Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Aurila vs. Klesko and the Closer Situation

I've been doing most of my lurking in recent months at El Lefty Malo and thought I would post some stuff here that I had posted there today.

Aurilia vs. Klesko

Someone complained about Bochy playing Aurilia too much over Klesko. So I posted my reply:

I would give Bochy the benefit of the doubt regarding Aurilia/Klesko. Frankly, Klesko was weak hitting until recently and even now he's not hit for much power.

He hit .282/.333/.359/.692 in April and thus didn't see as many games as we might have hoped for, but had put the heat on this month and gotten more play. He is hitting an OK .333/.419/.444/.864 in May thus far.

But still only a 111 ISO for the month, which is very little power. And that's the role we were mainly looking from him, though his high career OBP looks good in replacement of Bonds.

Aurilia, on the other hand, started out very hot, his OPS was in the 800's and reached 908 on April 19, but then cooled off since then. Still, he still has 12 XBH to Klesko's puny 4, and the only HR of the pair, in only double the ABs.

Unfortunately, Aurilia has been colder than Finley's bat since his hot streak, so he should start seeing more rest days coming up.

In fact, in 24 games in April, he played in all 24 and maybe started 22 of them (only 2 games with less than 3 PA), whereas in May, he has played in 12 of 14 games, but got 3 PA or more in 9 of them. So he has already been reduced from 22 starts in 24 in April, to 9 starts in 14 in May.

And if his bat continues to be this cold, and Klesko, Feliz (.280/.321/.460/.781 in May), and Frandsen (.471/.500/.647/1.147 since he returned plus two great starts) hot, he's probably going to see even less.

And Klesko has actually been killing LHP, not RHP, which is the reverse of what one should expect of this platoon hitter:

v.LHP: .429/.556/.429/.984
v.RHP: .288/.344/.390/.734

That's a pretty sad performance for a hitter who had killed RHP before, I wish I could see his RHP splits by month to map his progress (or lack thereof). This is a poor sign of future performance, his LHP hitting should go down a lot, and his RHP hitting has been anemic. He needs to boost up his RHP or he could find himself Lindened this season too.

Closers On the Roster

Next, I commented about who would close should Benitez be traded at some point. I also got a dig in on someone who suggested that we do the Papelbon in Boston thing with Lincecum:

Who let the Dodger/A's fan in here? Lincecum's no closer!!! He starts!!!

I think the best short-term option is Russ Ortiz. He was a closer while coming up our system and I think he closed in college too. That was a long time ago, but I don't think that should matter, should be like riding a bike in terms of attitude and personality for it.

Whether he still has the stuff he had then is the matter, and he claims that he's got it back, and the Giants evidently believe that too, so put him there if he's not starting, seems like a good reward for playing down his Wally Pipp role with Lincecum, and being classy about it.

The best long term on the roster in the pen is probably Hennessey once he gets used to it. Let him set up this year, then Ortiz will go free agent and maybe leave, and Hennessey would be first in line for it. But he would have to fight off Correia, Sadler, and whoever else looks good in spring. And should Ortiz fail in his try, then these guys will be battling for that opportunity, should it present itself.

I like Misch too. I think all the pitchers down below get chances to save, seems like every starter in Augusta has a save. He probably don't get many opps, if any, to save, with Wilson and Sadler there, but he's doing so well, I would just put him in there and see what he can do.

Addendum

By roster, I assume the premise was who would the Giants chose right now based on the stats right now. No one in the minors are really doing that well except for Misch, among the usual suspects (Sadler, Wilson, Valdez - and he's not even back pitching yet, as far as I know).

And by long term, I think Hennessey has shown the most as of right now. I still hope that Wilson fulfills his potential as was projected for him, and become the closer of the future for us, much like Accardo is doing it in Toronto, sadly, or Aardsma in Chicago, but he's still giving up too many walks in AAA.

Yeah, Aardsma and Accardo are doing well in their new homes. I still think that the Giants had to do those moves at the time, to boost their still alive chances to make the playoffs. Hawkins pitched well for us while he was with us, and Kline, who we got for him, has been good as well. Williams, meanwhile, has bounced from organization to organization, and was in the starting 5 for the Nats this season, but just went on the DL, which is just as well, he was doing pretty crappy from what I remember. Aardsma has been doing nicely for the ChiSox, but it took him around 3 years to figure things out and meanwhile we've gotten good performances out of Hawkins and Kline (plus Lincecum's immortal words, "Take off your sweater next time," when Kline came up - nude - and gave a big bear hug to Tim while reporters were interviewing him after his first career win).

