Friday, August 31, 2007

How did it get worse?

One of the great themes of the Orioles ineptitude seems to be that when you think they can get any worse in a particular area, they then proceed to do exactly that.

Last season's Orioles bullpen finished with a 5.25 ERA, ahead of only the Royals in the American League. The Front Office then proceeded with an aggressive strategy of procuring bullpen help through free agency, signing Danys Baez, Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford and Scott Williamson - a group that helped form the core of what has become derisively known to some as the $42M bullpen, the total financial commitment to the quartet (most of it to the first three).

But here we sit on September 1 and the Orioles' relief corps currently has a 5.78 ERA, ahead of only the Devil Rays in the American League. And that was before five relievers combined to give up six earned runs in six innings in a 9-8 win over the Red Sox.

The team has used 16 relievers this year, with only Bradford (118 ERA+) and Walker (154 ERA+) rating as above average relievers (league relief ERA = 4.25) as well as Jeremy Guthrie who has pitched predominantly as a starter.

After that it's a rotating list of relievers who range from average to abysmal including Ray, Leicester, Burres, Birkins, Hoey, Doyne, Baez, Johnson, Williamson, Parrish, Williams, Bell, and of course the incomparable Paul Shuey.

The Orioles have brought in their fair share of trash, but even seemingly decent relievers have pitched poorly. Chris Ray improved his peripherals tremendously but saw his ERA jump almost two runs. James Hoey pitched extremely well for a short stretch but once again has a four digit ERA. Danys Baez was always going to be wildly overpaid, but did anyone expect him to add two runs to his career ERA?

But what can be done? I'm a big proponent of the Earl Weaver strategy of letting young (future) starters throw out of the major league bullpen. If the rotation next season is Bedard/Cabrera/Guthrie/Loewen/Olson, pitch Liz, Penn and Burres out of the bullpen. Add that to a core of Baez, Walker, Hoey, and Bradford, and you have a nice bullpen. In theory at least. Maybe you see Francisco Cabrera in there somewhere, and Cory Doyne or Rocky Cherry will be options, too.

No more retreads. There is no place for Todd Williams, Rob Bell, and Paul Shuey to be in the bullpen. There's little downside in giving them a shot if the need arises, but the team can't continue to give them 20 appearances when it's clear they're not servicable pitchers anymore. Use vets with a long track record (Walker and Bradford) or young guys with big arms.

The team is dead last in WXRL (expected wins added over replacement level). I'm hesitant to say they can't get any worse, but when your entire bullpen is sub-replacement level, it's hard to get worse without setting records for ineptitude. With 16 losses when leading after seven, it isn't hard to see why the Orioles are one of the worst teams in baseball yet again.

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