Friday, March 21, 2008

Around the Horn: Relievers

As always, I'm behind. But since I'm home in Colorado and on spring break, with a week to burn before my sister gets off on her break and we can then have fun, I figured I might as well turn my attention to finishing the Rockies' previews. Naturally, I would have more time if I kept to a schedule, but since I don't, and write when the mood strikes me, there you go. But it's time to take a look at the Depths of Possible Doom known as the Rockies' 2008 pen. Closer Manny Corpas got re-signed for four years, Human Blowtorch Brian Fuentes is still around due to O'Dowd's puzzling refusal to even consider trading him, and the club brought in Luis Vizcaino from the Yankees to take over LaTroy Hawkins' spot (Hawkins, ironically enough, went to the Yankees, so they basically just switched suspect seventh/eighth-inning guys). The beartrap-in-waiting is Mark Redman, Kip Wells, and Josh Towers, all of whom are bad and all of whom may end up in the bullpen, or worse the rotation, there to firebomb games on a regular basis. This is always a dicey subject. Let's examine.

RH/CL Manny Corpas
RH/SO Luis Vizcaino
LH/SO Brian Fuentes
RH/LR Taylor Buchholz
RH Matt Herges
RH Ramon Ramirez (or RH Ryan Speier)
LH Micah Bowie

#60, R/R Manny Corpas: Last year at this time, Corpas was a valuable but untested commodity, a fireballing young Panamanian righty who was expected to compete for a slot, but definitely not assured of anything. Fast-forward a season later, and he's the Rockies' unquestioned, postseason-hardened closer with a new four-year contract under his belt and ready to improve on what was a sensational showing in his first year of big-league duty: a 4-2 record, a 2.08 ERA (lowest ever in a full season for a Rockies reliever) 19 saves in 22 opportunities, and 58 strikeouts. Corpas came out of nowhere to take over the closer job when Fuentes (and my mental health) went to hell in June, and he stuck. His five postseason saves tied countryman Mariano Rivera for the single-season record, and if the Rockies had won just once in the World Series (oy) he would have broken it. Manny throws in the high nineties with a nasty slider, and is working on adding a changeup, but when you can throw that hard, you can stick to what works and still be a very effective and underrated closer. I trust him much more than I ever did Fuentes, and I expect higher things from him this year. With a full year in the closer's role, and a re-energized team that's going to be giving him plenty of opportunities, Manny should thrive.

(Interlude while I get totally distracted by Rockies songs I discover and download. New theme song: "Rocktober" by Thomas Tha Franchise. I'm all over it. Click that link, click "Save Page As" to get the MP3 file, and you will have it on repeat such as I do, augmenting my "Rockies" playlist).

2007 Line: 4-2 W/L, 2.08 ERA, 78 G, 19 SV, 22 SVO, 20 BB, 58 K
2008 Proj.: 4-1 W/L, 2.25 ERA, 82 G, 30 SV, 33 SVO, 24 BB, 69 K

#51 R/R Luis Vizcaino: Brought in from the AL, he returns to the NL, where he had his most successful season (2006 with the Diamondbacks). He'll see plenty of Arizona this year from the other side of the ball, and hopefully Hurdle doesn't use him as much as Torre did when he was with the Yankees. Vizcaino ended up with an 8-2 record, a 4.30 ERA, and 62 strikeouts while seeing action in 77 games and 75.1 IP. He hasn't impressed thus far this spring, and injury issues have been complicating the picture, which of course could be a result of all the work he's seen. He and LaTroy Hawkins have traded places and teams, and while Vizcaino is supposed to do his best work with runners on, I just figure he'll be Hawkins Redux -- which is to say, effective if used in the seventh inning or so, definitely no later, and DEAR GOD NOT AS an interim closer. Two years, $7.5 million is a little steep for a guy who's essentially a clone of the guy he was replacing (Hawkins was evidently surprised, with good reason, to hear that they wouldn't up him a couple hundred grand from his $3.25 million club option, but then would shell out twice that for the same part). The problem is, the Rockies are already envisioning using Vizcaino in the high-leverage, late-innings role, and that might be a problem if he shows anything like what he has thus far. Spring stats may be total bollox, but then again, they have to come from the player's own ability. I got to the point of warily trusting Hawkins if he came in for the seventh, figured he'd give up a walk or a hit, but would probably get out of it. If I can get to that same place with The Wiz of Viz, I'll be cool with that. Vizcaino was awful at Yankee Stadium (5.94 ERA) but good on the road (2.77). Of course, humidor or no humidor, Coors remains a hitter-friendly park, so he's definitely going to have to sharpen his jam-escaping skills. He walks too many (43) in comparison to strikeouts (62) which means that he will likely have to Houdini his way out of messes of his own making. Oy.

