Thursday, April 06, 2006

The value of a strong bullpen

Looking back at the first 3 games of this season and the fact that Zito couldn’t complete the second inning in the first game, Harden pitched very average through 5 and 2/3 innings, and Haren – whom I thought pitched the best – allowed 4 runs over 6 innings, it was clear to me that – barring that first game disaster – having a top class bullpen was the edge we needed to win over the Yankees.

Not that the Yankees’ bullpen is shabby by any means, on the contrary they have a solid bullpen with a star closer in Mariano Rivera and set up men Farnsworth and Myers. But the recurring theme over the offseason with the A’s was depth, depth, depth. We saw how critical a solid bench and strong bullpen is to a team riddled with injuries to key players in an almost-made-it 2005. One of the areas the A’s strengthened considerably was their bullpen, adding former starters such as Kirk Saarlos and Joe Kennedy who can easily pitch multiple innings or fill in for an injured starter should they go down. All-Star Justin Duchscherer, Jay Witasick, and Kiko Calero all serve as strong right handed setup men, with The Duke a capable substitute for Huston Street as closer if Street ever ended up on the DL. The luxury of having such a versatile and deep bullpen is that when your starters stumble out of the gate, the bullpen can quickly come in to save the day.

Today John Donovan at via Yahoo! Sports had an article entitled “The Almighty Bullpen” and how choosing an effective bullpen can mean the difference:

In these first few weeks of the season, bullpens play a huge role. Since most
starters aren't yet ready to go more than six or seven innings, the teams with
strong bullpens have a real edge right now. (Of the 23 games played through
Tuesday, only 13 of the 46 starters went longer than six innings, and nobody
threw a complete game.)

For many teams, though, building a decent
bullpen seems to be little more than an afterthought. Lineups are taken care of
long before the relief is. Rotations are molded while the bullpen gets the
castoffs. Money is spent everywhere but for the pen -- closers being the notable
And if a team doesn't have its bullpen ready early -- if a team,
heaven forbid, doesn't have a reliable closer, a situation that at least a
half-dozen teams find themselves in right now -- it's often a weeks-long or
months-long process trying to get things straightened out. Sometimes it's longer
than that.
All the while, starters are forced to go further into games.
Innings pile up. Relievers are thrown into different, sometimes unaccustomed
roles. The bullpen gets overworked, leads disappear, games are lost. Tensions
mount. It can get ugly.
With the A’s beginning the season with a strong bullpen with well defined roles, they have an advantage over teams relying on starters still trying to get their groove from Spring Training whose bullpens lack depth and talent.

In his article, Mr. Donovan describes 10 bullpens that work:

Yankees - We'll still have to see whether Kyle Farnsworth can set up
games in New York. But Tanyon Sturtze has been
there, and former Red Sox reliever Mike Myers knows the drill.
Plus, no one's better than closer Mariano Rivera.

A's - Closer Huston
, last year's American League Rookie of the Year, is aided by a deep
pen that includes All-Star Justin Duchscherer, Kiko Calero and spot
starters Joe Kennedy and Kirk Saarloos.

Dodgers - If Eric Gagne is healthy, he can rack up a lot of saves this
year. Yhency Brazoban,
Gagne's main setup man, gets help from former Tampa Bay closer Danys Baez and former Rays
All-Star Lance

Padres - Towers paid big money this winter to keep Hoffman as his closer.
Otsuka is gone (to the Rangers), but the Padres still have Linebrink and World
Baseball Classic closer Chan
Ho Park
(who earned three saves for Korea in the tournament).

Astros - Closer Brad
lost it toward the end of 2005, but he's still among the best, and his
primary setup men -- Dan
, Mike Gallo
and Chad Qualls --

Angels - Their pen won the '02 World Series for them. Now, it's Francisco Rodriguez (45
saves in '05) with help from Hector Carrasco and the
Angels' usual suspects, Scot
and Brendan

Twins - Closer Joe
is set up by Juan
and Jesse
(75 games each last season) and now gets an aid from live-armed lefty Francisco

Nationals - There's no telling whether Chad Cordero can do what he
did last year (47 saves), but he'll retain the aid of Gary Majewski (79 games,
2.93 ERA) and Joey
(57, 3.22 ERA).

Cardinals - Tony La Russa loves his bullpen more than anyone, but he has a
new one to work with this year. We'll see what La Russa does with Braden Looper and Ricardo Rincon. Jason Isringhausen (39
saves) returns, though.

Cubs - Ryan
(33 saves) is their man now. And with imports Scott Eyre (86 games with
the Giants) and Bobby Howry (79 with the Indians), this will be one tough
late-game team.

With a deep bench and bullpen, the A’s have the potential to go all the way.


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