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MLB Bullpen Banter

   by ASA - 05/06/2009

Struggling – Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirate bullpen actually had a solid start to the season. However, that encouraging start has turned sour as of late. That bullpen flop coincides directly with the Bucs 1-7 run after a very solid 11-7 start. The relievers have tallied three losses in those eight games allowing a whopping 20 earned runs in just 21.1 innings.

While the Pirate’s overall pitching numbers look solid, there are some hidden concerns in the bullpen. The staff as a whole has an ERA of 3.78 which is 5th in the Majors. The starters have been much more efficient that most expected with 16 quality starts which is the second highest number in all of baseball. However, Pitt is just 1-5 in games decided by relievers. The bullpen has also given up an abundance of walks with 47 to only 57 strikeouts. That needs to improve drastically for this team to succeed long term.

Make matters worse, closer Matt Capps has experienced some elbow pain as of late and had an MRI on Tuesday. It revealed no structural damage, however Capps is likely out for the next few games. He has been following the lead of his mates in the bullpen as of late allowing seven earned runs in his last three appearances which resulted in two losses and one blown save.

Unfortunately for Pirate fans, other late inning options in the pen have struggled as of late. Veteran left-hander John Grabow didn’t allow a run in his first nine appearances. He has now been scored on in three of his last four outings. Jessie Chavez, who allowed only one run in his first eight showings, has now given up runs in two of his last three trips to the mound. Tyler Yates hasn’t fared any better allowing as many runs (9) as innings pitched.

Pittsburgh is relying on a young starting staff that has “over-performedâ€쳌 early in the season. If that changes, it would only put a heavier strain on a struggling bullpen which could mean big problems in the Steel City.

Thriving – Cincinnati Reds

Can you name the only team in 2009 that has yet to blow a save situation? That’s a loaded question obviously as the answer is the Cincinnati Reds. That’s mainly in part due to their All-Star closer, Francisco Cordero who is a perfect 7 for 7 on save opportunities this year. Those solid numbers don’t appear to be going away anytime soon as Cordero has historically been among the best in baseball at closing out games. His last two seasons alone have resulted in 77 saves and only 13 blown opportunities.

Cordero has received a ton of support as of late from his counterparts in the bullpen. The overall bullpen ERA is 3.93 which looks a bit above average but it doesn’t tell the whole story. That number is drastically inflated due to some very early season woes as the pen allowed 12 earned runs in the first four games alone. Since then they have settled down and performed admirably. This pitching staff as a whole already has six shutouts on the season including four last week. In the last six games, Red relievers have allowed only 2 earned runs in 12.2 innings. Also, this group is relatively fresh as the starters have gone deep into games for the most part.

There are several proven veterans in the Cincinnati bullpen which bodes well for an extended efficient run. David Weathers has been one of the better set up men in baseball and he has continued that success in 2009. He has made nine appearances so far this season, allowing just three hits and no runs. Lefty Arthur Rhodes has been a great pick up after splitting time between Seattle and Florida a year ago. He has yet to allow an earned run in 11 appearances. Last year, he allowed just 8 earned runs in 35.1 innings.

The upcoming schedule (14 of their next 20 games are at home) gives the Reds an opportunity to get on a nice roll. If their bullpen continues to shine, it could turn into a much bigger roll than some might expect.


Los Angeles Angels – While the Angel relievers continue to get ripped on a daily basis, they have the worst bullpen ERA in baseball, there seems to be a light at the end of the dark tunnel. His name is Jose Arredondo who already has 18 strikeouts and only 3 walks on the season. Last year Arredondo was 10-2 with 16 holds and an ERA of just 1.62. If Brian Fuentes continues to struggle in the closer’s role, watch for Arredondo to take over.

Milwaukee Brewers – One of the over looked acquisitions in the off-season was Milwaukee signing Trevor Hoffman. The Brewers took a chance on the aging closer and so far it has paid off. Since coming off the DL, is 4 for 4 in save opportunities and has yet to allow a run in five appearances.

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