March 11, 2011

2011 Position Preview: Relief Pitchers

Clint Hurdle made his first major move as manager when he named Joel Hanrahan the closer at the beginning of spring training. It's the same move I advocated the day after the Octavio Dotel trade so obviously I support the decision. Hanrahan's two pitch arsenal plays well in a one inning role, while Evan Meek is better suited for a more versatile role including multiple inning appearances. I also applaud Hurdle for making the move when he did; now both pitchers can concentrate on getting ready for the season without worrying about their roles. Position battles should be left to players who aren't core components on the team.

Hanrahan is a prototypical two-pitch closer - and it's a formidable one-two punch. His 96 mph heater is the fastest on the Pittsburgh staff, and his strikeout pitch - a hard-breaking 85 mph slider - is flat out unhittable when he keeps it down. Joel's 2010 season was a huge step forward and certainly merits a closing role.

2008: 84 IP, 6-3, 3.95, 1.36 WHIP, 9.9 K/9
2009: 64 IP, 1-4, 4.78, 1.67 WHIP, 10.1 K/9
2010: 70 IP, 4-1, 3.62, 1.21 WHIP, 12.9 K/9

Hanrahan's career was floundering in Washington, making him a throw-in in the Nyjer Morgan deal. He had a 7.71 ERA at the time of the trade in June 2009, but since then has compiled a 3.03 ERA and 12.2 K/9 in 102 appearances.

Last offseason, Joel added over a full mile per hour to his fastball. I'm not expecting further improvement for his age 29 season, but improvement is not necessary for a man who's already one of the most unhittable relievers in the league. He was a bit unlucky in ERA in 2010 so I'd expect that to come down to around 3.25, with a 1.20 WHIP and 12 K/9 in 70 innings.

Set-Up Man: Evan Meek
Evan added two miles per hour to his fastball last year with All-Star results. While Hanrahan's 96 mph fastball is straight gas, Meek now throws his at 95 mph with devastating movement. Evan also features a 93 mph cutter, an 84 mph slider, and an 81 mph curve. He was always unhittable, but 2010 was the year he finally cut his walk rate to the "effectively wild" range.

2008: 13 IP, 0-1, 6.92, 1.77 WHIP, 4.8 K/9
2009: 47 IP, 1-1, 3.45, 1.34 WHIP, 8.0 K/9
2010: 80 IP, 5-4, 2.14, 1.05 WHIP, 7.9 K/9

2010 was probably a career year, but Evan Meek is a true relief ace with four above average pitches. With his arsenal, he's the type of guy who in the 1970s would have thrown 130 innings out of the bullpen and made a couple of spot starts. I do have a pretty sweet brown, tan, light tan and white shirt, but it doesn't have a big collar which means it's 2011 and we'll have to settle for 75 innings, a 2.90 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP, and 8 K/9.

Middle Reliever: Chris Resop
This is where things get worrisome to some fans. In addition to Meek and Hanrahan, last year's pre-trade deadline Pirates bullpen featured three accomplished and reliable veterans in Octavio Dotel, Javier Lopez and D.J. Carrasco. Apart from his top two guys this year, Clint Hurdle will be forced to rely on a combination of journeymen, unproven minor leaguers, and failed starters.

The best of that bunch is Chris Resop. He's a lock to make the team and has strikeout stuff, so I'm penciling him in as the seventh inning set-up man. He throws a 94 mph fastball three-quarters of the time and also features a 78 mph curveball that he needs to command better. He has a changeup that he may throw once an inning. He had a 2.09 ERA last year as an AAA starter before the Braves brought him up, used him for one poor outing, and then tried to sneak him through waivers. The Pirates pounced with good results.

2008: 18 IP, 0-1, 5.89, 1.42 WHIP, 6.4 K/9
2010: 21 IP, 0-0, 3.86, 1.33 WHIP, 11.1 K/9

His 2010 stats are skewed by the bad game in Atlanta - after the Pirates added him, Resop had a 1.89 ERA. But 19 good innings notwithstanding, Resop will remain a question mark until he can duplicate that success. It's hard to believe he'll hold batters to a .156 average as he did last season. That being said, he certainly deserves a shot. This is a shot in the dark but I'd be happy with 60 innings, a 4.50 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 8 K/9.

Lefty Specialist: Joe Beimel
Elk County's fourth favorite son pitched at Duquesne, started his career with the Pirates, and now returns as the bullpen's elder statesman. Beimel wasn't that effective from 2001-05, but like many crafty lefthanders, Joe figured things out comparatively late in his career. Since 2006 he has averaged over 70 appearances a year for the past five seasons with a 3.20 ERA.

Last year, Beimel was a true specialist as he held lefthanded hitters to a .221/.275/.379 batting line while righthanders torched him to the tune of .329/.388/.574. He averages well under an inning per appearance, and in six postseason appearances has faced a total of seven batters.

2008: 49 IP, 5-1, 2.02, 1.45 WHIP, 5.9 K/9
2009: 55 IP, 1-6, 3.58, 1.37 WHIP, 5.7 K/9
2010: 45 IP, 1-2, 3.40, 1.36 WHIP, 4.2 K/9

Beimel will be 34, but this type of pitcher doesn't usually regress much at that age. He should also benefit from a return to sea level after a year and a half with the Rockies. If he's the only lefty in Clint Hurdle's bullpen, I wouldn't be surprised to see Joe in 81 games. I'd count on him for 50 innings, a 3.60 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 5 K/9.

Long Relievers
I'll cover the battle for the last bullpen spot later, but there are two guys left who are almost certain to make the team.

Recalled after the bullpen was decimated by late July trades, Daniel McCutchen put together a great month of August last year. In ten games including a spot start, he compiled a 1.00 ERA in 18 innings. Then it was back to old ways - an 8.04 ERA in the final month which brought his season mark up to 6.12. McCutchen's 90 mph straight fastball is batting practice, so he needs to make either his split-fingered fastball or slider into an out pitch to be better than an AAA guy. Nevertheless, there aren't many obstacles to his making this staff. He'll start out in a role similar to D.J. Carrasco's a year ago, but I'd be shocked if he keeps his ERA under 5.00. I expect him to throw 40 innings with a 5.80 ERA, 1.60 WHIP and 5 K/9 before ending up back in Indianapolis.

Jeff Karstens threw 123 much-needed innings last year with a 4.92 ERA. He showed excellent control which offset the fact that he allowed batters to hit .300 against him. A slow curveball is the only above average pitch of Karstens' four, but he's been smart enough thus far to at least eat innings without getting lit up. And an innings eater out of the bullpen is a near necessity in the likely event that Charlie Morton is in the starting rotation. Unlike McCutchen, I think Karstens will stick the whole year and end up with some starts too. I'd expect 110 innings with a 5.00 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 5.5 K/9.

1 comment:

  1. I have absolutely no clue. This looks like a weak staff from top to bottom. Is McDonald going to have another famous Pirates starter who had a good year last year drop off?