So this is my first attempt at a fanpost. Try not to judge too harshly.
After reading Jim's article on the bullpen, I thought I'd try to look a little more closely at what was wrong with the individual relievers and offer my (completely uneducated) opinion on whether they could snap out of their collective funk.
(All numbers and stuff via Fangraphs)
Aaron Heilman (ERA: 3.45, FIP: 4.06)- Since he is the only Dbacks reliever with an ERA below 4, there really doesn't seem to be all that much to complain about with Heilman. However, his ERA is influenced by his BABIP of .243, which is probably unsustainable. Even more worrisome is his alarmingly high FB%, which stands at 52.3%. Add in the fact that, over the last five years, Heilman has had more meltdowns than any other reliever and it is clear that he could be in line for some regression.
Diagnosis- Although he is the only Dbacks reliever pitching well at the moment, his peripherals and track record suggest that he will not still be their best option by the end of the year. As long as he is pitching well, Heilman should stay in a set-up role, but the team should also be ready for some regression to the mean.
Esmerling Vasquez (ERA: 6.10, FIP: 6.49)- Other than Gutierrez, there is no one in the bullpen I am more disappointed in than Vasquez, who looked poised to build on a strong second half of 2009. Sadly, that has not happened, although it seems like he has shown signs of bouncing back in recent games. Just in glancing at his numbers, the biggest thing that stands out to me is that he is allowing 2.6 HRs per 9. He has thrown his fastball considerably more this year (71.8%) than last (60.8%), which could be contributing to the problem.
Diagnosis- Other than the home runs, I don't really see much wrong with Vasquez. He is walking fewer batters and striking out more than last season. If he can locate his fastball better and possibly mix in his slider a bit more, there is no reason he can't turn his season around.
Bob Howry (ERA: 8.16, FIP: 7.43)- Want proof that sabermetrics don't tell the whole story? Howry somehow has a positive "clutch" rating at 0.12. I mention this because this stat (however contrived it is) is one of the few that shows Howry having a positive impact on the team. He is currently allowing 3.14 HRs per nine, which is simply not going to get it done. And, with a BABIP of .254, it really isn't a matter of luck.
Diagnosis- DFA. Plain and simple.
Blaine Boyer (ERA: 8.49, FIP: 6.01)- The good news with Boyer is that his FIP is almost two and a half runs lower than his ERA, a sign that he has been pitching with some bad luck this season. He isn't going to have a BABIP of .358 all season either, so his ERA will drop as he regresses. However, he isn't doing himself any favors by walking almost a batter an inning (8.49 per 9), a number that will have to drop if he wants to return to late 2009 form.
Diagnosis- I think we were a bit spoiled with Boyer's 2.68 ERA last season with the Dbacks. He was a middle reliever when they picked him up, and expecting him to be anything more at this point in his career seems a bit unrealistic. His ERA will drop, but they likely won't approach his 2009 numbers. Let him continue to pitch in middle relief, but he shouldn't be in any high-leverage situations.
Juan Gutierrez (ERA: 9.20, FIP: 7.33)- Wow, what can you even say about Guti? He has problems pretty much across the board: decreased K rate, increased BB rate, a HR/9 of over 3. It seems like his issues have mostly been with his slider, which was an outstanding pitch last season but a below-average one now. Other than that, it's probably just a matter of confidence, which can't be very high at this point after what's happened.
Diagnosis- If ever a player needed a trip to Reno to get his confidence back, it's Gutierrez. But since he's out of options, they will either have to DFA him, cutting ties with a very talented pitcher, or let him keep pitching and hope he works through his problems. If they keep him on the major-league team, they should at least move him to middle relief, as he should not be pitching in high-leverage situations for a very long time.
Chad Qualls (ERA: 7.62, FIP: 4.25)- Like several of the others, Qualls has been the victim of some awful luck. His BABIP is currently at .458, so he should regress back to the mean. He has struggled with walks this year, averaging 3.46 per 9 innings and it seems like he has had trouble keeping the ball down in the zone, as his GB% has dropped below 50% on the season. This in particular is bad news for Qualls, who thrives on ground ball outs and double plays, as it has led to a spike in home runs against him (1.38 HR per 9).
Diagnosis- Like it or not, Chad Qualls is our closer, and he is going to stay that way until we find someone who can replace him on a consistent basis (if you see someone on this roster who can, please let AJ know about him). As such, the team has no choice but to keep trotting him out there until he finds it. The numbers suggest that he has suffered from bad luck, but at this point, his confidence may have taken such a hit that he won't be able to bounce back
So what does all this mean? Mostly, it means that we need new relievers. I say DFA Howry and Guti and call up Mercedes and Urquidez, who should at least provide replacement-level production. Other than that, it seems to mostly be a matter of waiting for regression and working with the pitchers to improve mechanics, since almost all of the pitchers mentioned above are too talented to be scuffling the way that they are right now.
Thanks for reading!