Friday, January 7, 2011

2010 Review: Relief Pitchers

And, time for quick spin through the bullpen:

Francisco Cordero -- Expectations: Medium, Grade: D+

Unfortunately, the Reds are on the hook for big money to a closer who is heading in the wrong direction. When the Reds signed Coco away from division rival Brewers, they were acquiring the services of an elite, shutdown closer. In each of the three seasons prior to joining the Reds, Coco tossed at least 63 innings, posted K/9 marks of greater than 10.0, and posted BB/9 marks of less than 4.0.

The Reds have gotten a couple of good seasons from Coco, but his performance has undeniably been a notch below where it was before arriving in the Queen City. That wasn't much of a problem in 2008 and 2009, but in 2010 it was alarming.

Coco's strikeout rate has fallen from 12.22 in his final year with the Brewers to 9.98 in 2008 to 7.83 in 2009 and finally to 7.31 in 2010. Those rates are typically more than acceptable, unless they are paired with walk rates of greater than 4.0. If you are going to walk that many, then you need to strikeout hitters at a dominant rate. Since 2002 through 2007, Coco sported a K/BB ratio of 2.37 or higher, with the high water mark being 4.78 in 2007. However, starting in 2008 on forward, he has posted K/BB marks of 2.05, 1.93, and 1.64. Coco's 2010 contact rate also jumped all the way up to 79%, which matched the second worst rate of his career.

Interestingly enough, Coco's problems largely came on the fastball, which simply lost effectiveness. In 2009, Coco's fastball was 8.1 runs above average, but in 2010 Coco's fastball was a mere 0.7 runs above average. The slider was exactly as effective in 2010 as it was in 2009, clocking in at 5.1 runs above average in both years.

Additionally, Dusty was fairly conservative with Coco's usage. The Bill James Handbook includes a stat for relievers called the Leverage Index. In short, a mark of 1.0 is an average leverage index. The higher the index, the more times the reliever is working with the game on the line. The lower the index, the more times the reliever is working in mop-up duty. For 2010, Coco's leverage index was 2.1, which is pretty standard for closers.

However, it's clear that Dusty tried to protect Coco to a certain extent, as Coco only inherited 4 runners the entire season (perhaps not surprisingly, 3 of the those runners came around to score). In comparison, San Francisco Giant closer Brian Wilson was utilized much more aggressively by Bruce Bochy, as he inherited a whopping 30 baserunners and allowed a mere 4 of them to score.

On the season, Coco only had 1 "tough save" opportunity, which is defined as a situation where the reliever enters the game with the tying run on base. And, of course, Coco blew his only "tough save" opportunity. Again, for comparison sake, Brian Wilson had 9 tough save opportunities and converted on 7 of them.

Overall, this declining dominance is not unexpected, as Coco will be 36-years old in early 2011. Unfortunately, that means his days of blowing the doors off the competition in the late innings are likely over.

Nick Masset -- Expectations: Medium, Grade: C

Masset continues to be a very effective member of the Reds bullpen and his acquisition in the Ken Griffey Jr. deal was one of the more unheralded of recent memory. At the time, Griffey had little to no trade value, but GM Walt Jocketty still managed to extract a high leverage reliever from the White Sox for his services. It's a deal that has helped solidify the back end of the bullpen and provided much needed late inning stability.

In 2010, Masset was essentially the same pitcher he was in 2009. He tossed 76.2 innings and posted a 3.40 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 3.9 BB/9, and 10.0 K/9. His walk rate and strikeout rate both increased, but the real difference in his performance came from a regression to the mean of his BABIP (from .250 in 2009 to .303 in 2010). Additionally, and not surprisingly in light of the increase in hit rate, his strand rate dropped from 80.5% in 2009 to 76.0% in 2010. Regardless, he was largely the same pitcher in 2010 as he was in 2009, as his FIP was 3.23 in 2009 and 3.38 in 2010.

On the season, his pitch mix was largely the same, except he threw the curveball 5% more often and the cutter 7.4% less often. Masset also worked heavily in key situations, as his Leverage Index was 1.3. He also inherited 32 runners, only 9 of whom came around to score, and posted an opponent OPS of .643.

In addition to the aforementioned increase in walk rate, Masset threw significantly fewer first pitch strikes (down to 48% in 2010 from 59% in 2009), so the command certainly did falter a bit in 2010.

Overall, Masset continues to post solid production that will ensure that Dusty leans heavily on him in the future high leverage situations. In fact, he could be next in line for the closer gig if Coco continues his slow fade.

Logan Ondrusek -- Expectations: Low , Grade: B+

Ondrusek quickly established that his breakthrough performance in the minors was no sample size fluke, as he carried his new found success and cutter to the bump in Great American Ballpark. He assumed a hefty workload and was a key member of the relief corps.

Logan tossed a 3.68 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 58.2 innings. Not bad for a rookie. The strikeout (5.98 K/9) and walk (3.07 BB/9) rates aren't overly strong, but he actually did a nice job of missing bats (77.1% contact rate). The contact he did allow, however, was in the air more often than was expected by his minor league track record. On the season, Ondrusek actually had neutral groundball/flyball tendencies (0.99 GB/FB). His overall performance was aided by a lower than expected BABIP of .249. Overall, it was a nice season for Ondrusek, but he'll need to improve on his peripherals in 2011 if he wants to sustain his level of performance.

