Friday, May 04, 2007
Escape Engine No. 1
(Editor's note:Escape Engine will be a series of baseball features on this site. The first month of the series will focus on bullpens.)
The fast rise and fall of a bullpen is a tragic thing to watch. A month of fantastic pitching could just as easily crumble as continue, as anyone knows, but to predict such a fall is divine. Since sportswriters mention bullpens more than they actually talk about them, I've decided to devote a little time to some contenders' bullpens (with little focus on the closer, since they get enough airtime already). This week I've focused on the Milwaukee Brewers, currently 1/2 game out of being the best team in baseball at 18-10.
(Ed. Note 2: I haven't seen everyone in action, though I watch an inordinate amount of baseball. Feel free to let me know where I am wrong in the comments.)
Milwaukee, Algonquin for "The Good Land" is not really the surprise of the league, per se, with their young talent, but what is surprising is how their pitchers have responded to their close games-- a canker sore for them in the past.
8th and 9th: Derrick Turnbow, once considered a future fantasy stud relinquished the closer job to ineptness. Former fantasy flop Francisco Coredero now makes his bed in the ninth inning after foibling the Rangers hope for an average bullpen last year. The weirdest part about this is the adjustment Turnbow made. With the pressure of the game alleviated, Turnbow has returned to the form that once had Baseball Tonight salivating. He has a 1.80 ERA and 1 save in 10 innings. Not to be exceeded by some upstart, Cordero is 10 saves in early on with a nothing ERA and 19-7 K to BB count. The change of league seems to be doing him well. If history is any indication, however, these two won't hold these numbers. However, the longer they stand together as this kind of force, the less likely those meltdowns are apt to show.
Middle Relief: There hasn't been much need, really, in this young season. After a month, this may be one of the better rested bullpens in the division. Former Dodger Elmer Dessens has been less than fantastic in 11 innings, but the offense has proven prodigious, so his 1.73 WHIP and 4.91 ERA haven't hurt the Brewers all that much yet. Brian Shouse is effective enough (8 IP, 4 BB, 1.38 and a 3.38 ERA) in non-quality at-bats to be a righty with some potential. He's seemingly a one-inning guy. One of the genuinely good pitchers thus far is Matt Wise with an ERA under 3 and 5 holds thus far on the season. He is currently tied for eighth in the league in Holds. If his impressive start continues to hold a bridge to the Turnbow/Cordero regime, this could be a strong bullpen when it counts. Carlos Villenueva has 4 holds and has pitched in upwards of 4 innings in games making him a valuable innings eater on his way to two wins. His ERA (3.18) is low, but his WHIP (1.53) could stand to be a little lower. Some of that WHIP is walks, since batter are hitting .208 against him his last seven games (including the 4-inning game).
Long-term Eye: This is a threatening bullpen. If Dessens can improve, the bridge to the (for now) lights out 8th and 9th guys will be that much better. With a combined talent range like this, I could see the Brewers continuing the hot April they've had of the starters work their magic. The offense will be there, most likely. There are down spots. Is Villenueva this good? The numbers suggest so over the past couple of years with a combined .218 BAA over 70+ innings). How long can Cordero be effective? Is Turnbow still a closer in the making? How long until the last two questions rear their ugly heads?
Fun fact: Did any one of these guys ever get drafted? The entire core of middle relief were undrafted. Doesn't baseball have like sixteen drafts? Wow. Cordero, Villenueva, Shouse? No draft. Maybe this is more common than I realize. Fun facts are usually stupid anyway. Sorry to waste your time.
Projection: This will be one of the best bullpens in the National League when all is said and done. The Brewers are our pick to win the Central, and the playoffs will truly test this group.