Hillenbrand was a horrible addition and it hurts from that standpoint in trading away Accardo. But you have to give to get and Hillenbrand is a professional hitter so the concept of getting him was the right concept for us at the time because 1B was killing us offensively, and while Hillebrand was not the greatest hitter, his career differential (and season) over our 1B choices was significant enough to take the leap. Not every trade is going to work out great, if you don't take any risks, you cannot never get the rewards (Kent, Burks, Schmidt).

However, the trade worked for us in that Chulk is still around and he has been a good reliever for us. While he's not the closer material that Accardo was and is, the point is that he is a perfectly good reliever, good enough to earn first chance at the setup position before blowing it but he's been good since. So at least we still have something to show for losing Accardo, Chulk mitigated the risk of losing Accardo for Hillenbrand so that if we lost Hillenbrand, it was not a total loss, like it was in the trade with Minnesota (another trade good in concept).

Still, the point of the trades is also that even a farm system as maligned as the Giants can keep producing viable relief prospects to replace the ones traded away. Perhaps not as good as the ones traded away - that is yet to be seen, Wilson was much more successful and quicker in the minors coming up than Aardsma or Accardo, plus there was the expectation that Valdez would be coming up soon - but the Giants have a bullpen full of players they drafted and developed plus two - Kline and Chulk - who they got trading other bullpen prospects. Only Benitez is not somehow related to the Giants' farm system.

Bochy Ball

The questioning of Bochy's usage of Aurila and Klesko got me thinking about how Bochy has been doing as manager of the Giants. I've been pretty happy with him thus far. Don't really have many things I can complain bitterly about.

As noted, I think he has been handling the Aurilia/Klesko situation well. I also liked how he sat Feliz down and been playing Aurilia at 3B, until Feliz started hitting. Hopefully Frandsen will get some starts at 3B too.

Speaking of Franny, that's one thing I wished he did better and allowed Frandsen more playing time at the beginning of the season. However, I understand why things went down the way it did. I think Bochy wanted to see how the vets played first, this being his first season with them. It is one thing to look at their stats and see them from the other dugout, another to spend every day with them and dealing with them. Thus Frandsen probably wasn't going to be seeing much time early on.

Normally, this would mean leaving Frandsen in the minors and having someone else on the roster. But in recognition of Frandsen's future with the team, Bochy kept him on the team and let him experience opening day and home opening day. Then they sent him down since he got rusty, get his confidence back with some swell hitting, and brough him back with the intention so use him more, now that Bochy has a better feel for his vets.

Like Feliz. I was impressed that he embarrassed Feliz in front of everyone and pitched batting practice to him and yelling at him to hit to the other side and yelling at him like he was a freaking little leaguer, learning how to hit. Then he benched Feliz a few times, playing Klesko at 1B and Aurilia at 3B. Unbelievably, Feliz has responded to Bochy, after a cold April where he hit .236/.257/.486/.743 with 14 K/2 BB in 72 AB, during May he is hitting .280/.321/.460/.781 with, incredibly, 3 K/3 BB in 50 AB.

Here's the perspective on his achievement this month so far (still only half over). In 22 months of at least 50 AB in the month, excluding this month (meaning out of 21 months), there has only been 1 month out of the 21 where he had less than 10 strikeouts, his first month with over 50 AB when he had 9 strikeouts. He only has 3 this month!!!. In contrast, he has had 15 out of 21 months where he had 15 or more strikeouts, and a number of them over 20.

Then there is the bullpen. Bochy came in with a reputation of creating these wonderful bullpens, of getting these nondescript pitchers who didn't do much of anything before and getting them to perform well. The classic example of this was Cla Meredith, who the 'Dres got last season as a throw in when they traded Mirabelli to the Red Sox. He was lights out and great, pitching for Bochy.

