The Diamondbacks’ bullpen burned down another one yesterday. Another day, another meltdown it seems. With pitching under the microscope every time out, the ninth inning getting away from Jake Barrett felt like just another blow during a difficult year. He recorded the first two outs of the inning, then deflected a ball that should have been the routine third out, and then it all unraveled. Walks, cheap hits and next thing you know, the D-backs are down 8-3 rather than 4-3 with the heart of the order coming up in the bottom of the ninth. Another missed opportunity. Damn.

You could almost feeling it coming given what’s transpired of late. Zack Godley pitched well enough for the team to win on July 29th before Daniel Hudson gave up three earned runs without recording an out. Turns out that’s bad for you ERA. On the 31st, Patrick Corbin pitched okay but the team didn’t stand a chance when Dominic Leone, Steve Hathaway and Evan Marshall combined to give up eight runs while only recording six outs. On August 2nd, the team had a fighting chance despite Robbie Ray‘s tough outing, but Hudson gave up another trio of runs after Randall Delgado surrendered one of is own. This all made Jake Barrett’s four earned in the ninth, all scoring with two outs, seem fairly routine. That’s not the kind of routine you want.

Over the last two weeks, the bullpen has a 9.78 ERA, worst in the majors by almost three runs. Jake Barrett’s is 7.50. Leone and Hathaway’s ERA’s stand at 9.00. Delgado’s got a 11.12. Marshall has a 20.25. Hudson’s sporting an ERA of 30.00 and the recently-sent-down Zac Curtis had a 54.00 ERA before his trip back to the minors. When it rains it pours, I guess. Chip Hale literally has nowhere else to turn with Brad Ziegler and Tyler Clippard gone.

These struggles aren’t necessarily Hale’s fault. He’s got a young crop of relievers filling up his bullpen and he has to use them, especially with the starting staff not exactly lighting the world on fire. Robbie Ray has gotten through seven innings three times this year. Archie Bradley‘s done it twice. Corbin has three under his belt. Godley hasn’t gotten there yet this year in limited action. Greinke pitched seven or more innings eight times, but he’s been on the DL for over a month and had a rocky start last night for AAA Reno. This is all to say, the bullpen ins’t about to get any help any time soon. The team is below average in innings pitched by starters and above average in innings pitched by relievers yet again.

But Hale and Company are charged with figuring out which of these young arms are going to be worth a damn, and as I pointed out yesterday when looking at pitchers through DRA, that’s a worthy experiment. 2016 went down the toilet a long time ago and we’re back in full-on experimentation mode. They’re throwing a bunch of young arms and the wall and hoping a couple of them stick.

And if the team’s going to do that on the field, why don’t we do that here in our own way? Looking at some strengths and weaknesses to date, maybe we can prognosticate who looks like a big leaguer and who doesn’t. In somewhat rapid-fire fashion, let’s run through these young arms and do a quick-and-dirty analysis starting with…

Jake Barrett, RHP

Strengths: it all starts with stuff for Barrett who owns two legit swing-and-miss pitches in his slider and recently-acquire splitter. Coupled with a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90’s, it’s the kind of power profile that’s sexy in the back end of bullpens these days.

Weaknesses: the command can come and go at times, which can be said for most relievers. He’s been homer-prone this season, partly due to missing spots with breaking pitches on occasion and throwing his fastball up in the zone.

Likely Outcome: Barrett’s a late inning arm now and in the future. Is that a closer? Maybe, but the homer issues are likely to linger. At worst, he can be power setup man.

Enrique Burgos, RHP

Strengths: power stuff from Burgos can make him very impressive at times. His fastball has tremendous “rise” and some arm-side run while his hard slider has some real two-plane action, making it a bat-misser. He hasn’t shown big splits, meaning he’s not a matchups guy, which is good.

Weaknesses: command is still the problem for Burgos as he just doesn’t have the clearest idea of where his pitches are going. It can abandon him mid-outing at times. He also lacks a third pitch to rely on, making him mostly fastball/slider. He does own a splitter but throws it sparingly.

Likely Outcome: a strikeout artist, Burgos is a mid-inning reliever that could move closer to the back end if the command ever comes around. He’s a good weapon to use to clean up a mess if a strikeout is in order, meaning a flexible role for him in the middle innings makes some sense rather than saving an inning for him each time out unless he turns into a real force down the stretch.

Evan Marshall, RHP

Strengths: can throw a variety of fastballs in the low-to-mid 90’s and has two secondary pitches in a change and slider. Can generate plenty of ground balls with pitches that tend to have good sink on them.

Weaknesses: he’s not exactly young and none of his pitches are truly “plus.” The big arsenal has been tough for him to command all year as he’s given up far too many walks. He’s been messing with his fastball offerings all season, abandoning the cutter midseason and has started limiting the four-seamer in favor of the sinker. The repertoire is still in development.

Likely Outcome: Marshall is either a middle reliever who sticks with improved command or is an up and down guy if he doesn’t. His future as a full-time MLB pitcher is in real jeopardy right now and he needs to keep generating the grounders and start limiting the walks if he’s going to stay with the Diamondbacks.

Dominic Leone, RHP

Strengths: can generate an above average number of ground balls by pitching down in the zone.

Weaknesses: the stuff isn’t great, the four-seamer is fairly straight and while the cutter and slider have some decent movement, he can’t throw enough strikes to use them effectively. He’s been vulnerable to the home run in his short time in the majors, likely thanks to the spotty command and just okay offerings.

Likely Outcome: Leone may not be a big league pitcher when it’s all said and done. He could soak up some middle relief innings reliably if the command sharpens up, but that looks like a precarious bet at the moment. He’s most likely an up and down guy as an organizational filler type.