2007 Line: 8-2 W/L, 4.30 ERA, 77 G, 0 SV/3 SVO , 43 BB, 62 K
2008 Proj.: 3-4 W/L, 4.45 ERA, 70 G, 0 SV/2 SVO, 39 BB, 57 K

#40, L/L Brian Fuentes: If you read this blog last year, especially last June, you will know what kind of heavenly wrath I was calling down on Fuentes after the Road Trip That Shall Not Be Named, an agonizing 1-9 swing through Toronto, Chicago, and Houston on which the Rockies would have gone a perfectly decent 5-5.... were it not for Fuentes turning into a really awful pitcher at a really awful time for it. The patterns were eerie. In each of the games -- each of the games -- Tulo hit a late go-ahead homer, Fuentes would come in, and look like he was going to nail it down. But whether it was one out and nobody on, two outs and nobody on, he would then proceed to send it all to hell in rapid fashion. His most impressive performance was in Houston, when, with two outs and nobody on... he managed to give up a game-winning GRAND SLAM. I just about sold my soul to the Devil, fell on my knees to give thanks when the eight-game losing streak was broken by Francis, and got the "Baseball isn't everything, you know..." talk from my sister. I was in a terrible funk -- breaking things, being horribly depressed, losing my will to live, etc. (I think this was the third time, and I unwisely assumed it would hurt less the next time... nope, hurt more). In any case, that episode led to them "discovering" Fuentes was injured and summarily relieving him of the closer's role; ironically, he went to the All-Star Game the next week.

Proponents of Fuentes like to point out that he has been to the Midsummer Classic three times, but I do not necessarily think that means a whole lot. I am also afraid it may have shot my trust in Fuentes for good, especially after he single-handedly erased any chance of a Rockies comeback in Games 3 and 4 of the World Series. Like Clint Barmes, this is another player that O'Dowd perplexedly refuses to hear trade offers for; hopefully Fuentes can have a good first half and then be flipped for a high-upside prospect arm. Brian is just incubating the hot seat until 22-year-old Casey Weathers, the Rockies' top draft pick in 2007, is ready for the Show (he's likely to start the year at Double-A Tulsa, since his showing in Spring Training proved he's got a ways to go yet). He's still a sidewinding lefty reliever, which in itself means he has trade value, and the Tigers, Yankees, and Phillies have all inquired about him recently. I'll accept Fuentes, of course, and pray that he does well since I know how agonizing it is when he doesn't, but sooner rather than later, he should be thanked for his good service to the team and given his walking papers. Hopefully Weathers will be pressing him by the end of this season or the start of '09.

2007 Line: 3-5 W/L, 3.08 ERA, 64 G, 20 SV/27 SVO, 23 BB, 56 K
2008 Proj.: 2-3 W/L, 3.34 ERA, 60 G, 2 SV/4 SVO, 25 BB, 49 K

#35, R/R Taylor Buchholz: Bucky, as he's known, is a shamefully underrated and underused part of the Colorado bullpen. He was acquired with Jason Hirsh and Willy Taveras in the Jason Jennings trade (still highway robbery on our part) and was originally tabbed to be a starter, but struggled in that role and was moved to the bullpen for the first time in his pro career. He found an instant home there; he had gone 1-3/5.98 as a starter, but went 5-2/2.70 as a reliever and declared himself perfectly content with his new role. He has a sub-3 ERA this spring and has always been a reliever that I trust implicitly ... when he got to play, which wasn't a whole lot last season. However, the brain trust seems to have finally seen the light, and will be giving Bucky more innings this season, something which I am perfectly fine with. He uses a fastball and curve, mixing in the occasional changeup and slider, but having only two main pitches probably hurt him as a starter. Quiet, soft-spoken, and intelligent, Bucky always seems to be the forgotten man (a running joke in my house last season involved him and Chris Iannetta being locked in a bathroom due to their lack of playing time) but if he keeps pitching this way, he won't be any longer. With both Hirsh and Willy T suffering injuries (Hirsh has a rotator cuff problem that will keep him out of the opening of the regular season, and Willy T played in only 97 games last year) Bucky has emerged as the most stable of the trio, even though Hirsh was the Astros' top pitching prospect and the key to the deal. Bucky allowed only 8 HR in 93.1 IP, showing that he can control the fly-ball tendencies that will burn any overly generous pitcher in Coors. But Bucky did better at home (4.03) than on the road (4.41) which is something you expect of Rockies hitters, not of their pitchers. He figures to serve as the long man this season, which means he'll probably get a lot of work until Redman/Towers/Wells get the heck off my team.