This season, the bullpen went into the season highly maligned, with our best hope for performance, Brian Wilson, sent down to AAA due to poor performance in spring training when he was pretty much guaranteed a spot in the bullpen and was in the running to become either setup man or closer if he did well enough (if he did well, I suspect the Giants might have traded Benitez; that can still happen just before the trade deadline if Benitez is pitching well enough and enough of our bullpen was performing well enough to have candidates for closer). I was one of the few who thought our bullpen would be OK, but I will admit I had my moments when I wondered too. But they have come through for the most part:
  • Hennessey: 3.00 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, .247 BAA, 77% inherited left on (10/13);
  • Benitez: 3.55 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .245 BAA, 40% left on (2/5);
  • Kline: 3.72 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, .341 BAA, 89% left on (8/9);
  • Chulk: 3.78 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, .297 BAA, 40% left on (4/10);
  • Taschner: 3.97 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, .179 BAA, 69% left on (11/16);
  • Correia: 4.34 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .209 BAA, 33% left on (1/3);
  • Sanchez: 5.68 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, .286 BAA, 50% left on (2/4);
  • Overall: 3.82 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 63% left on (38/60).
Not great, not very good, but good enough and definitely not the disaster that most people envisioned for the bullpen at the beginning of the season. All the guys are settling into their roles now and getting comfortable, though things will get disturbed if the Giants decide to keep Lincecum up as a starter - his start on Thursday will probably greatly influence the Giants in their decision. If he continues to start, then Ortiz would go into the bullpen and most probably would replace Jonathan Sanchez, who has not pitched that well overall, though he is 5th overall among NL relievers with 11.7 K/9 and has a 3.18 ERA over his last 11 outings.

I have to think that the Giants will keep Lincecum around in almost any circumstances, other than getting totally blown out and looking like a total rookie. Even if he has a middling start, he has nothing to prove in AAA and Ortiz has already shown publicly that he can accept going to the bullpen if Lincecum is starting. Plus, Ortiz is an experienced bullpen guy and if he really has his stuff back, as he says it has, then he should be even better in relief for us, in long relief and potentially in setup and closing situations because he was a closer while coming up through our farm system.

So Bochy has done a good job thus far with the bullpen, both numbers and handling. He has left in pitchers so that he was not going strictly L/L or R/R no matter what. He has allowed Taschner to take on RHH and is open to having Benitez come in the 8th and pitching over an inning. This shows confidence in the relievers and puts less stress on them by not having them come into the game just for a batter and warming up every game. The pitchers have responded by pitching to their capabilities, they are all around what their career numbers would tell you, maybe a little better.

This is a huge difference over how Alou handled the bullpen and it appears to be working better. And yet Bochy does not shy away from using relievers, his usage of relievers are up there among the league leaders in the NL, but his handling of them does not appear to burn them out like Felipe did. And the bullpen has been very positive in their statements over how Bochy has been handling them, without knocking Alou. However, Krukow, in his morning show, while not criticizing Alou, per se, noting that it is just a matter of differing managerial styles, did say that he likes the way Bochy handles the bullpen and thinks that things are now better for the relievers in terms of stress on their arms.

11 comments:

  1. Re: Aurilia vs. Klesko
    I totally agree. During the first month, the incumbent (Pedro) got the benefit of the doubt for a month at third. That relegated Klesko and Aurilia to first. Aurilia was hot in April, so of course he gets the nod over Klesko.

    Now, Pedro's hitting pretty decently. He's actually taking walks, and he's not striking out as much. He's still got a little problem with trying to pull the ball, but you can't win all the battles at once. At least it seems he's seeing the ball better now.

    So that leads back to Aurilia and Klesko playing first. Klesko is slowly seeing more time, but primarily because Aurilia hasn't been as effective.


    Re: Closers
    I, too, am of the group that is against Lincecum closing. I just think it's a waste of his talent. Once he really settles in, he (like Cain) will become practically-guaranteed to keep the team in the game (allowing 1 to 3 runs) each time he's out there. Why mess with that?

    So who then? I really think Hennessey should get the nod. Even though he doesn't have the stuff (or the look) of a prototypical closer, he's got lots of stuff. He's got all kinds of pitches, and usually, he's able to throw them for strikes. Thats all you really want from a closer: someone who can throw strikes, and subsequently get outs.

