The D-backs have used 20 different pitchers out of the bullpen this season — with three plus weeks to go. That’s the most since 2007, a year in which Tony Pena led the way in innings, Brandon Lyon led the way in value, and Jose Valverde led the way in saves. That year, the D-backs had 21 relievers toe the rubber — but 9 pitched fewer than 3 innings (including Randy Choate, who pitched in two games but never recorded an out).
All but one of the D-backs Twenty this season threw more than 3 innings, and even Allen Webster‘s 2 inning outing felt like it was much longer than that. I’m getting cute, of course — the bullpen this year has still gotten 8 performances of fewer than 10 innings, and a big part of this is a transition year in which Oliver Perez, Vidal Nuño, J.C. Ramirez and Addison Reed were traded, and many others were bounced in and out of a relief role briefly (e.g. Zack Godley) or moved into one part year due to struggles (Josh Collmenter) or a return from injury (David Hernandez).
And yet, it’s not all that. With 22 games left to play, the D-backs have posted 490 relief innings. That’s a pace to finish at 567 — which would shatter the previous franchise record, 523.2 innings in 2004. The D-backs have only surpassed 500 relief innings three times. This is a lot, is what I’m saying.
The D-backs have tremendous depth in average-ish relievers, and theoretically at least, that’s one way to deal with a fair bit of below average-ish starting pitching. Still, all indications are that the D-backs are pushing their chips in for 2016, even if 2017 looms as an even more promising ETA. Getting over 500 innings from relievers is not only not a good plan; it’s not even a strong Plan B. Were the D-backs to be a strong contender in 2016, chances are very good that the rotation would be much less… porous. So in planning for that contending team, the D-backs won’t be planning for a 500 inning relief crew. They’ll be planning for something like 450, with backup plans in place almost without managing them.
With projections out last offseason, it looked like the D-backs had enough relievers to fill out an above-average bullpen and a second, league average type bullpen. That remains as ridiculous now as it was then, and the D-backs’ situation now isn’t a whole lot different. Gone are Reed and Perez, sure. Evan Marshall‘s future is hard to pin down. Kevin Munson was recently designated for assignment and removed from the 40-man. But Collmenter is now a member of this crew, and as far as the major league squad goes — only Enrique Burgos has been in the mix this season among the D-backs’ vaunted core of relief prospects, one that still includes Jimmie Sherfy, Kaleb Fleck and Jake Barrett.
The current relievers on the roster, not including Godley, who is likely to be shut down after his recent start:
|Steamer RoS K/9||Steamer RoS BB/9||Steamer RoS ERA||Steamer RoS FIP|
The Steamer stats are projections for the rest of the season; I included only rate stats since playing time is part of what we’re talking about. With 13 guys on this list, though, and probably a desire to get innings for each of them, the D-backs’ chances of bursting past that relief innings record by more than 20 innings seems like a mortal lock.
Just a few weeks ago, I used RE24 in a look at the D-backs relievers, making a case that it was the best way to look at them — and that while several current relievers looked like average contributors, only Ziegler and Chafin were above average (and both were well above average). Ziegler’s strikeouts projection above might be high for the rest of the season — this year Z’s had to pick Ks or ground balls, as Jeff explored yesterday.
I’m still confident only in Ziegler and Chafin as above-average performers next year. On the above list, Collmenter and Hudson would both have to unravel very badly to not be included in the mix by default, so long as neither is considered for the rotation. As for the rest… spring training will undoubtedly be more important than this September, but this September is still very important. The rest of these guys could go in any direction, especially when you account for the fact that Marshall, Sherfy and Barrett all have realistic shots at making the 25-man out of spring training next year if they take the Cactus League by storm.
We’ll continue to monitor each of the rest of these guys this spring with a very close eye — considering how little each of the infielders is likely to play, and how messy the rotation is now from an innings standpoint, and how set the outfield appears… with the possible exception of O’Brien, as Jeff and I discussed on The Pool Shot last night, it’s the bullpen where most of the information-gathering magic will happen this month.
Some of these guys may make a strong enough case to move ahead in the pecking order; some may play themselves out of the organization. Bracho, Burgos and Reynolds each have an avenue to make a strong September bid for an April job. Webster could show us something new. Delgado may end up starting in the season’s final weeks, complicating things at least a little. Hessler and Schugel could play themselves off of the 40 man and exposed to waivers, as the D-backs will have some additional additions to the 40-man before rosters lock for the Rule 5 draft in December.
Most of these guys, though, are jockeying for position, not for a job. The lone exception is David Hernandez — the lone free agent of this crew (although a few could theoretically be non-tendered, or have an option declined). So if jockeying for position is not something that gets your heart racing — the final stretch will be in March, so we’ll see you then — you can at least focus on Hernandez. What happens with him is not a metaphysical question.
After joining the D-backs organization, Hernandez was very good in 2011 and downright excellent in 2012. He never got things working correctly in 2013, at least until a stint in Reno allowed him to work out some of the kinks. In fact, it was this time two years ago that Hernandez made a strong case that he had something left to offer, and that he was worth paying for one year later when his contract expired before his last arbitration season.
Like just about everyone else on the D-backs staff, Hernandez is throwing a sinker more this season than he had in the past — and by “more,” I mean “eight, instead of none.” But hitters have been able to do some bad things to his four-seam (.517 SLG), which had been how he did much of his damage in his heyday. His release speed isn’t quite back to where it was, hovering about half a mile per hour below very consistent marks between 2011 and 2013, and it looks like he’s traded a bit of horizontal movement for vertical movement.
I’m not sure how well Hernandez would need to pitch to be brought back for 2016, although a one-year deal could make a ton of sense for both player and club. I think we’re going to find, though, that the answer about this particular reliever will come from the same place as it will for the rest: from everyone. Because if Hernandez doesn’t make a strong case this month that he is likely to be an above-average reliever next year, the vaunted depth that he is a part of could also be the reason why the D-backs end up spending money elsewhere.
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