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First-half review: Relievers

Recharged and refreshed, I come back for the final section of our mid-season report. Though giving any kind of a grade for relievers is tricky, because of the nature of their work: they're kinda like the kid who lurks at the back of the class, and won't raise his hand to answer any questions, hoping to slide under the wire. You only know if he's paying attention if you call him up; sometimes he's brilliantly insightful, but he can also be utterly clueless. How do you fill out the report card? With that large, lumpy caveat in mind, we press on, regardless.

Jorge Julio B+ - 1.77 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, .127 OBA
Luis Vizcaino B- - 3.82 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, .245 OBA
Brandon Lyon C+ - 4.61 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, .252 OBA
Brandon Medders C - 3.86 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, .296 OBA
J.Grimsley EXPELLED - 4.88 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, .280 OBA
Greg Aquino D - 5.34 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, .285 OBA
Jose Valverde F - 8.22 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, .296 OBA

In hindsight, trading Julio for Hernandez might turn out to be the smartest move of the Byrnes era. The timing was impeccable: just as our closer disintegrated into a cloud of dust, during the last week in May - hey! - here comes another pitcher with experience of the role. He'd been mediocre in his time with the Mets (for the record, his stats there were 5.06/1.45/.247), but slotted in very well to the Arizona bullpen; just look at that opponent's average. He's faced 79 batters with the D'backs, and only allowed nine hits. Last year of arbitration for Julio this year: he currently earns $2.5m, and on his performance so far, I'd happily settle for anything less than $4m to have him around next year.

Only Valverde has a higher K/9 ratio than Vizcaino, but while their two lines are not all that far apart, Vizcaino has shown far better results. Part of the Javy Vazquez trade, he has been one of the more reliable bullpen arms, albeit subject to the occasional disastrous appearances. Though he's allowed 16 earned runs in 43 games, nine of those came in just three outings, covering 1.1 innings - over the other 40 games/36.1 innings, his ERA is a miniscure 1.73. If he can avoid too many more of these blowouts in the second half, he'll be a key player in the relief corps.

[As an aside, when you put 'Brandon Lyon' into Google, the first thing you get now is "Flights from Brandon, MB to Lyon, France". I'm sure that's what most people want to see...not] V1.0 of Closer 2005, Brandon Lyon, is now back in the body of the bullpen, and his ERA doesn't reflect a generally decent performance. He had an excellent April, allowing four hits in 10.2 innings, but May was mediocre, and June worse still. He was hurt by the long ball in those two months, giving up five homers in 25.2 innings. Stopping those will go a long way to turning the season around, and he carries forward a small scoreless streak of 4.2 innings - his best since April.

Brandon Medders is the converse of Lyon, a student who fails his class assignments, but aces the final test. The 3.86 ERA is fine, but the underlying fundamentals here are more than shaky. He simply gives up too many hits to sustain this, and if I'd to pick a member of the 'pen looking to fall in the second half of the year, it'd be Medders. He had a brilliant May, giving up only a single earned run in 14.2 innings, but even there, he allowed thirteen hits and four walks. I suspect his stats since [22 IP, 13 ER on 29 hits and six walks] are probably closer to what we'll see down the line.

What is there to say about Jason Grimsley, that has not already been said in sworn testimony? His stats - typical journeyman reliever stuff, really - no longer matter much in the light of subsequent events. When you search for a player's name, and The Smoking Gun site is on the first page, it's never a good thing. :-( Still, at least Grimsley did redefine the term, "old and busted." There's been little heard on this topic of late: too quiet, as they used to say, and I suspect there is more to come out from the presumably ongoing federal investigation. Meanwhile, rumblings suggest Bonds will be back in the spotlight soon, on a perjury indictment. Hooray.

Greg Aquino (Closer 2004, v3.0) has struggled this season but, like Vizcaino, has seen his numbers inflated by a few bad outings. Indeed, the dichotomy [today's two-bit word!] in his stats is even more startling: of eighteen earned runs, fourteen came in just 3.2 innings. When he's bad, he's rotten; but when he's good, he's great: his other outings, covering 26.2 IP, have an ERA of 1.35. However, he still walks far too many people - fifteen in 30.1 innings - than he can get away with, especially when opponents bat .285 off him.

Finally, there's Jose Valverde, a once-promising student now sent to Remedial Ed after a stunning collapse mid-season. How can you explain this split?
Pre-5/17: 16.1 IP, 8 H, 8 BB, 20 K, 4 ER, 0.98 WHIP, 2.20 ERA
Post-5/17: 14.1 IP, 29 H, 10 BB, 25 K, 24 ER, 2.72 WHIP, 15.07 ERA
The K's are still good - if anything, up a bit. The walks, always a problem with Papa Grande, slightly increased. But those hits? "Oy vez", as I believe our Jewish friends would say [though my awareness of said culture is largely limited to possessing the Beastie Boys Sounds of Science CD]. I really don't think anyone knows what the problem is, but hopefully, a spell down in Tucson, facing minor-league hitters, might let Valverde straighten his head out at the least.

Overall, and including those not specifically listed above, I'd give our bullpen a D+ grade. Their 4.78 ERA is 14th in the league, but they are only about 9% worse than average [the median is 4.40]. We'll have to see how the two new members of the bullpen, Choate and EnGon, slot in, and it'd be nice if we could get back to a steady 7-8-9th inning rotation, like we were able to use through much of April and May. At the moment, I'd go with Lyon, Vizcaino and Julio: in the first half, they were the best at getting hitters out, and in any analysis, that's the main skill required from a bullpen.