Thursday, February 16, 2012

Preseason preview by position (RP)

Newcomer Ryan Madson
headlines a talented bullpen
Today we take a closer look at the Cincinnati bullpen entering the 2012 season.

Going into the offseason after the 2011 season, one of the biggest voids the Reds needed to fill was closer. With the way things were shaping up late in the game on the closer market, it seemed the Reds would eventually re-sign Francisco Cordero to a team friendly contract. Instead, and to the surprise of every baseball mind and fan alike, Walt Jocketty was able to lock down Ryan Madson to a very un-Boras-like one year deal, while improving at closer with a younger player. This move, which came on the heels of trading for one of the games dominant left-handed relievers in Sean Marshall, all but shored up the bullpen. Adding those two players to a bullpen which remained completely in tact, aside from Cordero, suddenly made it look like one of the best on paper in the National League going into 2012.

Key Losses: RHP Francisco Cordero (signed as a free agent with TOR on 1/25)

Other losses: RHP Jared Burton (signed as a free agent with MIN on 11/11), LHP Jeremy Horst (traded to PHI on 1/25)

"Kinda" loss: LHP Aroldis Chapman? Chapman is obviously still with the Reds, but could be possibly moving to the starting rotation. If not, then the bullpen just gets that much better.

Key Additions: RHP Ryan Madson, LHP Sean Marshall

Other additions: RHP Andrew Brackman, RHP Josh Judy, RHP Kanekoa Texeira, LHP Ron Mahay, LHP Clay Zavada

Likely Opening Day Bullpen:

RHP Sam LeCure - LeCure has really found his niche in Cincinnati over the past couple of years. After doing everything asked of him in the past, he's become an ideal pitcher to fill the role of long reliever, while making the occasional spot start. The man with the sweet 'stache went 2-1 with 3.71 ERA, with 73 strikeouts in 77.2 innings in 2011. Expect him to have another solid year as he eats innings in the middle of games, or comes in to bail the Reds out of a jam when they're short on relief pitching. If anything were to happen to LeCure to prevent him from filling his role, newly signed Cincinnati-native Andrew Brackman could possibly be his backup.

RHP Logan Ondrusek - I don't know a lot personally about Ondrusek, but he seems to fit the bill as a gentle giant. The 6'8" righty went about his business quietly in 2011 and improved on his 2010 numbers by going 5-5 with 3.23 ERA in 66 appearances. He struck out 41 in those games throwing 61.1 innings. I've said it before, but it seems like Ondrusek was the go to middle relief guy for Dusty Baker early last year and perhaps it eventually got to him as he spent time on the disabled list in August with a strained right forearm. Hopefully he's got the arm strengthened and ready to give the Reds another good 60-plus innings in 2012.

RHP Jose Arredondo - Arredondo was the pleasant surprise of the pitching staff last year. Coming off of Tommy John surgery in 2010, he posted a 3.23 ERA in 53 innings from the 'pen. Because of that success, Arredondo could be more heavily relied upon in 2012, especially if Masset starts the year a bit shaky as he usually does. Baker and the coaching staff will have to be careful not to overwork him, especially early on because he will be needed in dog days of summer heading into the fall. The Reds and their fans will be very happy if he can come anywhere close to replicating his 2011 numbers, in a few more innings, while cutting down on his walks.

LHP Bill Bray - It should be no secret that Bray is my favorite guy in the bullpen, and one of my favorites on the whole team. He's also the team's favorite when it comes to situational pitching. He led the staff in appearances last year pitching in 79 games. He held lefties to a minuscule .180 batting average, and righties didn't do much better against him hitting just .226. If he stays healthy, there's no reason to believe Bray won't have another outstanding season. In 2008 and 2011, which are the two seasons in which he has had at least 63 appearances, he has posted ERAs of 2.87 and 2.98 respectively. Bray will be counted on once again to come into games in tight situations and get batters out, especially if those batters are lefthanded. Alternately, he could be used as the lefty setup guy if Marshall is unavailable.

RHP Nick Masset - Is there anything that can be said to Reds fans to justify Masset still being in this team's bullpen? It would take some major lawyering and probably a hefty bribe for the fans to give him a real chance again because he is the only pitcher of the seven listed here for the opening day bullpen who regressed from 2010 to 2011. He pitched 6.1 fewer innings, and his ERA went up from 3.40 to 3.71. He gave up 12 more hits and his SO/9 rate declined from 10.0 to 7.9. A good piece of news about Masset is that his ERA+ in 2011 was 106 which is still considered above average, although barely. Also, hopefully with such a strong stable of relievers backing him up, including Arredondo, Bray, Marshall, and Madson, perhaps Masset can find some relief for himself and get back into a groove where he finds himself throwing like the 2009 Masset (5-1, 2.37 ERA in 76 IP).

