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Community Projections Revisited: Part V, Bullpen

Even as someone whose interest in the NFL is described as passing at best, yesterday's game proved an enthralling event. The Giants' defense was incredible, harrying Brady and preventing him from working effectively. And when was the last time there was no scoring in a Super Bowl for a 34-minute period? Especially, followed by three lead changes in the final quarter, and the winning score coming with 35 seconds on the clock. That came on the back of a desperate heave by Manning, who somehow escaped from a pack of Patriots to heave a third-down pass to David Tyree, who trapped the ball on his helmet for a 32-yard gain.

They often say, "You couldn't make this stuff up," but any script telling the story of that game would be laughed out of Hollywood. All it lacked was Manning breaking his arm in the third quarter, and still finishing the game. In the end, I did watch it: we started off up at Mrs. SnakePit's sisters, eating fish tacos there. However, we needed to take my mother-in-law home, so had to split shortly after half-time. But we were back at SnakePit Towers in time for the Giants winning drive, and even I - all but entirely neutral - let out a loud cheer as Burress reeled in the floated pass for a touchdown. And the margin of victory was provided by my countryman, Lawrence Tynes, and the 32-yard field goal he kicked in the first quarter. All told, could hardly have been better.

Couple of minor side-notes. Jordan Sparks' rendition of the National Anthem was painfully egotistic, and shows the worst aspect of such things: it's not about showcasing your vocal range, it's the National Anthem. Tom Petty's halftime show was kinda cool, though I can't say I'm familiar with most of his songs - he was never that big in Britain. The adverts were the usual mixed bag: the FedEx one was great, and I certainly want to see Wanted. On the other hand, what was that hippie-chick warbling for Doritos about? Similarly, Go Daddy's advert can only be described as utterly lame - I'm sure anyone who rushed to their site for the "uncut" version were equally disappointed. Let's just hope the next Super Bowl here is as good...and that it's in 2038.

I just realised we never quite finished off the review of the 2007 Community Projections, having unconsciously skipped the results for the bullpen. I think it's safe to say that we all severely underestimated their apocalyptic power, who blew away all our estimates with the same ease as they (mostly) blew away hitters. Measured by ERA+, we had four of the top twenty relievers in the National League, with 60 or more innings in Valverde (#10, ERA+ 177), Lyon (#11, 176), Cruz (#15, 152) and Peña (#19, 144). The Cardinals had three, and no other team more than two. Overall, the ERA was 3.95; that's just a little better than league average (4.08), but doesn't take into account park effects, or the bloat induced by the triple-headed monster of Joe Kennedy, Enrique Gonzalez and J.D.Durbin, who combined for 5.1 innings and sixteen earned runs. Let's look at the rest of the roster.

Juan Cruz
Bill James: 3.90 ERA, 1.36 WHIP
Chone: 3.84, 1.38
Marcel: 4.39, 1.40
ZIPS: 4.50, 1.40
AZ SnakePit: 4.06
REALITY: 3.10, 1.26

Leading the pack of 'better than all expectation' relievers was Famine, who settled into being a full-time reliever with aplomb. He struck out hitters faster than any other pitcher bar Papelbon [min. 25 innings], fanning them at a rate of 1.43 per inning. He was astoundingly brutal on right-handers, who went just 16-for-112, with a K:BB ratio of 53:8. Chase Field was also not a problem for Cruz, who gave up only one home-run in 24 innings at home, and a mere six earned runs.

I'm pleased to report I was the closest to the mark in my prediction, though even I was off by 0.60. Can he repeat this in 2008? The predictions so far don't seem to think so. They are all somewhat more bullish - and ZIPS shrinks from 4.50 to 3.67, going from least to most optimistic - but they all think he's due to get worse by at least half a run. His walk rate seems of concern, and none of them expect him to sustain that phenomenal strike-out rate.

Jorge Julio
Bill James: 4.35 ERA, 1.42 WHIP
Chone: 3.71, 1.34
Marcel: 4.71, 1.38
ZIPS: 4.97, 1.40
AZ SnakePit: 4.33
REALITY: DNP for AZ, 4.72, 1.60

Julio didn't make it to Opening Day, getting traded to the Marlins, along with a suitcase of cash, for the Petit Unit. I think we got the better of that deal. He didn't last long in Florida, being dealt to the Rockies for another D-backs castoff, Kim - who then, infamously, returned to Arizona. I mention this all, only in a karmic spirit of casual interest. He did well in Colorado (ERA+ 122) but they didn't resign him; Cleveland inked Julio to a minor-league contract, just a few days ago.

Brandon Lyon
Bill James: 4.71 ERA, 1.45 WHIP
Chone: 4.40, 1.42
Marcel: 4.57, 1.40
ZIPS: 4.68, 1.40
AZ SnakePit: 4.54
REALITY: 2.68, 1.24

Wow. Nobody saw that coming at all, as Lyon blossomed into a set-up man par excellence, thanks to a combination of excellent control [22 walks in 74 innings] and a near-mystical ability to keep the ball in the park - only two home-runs allowed in 279 at-bats. Like Cruz, he was Death to Batting Things in Chase [I'm sorry, I just discovered that 19th-century player Bob Ferguson was nicknamed 'Death to Flying Things', and intend to purloin it for (over)use here] with a home ERA of 1.69. His stats were also helped by being tough with men on base, opposing batters hitting only .210 off Lyon from the stretch.

