Thursday, August 8, 2013

Negative Nelly Time: Bullpen Concerns

The bullpen has been dominant.

That's been clear and no team has felt that dominance more than the Washington Nationals.  As far as run prevention goes, Atlanta entered Wednesday's action with a 2.39 ERA.  The Royals are second at 2.85.  Least I don't bring up a better run prevention number.  Their FIP is 3.04.  The A's are second at 3.21.  They aren't a great K/8 pen, only 11th, and they're in the middle of the pack as far as BB/9 goes. On the bright side, no pen is stingier than the Braves in HR/9 at 0.45.

If there is something to be potentially worried about, it's that they might get a good deal of work.  Well, not the pen as a whole.  They are ninth in the league in innings pitched so you might ask why they would be overworked.

A few years ago, Fredi Gonzalez leaned on his best relievers to such an extent that come September, they had disappeared.  He made strides in doing better with his bullpen usage last year, but this year has been a return to form.  Not that it has been all his fault.  Losing Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters did not make things particularly easy on a manager.  Because of that, the Braves have used a pitcher with zero days of rest 84 times this season, including Craig Kimbrel's tense-filled ninth inning Wednesday.  The only teams in the National League who have done that more are the Giants (who suck), the Mets (who really suck), and the Dodgers (whose bullpen is 21st in WAR).

Luis Avilan leads the team with 16 appearances on zero rest.  Wednesday's game was the 14th time Kimbrel has been used on zero day's rest.  Cory Gearrin has been banished, but he had appeared in 13 games with zero rest.  Anthony Varvaro and Jordan Walden each have 11 back-to-back's.  Before his trade, Scott Downs had been used with zero rest ten times.  Add one more time since the trade.  That doesn't include the amount of times they were warmed up, but not used.

We won't know until later if this truly becomes a problem.  Winning a lot of games often leads to using your best relievers more than normal.  13 consecutive victories means Avdenbrel with a side of Carp will get used a lot.  We saw in Tuesday's game that Kimbrel was super nasty with a day off, but with four games in five days, Kimbrel looked human in Wednesday's game.

Gonzalez should look for ways to give guys a couple of days off here-and-there.  Varvaro and Luis Ayala are low leverage guys, but with a three-run or better lead, they need to get the call to rest Kimbrel.  With a 15.5 game lead, Atlanta can afford to roll the dice with the other relievers in the pen.  The biggest development in this area is Gonzalez now has faith in Carpenter.  He utilized him with the game tied in the ninth inning during Sunday's game and followed that by giving Walden Wednesday off with Carpenter setting up Kimbrel.  Add in the acquisition of Downs and the varsity squad for the bullpen is five people deep.  That goes along way toward getting people rest down the stretch.

As will Paul Maholm's return.  It seems unlikely that Maholm will be a reliever when he returns, but he could push Alex Wood to the bullpen and Wood would be a devastating arm to add to the bullpen.

However...it might be time to start thinking about giving Kimbrel three days off at a time.  Same with Walden.  Their value is irreplaceable at this point and their health and effectiveness must be preserved.  Course, winning games by a touchdown would also help.

No comments:

Post a Comment