Stabilizing The Orioles Bullpen

Posted Sunday May 26, 2013 at 10:31:04 pm in Real Sports

Well, it was bound to happen. Looking back on the 2012 season's success, it's easy to point out one of the most successful pieces to the team: the bullpen.

Guys like Jim Johnson (51 saves, 2.49 ERA, 1.019 WHIP), Pedro Strop (2.44 ERA), Darren O'Day (2.28 ERA, 0.940 WHIP), Troy Patton (2.43 WHIP, 1.024 WHIP, 1.9 BB/9), Luis Ayala (2.64 ERA) as well as converted-to-relievers Tommy Hunter (3.71 ERA) and Brian Matusz (1.35 ERA, 0.600 WHIP) made the Orioles's bullpen dominant.

However, that same bullpen is a bit in shambles after about 2 weeks of inadequate and inconsistent starting pitching and some very poor relief performances:

  • Jim Johnson has blown 4 saves in 5 chances and is now sporting a 5.25 ERA
  • Pedro Strop (after only allowing 3 earned run in the previous 13 straight games) is now on the DL with a lower back strain (after allowing 3 hits, 3 walks in 2 appearances totaling 1 IP)
  • Troy Patton has walked 10 batters in his last 11 games (12 2/3 IP) in addition to 15 hits (3 of them home runs) while compiling a 7.11 ERA. His ERA on the year now sits at 4.79.

Those were 3 key bullpen arms during the 2012 season. One of which was extremely key (the closer) in Jim Johnson.

What a difference a year makes. Let alone 2 weeks. Flash back 2 weeks or so ago and Patton's ERA was 2.57. Jim Johnson hadn't blown a save all year. Strop was in the middle of an unearned run streak.

And now the Orioles bullpen is on the lower rung of the American League rankings.

Can it rebound?

I think it can. But, unfortunately, it's going to take time.

Pedro Strop is now on the 15 day disabled list retroactive to May 24th. He'd be eligible to return June 8th. But he'll most likely have a rehab session in the minors before coming back. Classic addition by subtraction. But getting Strop back healthy and his mechanics set would be a big boost.

Patton is out of options. He'll be relegated to a similar cleanup role that Strop had prior.

Jim Johnson is the closer going forward for Buck. Buck is a player's manager, and he'll stick with Jim for the foreseeable future unless he continues to blow saves. As written about previously, Johnson had a rough patch last year. Not nearly as bad as this year, but it does show that he can make the necessary adjustments.

With Strop on the DL, the current bullpen options are the following:

Darren O'Day, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, TJ McFarland, Steve Johnson, Troy Patton, Jim Johnson

Their roles will most likely be as such:

  • Jim Johnson - righty, closer
  • Darren O'Day - righty, setup
  • Brian Matusz - lefty, LOOGY w/ ability to go 1-2 IP
  • Tommy Hunter - righty, middle relief w/ ability to go 2-3 IP
  • TJ McFarland - righty, middle-long relief w/ ability to go 1-3 IP
  • Steve Johnson - righty, middle-long relief (also spot starter) w/ ability to go 2-5 IP
  • Troy Patton - lefty, LOOGY w/ ability to go 1-2 IP

As it stands look for Patton to only come in during low leverage situations. McFarland will most likely take Patton's job going forward (for now).

The starting pitching does need to go deeper into games. The last 4 outings (Gausman, Tillman, Garcia, Gonzalez) have only seen the starters go 5 IP (Gonzalez went 5 2/3 IP). That needs to go up for the bullpen to thrive.

But outside of JJ with Strop on the DL and Patton relegated to mop up duty, there are some shining arms in the bullpen:

  • Darren O'Day - 1.96 ERA, 1.174 WHIP
  • Brian Matusz - 3.15 ERA, 0.800 WHIP with a 9.0 SO/9
  • Tommy Hunter - 1.86 ERA, 0.966 WHIP
  • TJ McFarland - 3.18 ERA. Although his WHIP needs to come down (1.544)
  • Steve Johnson - Struck out 5 in 2 2/3 IP only allowing 3 hits and 1 walk. However, 2 inherited runners scored after Steve left the game. Look for him to get better as he gets more innings under his belt.

So, 5 out of 7 arms are performing well now. This team does need Jim Johnson to right the ship otherwise they'll need to carry an extra bullpen arm. I expect Johnson to get off the snide soon. He looked great the previous outing against Toronto (3 up, 3 down including a strikeout and a groundout). It's just really bad fastball command for Johnson right now.

It's not as dire as it sounds for the bullpen. Blowing 4 saves will make things seem worse than they really are.

If things continue down this path for Jim Johnson, I fully expect to see O'Day take the closer's role. And we could very well see Arrieta called back up (but in the bullpen this time), they may be grooming him for that role. We'll see. Other bullpen options include: Belfiore, Wada (if they don't go the starter route), and possibly Josh Stinson since they're all on the 40 man roster.

Things will stabilize. First things first: get the starters to go at least 6. Stop over-taxing the bullpen.

And let's hope Jim Johnson gets control of his 2 seamer back. It's easily his best pitch when he has control over it. BTW, Jim will be the topic of my next piece.

Go O's!

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view