Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dave's View: The Bullpens

Aviv has one thing right; bullpens are curious and tricky things. Predicting how one will perform is like trying to predict the weather a week in advance; you may get it right but it'll be because of luck as much as anything else.

Which is why you can never have too much talent in the 'pen. And going into this year, no team has a deeper pen than the Red Sox. And while the Yankees have a legend closing their games, they still have too many questions in trying to get to Mo.


The Red Sox have the best closer in the game today. Papelbon has three seasons of 35+ saves, ERAs of 2.34 or under and sub-one WHIPs. He wants the ball with the game on the line and delivers the goods. The only question is whether he is durable over the long haul. But that isn't a question for this year.

The Sox have an embarrassment of riches leading up to Papelbon. Start with Hideki Okajima. Seen originally as a toss-in to keep Daisuke company, Okajima went to the All-Star game in his rookie year. He was a little shakier last year but still a dependable lefty in the late innings.

Complimenting Okajima is new signee Takashi Saito. He is 39 and coming off an injury, but the righty has looked good in spring. If he is 100% again, the Sox will be near untouchable from the 8th inning on.

The not-so-secret weapon in the Sox bullpen is young Justin Masterson. He has multiple pitches, all of which he has great control over. He also gets a lot of ground balls. If needed, he can go 3-4 innings. That flexibility is why he is mentioned as a possible starter. But for now, his value is in the pen.

Making up the rest of the pen are Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez. All three can give you a good outing and then cough up a few runs. But they will get it done more often than they won't.

Look for one more arm to join the Sox at some point this year. Daniel Bard is a young man in AAA right now who has a 100+ fastball and a high-80s slider. His spring was fantastic and he is mentioned as Boston's closer of the future. Right now, I'd just like him to be one more good arm in Boston's pen.

New York

The Yankee's bullpen got chewed up last year as starter after starter couldn't go six innings. It also didn't help that their bullpen arms were of varying quality.

At the top is the eternal Mo Rivera. This first-ballot Hall of Famer had another solid year in 2008 with 39 saves, a 1.40 ERA and a minuscule .665 WHIP. It's apparently useless to say age will catch up with him. So expect another banner year from Mo.

But who leads to Mo? I have said more than once it should be Joba Chamberlain. But since the Yankee ownership in intent on wasting him as a starter, you have to look elsewhere.

I'd guess that Jose Veras or Damaso Marte would be your 8th inning guy, but neither of them are the 100% reliable guy you would want in that position. Veras was worse in the second half of the season and Marte had a 5.40 ERA for the Yankees after he came over from the Pirates.

The guy that could step up for the Yankees is young Phil Coke. The 26-year old came up last September and impressed (12 games, 0.61 ERA, 14 K, 2 W). Coke also had a solid spring. The big question is whether or not he can do it over the course of a full season. The history of baseball is littered with flash-in-the-pan pitchers. If Coke can continue to progress, the Yankees may have found their next solid bullpen arm.

Brian Bruney could be another solid option for New York in the late innings. But he is coming back from a Lisfranc tear and he could be great or fall apart. Joining him are Edwar Ramirez and Jonathan Albaladejo, another young arm who had a good spring.

Final Verdict

The problem New York has is that they have too many questions and not enough depth in their bullpen. Boston has probably the deepest pen in the game and a fireballer in AAA just waiting to come up to Fenway. And while Boston will be using their pen to limit their starters' innings, New York will be going the other way. Relying on your starters to go far enough consistently to limit your bullpen's exposure...that way lies madness. Especially with AJ Burnett in your rotation.

Verdict: Boston

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