The prognosis is that 2007 was a fluke for Lyon, and it is hard to see him repeating some aspects - the home-run phobia of the opposition being the most obvious aspect. The consensus points to an ERA just shy of 4.00 in 2008; even if he's going to be in the closer's role, that might not be an impediment to success. Witness Joe Borowski, whose ERA was north of five, but whose 45 saves still trailed only Valverde. stephen called a 4.40 ERA for Lyon, so gets the prize for least dreadful miss.

Brandon Medders
Bill James: 3.65 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
Chone: 4.12, 1.39
Marcel: 3.94, 1.38
ZIPS: 3.91, 1.30
AZ SnakePit: 3.68
REALITY: 4.30, 1.57

Medders' card was marked from May 19th, where he came in to relieve the Big Unit, with a 3-0 lead, and promptly allowed a first-pitch grand-slam. While unfair to blame him solely for the loss (the rest of the pen gave up five more runs in two innings that day), it solidified Medders' rep as a homer-happy hurler: nine of them, in only 29.1 innings during 2007, a rate surpassed by only two of the 484 pitchers with twenty IP. [One of whom was ex-D'back Lance Cormier, who allowed 16 HR in 45.2 innings] When 30% of the hits against you leave the yard, something is up, and Medders was down to Tucson before the middle of June.

He did return in September, with two runs in seven innings of work, but is likely a long-shot to make the Opening Day pen, as probably the only reliever who proved a significant disappointment last year. He did cut back on the homers in Tucson [three in 48 innings], and that will likely be the key to whether he can make a return. While he turned 28 last month, so it's probably too early to write him off, I think he is now out of options, so could pose a problem there. shoewizard's 3.97 was the best estimate for us.

Tony Peña
Bill James: N/A
Chone: 4.45, 1.39
Marcel: 4.73, 1.40
ZIPS: 4.97, 1.37
AZ SnakePit: 3.93
REALITY: 3.27, 1.10

Peña was another surprise: his 2006 season had been nothing to write home about [a 5.58 ERA], then he came out firing on all cylinders in 2007. On May 15, he'd pitched 22.1 innings, allowed three earned runs and was holding opposing hitters to a .151 average. His ERA was still below two at the start of August, but he struggled that month, and from that point thereon, his ERA was a suitably apocalyptic 6.66. His control seemed to be the main problem, with 13 walks in his final 21.2 innings.

Was this simply tiredness coming towards the end of his first full season in the majors? He appeared in 75 games, a career-high; he did throw more innings in 2003, a) as a starter in A-ball and b) when he was the '18'-year old Adriano Rosario. His recovery is a key question going in to 2008, and opinion differs quite a bit on what he'll do this year; Bill James (3.53) is bullish, CHONE (4.14) less so, but as with most of the relief corps, the generally feeling is, he'll be hard pushed to live up to last season. johngordonma called Peña at 3.55, so takes our Nostradamus trophy.

Doug Slaten
Bill James: 3.34 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
Chone: 3.84, 1.39
Marcel: 4.18, 1.36
ZIPS: 4.22, 1.38
AZ SnakePit: 4.14
REALITY: 2.72, 1.51

Though Slaten was originally expected to have a broader role than just the LOOGY, as a final score of 36.1 innings and 61 games shows, he was often used by Melvin in exactly that role, especially as the season wore on. There wasn't much difference in the results though; left-handed batters had an OBP of .333, right-handed ones .342. He was particularly lightly-used later on, getting only 14.1 innings after the All-Star break and seeing only 1.1 frames of work in the seven post-season games.

Slaten's prognosis for 2008 is uncertain, since he is returning from this year fashionable operation among the D-backs, microfracture surgery on the knee. While he seems to have avoided following Chad Tracy down the blood clot complication route, his status for Opening Day remains doubtful. Another fairly wide set of predictions here; ZIPS has him as the best of the bullpen in 2008, though they were gruesomely inaccurate with their predictions in 2007, so what do they know? More LOOGY-ness seems inevitable. I was closest among Snakepitters; Bill James' optimism proved well-founded.

Jose Valverde
Bill James: 3.40 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
Chone: 3.40, 1.25
Marcel: 4.34, 1.34
ZIPS: 4.21, 1.31
AZ SnakePit: 3.86
REALITY: 2.66, 1.12

What is there to say about Death, that hasn't already been shrieked at the top of our lungs towards the TV set during one of his save opportunities last year? Looking at his stats, they are a damn sight more impressive than I seem to remember him being - any time you keep the opposition batting below the Uecker Line, you've had a hell of a good year. A few less walks would have been nice, not least in the NLCS, and we all have our Valverde memories, both good [back-to-back saves against the Cubs, both in Chicago and Phoenix] and bad [a spectacular meltdown against the Mets in May]. Will we miss him in 2008? Time will tell; regardless, I wish him the best in Houston, except when he's pitching against us, of course...