Steve Hathaway, LHP

Strengths: he’s left-handed with a fastball that sits at 93mph and has two secondaries in a curveball and changeup. His pitches have reasonable movement thanks to his arm slot.

Weaknesses: almost 26, Hathaway struggles to throw his pitches for strikes and has shown some funky reverse platoon splits at several stops in the minors. A lefty who can have a hard time getting lefties out limits his value in a major way.

Likely Outcome: this is probably Hathaway’s audition to prove he belongs on the 40-man roster with younger relievers pushing their way up the ladder. In all likelihood, he’ll probably be DFA’d at some point in the near future unless he can find some kind of breakthrough in the majors, which seems unlikely.

Zac Curtis, LHP

Strengths: he’s young and can be effective against free-swinging hitters who’ll expand the zone.

Weaknesses: the stuff isn’t necessarily good as he relies on some deception to get the job done. His pitches are horizontal in nature, leaving them in the hitting zone a long time. Curtis struggles to throw strikes to big league hitters since stuff isn’t good enough to be consistently thrown in the zone.

Likely Outcome: having just turned 24, Curtis may have a tiny bit of projection left, but it won’t be enough to make him much more than a matchups-based middle reliever if it all breaks right. He’s a fringy big leaguer with improved command and an org filler if things don’t improve.

Silvino Bracho, RHP

Strengths: has a low-to-mid 90’s fastball with good rise that can result in fly ball outs and a slider that can offer some sweepy break. Has some deception to the delivery.

Weaknesses: hasn’t been able to locate pitches at all in 2016, either missing the zone entirely or hitting the heart of the plate. While his mechanics can be an asset, they may also be what’s behind his inability to throw consistent quality strikes. None of his pitches are “plus.”

Likely Outcome: with a mediocre repertoire and poor command, Bracho is on the verge of losing his spot on the 40-man roster. He’s been effective enough in AAA this year for the team to continue giving him big league chances, but gotten shelled in the majors by issuing walks and homers. He’s a middle reliever if the command comes back and a guy who gets bounced from the organization if it doesn’t.

There’s not a lot to get excited about here. Barrett and Burgos look like big league pitchers, even if they have some warts. The rest of the pack is a group of guys with middling stuff and poor command. That’s how they ended up in the bullpen to begin with, but if they don’t turn it around, we could see some serious roster turnover with this group. While Dave Stewart says the team doesn’t expect to spend big on a closer this winter, they’re going to need reinforcements. Internal options aren’t enough, and even if a guy or two turns a corner, they’ll still be reliever or two short. Shoring up the bullpen may also be a cheaper option for improving the overall pitching performance of the team rather than chasing another quality starter. Either way, they’ll likely need to do something, because this group just isn’t going to cut it.

12 Responses to Another Day, Another Meltdown: Which D-backs Relievers Will Stick?

  1. rye says:

    So…we’re basically screwed. Don’t have the internal talent to build a bullpen that can win. Don’t have the financial backing of ownership to purchase the pieces that can.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      There’s some money to spend. They just saved $8M on Clippard and another $2M on the remainder of Ziegler’s deal. It’s there, but there will be arbitration raises, too.

      • rye says:

        Sadly, the D-backs need to fill out the back of their bullpen and the kind of money the D-backs have to spend likely won’t buy Melancon let alone Chapman or Jansen. That means that they will be looking from the guys above and/or converting starters. Not exactly the foundation of the strong bullpen this team will need to compete next year. Next year this team is relying on 3 things. Better health, starters developing and/or finding consistency, and a GREATLY improved bullpen. It’s the last one that I think will be the downfall unless KK opens up the checkbook adding about $20MM to payroll. Given his historically annoying frugality I’m not optimistic.

  2. Anonymous says:

    only barrat looks like he has good stuff. burgos looked good in the spring. these guys are clueless right now. totally clueless. did i say they looked clueless. oh yeah, these guys are clueless. better trade ziegler, and get a good return, because the contention window, although with this plus starting staff, they may not need a plus middle/lonng closer, wait what…bring back towers

  3. Anonymous says:

    who can blame upper management for not wanting to give these guys money to upgrade the staff at this point.

  4. Jim Ellis says:

    We are all watching the stock of Tomas rise and rise. I see him working well for a three pitcher deal with MLB ready stuff. But, given his big contract, only Minnesota or Tampa could ever pick up that tab. Wink! Drury could also slot into that spot with a strong finish but either way, look for position player being sacrificed again in a chase for better arms this winter.

    • Lamar Jimmerson says:

      If Tomas’s recent improvement makes him tradeable, that would be a tremendous boon. Just a bad fit for the Dbacks on a bad contract.

  5. Lamar Jimmerson says:

    Seems the best course of action in 2017 would be to put a couple of failed starters in the pen. Greinke, Bradley, Ray, Miller, Godley, Shipley, Corbin, RDLR: you could put 2 or 3 of those in the pen, where presumably their stuff plays up. Stash one in AAA with Banda, and that is your immediate rotation depth. Can always move one of the aforementioned back to rotation if needed.

    That may be the best way to improve/stabilize the pen, along with one or two value plays in free agency.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      I really wish they’d try this with Matt Koch and a couple of others in the high minors who have stalled. There’s really no reason not to. Why fill the Mobile rotation at the expense of the major league bullpen? Can’t believe they haven’t tried some of these types of moves.

      • Anonymous says:

        Both Koch and Yoan Lopez are only going to have futures as a major league bullpen members. Then add newly acquired Campos who is seen as a future bullpen asset. That’s 3 likely relievers that are just wasting away down there

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