Sunday, May 10, 2009

Blow Up The Bullpen?

Stop us if this sounds familiar: The Bucs squander (or don't get) early chances to score; the starter goes six innings plus, has one bad frame, and turns over a close game to the bullpen; the bullpen implodes and the Fat Lady sings her song.

That is the May version of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the beat went on today against the Mets, as they went down 8-4. The Bucs were 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11. Ian Snell left behind 3-2; Sean Burnett got nicked and John Grabow got bombed, and that's how you lose twelve out of thirteen.

As much as the middle of the order has been criticized, and rightly so, the Buc bullpen is equally at fault. Grabow has been scored on in six straight outings, and his ERA is now 6.14. We know he has bone chips, but it's not his velocity that's hurting him; it's his location.

Tyler Yate's ERA is 8.71, and Matt Capp's is 7.56. The back end of the 'pen was thought to be the only dependable piece of the team going into the year; maybe they better think again.

The middle guys, Burney (3.14), Jesse Chavez (2.19), and Evan Meek (2.79), question marks early on, have held their own. Craig Hansen and Donnie Veal are works in progress, and GW still believes the Pirates want to hide Veal for the year and try to plug him in to their starting rotation down the road.

The Pirate suits will have to make some decisions next year if the gang doesn't straighten up. Grabow is in his walk year, Capp's $2.3M deal is done after the season and Yates has one more arbitration year remaining.

Will they bring them back? Well, all three have 4-1/2 months ahead of them to right the ship, but you can almost guarantee that Grabow and his $2.3M contract are gone. Yates is also on thin ice, making $1.3M this year and looking at a probable $1.5M in arbitration next season.

Capps is the wildcard. He has two more years of arbitration after this contract, and he'll be looking at well over $2.5M or more next season. He's been hurt for two seasons running now, so the questions are his durability and upside; does he have the stuff to match his makeup as a closer, and is his arm physically up to the task?

Internally, we suspect the Pirates are breaking Chavez in slowly to see if he can claim the closer's role. He certainly has the stuff, and after a rocky start, his control has improved to the point that he's now being used in late and tight situations. He may be having the most unexpected breakout of the season so far.

In the minors, the potential bullpen guys are having good years with the peripheral stuff, though the ERA's are bloated.

Indy's Chris Bootcheck is 0-1-4 with a 4.30 ERA, working 14-2/3 frames and yielding 14 hits, three walks, and whiffing 21 with a WHIP (walks & hits/inning pitched) of 1.16. Juan Mateo is 1-1-3 with a 5.19 ERA. In 17-1/3 innings, he's given up 16 hits, walked three, and struck out 14 with a 1.10 WHIP.

Romulo Sanchez (1-0, 3.60) and Denny Bautista (2-1-1, 3.55) are doing creditable jobs early on for the Tribe, too.

At Altoona, Jeff Sues is 1-1-1 with a 4.66 ERA. In 19-2/3 innings, he's given up 14 hits, walked seven, and K'ed 20 with a 1.09 WHIP.

So they do have some internal options if they want to retool the bullpen - and hey, every year there are a horde of decent arms desperately seeking a team. But we don't look for the suits to stand pat for another pitching implosion, even if it's from the relief corps in 2009 rather than the rotation.

For Pittsburgh, change is the only constant.

No comments: