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Wither the Bullpen?
2007-03-18 22:11
by Mike Carminati

When I used o play fantasy baseball—actually, back then it was still called "Rotisserie" baseball—one of more effective stratagems, or perhaps my sole effective one, was to forego the mad rush for relief pitchers. As the early-round feeding frenzy for relievers, or more to the point, saves, since that is their one category, commenced I stayed out of the fray. I looked for pitchers who were available later, ones with good opportunities, and traded up when possible via free agency throughout the year, and always won or came close to winning the saves category.

That seems to be the Phils strategy with their actual bullpen this year. They do have some spots filled, but after losing a ton of bullpen vets in the last year, they have to cobble together the tail-end of the staff, something that has not been an issue since before the Ed Wade era. Of course, Wade was notorious for getting a veteran reliever in every trade he made. Actually, the problem was that that was the only thing he could get.

The Phils do have veteran Tom Gordon under contract for another two seasons, though his arm came under question when he flew up to Philly for a checkup. Factor in his age, his second-half slide, and the still unanswered question of whether he's a setup, as he was in New York before the Phils signed him, or a closer. The Phils even (ludicrously so) flirted with starter Brett Myers as the closer earlier this spring to resolve the issue.

Aside from Gordon, there's Geoff Geary, who finally came into his own in 2006, and will apparently be the setup guy this year if Charlie "I Need a Friggin'" Manuel has any semblance of a plan. Ryan Madson is the long man as always especially given that there are already six starters. Then there's reclamation project Antonio Alfonseca as possibly another setup guy or some sort of reliever. 2006 rookies Matt Smith and Fabio Castro will apparently fill the lefty spots. And potentially, Justin Germano will take the last righty spot. Unless, of course, he doesn't.

Where's Porfi Altamirano when you need him?

Let's say that these guys comprise the Phils bullpen this year. They will enter the season with just 29.4 Win Shares given their 2006 performance:

Name2006 Pitch WSTeam
Antonio Alfonseca0.40TEX
Fabio Castro0.40TEX
Fabio Castro3.20PHI
Geoff Geary9.80PHI
Justin Germano0.20CIN
Matt Smith1.30PHI
Matt Smith1.80NYA
Ryan Madson4.10PHI
Tom Gordon8.20PHI

That's a remarkable low total, especially when you consider that almost two-thirds are derived from Gordon's and Geary's totals.

How bad is it though? I took a look at the performance of a given bullpen from the previous season. That is, how bad did these pitchers look at the start of the season? Could they have come off a collective poor or inexperienced season, and then pull things together in season two? Basically, will the bullpen be an Achilles heel for the Phils barring a trade or could it be solved by the personnel they currently have?

Looking at the stats starting in 1969, the Phils are pretty bad but come in at just 70th. Here are the worst:

2003Detroit Tigers 11.3 1043119.2655
2002Tampa Bay Devil Rays 11.4 855106.3425
1969Kansas City Royals 16.4 86993.4264
1991Houston Astros 16.8 96597.4016
1998Florida Marlins 16.8 954108.3335
1983Milwaukee Brewers 17.4 78775.5375
1974Texas Rangers 18.1 98476.5252
1995New York Mets 18.7 86975.4792
1995Detroit Tigers 19.1 76084.4174
1994Houston Astros 19.3 76649.5742
2004Pittsburgh Pirates 19.5 127289.4475
1996Minnesota Twins 20.5 117884.4814
1995Philadelphia Phillies 20.5 126975.4793
1982Seattle Mariners 20.7 87686.4694
1982Kansas City Royals 20.8 99072.5562

There are actually some pretty good teams in there. So looking at the 74 bullpens with 30 or fewer pitching Win Shares from the previous season, how many made the playoffs? That's what the Philly brass and news media are trying to sell to the local yokels, that the Phils are a playoff team if not the best overall team in the NL East (Jimmy Rollins, please shut up and learn how to lead off). So will the pen be an albatross around their collective necks this year?

The answer is an apparent yes. Only four of the 74 qualifying teams made the playoffs wither as a division winner or a wild card (1988 A's, 1997 Astros, 1981 Dodgers, and 1995 M's), and two of those teams came in strike-shortened seasons.

So what should the Phils do? Trade the extra veteran starter (Jon Lieber?) for a veteran reliever or two. Of course, I'm still concerned with a possible dysfunctional non-platoon at third and having the starting center fielder play right. I won't even go into the mind F the Phils did to Pat Burrell this past offseason. And Adam Frakin' Eaton and his 4.40 career ERA mostly in San Diego? Bleck!

This hole is at least something the Phils can fix, but they had better start moving before Antonia Alfonseca and his twelve fingers become this season's Arthur Dusty Rhodes. And even with Jimy Williams on the bench instructing Manuel on how to use a bullpen can't overcome Manuel's actual presence and Rich Dubee's eminent sub-mediocrity as pitching coach.

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