    Upgrading Hennessey to the closers role would put a dent in the setup role. Taschner and Hennessey have done a solid job there recently. Messing with that could be detrimental to the team. This is why I'm intrigued by the thought of Russ Ortiz closing. His walk rates scare the life out of me, though. The only thing he'd have over Armando is stuff (at least consistency of it).

    It's an interesting scenario to ponder. To say the very least.


    Re: Bochy Ball
    So far, I'm fairly pleased with most of what he's done as well. I think the team's main problems stem from run scoring and holding leads.

    I know the bullpen hasn't lost all of the games for the team, but they've lost a pretty substantial amount. Six losses at the very least, which is almost 33% of the team's losses. The bullpen has a set of solid ERAs. The runs just score at such inopportune times. They all walk too many batters, which is evident from the fairly high WHIP values. Correia, Taschner, and Hennessey are by far the best at limiting baserunners, and thats why they get the majority of the calls to the pen.

    The offense is a little more worrisome. At least Vizquel appears to be hitting better. Randy Winn is hitting darn well. All the team needs is for Durham (who bats behind Bonds) to pick up a little. He started off the year really well, but has trailed off a ton. Perhaps Bochy could entertain flip-flopping Molina and Durham. That could be an interesting experiment.


    Overall
    I like the team thusfar. There have been players struggling, but the team is at a decent spot in the standings. The starters are doing an awesome job of keeping the team in the game. If the hitters can put it together at the same time, this team would start winning more. Definately not a bad time to be a Giants fan.

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  2. Hillenbrand is an was terrrible.
    Terrible hitter (http://tinyurl.com/27667x), worse fielder (it'll be on the same page.

    And only Pollyanna, or Dead-Eye Dick could think this bullpen is anything but a season killer.

    Unidentified problems only get worse.

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  3. You Write: "He (Klesko) is hitting an OK .333/.419/.444/.864 in May thus far."

    Well, .333/.419/.444 is a pretty sensational line of hitting. I'd take a lineup of like hitters any day.

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  4. Actually, the bull pen is not the problem. Martin, I took your challenge and looked at actual game results. (I've also posted this on McC Chrons', BTS). But I looked back at the actual box and line scores for the 12 games we've lost (out of 19) since our winning streak, including the 3 game sweep at Az. Unfortunately, I don't have time right now to detail the results. But the findings are that the offense is responsible for 2 of the losses, the BP responsible for 4 of the losses, and the starting pitching responsible for 6 losses (with Bochy possibly responsible for one SP loss by sending Morris out for the 7th in AZ where he promptly gave up 2 ERs in an eventual 4-5 loss).

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  5. A different angle on the game results:

    We've lost seven games by one run (and we've only won five). The G-men are built to win games with overpowering pitching, which is meant to make up for a mediocre offense still dependent on Bonds.

    I'd argue that small ball becomes especially important on a team like ours; we simply can't afford to lose 2-1 when Cain pitches one game and then win 8-1 the next game, meaning that big innings are weighted less and manufacturing runs weighted more.

    Bochy (who likes to move runners) and Roberts are a great additions to a team of young, strong pitchers. But we need a strong bullpen to compete in tight, low-scoring games and to keep the confidence up in young pitchers.

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  6. This was a great post, Martin. And Barton, you make some excellent observations.
    There really is too much to respond to here. (But I'll try).
    1) Our corners. I think Boch is doing pretty good at playing the hot hand. I was glad to see him start Klesko 2 nights in a row, against 2 RHs in Houston. True, both Ray and Richie hav e cooled off, but that happens during a season. Overall, we've gotten much better production from the corner spots than last year. And I'm glad, Martin, you noted that Feliz has been quite productive this month. I, too would like to see Frandsen get more - and more regular ABs - but that is easier said than done. I do think he is last in line after Feliz, Aurilia, and Klesko. I think Bochy should only have Richie play 3b twice a week, then (assuming there are 4 games left) play Feliz 3X and Frandsen 1X, but give Frandsen 1 start per week, one week at 2b, the next at SS.
    I do not think the pen is a problem. The pen is good enough to keep Misch (and his 2.23 ERA, .96 WHIP, 34 K, 8 BB in 32.1 IP) in Fresno. It is my impression (and I don't have the stat site to do the research) that the pen has been improving. As I pointed out in another post, they lost 3 out of the first 8 losses, but only 3 out of the last 12. I think if you plot the ERA of the pen igt has steadily come down - whereas, the SP ERA was low to begin with, then rose over a span of about 10 games, but has been dropping over the past week. I also think this is to be expected. This is Bochy's first year with this pen, and he has to get to know his pitcher's, find out when, where, and against whom they do best. I think the pen will continue to improve.

