I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but the Diamondbacks bullpen is quietly becoming respectable. Yeah, David Hernandez was a black hole but other guys have come around. On some nights, Heath Bell is absolutely unhittable. Brad Ziegler looks good as a closer and can I get a round of applause for Will Harris’ emergence? Matt Reynolds was functional before his injury, Eury de la Rosa was filthy the other night and JJ Putz is starting get back to respectability. I probably don’t need to say anything about The Bearded Workhorse that is Josh Collmenter. For all of the grief we’ve heaped upon the bullpen this year, it’s only fair that we give them their due when they start to play decent baseball.
The first half was ugly. I’m not going to try to say it was anything other than a train wreck. Hernandez, Bell and Putz were atrocious and were supposed to be the guys we could count on. They were anything but. Collmenter and a couple of relative unknowns, Harris and Reynolds, helped the team keep its head above water. It wasn’t pretty and I’m pretty sure we’d all rather forget it, but just in case you’re curious, there are some unsightly stats below.
The second half has been a different story, however.
Heath Bell has made the biggest turnaround. On nights when he locates the fastball, his curve becomes a legit knockout pitch. His BABIP was high in the first half and as luck and probability would have it, it’s come down significantly in the second half. He’s also walking fewer and the improved location is leading to fewer long balls.
The idea of the “closer” is a myth and Brad Ziegler proves it. There’s nothing closer-esque about him, he just gets ground balls and doesn’t walk anyone. He can do it in the sixth and he can do it in the ninth. Love this guy.
I have to think that JJ Putz is still somewhat bothered by injury, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at his strikeout numbers. Yes, he still walks a few too many, but when he’s sharp he’s as good as anybody out of the Arizona bullpen, maybe better. His BABIP has dropped, too, and will probably rise before the year is out, but given the balky elbow and his age, his performance has been a real plus.
Speaking of bonuses, Eury de la Rosa has been good in a very limited role. He’s basically a lefty-on-lefty guy, but he gets the job done at the league minimum. This is especially good news given that Joe Thatcher has gotten hit around a little bit as of late.
Collmenter continues to be Collmenter: the guy who bails you out in a pinch. His first half was outstanding and there was no way he was going to keep that level of performance up. If he was that good consistently, he’d be making $5 million a year as a starter. His second half numbers are still good, though, especially when you consider that his BABIP has been inflated since the All Star Break.
The only real downsides have been the return to normalcy of Will Harris and the injury to Matt Reynolds. Harris was over performing big time and has fallen back to earth, but he’s still a respectable pitcher who gets outs. Reynolds had a nice first half before experiencing a UCL tear in his elbow and has just started throwing again. We may or may not see him again this year.
As before, here are the numbers. Be sure to compare this table with the one above.
Those blown saves from the first half have a way of sticking in one’s memory. And how could they not? They were so painful that you literally had to cover your eyes when we took a lead into the latter innings of games. But we’ve neglected to talk about a different phenomenon, and it’s one that paints the bullpen in a different light: wins in close games.
Your Arizona Diamondbacks are 13-5 in extra-inning games this year. That’s the most wins in extras in all of baseball, two more than Atlanta (second) and four more than Pittsburgh and Cleveland (tied for third). You know who pitched the team to victory in those games?
The bullpen. And it wasn’t just Josh Collmenter. Well, it usually wasn’t just Josh Collmenter, but sometimes it was.
Oh, and as if that weren’t enough, the Diamondbacks are 27-15 in one-run games. That’s also tops in baseball, three wins better than the next team. Yes, there’s a little double-counting there, but at least 14 of those wins weren’t in extras. You know who closed the door in those games?
The bullpen, and usually not Josh Collmenter. It was hard for me to do at first, but try to wrap your head around that. The team that has used at least four different guys as closers from time to time has the most one-run victories in the league. Maybe this says a lot about our offense, but I think it says a lot about the bullpen, too. So, before you curse the bullpen for “the season that could have been,” keep in mind that they’ve really turned a corner and that things will pretty much even out by season’s end.
Relievers are fluky and volatile by nature. If they were reliable pitchers who could dominate every time out, they’d be front line starters. They’re all in the bullpen for a reason. There are ups and downs and they appear extra dramatic because they come in one-inning snapshots. We don’t freak out when Corbin gives up two runs in the first because we know he’s got four, five or six more innings of work to do. But when Bell gives up a dinger or Putz walks the bases loaded with two outs, it’s extra critical because these are usually high-leverage situations. Lately we’ve been seeing fewer and fewer of these scenarios.
Next time the game is on the line, have a little faith. It’s getting better and we’ve been nailing down some wins. If worse comes to worse, we can just put Josh Collmenter back on the bump.
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