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by ASA - 06/23/2009
Thriving â€“ San Francisco Giants
If the season ended today, which N.L. team would be on their way to the post-season as the wildcard? Surprisingly, and quite obvious at this point, it would be the San Francisco Giants. Their offense has very little to do with their current success as this team is last in the Majors in home runs and 28th in runs scored. Thus their pitching staff, including a top notch bullpen, is the main reason they are in a fight for a post-season berth which far exceeds what most expected from this team.
Most would not have envisioned the Giants having the second best team ERA in all of baseball as we near the All Star break, however that is a fact. San Franâ€™s team ERA is just 3.65 and they have allowed the fewest runs per game (3.8) in the Majors this season. On top of that, this staff has more strikeouts than any other team. Impressive numbers to say the least. The starting staff obviously has a stake in those imposing stats as Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are both in the top 10 in starterâ€™s ERA. However, the bullpen has definitely held up their end of the bargain.
As I mentioned, the Giants team ERA is second in baseball, however the bullpen numbers are actually even more impressive. Thatâ€™s because they have the best bullpen ERA in the league at 3.34. Opponents are hitting just .243 against Giant relievers. And while the starters have been solid for the most part, they have only 36 quality starts putting them in the middle of the pack in MLB. That tells us the bullpen has had to shoulder more than their share of the load this year.
The interesting part about this San Francisco bullpen is that their success has been built mainly with first year players. Now by that we donâ€™t mean rookies, we mean first year Giants. These well traveled veterans have really come into their own this year and pushed this team into second place in the N.L. West behind the red hot Dodgers. The most â€œwell knownâ€쳌 pick up was Bobby Howry who has posted decent numbers (3.91 ERA) but other under the radar signings have been more efficient. Jeremy Affeldt who has pitched with Kansas City, Colorado and Atlanta, has been one of the best pick ups in baseball. He has a miniscule 1.65 ERA in 32 appearances. Justin Miller, who was with Florida the last two years, has been great with an ERA of just 2.27 in 25 appearances. Brandon Medders is another newcomer who took the mound for Arizona the last four seasons. His ERA is 2.97.
Those four have helped this rebuilt San Francisco bullpen become one of the best in MLB. In fact, the only holdover besides closer Brian Wilson, that has had significant mound action this year is Merkin Valdez. If the â€œnewcomersâ€쳌 continue their breakout seasons and the starting staff stays solid, this team should remain in the N.L. wildcard hunt. If their offense ever comes around, then they will really be a serious threat.
Struggling â€“ Kansas City Royals
The Royals were somewhat of a surprise team early in the season as they jumped out to a solid 18-11 mark. That was on May 8th. Since then this team is just 12-28 and has dropped to nine games below .500. Those 12 wins are the second fewest in baseball since May 8th topped, or bottomed in this instance, only by Washington with 11. Much of that drop off has been the result of an ineffective bullpen.
KC sits near the middle of the pack for most key pitching stats, however if it werenâ€™t for Zach Greinke having an all world year, they would be much further down the totem pole. The bullpen ranks 25th in ERA at 4.73 and have allowed 229 base runners in just 157.1 innings. The relievers have combined to blow 10 saves and have a record of only 6-11. The starters havenâ€™t been much better as Hochevar, Davies and Bannister have had some less than stellar outings making for some long relief outings taking itâ€™s toll on the pen.
The only real standout this year in the Royal bullpen has been closer Joakim Soria. Problem is, Soria was injured in early May and sat on the sidelines for nearly a month. He made is first appearance off the D.L. on June 3rd. He has pitched a total of seven innings since being reactivated. His overall numbers are great with a 1.72 ERA and eight saves in nine opportunities. If you take away his save numbers, the KC relievers have only 2 saves in 11 chances. Soriaâ€™s role as a closer is being vastly underutilized with the Royals this year because this team simply hasnâ€™t given him many chances to save a game. In fact, since returning from the D.L. on June 3rd, he has had only two save opportunities and thatâ€™s it. This team has scored the 4th fewest runs in the Majors this year and in June they have put up less than 4 runs per game unfortunately leaving Soria on the bench most o f the time.
As we mentioned, the remaining relievers have been under performing. The Royals top five out of bullpen according to appearances all have ERAâ€™s of 4.24 or higher. Thatâ€™s not good to say the least. Everyone in the pen that has more than 10 innings pitched (minus Soria) has a WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) of more than 1.46 except one and thatâ€™s Kyle Farnsworth. Another extremely unimpressive stat. With only one really reliable starter, a bullpen in flux and very little offense, the prospects for this team do not look bright.
OTHER BULLPEN TIDBITS
Philadelphia Phillies â€“ The Phillies are just 2-8 their last 10 games and closing out games has been a huge problem. Closer Brad Lidge has been sporadic all season and is now on the disabled list. The Phils have used Ryan Madsen as his replacement with limited results. Last week alone Madsen blew two saves and allowed five earned runs in just over two innings pitched. Madsen was very good as a set up man but may not have what it takes to be a solid closer.
Texas Rangers â€“ The Ranger bullpen as a whole has not been very good. However, their closing situation has become one of the better spots in baseball. Closer Frank Francisco was recently activated off the D.L. after being sidelined since June 4th. He is 12 for 12 in save opportunities and has the lowest ERA in baseball (0.44) among pitchers with more than 15 innings of work. His replacement during his downtime was CJ Wilson who was 6 for 7 in saves and has an ERA of 2.89. Between the two they have pocketed 18 saves in 19 chances.