Ondrusek also did a very nice job stranding inherited runners. Of the 26 he inherited, only 7 came around to score. His 27% scoring clip was the second best on the team behind only ageless wonder, Arthur Rhodes, at 14%. Unlike Rhodes, however, Ondrusek was not used in high leverage innings (0.9 Leverage Index).

If Ondrusek can improve his peripherals, then he'll likely be spending time in more crucial, high leverage situations in 2011 and beyond. Ondrusek is a prime example of the improving depth and quality of the organization's farm system. As a general rule, the best arms in a farm system are developed as starting pitchers. In the past, the Reds had far fewer quality arms in the system, which resulted in prospects likely better suited to relieving being developed as starters. Given the miscasting of these prospects, the organization struggled to develop starters and relievers. The rebirth of the farm system has allowed the organization to bump quality arms like Ondrusek down into relief roles, where they can develop into assets for the Major League roster.

Arthur Rhodes -- Expectations: Medium, Grade: A

As remarkable as it sounds, Rhodes has posted a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the past three seasons. And, even more remarkably, the last two took place in the hitter's paradise known as Great American Ballpark. In 2010, he managed to be even better.

In 55.0 high leverage innings (1.4 Leverage Index), the 40-year old Rhodes posted a 2.29 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 50/18 K/BB ratio. Rhodes not only pitched well, but pitched well in crucial situations. He inherited 36 runners and stranded all but 5 of them. So, not only was his own ERA stellar, but he also bailed out other pitchers and helped keep their ERAs low.

Overall, Rhodes outperformed his peripherals, as his FIP of 3.24 was almost a full run higher than his actual ERA. Part of that discrepancy resulted from his .244 BABIP and 83.7% strand rate, which both could conceivably regress in the future.

Ultimately, Rhodes was the most valuable reliever on the roster in 2010. Unfortunately, the Reds let Rhodes get away to the Texas Rangers. After all the cries of poverty coming out of Cincinnati, one wonders if the $2M (possibly $3M if incentives are reached) they spent on Edgar Renteria would have been better used to bring Rhodes back in 2011. If Rhodes was still in the mix, then the Reds might be more willing to develop Aroldis Chapman in the minors as a starter. Art's departure created a hole in the bullpen that had to be filled. Chapman has been tabbed as just the player to do it. Aroldis dominated as a reliever, but the longer he stays in that role, the less likely he'll be moved back to the starting rotation.

The departure of Rhodes means not only the loss of his production, but perhaps also a change in long-term role for Aroldis Chapman. If true, Rhodes's departure could have a long lasting impact on the future of the organization.

Jordan Smith -- Expectations: Low, Grade: B

Smith joined Logan Ondrusek to give the Reds an unexpected tandem of homegrown, young relievers. Smith tossed 42.0 innings, posting 3.86 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 2.36 BB/9, and 5.57 K/9. Similarly to Ondrusek, Smith outperformed his peripherals, as his 4.94 FIP was over a full run higher than his actual ERA. While his BABIP was a respectable .291, his strand rate was likely unsustainable at 83.0%.

Somewhat surprisingly, Smith's heavy groundball tendencies in the minors did not translate to the MLB level, as evidenced by his 1.06 GB/FB ratio. His defining characteristic as a pitcher is his groundball rate, as he has always been a pitch-to-contact type pitcher. And, it's tough to excel in a hitter's ballpark with that type of profile unless you are racking up the groundballs.

Smith inherited 17 runners and allowed 6 of them to come around to score. Smith was used largely in low leverage situations (0.7 Leverage Index) by Dusty Baker and will likely to continue as a long reliever or mop-up man in the future. His lack of overpowering stuff will likely prevent him from becoming a setup man or closer, but if he can rediscover his groundball touch, then he might be the type of pitcher you need in the bullpen to throw a key double-play ball.

Overall, Smith performed well out of the bullpen in 2010, but he'll likely struggle to maintain that success unless he rediscovers the heavy sink on his pitches.

Billy Bray -- Expectations: None, Grade: B

Bray continues to drive fans insane. He demonstrates flashes of brilliance in between very long stints on the disabled list. In 2010, Bray managed to stay on the field long enough to log 28.1 innings in which he posted a 4.13 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 3.18 BB/9, and 9.53 K/9.

Unlike Smith and Ondrusek, Bray's peripherals were superior to his production. His FIP of 3.86 is lower than his ERA. Additionally, his strand rate is surprisingly low at 70.9%, which might regress to higher levels in 2011 if he can actually stay on the field long enough for it to happen.

He was used largely in non-key situations, as his Leverage Index was 0.7. Obviously, his inconsistent health has prevented the Reds from relying on him in any appreciable manner. A healthy Bray would somewhat offset the loss of Arthur Rhodes, but his track record indicates that a full season of production is rather unlikely.

Aroldis Chapman -- Expectations: Medium, Grade: A++

Incredible. Electric. Unbelievable.

The big question on Aroldis is whether the Reds will be able to convert him from mere spectacle into a big time MLB contributor.


  1. I love chapman

    Ill love him a lot less as a reliever

  2. Smitty,

    Agreed. I really wonder if the Reds will be able to turn Chapman into something other than an athletic freak. They need him to be more than a curiosity. They need him to be productive.

    I'm just not sure they'll have the huevos to send him to the minors to develop his command/offspeed offerings.