Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A 2014 preseason outlook on the bullpen for the Reds

Cincinnati Reds pitching has been a major reason for the team's recent success. A key component to the Reds pitching staff is obviously its bullpen. For the past few years, the Reds bullpen has been among the best in Major League Baseball. In 2013, they finished the season with the seventh-best team ERA at 3.29 and the lowest batting average against them at .216.

The 2014 season promises much of the same from Cincinnati's relievers. The 'pen will be comprised of the same main cast of characters as it was in 2013, and mostly 2012 as well when they led all of baseball in team ERA. They hope to get Sean Marshall back at full strength, after he made just 16 appearances last season with shoulder ailments. They also hope hefty right-hander Jonathan Broxton is able to recover fully from forearm surgery in August.

If they get those two guys back healthy, and the rest of the staff makes solid contributions, there's no reason to think the Reds bullpen won't be among the best in baseball again. Hopefully they avoid suffering more nagging injuries, as well as a decline in performance and throw together another strong year.

Here's a brief preview of the Reds projected bullpen:

Notable Losses: LHP Zach Duke (FA), RHP Nick Masset (FA)

Notable Additions: RHP Pedro Beato (waiver claim from Boston)

Sam LeCure - The mustached man was as dependable as any reliever the Reds had in 2013. He posted a 2-1 record with a 2.66 ERA in 61 innings, while striking out 66 batters. He also picked up his first career save in 2013. He is one of the best in the business at stranding inherited runners also. Last season, he inherited 27 base runners and allowed only three of them to score. Even better than that, of the 14 times in his career that he has come into a game with the bases loaded, he has stranded 40 of 42 runners. That's pretty darn good. The Reds signed LeCure through 2015 this offseason, so expect more of the same from him for the next two years.

ESPN Projections: 47 G, 60 IP, 4 Wins, 3.45 ERA, 60 K

J.J. Hoover - Hoover may be the man most affected by the new rule to keep facial hair "under control." He may get a little leeway if he leads the staff in appearances again as he did in 2013 when he played in 69 games. He struck out 67 batters over 66 innings and posted a 2.86 ERA. Hoover was relied upon to fill in at the setup role, due to other injuries, making more of his appearances in the eighth inning than any other. He'll surely be expected to start the season there again if Broxton is not ready to resume his responsibilities as the right-handed setup man.

ESPN Projections: 68 G, 68 IP, 4 Wins, 3.31 ERA, 66 K

Alfredo Simon - He is the classic long reliever on this staff, with the occasional late game duty depending on need and performance. He's already being looked at as a possible short-term rotation candidate should Mat Latos not be ready to start the season on time. He's starting the first spring training game to help get him stretched out. Simon was 6-4, with a 2.87 ERA, throwing 87.2 innings over 63 games in 2013, turning into a solid member of the bullpen over the past couple years.

ESPN Projections: 48 G, 68 IP, 4 Wins, 3.84 ERA, 50 K

Manny Parra - The left-hander was not popular among Reds fans early on. He got off to a rough start giving up six earned runs in April, which covered his first six games with the Reds. He settled down though and over last five months of the season, he gave up 11 earned runs, giving him a 3.33 ERA overall. He's not the best pitcher out there, but he provided a valuable service to the Reds with his left arm, considering Marshall missed most of the season. With Marshall back in the fold, it takes pressure off Parra and gives the Bryan Price an extra weapon to deploy from the bullpen.

ESPN Projections: 20 G, 20 IP, 1 Win, 4.05 ERA, 22 K

Sean Marshall - Marshall and his fancy curveball will look to make a full-time return in 2014. Marshall, as mentioned above, made just 16 appearances last year, but looks to be healthy going into this spring. He did record 3.1 innings of hitless baseball over five games at the end of 2013, so that shows promise. Marshall should easily slide back into the left-handed setup role and the Reds will rely on him to protect leads to hand off to the Reds powerful lefty closer. There were talks of Marshall possibly being traded over the offseason, so that's something to keep an eye on as the season goes along.

ESPN Projections: 62 G, 55 IP, 4 Wins, 2.62 ERA, 61 K

Jonathan Broxton - Big Brox will eat no less than 500 coneys this season. Wait, this is a baseball preview. Broxton has surgery on his forearm in August to repair a torn flexor tendon. He has been throwing this spring and has yet to experience any issues, but it's not yet know whether he'll be ready on Opening Day. The Reds will be cautious so they can do what best for the long term. Barring any major setbacks, he should be ready fairly early in the season. Broxton is going into the second year of his big three-year, $21 million contract so he's going to have major expectations to live up to in 2014.

ESPN Projections: 40 G, 40 IP, 2 Wins, 3.83 ERA, 33 K

Aroldis Chapman - He's Cuban. He throws the ball really fast. In 2013, Chapman picked up 38 saves in 43 chances just like he did in 2012. A few of his peripheral number did decline though. His 2.54 ERA was about a point higher. His innings went down from 71.2 to 63.2 and he struck out (112) 10 less hitters. Even with Price at the helm, it appears that Chapman will remain the team's closer, though he plans to be more open to bringing Chapman in earlier instead of saving him for just one inning of work. To me, Chapman will be effective as long as he stays mentally prepared. He's a budding young superstar, and as his fastball and star burns brighter, so will his attitude. He's already shown lapses in judgement both on and off the field. If Price can get Chapman to buy into the team and stay focused, Chapman should be dominating hitters all year once again.

ESPN Projections: 73 G, 71 IP, 5 Wins, 44 SV, 2.28 ERA, 2.28 K

Pitchers we could see later in the season: Logan Ondrusek, Pedro Beato, Nick Christiani

Group Grade: A

Final Word: This group will be solid as usual. With Marshall healthy and Broxton on his way to full health, the bullpen should be as good, if not better than it was last year with Chapman anchoring the back end. Relief pitching could be crucial to the 2014 Reds, as many have predicted that they will struggle offensively with the replacement of Shin-Soo Choo by Billy Hamilton. It may not be easy for them to come by as many leads as other teams do, but they'll need to be able to hold on to the ones they get if they want to go back to the postseason again. When all is said and done, if there is one group on which to place the blame if the season is a failure, I doubt the bullpen will be it. I trust this group more than any on the team.

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