LHP Sean Marshall - When the Reds decided Chapman would be transitioned back to a starter, and it looked as if there was no hope of signing a decent closer, the backend of Cincinnati's bullpen started to look a bit worrisome. Then two great things happened, and the first was trading for different tall, left-handed pitcher. Marshall comes to the Reds as one of the shining stars of what was otherwise a black hole on the northside of Chicago. He's put together amazing back to back seasons which have transformed this one time starter into one of the game's predominant left-handed relief pitchers. In 2010, he pitched in 74.2 innings in 80 games and came out of it with a 2.65 ERA. Showing it was not a fluke, he followed that up by posting a 2.26 ERA in 75.2 innings in 78 games last year. He held lefties to a .206 average, and righties to .249. Marshall is sure to man the left-handed setup role for the Reds to start the season, and could be called upon to close a game or two if needed. Lefties (and righties for that matter) will certainly face a daunting task when they come to the dish late in games against the Reds with Marshall and Bray locked, loaded, and ready to go. The only real question is if the Reds can work out an extension with Marshall beyond 2012.

RHP Ryan Madson - The second thing that happened was the Reds signing of Madson, which should be on the short list of "steals in the offseason." Being able to sign a client of Scott Boras, who at one time was rumored to be looking for something in the range of four years and $44 million dollars, to a one year, six million dollar contract was huge. It's essentially a one year, $8.5MM contract because of a $2.5MM buyout for 2013, however two million of that is also deferred. Madson wanted to close and play for a contender, so Cincinnati ended up being the perfect stage for him in 2012. He's also bound to play well as he'll probably be auditioning for a multi-year contract in 2013 and beyond. Madson is a better option in 2012 than Cordero probably would have been. In 2011, Madson had a SO/9 rate of 9.2, and a BB/9 rate of 2.4, while Coco's SO/9 had dwindled to just 5.4 paired with a BB/9 rate of 2.8. Madson saved 32 of 34 opportunities last year, with a 2.37 ERA, and struck out 62 over 60.2 innings. Hopefully, Madson, with the assistance of some great defense, will help the Reds reel in some of those one run games, which they have been so prone to losing the past couple of the years.

Other guys who could appear later in the year: Anyone listed by "other additions", RHP Carlos Fisher*, RHP Jordan Smith, RHP Chad Reineke, RHP Nick Christiani, LHP Clayton Tanner, LHP Donnie Joseph

*Fisher was designated for assignment 2/8 because he was out of options and the Reds needed room for Ryan Ludwick on the 40-man roster, but he cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Louisville, with a non-roster invite to Spring Training.

Guys who could sorta appear later? Wilson Valdez vs. Paul Janish. How many teams have two pure position players who have thrown pitches in a game? These two guys could be battling it out for the backup shortstop position, but could they also be battling for the emergency bullpen spot? (This is a poor attempt at a joke.) Both guys have thrown at least an inning in the big leagues. Valdez has to get the nod though as he is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in one inning, of course getting that win in a 19 inning affair vs. the Reds last year as a member of the Phillies. Janish, while owning a 0-0 record, is sporting a 49.50 ERA in two innings pitched. Dude can't catch a break can he? Plus, I had to throw this in for a little humor.

Group Grade: A-
Last season, the Reds bullpen finished eighth in the NL in blown saves (22), and ninth in ERA (3.55). They will have to improve on those numbers if they expect to be playing in October, and I certainly think they will. The middle relievers have another year of experience under their belt, and should be as solid as ever. Fans likely will cringe at the thought of Masset back in the right-handed set up role, but he's certainly got the stuff to make it work, plus Arredondo seems to be more than capable of picking up the slack if need be. Anyone would be hard-pressed to find a better left-handed duo in all of baseball than Bray and Marshall, and if Chapman happens to be added to that potent mix and shows consistent control, then the Reds will have three shutdown lefties. As evidenced above, Madson is definitely an upgrade at closer since he is a younger arm in his prime, whereas Cordero is on the tailend of his career.

Also, keep in mind that upgrading the back end of the bullpen should also have a residual, positive effect on the rest of the pitching staff. The fact is that if they perform, it will shorten the game for the starters, and take pressure and wear off of the middle relievers. On the flip side, if the rotation performs at an improved clip and can eat some more innings to start games, then it will help the bullpen as well. The offseason additions to the bullpen have undoubtedly made it and the team better. When all is said and done at season's end, I think this group will be ranked as one of the top three bullpens in the NL.

To take a look at any of the prior position previews published this week, click on the corresponding link(s) below:

Day 1: Outfielders
Day 2: Infielders
Day 3: Catchers
Day 4: Relief Pitchers
Day 5: Starting Pitchers

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