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Figuring out the Arizona Diamondbacks post-season bullpen

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It’s probably the biggest question mark as we head into the playoffs.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Overall, the Diamondbacks bullpen was rather less impressive after the break than before. Over the second half of the season, our relievers have put up a 4.27 ERA, compared to 3.45 in the first-half. A large chunk of that was a truly wretched August, where the ERA ballooned to 5.09. Things have since improved significantly, with the September figure to date being 3.84, but we still are far from certain who will be in the bullpen, what the roles will be, or even how many relief arms could make the various rosters. Could be anywhere from seven to ten in any given game.

12 relievers have been used this month, and it seems likely they form the pool from which Torey Lovullo will construct his post-season bullpen. Below, I’ve ranked those 12 arms in order of likelihood they’ll be part of the Diamondbacks’ playoff plans. However, note that it’s quite possible a starting pitcher, such as Zack Godley, could end up moving to the bullpen to work in long relief. Volatility is a very real thing, so I’ve weighted the players’ most recent performances, over the past month, more heavily that overall figures when coming up with the rankings.

The certs

1. Archie Bradley. Bradley has been worth 4.0 bWAR so far. The only other Arizona reliever in team history to get past 3.1 was Byung-Hyun Kim, who reached 4.1 in 2002. No National League bullpen arm since has been worth four wins. If we have a one-run lead in the ninth, it’s Archie I want to pitch it, no question.

2. Fernando Rodney. Rodney has appeared 59 times for Arizona. In 48 of those, he has allowed zero runs; in four more, a single run. The other seven? Hoo-boy. 22 ER in four innings. If one of those appearances happens in a wild-card game, we’re hosed. Otherwise, we’ll be fine.

The probables

3. Jimmie Sherfy. With 10.2 scoreless innings to start his major-league career, Sherfy is already fourth on the franchise list (led by Clay Zavada’s 12.2 IP). That won’t last forever, of course, but a FIP of 2.02 suggests a very bright future for this rookie. No reason that should not start as soon as Wednesday.

4. Andrew Chafin. Hit a bit of a road-bump early in September, allowing two runs on consecutive days. Since then, has been mostly playing the role of LOOGY: five of his six appearances involved one or two batters. Expect more of the same for Chafin in the post-season, e.g. facing Charlie Blackmon in the wild-card game.

5. Jorge De La Rosa. The same goes for JDLR: like all our left-handed relievers, he has struggled against right-handed bats (.825 OPS against), so we’ll like see Torey Lovullo going match-up heavy. With our righties better against LHB than the other way round, the lefties will likely be used when teams can’t/won’t pinch-hit with a RHB.

6. David Hernandez. Hernandez’s 5.19 ERA for Arizona isn’t impressive, but his 15:1 K:BB ratio is, and he’s the only pitcher who was on the team the last time Arizona reached the post-season. Needs to keep the ball in the park more, with four home-runs in 67 AB. Given his career average is one every 31 AB, he likely will.

The possibles

7. J.J. Hoover. J.J. has had his ups and down this year. He was brilliant in April, but struggled thereafter and was sent to Reno in late July. However, this month he has been solid, with a 2.70 ERA and holding batters to a .120 average. Though that may not be sustainable, and the K:BB (8:5) is troublingly low.

8. T.J. McFarland. You want volatility?
To July 6: 25.1 IP, 21 H, 5 ER, 6 BB, 17 SO, 1.78 ERA
After July 6: 28.2 IP, 44 H, 27 ER, 11 BB, 12 SO, 8.48 ERA
Admittedly, part of that is his horrorshow start in Minnesota, but there has been little to breed confidence coming out of McFarland’s second-half performance. Being left-handed is his main talent.

9. Anthony Banda. As mentioned above, the role of long reliever in the post-season is likely to be filled by whatever starter gets bumped from the rotation. But Banda has been extraordinarily unlucky, with a FIP close to half his ERA (3.07 vs. 5.92). Striking out close to a batter per inning, he could be useful out of the bullpen.

The long-shots

10. Jake Barrett. An ERA of five, and lucky to have that, with his FIP being north of six. Hasn’t impressed of late, with a September K:BB ratio of 6:6 and an ERA of 6.75. One of the bigger disappointments in 2017, after a promising rookie campaign for the D-backs last year.

11. Silvino Bracho. Remember when Bracho was being talked up as our future closer? Oh, never mind: that was Bleacher Report. Carry on. Bracho has become the latest in a line of high strikeout relievers in the minor leagues, who have not been able to translate that into major-league success. Best asset: at least he’s not Enrique Burgos.

12. Braden Shipley. Probably an even more disappointing campaign than Barrett, in terms of hopes before the season. We were expecting Shipley to become a strong candidate for the rotation this year, but he has done little to justify those hopes. Expectations will be a good deal more muted, if they exist at all, for 2018.

Conclusions

I’m a good deal more confident in the pointy end of our bullpen than the other one, which is not the worst situation to be in. I think if our starting pitcher can go six innings, then I feel confident that Sherfy, Bradley and Rodney - we need a catchy title for them like “The Y Boys”. Except, y’know, catchy - should be able to take care of things. Conversely, if there’s a blowout loss, it probably doesn’t matter much who pitches mop-up. The only real problem would be, if the team is narrowly behind, then we don’t have much in the way of arms who can be trusted upon to keep it that way. Hopefully, that won’t prove too damaging, on Wednesday or (hopefully!) beyond.