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  7. Anon, Hillenbrand had an OPS+ of 105 over the 4+ seasons before we acquired him; this is position adjusted in baseball-reference.com. It is not great but it is certainly not terrible.

    And leaving the questionable language out of the comments or I'll do something about it.

    And the bullpen saved today's game.

    Barton, thanks for great comments. My point about Klesko is that I expect him to have a high OBP, the key reason I thought he was a good acquisition was that Bochy said he was back, which meant power, which means he could produce at a 1B-level SLG and be a good replacement for Bonds on his rest days. But his power has sucked thus far. Though with a high OBP, "he is hitting OK." I was hoping for a 900+ OPS.

    But I get your point, 864 is pretty good in any case, just not what I was hoping for.

    Thanks for the info and comments, Allfrank. Here is what I collected on the relievers, April vs. May:

    Player: Apr ERA/WHIP/BAA May
    Benitez: 2.00/1.44/.229 7.36/1.64/.286
    Chulk: 4.14/1.73/.361 3.38/1.13/.214
    Correia: 5.59/1.24/.282 3.00/1.00/.107
    Hennessey: 2.79/0.93/.272 3.38/1.32/.286
    Kline: 3.38/1.32/.300 4.15/2.08/.381
    Sanchez: 5.40/1.92/.290 6.23/1.85/.278
    Taschner: 6.00/1.33/.158 1.69/1.13/.200

    As you can see, generally either the reliever did better in May or continued to do well. Of the ones not doing well in May, Benitez blew up in May and Sanchez, frankly, never had it this season. He should really go down to AAA, basically once Ortiz comes off.

    Based on this data, I would say that the bullpen has generally improved from April to May.

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  8. About Frandsen, I think he should get 3 starts a week: once at 2B, once at SS, once at 3B. Keeps all of them fresh and on their toes.

    I can forgo one start and make it either SS or 3B, with Aurilia taking it, but I would still prefer 3 starts because we need to see how he does with more play. We need to see if he is more than just a utility guy.

    So we use him like we did Feliz a couple of years ago and give him a lot of ABs. Maybe we can even give him a game or two in LF.

    We need to see if he's capable of hitting as a starter because we have SS and 3B open in 2008. Vizquel we might want to re-sign but if Frandsen can hit OK, I would rather we start him at 3B instead of re-signing Feliz. How, this is complicated as what if Feliz finally figures out how to hit and Vizquel continues to show his age? Perhaps Frandsen at SS and Feliz at 3B?

    Anyway, these questions are non-starters if we don't know if Frandsen can start.

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  9. Regarding the name calling above, call me Pollyanna or whatever, but regular longtime readers know that I try to point out both the good and the bad, and not be relentlessly positive, like a Pollyanna - if there are bad I will point them out, like how Lowry was struggling most of last season.

    I try to be as objective as I can be. Point out the good stuff when things are going bad, point out the cautionary things when things are going good, try to have a realistic view of where the Giants are and where they are going. Keep an even keel.

    That is what I want for myself and what I try to present here in my posts.

    Unfortunately, when things have been mainly bad for a few years, you end up looking at a lot of silver linings...

    I try to enjoy the good times when they come and accept the bad times knowing that eventually good times should return. That served me well during the 70's and 80's and I've been greatly enjoying Sabean's GM years, good and bad. It's a good life philosophy as well.

    Despite all the bad times of the past few years, I've never said during that time that the Giants were anything more than a .500 team lucky to be in a division where that will keep you in the hunt. A Pollyanna would be saying they are going all the way, no doubt about it.

    Still, if you are in the hunt, why not go for it? You never know when a Gene Tenace-type performance will happen for you in the playoffs and carry you to a championship.

    Even this year I've said that most probably it is another .500 year, unless the pitching can pitch like they had shown they were capable of doing before, that is, all pitch at around 4.00 ERA or less. The offense certainly will never carry us and while you cannot win without a good bullpen, a good bullpen won't ever win for you on their own, they are just an important cog.

