as a set-up man for the White Sox last year. Over his last four healthy seasons, he's averaged over 10K/9 IP and has a career HR rate of only 0.8HR/9 IP. Along with the strikeouts, Putz is also a ground ball pitcher, with a career GB/FB ratio of 1.39. There are still a few questions about whether Putz can throw effectively on consecutive days, but there is little doubt that he is very good when healthy.
David Hernandez (26) - 8-8, 4.31 ERA, 1.437 WHIP, 79.1 IP, 72 K/42 BB, 9 HR
Hernandez has pitched for the Orioles for the last two seasons, and came over with Kam Mickolio in the Mark Reynolds trade. Although Hernandez's overall numbers were not that great last year, his numbers as a reliever were much better, and that's where he will probably be in 2011: 7-3, 3.18 ERA, 1.243 WHIP, 37 IP, 45 K/13 BB, 4 HR.
Hernandez has shown good strikeout rates, with a fastball in the 94-96 mph range, and a hard curveball in the low 80s. But he has had trouble with walks, averaging over 4 BB/9 IP, and he gives up a lot of flyballs, averaging almost 2 FB for every GB. The Diamondbacks are hoping Hernandez can continue the stellar relief skills he displayed in 2011, and expect him to play a prominent role in the late innings.
Juan Gutierrez (27) - 0-6. 5.08 ERA, 1.376 WHIP, 56.2 IP, 47 K/ 23 BB, 13 HR
Gutierrez has a very up-and-down season in 2010, starting out red-hot in April and briefly winning the closer's job. But then things really fell apart for him, and at the end of May, he had allowed 9 HR and 20 earned runs in just 19 innings. Since Gutierrez was out of options, the Diamondbacks did not want to risk sending him to the minors and exposing him to waivers, so he stayed on the big league roster all season. But just when the fans were clamoring for his release, Gutierrez turned his season around, and finished the season by successfully converting his last twelve save chances. That was probably enough to give him a leg up for a bullpen slot in 2011, but it's unlikely he'll be used as a closer.
Sam Demel (25) - 2-1, 5.35 ERA, 1.459 WHIP, 37 IP, 33 K/12 BB, 5 HR
Demel came to the Diamondbacks mid-season in the Conor Jackson trade. Although his ERA and WHIP don't look that impressive, his strikeout and walk rates were much better (8.0K/9, 2.9 BB/9), and his minor league record shows an impressive 10.0K/9. Demel is another hard thrower, with a fastball averaging 93 mph as well as an 84 mph slider and low 90s cut fastball. He's also a ground-ball pitcher with a 1.68 GB/FB ratio last season.
Esmerling Vasquez (27) - 1-6, 5.20 ERA, 1.565 WHIP, 53.2 IP, 55 K/28 BB, 6 HR
Vasquez had the highest strikeout rate on the Diamondbacks in 2010 (9.2K / 9IP), but also the highest walk rate (6.4 BB/9). It was the same situation for Vasquez in the minors, where he had career rates of 8.4K and 4.7BB per 9 innings. Vasquez will be battling for one of the final spots in the 2011 bullpen.
Kameron Mickolio (27) - 0-0, 7.36 ERA, 2.182 WHIP, 3.2 IP, 4K, 3 BB, 1 HR
Like many of the other players battling for a spot in the Diamondbacks' bullpen, Mickolio has excellent strikeout numbers in the minors. He averaged 12.3K/9 in 2010, and 10.7K/9 the year before. At 6'-9" and 260 lbs, Mickolio is an intimidating presence on the mound, and when he's on, he can be really tough to hit, with a fastball at 96 mph, a hard slider and an unusual delivery. He had an excellent campaign in this year's Arizona Fall League, with 18 Ks, only 2 BBs, and a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings.
Brian Sweeney (26) - 1-2, 3.16 ERA, 1.225 WHIP, 37 IP, 14 K/6 BB, 5 HR
Sweeney pitched for the Seattle Mariners last year after spending three seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. Sweeney's fast ball is in the high 80s and he mixes in a slider in the low 80s and a change-up in the high 70s. Like many on the club, he previously played for GM Kevin Towers in San Diego.
Joe Paterson (25) - AAA, 5-3, 3.03 ERA, 1.378 WHIP, 65.1 IP, 64 K/26 BB, 2 HR
Paterson is a Rule 5 selection from the San Francisco Giants who pitched for AAA Fresno last year. He's expected to be the left-handed specialist in the bullpen, filling a role that that was basically empty last year. Paterson doesn't throw very hard, but has a good curve ball and a delivery that is tough on left-handed batters.
Mike Hampton (38) - 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 4.1 IP, 3 K/1 BB, 0 HR
Signed to a minor league contract, Hampton is another possibility to be the left-hander in the bullpen. He missed most of 2010 because of injuries, but did join the major league club in September and threw 4.1 scoreless innings. Hampton is not a hard thrower at all, with a fastball topping out in the high 80s, but has shown the ability to get out both right-handed and left-handed batters in the past.
LHP Zach Kroenke (26)
LHP Jordan Norberto (24)
RHP Carlos Rosa (26)
RHP Rafael Rodriguez (26)
It is clear that improving the bullpen was a high priority for the Diamondbacks. The 2010 edition had the worst ERA in the league by far, and also was ranked at the bottom of the league in terms of strikeouts, walks, and K/BB ratio. GM Kevin Towers had an excellent reputation for building great bullpens in San Diego, and he has brought in three hard-throwing new players in J.J. Putz, David Hernandez, and Kam Mickolio, and selected a crafty lefthander in Rule 5 pick Joe Paterson. The team is also expecting improvement from young players like Sam Demel and Esmerling Vasquez, and hope that the Juan Gutierrez of September 2010 returns for 2011. As a group, the Diamondbacks' bullpen should be greatly improved in 2011.