Sorting Through the D-back Bullpen


After being named to replace A.J. Hinch as manager for the remainder of the 2010 season, Kirk Gibson has made all the necessary statements about reigniting this team and finding ways to win, etc.  Obviously this bullpen has been “historically bad” and most talk centering on the Dback struggles have fallen into this territory.  Gibson did list a number of things he finds wrong with the team and one item of business was for he and his staff to “sort out the bullpen.”

In 219 IP, the D-back bullpen is almost dead last in most important stats.  They are in the bottom five in K/9 (6.68) and second from the bottom in walks allowed (4.83 BB/9).  However, despite bad showings in stats dependant on luck (second from the bottom in BABIP .341 and lowest in strand rate 62.5%), the team seems to have far too many problems to dramatically improve their league worst ERA of 6.88 as their FIP and xFIP stands at 5.48 and 5.08, respectively.

Since the final thankless task of sorting and figuring out who stays and who goes rests on the shoulders of Gibson and DiPoto (and a few others, it seems).  I decided to not editorialize too much and just list each pitcher along with a few basic positives and negatives for each.

We’ll begin with the relievers currently on the team:

RHP Aaron Heilman: with strikeouts way down (6.44 K/9 in 36+ IP) and his groundballs almost non-existent (28.4%), Heilman has been able to keep his head above water with a manageable BABIP (.301) and strand rate (76.3%).  As it stands, Heilman has been relying on his changeup a bit more (small samples, I know but he has been experiencing a slight drop in velocity in his fastball since 2008) and he has been quite lucky in terms of HR’s allowed compared to his flyball frequency.  This could get dicey.

RHP Chad Qualls: in 29+ miserable innings, Qualls has become the poster boy for unlucky relief pitchers.  He has been hounded by an incredible .450 BABIP along with a ridiculously low 53% strand rate.  His walks are up (3.68 from his previous norm of 2.40) but his K’s and groundball percentage have stayed the same.  A close look at the video will probably tell us that he is not placing his fastball too well.  Regardless his FIP of 3.82 says that 7.67 ERA should come down sometime this season.

RHP Juan Gutierrez: he’s been an absolute HR machine this season and with a 4.19 BB/9… that ain’t good.  The only positive thing I could say is that his flyball output should come down… but that is only based on 71 innings pitched last season (although his minor league stats do point to a pitcher that leans more towards the GB).

RHP Saul Rivera: a low strikeout/high walk pitcher that leans to the groundball side of the scale.  In 279 MLB innings pitched Rivera has been known to keep the ball in the park.  When he was released by the Nationals last season, on Fangraphs R.J. Anderson made the case that Rivera may not be elite but his attributes are worthy of an MLB roster spot. 

RHP Esmerling Vasquez: mostly a fastball/changeup pitcher, Vasquez has shown the ability to strikeout MLB batters (9.53 K/9 in 29+ IP) but his control and struggles to keep the ball on the ground tends to bite him.  His ERA is high (5.08) but his low BABIP and low-ish strand rate doesn’t call for too much statistical correction (4.31 FIP).  He does have age (26) and cost on his side, however.

RHP Sam Demel: as D-back fans know, he was the offering from the A’s for Conor Jackson.  Demel’s command in the minors has been up and down but this season in Sacramento he has shown good command and better than-usual groundball rates.  As a D-back, Demel has carried over these traits in only 7 innings pitched and in this problematic bullpen he does look promising.

RHP Blaine Boyer: is a groundball specialist who has dramatically cut down on his strikeouts since 2008 (3.60 K/9 this season in 25 IP; 8.38/72 IP).  Since that time Boyer has used his slider more and cut back on his curveball usage.  He could use a little bit of luck since his BABIP comes in high at .347 and his strand rate hovers around the 63% mark but his doesn’t see much hope this season at 4.90 which isn’t too far off from his current 5.40 ERA.

LHP Jordan Norberto: brought on after the recent release of Dontrelle Willis, Norberto is the lone LHP in this pen.  In the minors he has struggled with his command but his groundball numbers have been slowly rising.  He throws primarily a fastball and curve (which isn’t the standard arsenal of your typical LOOGY) and his ability to throw a changeup points to his ability to face righties.  In 5 short innings he has been wild (7 BB’s) but being a LHP should net him a longer look this season.


Minor League Bullpen options:

RHP Jason Urquidez (AAA, Reno): leans more towards the groundball side, Urquidez may get a call up rather soon as he improves upon his K rate (currently sits at 8.0 in 45 IP) but control has been an issue.

RHP Jose Marte (AAA, Reno): high walks (4.35 BB/9) and long ball tendencies could spell trouble for Marte at the MLB level. 

RHP Kyler Newby (AA, Mobile): has shown the ability to strike out a lot of batters through each minor league level (has yet to pitch in AAA) but he has been a bit unlucky in terms of HR’s allowed based on his average fly ball rate and career stats.  Left-handed hitters tend to give him trouble, however.

RHP Roque Mercedes (AA, Mobile): this 23 year old came over from Milwaukee and has been converted into a reliever.  He has struggled with his command a bit since the conversion and his pitch to contact style hasn’t translated into more strikeouts.  I don’t see him dominating as he moves up to tougher competition but he is still a few years away from figuring out.

RHP Jeff Dietz (AA, Mobile): has struggled a bit with his command early this season and since moving to AA he has been a bit more HR-prone.  Lefties are showing tendencies to hit off him rather well.

RHP Josh Ellis (AAA, Reno): a recent call-up to Reno, Ellis has struggled a bit command-wise since the promotion but his groundball tendencies and ability to keep the ball in the park would work in Arizona.  He’ll be 26 in August.

LHP Leyson Septimo (AA, Mobile): struggling with command (although he has been lights out this season against lefties; albeit in 10 short innings), he does have the ability to throw exciting strikeout numbers.  He’ll be 25 tomorrow and he could see time in AAA as a possible future LOOGY.


To be honest, the options in the minors don’t appear too exciting.  Next time I will look over a few bargain-bin relief options among other MLB teams and list a few candidates I think could fit.  Obviously, the D-backs won’t be trading for any big name relievers due to their apparent place in the standings but they could benefit from scouting a few off-the-radar bullpen pitchers for both now and the next few seasons.

Should be fun.

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