Sunday, February 14, 2016

Heading to Camp: The Bullpen Core

Going into camp, the Bucco bullpen locks appear to be Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Arquimedes Caminero, Jared Hughes and newcomers Juan Nicasio and Neftali Feliz. Notables losses from last year's stellar gang are Joakim Soria, Antonio Bastardo and Joe Blanton. And they were a good crew - the Bucs lost once all year when leading after seven frames as the pen posted the MLB's top relief ERA.

They were retooled after the 2014 campaign too, when guys like Jason Grilli, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Vin Mazzaro, Stolmy Pimentel, Jeanmar Gomez, Ernesto Frieri and Big John Holdzkum answered the phone. This year's shuffle is the Pirate rule, not the exception.

One opening remains in the relief corp. Assuming Feliz and Nicasio will offset Soria and Blanton, that makes the Bucs one shutdown lefty short of last year's group. But Bastardo was, like Watson, a guy that was effective against either side, so the Bucs may opt to fill in with a two-way arm instead of another lefty, although that does leave Clint a little short in the match-up game, a familiar scenario.

The Bucs have loaded up with NRI lefties; it's TBD if any have the stuff to break camp.

Here's a quick look at the anticipated pen:

Mark Melancon: It's probably the 30 year old Shark's last Pirate go-around; Watson is just about ready to close and Melancon's $9.65M deal is rich for the FO's liking, although they do have to face the music and realize the back end of bullpens are tough to build on the cheap anymore. Mark had another effective year in 2015, albeit with some SABR-metric red flags. His saving grace is that his BABIP for the past two years has been in the mid-.250 range, and between coaxing soft contact and the infield positioning, he's been able to outperform the metrics. Still, if the Bucs are floundering at the deadline, he'll be dangled again, as he was this winter, before his 2017 walk year.

The Shark celebrates another save with Fran (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)
Tony Watson: The heir apparent, Tony is another one whose ERA far outpaces his FIP. In his case, the reason is because his WHIP has been under 1.000 two of the last three seasons, and he's stingy with both hits and walks. No runners, no runs. Great durability, too, with 290 appearances in the past four campaigns. The only flag for him was a drop in K rate from 9.4/9 innings in 2015 to 7.4 last year. He's making $3.45M this season with another arb year to go.

Arquimedes Caminero: Uncle Ray got him to quit trying to throw the ball through the backstop, and tho his K rate dropped by a couple per game, so did his walks. Oddly enough, per Fangraphs his fastball velocity went up to 97.9 and his ground ball rate increased to 47.6%, both career highs. So a little less grunting added some movement, and he's turned into an effective bridge guy. Arquie only has a year's service time, so he's under team control for the long haul.

Jared Hughes: The true fireman, Clint brings him in anytime a ground ball is needed to stop the bleeding, and he's thrived in that role. As long as he continues to get the ball hit into the dirt at his career 61.7% rate, they'll be a spot for him. Additionally, he can soak up multiple innings, so he's the perfect middle man. Hughes is inked to a $2.175M deal and has two more arb years ahead.

Jared Hughes (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)
Juan Nicasio: The Bucs signed him to a one year/$3M deal after he posted a 1-3/ 3.86 slash with a save for the Dodgers in 52 relief appearances and one start. He averaged10K per nine featuring a heater that averages 95 and touches on 98. The down side - five walks per game. He's the opposite of most Pirate relievers, as he underperformed his FIP of 2.83. He does bring a great deal of versatility to the mix, having been a starter for much of his career, and the Pirates have all sorts of options. Nicasio is, by plan, going to be stretched out as a starter in camp, although he could be a fit for just about any spot from a multiple innings eater to the back end. He has one more arb year remaining.

Neftali Feliz: Since his 2011 season, including 2010's RoY (he saved 72 games from 2010-11), Neftali has been through the wringer, being switched to the rotation, encountering control issues and then undergoing TJ surgery. He's lost a couple of feet from his heater, though he still guns it in at 94, and opposite of the Pirates' preferred mold, is a 50% fly-ball guy. But his control is OK, the OF can cover pretty well, and Searage has had bigger train wrecks to work with. His 6.38 ERA last year was two runs over his FIP, largely fed by an unsightly .349 BABIP. The Bucs bet $3.9M that he'll have a healthy arm and bounce back this year. In what role has yet to be determined; he has an early back-end resume but mop-up results last year. He should be motivated; 2017 is his FA season.

Next up: The Pirate Bullpen's Depth Arms 

Prior Posts:
Heading to Camp: Starting Pitching, Eight Deep
Heading to Camp: Starting Pitching, On the Way & Depth Arms

1 comment:

WilliamJPellas said...

Nice to see the Pirates get so much mileage out of homegrown guys like Hughes and Watson. They're starting to get expensive, though, especially Watson, and I agree: he wasn't as bulletproof last year as he was over the previous two. Hopefully he just had a bit of a down year, but losing 2 K's per 9 when he is still less than 30 years old is a bad sign. Melancon is more reliable than dominant, I think, but sure, let's do one more go-around with him. The 'pen will need considerable revamping in 2017 and forward, though. I'm not sure what's down on the farm in terms of relievers, so my guess is the next closer will come from outside the organization unless Watson shows he is physically sound. Even then he'll only have a year or two in the role before he prices himself out of town, too, so....