The Diamondbacks just took two of four from the Dodgers in Los Angeles, which is really like taking two of three because facing Clayton Kershaw shouldn’t count. The D-backs now head to San Diego for a three-game slate with the Padres (as co-leaders of the NL West, nonetheless) at 9-5 for series that feels extremely important. It’s great that the squad held their own against the Dodgers and put up a good fight against the Giants (Posey’s Revenge loomed large), but to stay in this thing, they’ll need to do damage against perhaps the worst team in baseball. It’s surprising to many that the team is even in this position but, well, here they are. Tied for first place after 14 games. Baseball is fun.

And while it’s no surprise that the team is near the top of the league in runs scored, the pitching staff has done enough to keep the team in games. The rotation ranks ninth in ERA (3.48) and sixth in FIP (3.46). DRA tells a different story as the club ranks 21st (5.03), but it’s hard to argue with the results to date — whether it holds up is another story.

Perhaps even more surprising, though, is that the bullpen hasn’t been an aberration. As we detailed heading into the season, it looked as if the bullpen was truly the team’s weakest link. There were questions about the closer, how a trio of non-roster invitees would hold up, and just what Archie Bradley would do with his new assignment. With Jake Barrett on the shelf, it looked as if the team was poorly equipped to handle the rigors of the season and hold late leads. Instead, they’ve been mostly solid and the team’s early season success reflects as much.

Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves — the bullpen still isn’t what you might classify as “great.” But digging in, they haven’t been exactly terrible either. The bullpen ranks 20th in ERA (4.47) but 14th in FIP (3.54) and 18th in DRA (4.40). That’s not good, but for a group that projected as the worst in baseball, they’ve been better than expected. And, perhaps most encouraging, the contributions have come from several different guys. Leading the way, of course, is Archie the Destroyer.

Much has been made of Bradley’s transition to the bullpen and everything I wrote after his first appearance has held true. He’s throwing harder, mixing his pitches, and throwing with a kind of confidence we’ve not witnessed before. He’s yet to yield a run and has struck out 11 batters in 9.1 innings of work while issuing just three walks and scattering five hits. Torrey Lovullo has used Bradley in an extended capacity, but rarely in games that matter. That’s a trend that may or may not continue, as Nick Piecoro explored in speaking with the D-backs’ skipper. Bradley’s made just four appearances, so it’s perhaps premature to push him into a more pivotal role, but one can surely make a case for it. Thanks in part to…

Fernando Rodney has been as advertised. On the one hand, he’s sporting an ERA over eight and a half thanks to a walk rate that makes you want to hide your eyes. On the other, he’s held every lead he’s been given and is tied for third in the league in saves (5) while striking out eight in 6.1 innings. He gave up a pair of runs with a three-run lead against the Giants on the 11th, then gave up three runs in a non-save situation against the Dodgers on the 14th. It’s been a rollercoaster with Rodney and that was always part of the deal, and while he hasn’t been good, he’s been mostly good enough.

J.J. Hoover, Tom Wilhelmsen and Jorge De La Rosa were all non-roster invitees to Spring Training and all three earned spots on the Opening Day roster. Mike Hazen made shrewd moves in an attempt to provide some depth to a thin and questionable collection of relievers. Those moves paid off, as the trio has made 20 appearances and thrown 17 innings between them. Hoover and De La Rosa have allowed just two runs each, and while Wilhelmsen has allowed four, three of them came in a meltdown inning in San Francisco where he just clearly didn’t have it. When he’s on, Wilhelmsen can be simply filthy, but in early 2017 he’s been the shakiest of the bunch. Still, the trio has provided plenty of support and quality outings. Of their combined 20 appearances, 15 have been scoreless. That’s pretty solid for a bunch of guys who didn’t know their fate just three weeks.

Randall Delgado and Andrew Chafin have had their issues, mostly with the long ball. As has been the case in the past, it seems as if Chafin is always warming up while Delgado has become a bit of an afterthought with the performances colleagues exceeding expectations. Both have their functions, but both are sporting some unsightly FIP and DRA numbers at the moment. It’s a long season and both can be solid, so maybe thing have just gotten off to a rocky start.

As a unit, this bullpen has been surprisingly not awful. The Diamondbacks’ starters have done a solid job of protecting their counterparts as the rotation has thrown fourth-most innings of any team. They’ve essentially kept the bullpen from being overexposed. And just because the bullpen has been mostly steady for 14 games doesn’t mean they’ll remain that way over the next 148. The D-backs’ relievers have yielded the third-highest rate of hard-hit balls and the lowest rate of soft-hit balls, so maybe we’re seeing a prime example of a small sample clouding our assessment. But the results to date haven’t been what we expected, and with guys like Rubby De La Rosa and Jake Barrett on the mend while Archie Bradley blossoms, perhaps there’s some margin for error. To keep leading this division, the bullpen will have to keep up the solid work. They don’t have to be great, but they’ve got to keep exceeding our preseason expectations.

5 Responses to The Diamondbacks’ Bullpen Has Exceeded Expectations (So Far)

  1. KeithW says:

    You mentioned Clayton Kershaw. I know he is a generational pitcher, but it did seem like he was getting the benefit of the doubt on a lot of strike calls. Is there data out there for how many times a pitcher has been given a called strike on a ball outside of the strike zone? Maybe there should be a “respect factor” investigated for each pitcher. Maybe Kershaw’s ERA or overall stats wouldn’t be quite so great if he didn’t get strike 1 called all the time (sometimes when it shouldn’t be), or any other called strike when it’s really out of the zone.

    Along the same lines, has anyone investigated similar data with respect to ball parks? For example, when Dodger Stadium gets rocking it may lead to the umpire being influenced into calls that benefit the Dodgers. Conversely, Chase Field is typically pretty tame (smaller crowds and quiet fans), maybe umps aren’t intimidated into making calls that benefit the dbacks. Seems like “home field advantage” could be actually be quantified for each team’s stadium based on balls and strikes calls vs PitchF/X.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Hey Keith, all good questions. There is research out there about balls/strikes, favoritism, home field advantage, etc. I leave it to you to find it, but it’s out there. The hard part about some of this is the fact that there are a lot of factors at play, including who the umpire is behind the plate, who’s doing the catching, who the hitter is, etc. It’s very difficult to assess whether the “pitcher” is getting the benefit of the doubt because there are just so many factors going into the equation. It’s certainly worth your exploration and if you’ve got a wild hair to look into it, I’d encourage it!

  2. Kevin says:

    Your article reminds me of a question that I’ve been thinking about lately — how deep are we? I think the quick answer is “not very”, but I’d be interested in hearing your opinion, broken down by different areas — e.g., SP, RP, position players (OF vs IF).

    We’re winning now, yes, but we have been quite healthy out of the gate, save RDL, Barrett, and maybe Britto. What happens when a starting pitcher goes down? Archie the Destroyer leaves the bullpen and we loose our bullpen ace? (maybe RDL can fill that role if he’s back by then).

    I mean, I know who our subs are if position players go down. So I guess my real question is, will our downturn in success be driven by inevitable injuries, and to what extent? It’s as if I’m trying to figure out why we’re actually winning.

    Waiting for the other shoe to drop,

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