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2006 Review, Part Four: The Bullpen

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Despite what it might have felt like at times, this was not a bad year for our relief corps - at least, in comparison to 2005. All told, the bullpen ERA dropped to 4.34, only slightly above the NL median of 4.23, and good for 9th in the league. This was more than a full run better than the previous season, when the figure was 5.40; the worst then, by over half a run. Our fan perception is probably tinted somewhat by the losses coughed up in relief; our bullpen's overall record (21-27) was ahead only of the Cubs and Marlins, and was a reversal from 2005 (22-20).

The Stalwarts
Luis Vizcaino [65.1 IP]: 3.58 - 1.22 WHIP, .215 BAA
Brandon Medders [71.2]: 3.64 - 1.45 WHIP, .270 BAA
Brandon Lyon [69.1]: 3.89 - 1.20 WHIP, .258 BAA
Despite the best ERA of anyone in the pen with more than 25 innings, Vizcaino still got tagged for six defeats, demonstrating the chief problem we faced with all our pitchers: inconsistency. Half the 26 earned runs he allowed, came in just four of 70 appearances, covering only three innings. After reaching June 11th with a 2.37 ERA, he promply blew up, surrendering 11 hits, four walks and eight earned runs in his next 3.2 innings. Then at the end of the month, he went back to greatness, with five earned runs over 25 innings, on 13 hits, from July 3rd-September 10. Better than a strike-out per frame, and keeping opponents to a .215 average, are why he'll probably be here again next year.

Brandon Medders kinda snuck under the radar a bit, without the attention given closers such as Valverde or Julio, or even set-up men like Vizcaino. Still, for the most part, he performed very well in his role - especially during a brilliant May where only one run was charged to Medders in 11 appearances. His best single outing, however, was on August 15th: three frames of no-hit relief, as the last man out of the pen during an 18-inning marathon, 2-1 victory in Colorado. Even if the ERA feels a little lucky, he should still be good enough to merit a spot for 2007.

The third member of the Brandon Committee was Mr. Lyon [expect us to complete the NL set, trading for Brandon Backe and Brandon Claussen during the off-season]. He was a great deal improved from the previous year, when hitters batted .341 against him, and largely as a result, his ERA was more than 2.5 runs better. At only 26, there's still the potential for him to get even better, but he has yet to put together two decent seasons back-to-back. Once again, reliability will be a key issue going forward.

The Regulars
Juan Cruz [21.2]: 3.32 - 1.29 WHIP, .153 BAA
Greg Aquino [48.1]: 4.47 - 1.61 WHIP, .283 BAA
Tony Pena [30.2]: 5.58 - 1.43 WHIP, .290 BAA
Jose Valverde [49.1]: 5.84 - 1.46, .256 BAA
Cruz was acquired in the trade for Brad Halsey, and like the former D'back did in Oakland, spent 2006 moving between the bullpen and the rotation as the need arose. He was probably more effective as a reliever, when opposing hitters only had one chance to see him. In that role, he struck out 25 in only 21.2 innings, though his walk rate was also significantly higher. But that .153 BAA is almost a hundred points lower than the figure as a starter (.250), and it seems probable that he'll begin 2007 in the bullpen, though the odd spot-start is not out of the question.

Greg Aquino also struck out more than a batter per inning, but allowed too many hits to be truly effective. He only got to pitch 18 innings after the All-Star break, which suggests he should be considered a questionmark for next season. Interestingly, he didn't exhibit much of a split facing lefties or righties - they hit .280 and .286 respectively - and his home/road ERA was similar too (4.39/4.57). He might still have some use in long relief.

Tony Pena at first looked like the second coming of Eric Gagne. After his promotion from Tucson following the All-Star break, in his first 10.2 innings, he allowed only six hits, one walk and one earned run, while striking out six. However, hitters figured him out: after August 12, his line was 16.1 IP, 25 H, 6 BB, 16 ER. He was still capable of producing, for instance three innings of no-hit ball against Colorado on September 16, during another lengthy (16-innings) game. But I think he probably needs more variety, in addition to raw "stuff", if he wants to hang around the big leagues.

If you were a Diamondbacks fan who happened to leave for Mars on May 17, you probably think Valverde had a Cy Young worthy season. To that point, he had 12 saves in 13 chances, with a 2.20 ERA and 20 K in 16.1 IP. Unfortunately, for about six weeks, Papa Grande totally lost it - and I mean, totally: 14.1 IP, 29 H, 10 BB, 24 ER. It took a stint with the Sidewinders to sort things out, and though he was fine again on his return (4 ER, 23 K in 18 IP), fans have long memories. He'll likely be the 2007 closer on Opening Day - but anyone remember the last time we got a full season from the one guy? [2002, when Kim had 36 saves, and no-one else had more than four]

The (Sadly?) Departed and Newly Arrived
Jorge Julio [44.2]: 3.83 - 1.25 WHIP, .190 BAA
Jason Grimsley [27.2]: 4.88 - 1.37 WHIP, .280 BAA
+ Terry Mulholland [3] and Kevin Jarvis [6.1]
Three of the four turned out to be Exhibits A-C against signing "veteran presence," at least as far as bullpen help goes. The evidence for the Diamondbacks in 2006, suggest said experienced help will either suck or receive surprise visits from federal agents...

Julio came over from the Mets in exchange for Hernandez v1.0, and the results were initially pretty good. He stepped into the closer's role when Valverde was given a holiday in Tucson and converted 11 of his first 12 save chances, but the turning point was back-to-back blown saves on July 23 + 25. He then rattled to a 5.06 ERA in August, blew another save September 2, and was removed from the job. His stats overall aren't actually too bad, but he won't be cheap next year (he earned $2.5m in 2006), so his presence next year is doubtful.

What can be said about Jason 'HGH' Grimsley? A fringe player, desperately trying to cling to his major-league roster spot, opts to take illegal steps to prolong his lacklustre career. Unfortunately for him, authorities eventually catch on, and bust his ass: not that he bothers to tell his employers, of course, who are totally blind-sided when the press blow things open. His performance was mediocre; but his place in baseball's Hall of Infamy is assured.

Mulholland and Jarvis = waste of roster spots. I don't quite recall who it was that we let go, in order to make room for them, but in hindsight, it should never have happened. Let's hope we get all the deadwood cleared off the roster before the Rule V draft, and don't make the same mistakes again next spring.

[Note: all figures are as relievers, and for Arizona only.]