Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The 2012 version of the Reds bullpen is better than 1990

Ask anyone around baseball what they think the 2012 Reds' biggest strength is and I would bet you my bottom dollar that majority of them would point towards the bullpen. Cincinnati's relief staff has been good this season, really good actually. And Dave Cameron of ESPN The Magazine is one of several national writers to take notice of this fact.

Here's an excerpt from his most recent column which is slated to appear in ESPN The Magazine's October 1st "Age Issue":

Ryan Madson. Nick Masset. Bill Bray. After those three fell to injury this spring, it would've been easy to write off the Reds. After all, the Rangers and Cards showed the importance of bullpens last October. And here was a team without its closer and two of its other top relievers.

That narrative was wrong. Led by Aroldis Chapman -- who, with 35 saves, a 1.61 ERA and 118 strikeouts, might be having the best relief season ever -- the 2012 Reds bullpen (2.73 ERA) isn't just better than the Rob Dibble and Randy Myers-led Nasty Boys from the 1990 Series-winning Reds (2.91 ERA), it's also one of the best pens in the modern-reliever era. Its ERA is 33 percent below the league average; only seven teams in the past 30 years have posted a better mark over a season. Zero bullpens have struck out batters at a higher rate.

This wasn't predictable from such a band of misfits. Jose Arredondo was nontendered by the Angels and stabbed in the Dominican Republic in December 2009 before the Reds signed him as a free agent. Sam LeCure, drafted in 2005, flamed out as a starter (4.83 ERA in '10 and '11) before moving to the pen. Alfredo Simon was claimed off waivers in April after he bounced around the minors and struggled last season as an Orioles starter. And it's easy to forget that Chapman -- now feared tired when his fastball averages 94.4 mph -- wasn't named the closer until late May. As the year has unfolded, roles have constantly shuffled. Chapman ends games, but it's possible to see anyone else anytime. "Many relief pitchers thrive on a defined role, but this group has embraced the 'ready when you need me' mentality," pitching coach Bryan Price says. Case in point: Jonathan Broxton was ready to fill in at closer when Chapman needed a rest.

...To stop the Reds in October, a team better get ahead early.

Just for fun, here's a quick comparison between the 2012 bullpen and the 1990 'pen:

W/L - 27-22
ERA - 2.93
WHIP - 1.272
BAA - .233
OBP - .314
SLG - .343
SO/9 - 8.6
K/BB - 2.28
SV - 50
SO - 450
RA - 168
IP - 472.2
HR - 36

W/L - 28-19
ERA - 2.58
WHIP - 1.194
BAA - .215
OBP - .297
SLG - .330
SO/9 - 10.0
K/BB - 2.77
SV - 50
SO - 443
RA - 130
IP - 397.0
HR - 29

As you can see, this year's version holds an advantage in virtually every statistical category outside of innings pitched. And the numbers don't lie, in my opinion.

As good as that 1990 'pen was, the 2012 staff has been far more dominant, and the biggest reason has to do with depth. Lou Piniella had three go-to guys during that world championship season in the likes of The Nasty Boys (Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble, and Randy Myers), while Dusty Baker has more than a handful of arms he can turn to in order to get the job done in '12. My main concern with this Reds team moving forward is their ability to score runs. If they can muster up some timely offense, they'll be in good shape because of the guys sitting beyond the outfield wall.

*Through 147 games 

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