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SnakePit Round Table: Relief pitching, part one

What were the highlights and lowlights of last year's bullpen? What can we expect from this year's model? All this and more will be answered...

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
We went into 2016 with Addison Reed as the closer. He didn't last long. Was that what you expected?

Preston: Short answer, no. Long answer: I thought he would be better than he was, but only hold onto the job by default. Basically, his stats over the full season were about what I expected, and I thought he would hold onto the job on the basis of being solidly mediocre. In the long run, being so terrible early in the year probably was best both for the Diamondbacks and for Reed, as he got to move to a better role (and eventually to a better team) and the D-backs knew they would have to move on.

Piratedan7: I expected them to do something, what that something was... was open to debate, a trade that seemingly worked for both sides was more than acceptable to me.

Makakilo: I had high expectations because he had a great attitude towards improving himself.

What surprised me is that he increased his ground ball percentage from 28.9% in 2014 to 43.1% in 2015 (Fangraphs). And yet the Diamondbacks got 40.2 innings with an ERA+ of 98, while the Mets got 15.1 innings with an ERA+ of 322 (Baseball Reference). That improvement was more than just small sample size! It was a performance breakthrough. What happened?

In 2015, Reed's ground ball percentage was 41% for the Diamondbacks and 50% for the Mets (unofficial calculations based on each game's ground ball percentage and total batters faced). Ground balls were higher than prior years for both teams. The reason for Reed's success with the Mets is unknown.

Xipooo: I didn't expect him to do very well, but I didn't expect them to pull the plug so soon. It was a move that gave me more confidence in Chip Hale.

Steven: I expected it, only because he was got paid in arbitration and I think the team wanted Ziegler to play a fire extinguisher role which he's always so good at. Once he gave up that grand slam to Michael Taylor, the team finally realized he's just not a dependable option as a closer.

Jim: For me, it was a case of if, not when. I wasn't happy with the trade when it happened - even if we didn't give much up, not a fan of the whole "proven closer" thing, and Reed never seemed like a lights-out reliever (career ERA+ of only 102 when we got him). Just needed to wait for reliever volatility to kick in. I think it's interesting that his ERA has been HIGHER than his FIP every year he has been in the majors, and by 0.60 overall. But Reed was another "victim" of new management: they who dealt for him was gone, and new brooms tend to sweep clean - or, at least, have a very performance-driven notion of appraisal.

Brad Ziegler took over as closer, and was great, with another excellent season. But are his talents "wasted" by limiting them to save situations?

Preston: Don't get me wrong, it's great to have someone that can come into a bad situation and have a decent shot at getting out of it. But that's a bad recipe for success. It's far better to have a bullpen with three guys fairly certain to be able to work a clean inning each, especially with a much-improved rotation. Ziggy could work the 7th, 8th, or 9th, and do well in any of them, particularly since he'll look quite different from anyone else.

Makakilo: Ziegler pitched 68 innings with an ERA of 1.85. He earned 30 saves and had only 2 blown saves. His extraordinary ground-ball rate is the stuff legends are made of. It also leads to many double-plays, which is why closer is not the only role in which he is valuable. If the team had another talented closer, he would give Chip Hale more choices during the games.

Piratedan7: I think with Ziegler, he may be the cutting edge of the new train of thought for your use of relievers. It won't be tied to innings per say but in high leverage situations, who is the guy who can get you that key out, that ground ball or that strikeout, depending upon what the situation dictates. Are you preserving a lead, staying in touch of the opponent, still a tie game... those kinds of scenarios. The role itself is changing, it used to be a middle relief guy, a couple of set up men, a door closer and a LOOGY. Now that may be evolving to making the positions more reflective of the situation.

Xipooo: I stand firmly on the side of renaming the position to "high leverage pitcher" and pulling him out of the pen for whenever he's called for. There is a bit more pressure on the 9th inning guy to come through because it's the end of the game, the other team tends to get a bit more focused and desperate. That can easily lead to a blown lead if the pitcher doesn't have the same intensity and desperation. However, when you have a guy like Ziegler, you should be using him where he's needed the most. If that turns out to be the 9th inning because there hasn't been a need for him until then, so be it. Otherwise if it's the 6th inning, the SP put 2 on and you're only up by 1, it's time for the Z-Man.