2007 Line: 6-5 W/L, 4.23 ERA, 41 G, 0 SV/0 SVO, 20 BB, 61 K
2008 Proj.: 5-1 W/L, 3.89 ERA, 57 G, 1 SV/1 SVO, 29 BB, 67 K

#34 L/R Matt Herges: Herges enjoyed something of a Well of Youth resurgence last year, going 5-1/2.96 -- presumably without PED's, as he was busted a big one in the chops with the release of the Mitchell Report, but swore he was clean in '07. Since he is 38 and has a career 3.82 ERA, I wouldn't be expecting him to duplicate that performance this year, especially since he got lucky with a lot of that. Still, he did provide a steadying presence out of the pen, allowing 4 HR in 48.1 IP and turning in some stellar performances in key games down the stretch. However, I'd look for him to be noticeably more wobbly this year, just because it evens out and he's an aging reliever off the juice. He was tough on righties (.184 BAA) and still hard to hit against lefties (.216 BAA) but the Rockies might have to look for a stretch of time without him, as it all depends if the toad in the Commish's office gets off his duff and hands out punishments for those fingered in the George Mitchell Power Hour Mudslinging Cabaret. Herges has apologized, naturally, and regrets setting a bad example, so I doubt he's going to make the mistake of going back to it. I wish I could trust him to do as well again as he did in 2007, but that was a magical year in a lot of ways and it remains to be seen for the team as a whole if they can keep the dance going and the pixie dust flowing. Last year was their proof that they can, in fact, be a winning club; the challenge in 2008 will be to demonstrate that they can do it on a consistent basis, as they were driving the car crazily and sometimes were dogging along and sometimes were laying on the gas. Herges, like everyone else and more so than others, will have to just keep the Rockcar purring on steadily down I-25, dodging the traffic of the rest of the West. If he can put together a season even remotely close to the last one, he'll be their hidden weapon. If not, he'll probably land on the Giants by the end of the year.

2007 Line: 5-1 W/L, 2.96 ERA, 35 G, 0 SV/2 SVO, 15 BB, 30 K
2008 Proj.: 3-2 W/L, 3.57 ERA, 40 G, 1 SV/3 SVO, 17 BB, 35 K

#61 R/R Ramon Ramirez: Ramirez is a bit of a wild card at this point. He was solid in 2006 (if my internet would stop being slower than Bengie Molina, I'd tell you the exact numbers, but it's having a problem at the moment.... five minutes later, no exaggeration, I discover that they were 4-3/3.46, but that's all I'm going to get, as I accidentally closed the wrong window and will now have to wait another five minutes before it tells me anything more). Last year, Ramirez was almost as dysfunctional as my aging and well-loved laptop, going 2-2 with an 8.31 ERA after suffering injury problems, but the team is hoping he can rebound this year and again be a solid contributor to the pen. He had an unsightly 1.56 WHIP and .313 BAA in '07, allowing 2 HR, 6 BB, and 15 K in 17.1 innings, often getting helped out by his defense (in just one example, I watched him pitch against... the Diamondbacks, I think it was, in which Willy T made a great catch to keep an RBI single to a sac fly, and Holliday charged down a sinking liner in the corner to end the inning and stop a double). To be honest, I'm not entirely thrilled about this prospect, but with Hawkins and Affeldt off to greener pastures, the team does need warm bodies in the pen. If Ramirez doesn't suck, he's welcome to pitch a few innings. If he does, the Cubs can have him, they always can use bad pitchers.

