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D'backs preview: Bullpen, Part I

2004 performance [reliever only, min. 30 IP]

Elmer Dessens: 44.1 IP, 2.03 ERA, WHIP 1.11
Greg Aquino:   35.1 IP, 3.06 ERA, WHIP 1.16
Andrew Good:   34.1 IP, 3.15 ERA, WHIP 1.14
Mike Koplove:  86.2 IP, 4.05 ERA, WHIP 1.42
Brian Bruney:  31.1 IP, 4.31 ERA, WHIP 1.50
S. Randolph:   55.0 IP, 4.42 ERA, WHIP 1.69
Randy Choate:  50.2 IP, 4.62 ERA, WHIP 1.58
Hardly a case of saving the best for last, our bullpen followed the lead of our rotation by being thoroughly mediocre, with an overall ERA of 4.68 and a 17-31 record. Though actually, everyone who pitched 30 innings was better than that: it was the scrubs we were forced into using on the edges who drove that ERA up. For example, the triple-headed dog that was Oscar Villarreal, Scott Service and Mike Fetters combined for 57 innings and a 7.58 ERA.

But who'd have thought Elmer Dessens would end up being the best reliever we'd have all year? (not counting Jeff Fassero, whose entire D'backs career consisted of 14 pitches) After being unceremoniously dumped from the rotation, he found his place in the bullpen, and pitched so well there, he ended up getting traded to a contending team as part of the deal that sent Finley to LA. Andrew Good was another one who pitched better in relief than as a starter.

Greg Aquino was also a pleasant surprise; after Matt Mantei fell apart in spectacular fashion (10.2 IP, 17 H, 5 HR, 14 ER, 11.81 ERA) and then went on the disabled list, Jose Valverde again became the replacement closer... until he get tendinitis in his rotator cuff and, too, had to be shut down. Converted shortstop Aquino proved the go-to guy for the rest of the season, getting 16 saves in 19 chances, and holding opponents to a .194 average.

Koplove lead the team with 76 games and 86.2 innings, and tended to be either pretty good or utterly awful - if you cross his worst five appearances off, in which he allowed 16 earned runs, his ERA over the other 71 was only 2.47. He'd a great August, throwing 17.1 innings, and allowing just nine hits and one run, but those bad games always lurked on the horizon like a thundercloud.

The lowlight of Bruney's 2003-2004 season wasn't with the D'backs, but came in an Olympic qualifying tournament in November. He allowed a home run which led to the ignominious elimination of the USA at the hands of Mexico - he also blew the only save opportunity he had in the majors in 2004. More generally, his problem was less hits (opponents batted just .189), than walks, with 27 free passes handed out in just 31.1 innings.

And speaking of walks brings us to the God-Emperor of them, Stephen Randolph, who delivered a performance level not seen in over three decades (76 walks in 81.2 innings, a figure unmatched since Ken Wright handed out 82 in 80.2 during the 1973 season). As a reliever, Randolph was even wilder, especially in June, when he allowed a startling 15 walks in only 8.1 innings. Finally, LOOGY (Left-handed One Out GuY) of choice was Randy Choate, who chased Koplove in games, but averaged barely two outs per appearance. On the plus side, he only allowed one home run in 50.2 innings; on the other hand, 52 hits and 28 walks aren't anything to write home about.

All told, our bullpen was below average, but can only really be considered a relatively minor cause of our 111-game season. The starting rotation and hitters ensured our relievers weren't handed all that many leads, and injuries probably hit the bullpen harder than any other area of the team. Valverde, Villarreal and Mantei were all expected to be mainstays, with 200.1 innings in 2003, but the trio managed only 58.1 in 2004, and there was far from enough depth to cover the difference adequately.