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.
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