    And I was scoffed at above for thinking the bullpen was good enough, but Hennessey and Correia were very good last year in relief, Kline was good, and Sanchez did well.

    In addition, if Benitez was really healthy, he can be a very good and useful pitcher, you just have to accept that he's going to blow some games and treat it like it's no big deal or do some other inappropriate thing. Just be glad he should be gone after this season, at the latest.

    Also, I was encouraged by Taschner's learning his lesson by not being prepared to start the 2006 season and thus lose the job he thought he had in the bag, then going down, turn things around and doing well, then closing and enjoying doing that. He's a fighter and I thought before the season that he would be good for setup and perhaps closer if things went bad fast with Benitez and Wilson.

    Lastly, Chulk has had his moments as a reliever, both here and at Toronto; he's no Accardo, but if he was, they wouldn't have traded Hillenbrand to us. But Chulk can be a very nice cog in the bullpen when he is doing well, and I think Bochy is the guy to get such a performance out of him.

    This is no shut them down San Diego type of bullpen, so if you want to lament about that, I guess it is your perogative, but I think that they are a nice group, who can do well enough for us, particularly in the key roles of closer and setup, and they are cheap for the most part, particularly after Benitez goes free agent, and should only get better over the next few years.

    They are young, you need to expect blips along the way, that is the price of youth, unless you rather Sabean had spent big money getting back Stanton or other experienced relievers who were free agents last year. I'm glad he didn't chose that route because it allowed them to sign Bonds and Zito.

    Blown losses are going to happen, no matter how good the bullpen is, but overall I think they have been doing well enough for us. Besides, unless you want to trade Lincecum (probably first name out of opposing GM's mouths when they get a call from Sabean) to fix up the bullpen to be "great", the bullpen is what it is. It is not great, but it is not this terrible mess that will kill the season, as the commenter wrote.

    And if it is, in your opinion, such a killer, please list all the reasons out, that adds much more to the discussion than writing "bullpen sucks", any monkey can do that. Please lay out your logic if you are going to bother to post something like that, perhaps I'm missing something, won't be the first or last time.

    But a post like that doesn't add anything, it reminds me of when this male streaker ran across the stage of the Oscars in the 70's, it just disrupted the flow and didn't add anything. It would have been better if it never happened, as it was not very interesting at all.

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  10. Giants pen thru Sat:

    .290 BA
    .444 OB%
    Don't have time to do SLG%

    Sorry, but I think those numbers are 'terrible.'

    The Giants are at the top in quality starts, and this pen has to be much, much better to pick up the offence.

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  11. Nothing to be sorry about.

    I think an important point is what the relievers are doing now vs. how they started. Yeah, the relievers started off badly, but they could also be victims of small sample bias. It is nice if they did well to start and continued, but if they started poorly, how are they doing now? Are they at least doing well now?

    In May,

    Correia: 1.09 WHIP, .114 BAA
    Hennessey: 1.23 WHIP, .250 BAA
    Taschner: 1.43 WHIP, .222 BAA
    Chulk: 1.20 WHIP, .243 BAA
    Sanchez: 1.89 WHIP, .240 BAA
    Benitez: 1.29 WHIP, .235 BAA
    Kline: 3.00 WHIP, .435 BAA

    So for the most part, the relievers have been pretty good at keep hitters off base, except for Sanchez and Kline. Sanchez has been wild and probably will be the one dropped to minors for Ortiz, which should further help the bullpen. Kline appears to be a victim of bad luck, balls falling in that are usually caught. Most pitchers have a BABIP of around .300 (select few are able to keep it down in the .2's) and his BABIP for May is .450, so he's just suffering from extreme bad luck right now.

    So yeah, the relievers might have bad overall stats, but they are skewed by a bad start and a couple of relievers doing poorly. Sure, maybe May is the month that is the unusual month, not April, but neither can you say that the bullpen is definitively "terrible" yet.

    Another important point is that the key relievers that we need to be doing well, are: Correia, Hennessey, Taschner, Benitez.

    That's more important than having good overall reliever numbers, as bad stats by the long relief could skew the overall numbers and mask the good performance by the closer and setup guys.

    ReplyDelete

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