Steven: Since acquiring Reed before the 2014 season, the D-backs rank 7th in blown saves with 41. I sure feel better with Ziegler in the 9th and a lead than someone like Reed. Although fun fact, Ziegler has blown 10 games in that time period compared to just 8 from Reed. So while the data says Ziegler has been worse in that department, I still have more faith in him closing out games.

Jim: It's a very interesting topic. The theory would be that, yes, the game sometimes needs to be saved before the ninth inning. But in practice, the "bullpen by committee" idea just doesn't seem to work - it has been tried often enough, but rarely sticks for long before reverting to a more traditional system; now, which team doesn't have a closer? Perhaps it's because people, psychologically, like set roles in their job; I certainly want to know when I'm working and what I'll be doing. If you need someone to save the guy in the seventh, you'd better have a Yankee-style bullpen, with multiple "closer types".

Who else impressed out of the bullpen in 2015?

Preston: Andrew Chafin was probably the most impressive, and Daniel Hudson and Randall Delgado both were good (putting up nearly identical numbers, although this site seemed to appreciate those numbers much more from one than from the other.) These three, along with Ziegler and Josh Collmenter as the long man, form the nucleus of what could be a very good bullpen in 2016.

Piratedan7: I agree with Preston, Chafin did the most... did I think he got over-used... perhaps, but for a rookie to do what he did was pretty nice to see. Now the question becomes, did the rest of the league see enough to develop a playbook? Was he overworked? Did the league adjust to him?

Otherwise, I also thought Delgado (at least my impression of him) was improved this year, less tentative.

Xipooo: I don't think there's any question it was Andrew Chafin. He showed he can handle righties and go for multiple innings if need be. He is a great replacement for Oliver Perez.

Steven Burt: Chafin came out of nowhere to be a solid contributor last year, with Delgado right there with him. Out of the young guys, Silvino Bracho showed dynamite stuff and if they don't sign a veteran, I hope they roll out the youngsters to get some valuable experience.

Jim: Just to avoid a total hive-mind, I'm going with our Opening Day starter: Josh Collmenter. After flopping in the "ace" role, it would have been easy for him just to sit in the bullpen and replacement-level his way through the season. But he gave us over 50 relief innings, with an ERA of 1.89. If it hadn't been for Z this year, that would be the best such bullpen ERA in the history of the team.

On the other hand, who disappointed?

Preston: On the really bad side, we saw Dominic Leone, Matt Stites, and Keith Hessler. David Henderson struggled in his return from TJ. Evan Marshall also struggled early in the year, before being injured in frightening circumstances. We won't see most of these players in 2016, and if we see any of them in a D-backs uniform, it will be because they earned the spot.


  • Keith Hessler - I heard a weak whisper, "The horror! The horror!" The night is darkest before the dawn - he will likely be back next year and the difference will be like night and day.
  • David Hernandez, AJ Shugel, Vidal Nuno - "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" They are off to see the wizard, no longer Diamondbacks.
  • Oliver Perez - "He was everything I expected and less." He pitched well enough, but I'm disappointed he was not in the closer role.
  • Addison Reed - "He has high apple pie, in the sky hopes." He did not reach my high expectations. When I saw him in the World Series, I was disappointed the Diamondbacks were not in the World Series.

Piratedan7: Just about anybody called up from Reno, Silvino was alright... but man... Evan Marshall fell off the planet it seemed and then his own personal nightmare seemed like it came from a horror movie script.

Xipooo: Aside from the obvious Addison Reed failures, I'd have to say my biggest disappointments were David Hernandez and Daniel Hudson. For both of these guys I had high expectations. They both seemed to have outings where they just struggled. They weren't terrible, but we've seen both of them pitch at much higher levels.

Steven: After all the hype surrounding Matt Stites coming from the Padres, he's really been a pile of hot garbage in the bullpen. His control disappeared and his ball comes in flat, perfect for MLB hitters. Burgos was similar, but is still young enough to capitalize on his electric stuff.

Jim: There was the usual assortment of, "stuff" thrown at the wall that didn't hang around, but as with Reed, the team seemed to have a quick hook so it didn't hurt us too badly. The only guy to throw more than 15 relief innings with an ERA above 4.30 was Enrique Burgos, and I suspect he may have been surpassed on the ladder by the young, cheaper (well, same price) and arguably better Silvino Bracho, who strikes out as many, without walking five per nine innings, as Burgos did.