State of the Bullpen

bullpen
I’m sure we all know by now that 2014 has been a disaster, and you’re tired of hearing about it as much as I am. So my focus for Texas has been towards the future – 2015 and beyond. Jon Daniels has a lot of work to do this off-season with finding a new manager, filling out 60 percent of his rotation, hopefully getting another bat, and finally assembling a solid winning bullpen. You see how important a dominant, hammer dropping bullpen can be with the success of teams like Kansas City, Seattle, and Pittsburgh. I wanted to examine what the Rangers currently have and can utilize for next year and beyond as well as could potentially bring in via free agency.

Right now, the current “winning pieces” for Texas are Neftali Feliz closing and then whoever Tim Bogar picks from a hat and feels best with handling the other late innings. Generally, it’s been some sort of combination between Neal Cotts, Roman Mendez, and Shawn Tolleson. However, Spencer Patton, Alex Claudio, and Jon Edwards have also been getting their chances at getting big outs. The job from Bogey (he’s managing for a permanent job) is to win, but also try and see what he currently has to use in his bullpen next year. While the current ERA’s look nice and Feliz hasn’t blown a save yet, I’m still hesitant to say that I have confidence in our current assets maintaining the success next year. If you look at just the ERA’s and opponents batting average of our staff, you may conclude that we have a nice pen. I’m going to exclude Neal Cotts, because I assume that he will not be back next year.

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As you can see, these four pitchers appear to be dominating the competition and should form a nice quartet of relievers for Texas to go along with the injured guys like Scheppers or Ogando. However, when you look at advanced measures, you can see that they all have been extremely lucky this year. Neftali especially has been fortunate, but Tolleson has been up and throwing all season, so his luck has been something to behold. So let’s take a look at the same four players using a few more telling statistics.
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Now you feel a little bit more uneasy. Feliz and Mendez both have been extremely lucky in their 25-plus innings this year and regression is coming for them unless they make adjustments and start to miss more bats. A K/9 in the five range is not going to get the job done in the game today. The major league leader Aroldis Chapman’s K/9 is well over 17. That’s what you need from your hammer. You want whiffs and strikeouts. Phil Klein has been missing bats at a nice rate so far and appears to be the best bet among the four. Even Alex Claudio was over 12 K/9 and pitching nicely before his Sunday outing. He’s making his case to be next year’s LOOGY.

I know everyone seems to love Mendez; his stuff appears to look good when using the old eyeball test. His average fastball velocity is sitting around 95, and he has a decent slider to go along with it. However, according to Brooks Baseball the whiff percentages for his pitches this year are as follows:

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Now compare that to the likes of Chapman who’s getting whiffs on his fastball at a rate of more than double (19.77) Mendez’s fastball. I’m not saying that Roman will never have rates and percentages that make him dominant, but he is not even close to being there yet. He’s still young and can get better.

So the question becomes, who do we take into next year from this current group and feel good about, and who do you add to it? Tony Blengino of Fangraphs mentioned in his latest piece that “[t]he very best pens are quite often very inexpensive, featuring multiple cost-controlled 0-3 year players. A hammer, top-of-his-game closer seems to be a necessity, but more often than not, an elite bullpen features an elite closer who isn’t yet paid elite dollars.”  I use the examples of teams I mentioned above in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Seattle. Those team’s closers make a combined 14.3 million in 2014, and the rest of the bullpen is made up of young pitchers and cheap veterans. That’s the best way to go about building one. There are some upcoming Free Agent relievers that I have interest in because frankly, this team needs some guys that can miss bats. I am going to assume that David Robertson will get the richest contract of this upcoming core as he’s a current 29 year old reliever racking up saves and dominating while doing it. He’ll likely want close to Craig Kimbrel money and certainly want equal to what Joe Nathan received with probably an extra year or two. Unless money is no issue for the owners, I would pass. The guy I would look into strongly is Andrew Miller. He won’t turn 30 until May of next year and he’s been absolutely fantastic over the last two years since he was converted into a reliever. His numbers in 2013 and 2014 are listed below:

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So as you can tell, he strikes people out and he does not allow homers. The latter is especially impressive when you consider he’s been pitching primarily in AL East ballparks. The thing that has pushed him into elite hammer status is the walks being cut in half from ‘13 to ‘14. The final bargaining chip is him pitching as a setup man so he’s not accumulating saves. Meaning he won’t command as much as the closers do. If the Rangers could snag him for 2 years at 5 million per, that’s basically stealing.

I also would look into a few older reclamation projects that either had “down” years, coming off injury, or are just simply older. Guys like Koji Uehara, Sergio Romo, Luke Hochevar, Jason Grilli, Luke Gregerson, or Pat Neshek. Koji would probably cost the most as he’s been a closer and is still pretty good. Romo lost his closer’s role but he’s still 31 and strikes out a decent amount and still has a 3.35 xFIP. Hochevar is coming off Tommy John and could be a Joakim Soria stash type. He was dominant in 2013 as a setup man for KC. Jason Grilli is a pure dart throw at the right price. Gregerson could be a good buy as he has not been collecting saves. Neshek has been a wonder in STL. He does not walk anyone or allow homers. I wouldn’t mind him either.

So to put it all together, if I had my choosing of anyone I just mentioned. I would sign Andrew Miller to be my closer. I would also sign Neshek to a dirt cheap deal (that he will likely take) of around 2 or 3 million. Then, I carry over Feliz by default. Hopefully his recent uptick in velocity is a positive sign of things to come. I also carry over Tolleson and Patton. My LOOGY would be Alex Claudio. Finally, you bring back a healthy Tanner Scheppers and go to war with that. I haven’t forgotten about Corey Knebel. If he’s healthy at Spring Training, hopefully he beats out Tolleson for the last spot and dominates. I’m just assuming he’ll have to prove health and likely start 2015 at Round Rock.

Austin Dietz
I'm just a local Dallas kid that enjoys baseball, craft beer, and using my best hitter second. I'm a co-host of the 20 Grade Podcast.

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