2007 Line: 2-2 W/L, 8.31 ERA, 22 G, o SV/0 SVO, 6 BB, 15 K
2008 Proj.: 0-1 W/L, 5.20 ERA, 20 G, 0 SV/0 SVO, 11 BB, 23 K

#23 R/R Ryan Speier: Speier may be a casualty of the process, as he impressed down the stretch but still has minor-league options left, so he may be the odd man out and therefore relegated to start the season at Colorado Springs again. I have not forgotten, however, that I did promise to have his children after he closed out Game 2 of the NLCS against the Diamondbacks after it had gone into extra innings and Willy T had worked the game-winning walk against a wild Jose Valverde. So if the second Ryan S on the roster makes it back to Denver, he can take me up on this offer if he so wishes and Tulo hasn't gotten there first, as might have happened. If so, he will be out of luck, as he will be in regards to his prospects of making the big-league club, which he would certainly like better. He weebled and wobbled all over the damn place early on, but like everyone else, took it to the next level when it counted and Purple Row (where I post under the name Silverblood) decided that he was the "Ace in the Pen." If Ramirez blows chunks, Speier could find himself ticketed for Denver in the relatively early going. A sidewinding 6'7" righty, he spent a good deal of last year as the Sky Sox closer, had a few bumps on his first stint with the Rox, but made adjustments and was an integral part of the (and I cannot believe I am typing these words) lights-out iron curtain that was the Rockies bullpen in the playoffs. I wouldn't mind seeing him back, and if I do end up having his children, I hope they don't inherit his facial hair.

2007 Line: 3-1 W/L, 4.00 ERA, 20 G, 0 SV/1 SVO, 8 BB, 13 K
2008 Proj.: 2-1 W/L, 4.12 ERA, 24 G, 0 SV/0 SV0, 10 BB, 17 K

#44 L/L Micah Bowie: If Vizcaino is Hawkins, than Bowie is Affeldt. His most recent employer was the Washington Nationals, but the Rockies extended him a chance to attend camp as a NRI (non-roster invitee) and he's made the most of it. Thus far, in six Cactus League appearances, he's yet to allow a run in 7.1 IP, with three walks and four K's. Since his career ERA is a rather untidy 6.01, however, it may be a little much to hope that he's finally figured something out; I should take this opportunity to note that Kip Wells had a 1.16 ERA in camp last year and we all know how that turned out. Your basic journeyman type, Bowie has counted the Braves, Cubs, Athletics, and most recently Nationals among his employers, and the most games he's ever pitched in is 30, set last year in Washington. He pitched a career-high 57 innings, and it should also be noted that his second-highest total, 47 IP, came appended to a 2-6/9.96 (OY!) season with the Cubs in '99. In Colorado, he'll be counted to fill the void of LOOGY left in Affeldt's wake, and if he can be trusted to come in for one or two outs and retire dangerous lefties, that's all he needs to do; he doesn't even need to finish the inning if you just insert him judiciously here and there. He did have a 1.37 ERA in 2006 (19.2 IP) with the Nats, so limited exposure is evidently the key here. Overuse is a ticket to a blowup, probably when we least need it, seeing as that is a general rule of thumb. He did start 8 games in 2007, and if our fifth starter situation gets any worse... well, no. Let's hope it doesn't.

2007 Line: 4-3 W/L, 4.55 ERA, 30 G, 0 SV/0 SVO, 27 BB, 42 K
2008 Proj.: 2-3 W/L, 4.47 ERA, 24 G, 0 SV/0 SVO, 20 BB, 46 K

Other names you might see in the picture: Jose Capellan (talented but erratic, acquired from the Brewers, injury problems in the early going and hasn't seen much work, may be installed at some point) Zach McClellan (had a brief stint, interested in returning when healthy, which he currently is not, nothing particularly special) Juan Morillo (fireballer, not the greatest at control, needs more time in the minors, but power pitchers are always attractive) Josh Towers (bad) Mark Redman (still bad) Kip Wells (three-letter word starting with "b") the Grim Reaper (hey, can't be worse, and would have the benefit of making opposing batters quake in fear instead of anticipation).

Kip Wells' Cactus League ERA: 5.14
Josh Towers' Cactus League ERA: 7.20
Mark Redman's Cactus League ERA: 9.24

Holy hell, that is a lot of pitching incompetence. Can somebody tell me how we had "improving the team" in mind when we signed that junk?

Anyone? Anyone?

Thought so.

Ahem. I will do my best to get another preview done in sequence tomorrow, much as it may stun those of you well accustomed to my suspect scheduling. In which case it'll be the infield, and hopefully I won't have to write six different blurbs for the second base spot. The competition looks to be down to Nix and Baker, with Nix having the inside track if he gets over the stiff back that will sideline him for the next few days.


Jason Dittle said...
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Jason Dittle said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.