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What to do with the Red Sox Bullpen?

Wednesday January 4th, 2012

Sam Evans: The Red Sox new management has already made a lot of moves to bolster their pitching staff this offseason. The one main idea that new General Manager Ben Cherington has brought to the Sox this year is competition. The Red Sox are looking for as many players to compete not only for a rotation spot, but for a chance to be the Red Sox closer in 2012.

My first reaction to hearing that Boston wanted to move Alfredo Aceves to the rotation was very negative. Aceves is a 29 year-old reliever who throws a fastball in the low nineties. Last year, Aceves threw 114 innings and had a 2.61 ERA. Going into Spring Training, the Red Sox are going to try out Aceves in the rotation. There is no way to know whether or not this move is going to work, but it’s a risky move for sure. Nonetheless, if the Red Sox only have Aceves throw one hundred and fifty innings this season, his workload would not be dramatically increased from 2011.

This past Wednesday, the Red Sox and A’s confirmed a five player trade which sent 2009 AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey to Boston. The Red Sox made it clear that they acquired Bailey to be their closer, and only that. Bailey has a lengthy injury history which is not good for a 27-year-old. He made the 2009 and 2010 All-Star teams but in 2011, he struggled due to his injuries. The Red Sox can always move Bard back to the closer spot if needbe, but for the time being it’s Bailey’s job to lose.

Daniel Bard was always waiting to take Jonathan Papelbon‘s closer role. Now, with Papelbon signing a 4- year, $50 million deal with the Phillies, one would think that Bard would slide into the back-end of the bullpen. With the Bailey acquisition, the Red Sox have made it crystal clear that Bard is heading to the rotation. In my opinion, this is not a great idea because Bard always struggled as a starter and doesn’t appear able to handle the workload. If everything goes wrong for Bard as a starter during Spring Training, he will take to becoming the Sox setup man. However, if Bard’s nasty slider can propel him to a successful spring, then he will replace the injured John Lackey and take over as Boston’s fifth starter.

The Red Sox haven’t improved much, if any at any other position other than their bullpen this offseason. I don’t like the trade that the Red Sox made, trading Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland for Mark Melancon. But Melancon is a nice piece to have in your bullpen. The former Yankee took advantage of Houston’s sparse bullpen last year, collecting twenty saves with a 2.78 ERA. If Bard stays in the rotation, Melancon will be the setup man. Otherwise, he will probably slide into the 7th inning role. Keep in mind that GM Ben Cherington and new manager Bobby Valentine have not ruled out the possibility that Melancon could close in 2012.

The Red Sox have other options in their bullpen, but none as strong as the previous four. Franklin Morales is a young one-time Baseball America top-ten prospect that has never had success with any breaking pitches. Bobby Jenks is due to make six million dollars in 2012, but he’s fallen off a cliff since 2009. Maybe the Sox saw the Yankees looking victorious with their big man, (C.C. Sabathia) and they took a chance on Jenks. Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, and Alex Wilson could all see time in the bullpen this year, but none pose a serious threat to take over the closer job.

Overall, the Red Sox have shown great effort this offseason to improve their bullpen. Despite losing their most valuable relief arm, the Sox have improved the quality of their bullpen across the board. The Red Sox have a big year coming in 2012, and with the recent additions to the their bullpen, it’s starting to look like they’ll be back in the playoffs once again.

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter***

 

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Top 10 Closers: MLB Saves Leaders

Thursday August 25, 2011

 

 

Rob Bland (Intern- MLB reports):  Closers are a topic a lot of people ask about, but I never really got around to writing about.  Mainly because, in my opinion, it is a position that is completely overrated.  While it certainly helps to have a guy that can go in and slam the door and collect saves for over a decade a la Mariano Rivera, it isn’t necessary to have a “closer” to be a contending team.  One need only to look at the top 20 leaders in saves in baseball to notice that the Texas Rangers’ closer Neftali Feliz sits 19th with 25 saves, and Philadelphia Phillies’ Ryan Madson is 20th with 23 saves.  It also doesn’t guarantee success, as Heath Bell, Drew Storen, Leo Nunez, Joel Hanrahan are all in the top 10 in saves, while their teams are not in playoff contention.

 

Top 10 Saves Leaders in MLB as of today:

Pitcher Team Saves K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP WAR
Craig Kimbrel Atlanta Braves 40 14.56 3.53 1.70 1.20 3.1
John Axford Milwaukee Brewers 37 10.86 3.32 2.26 2.36 1.7
Jose Valverde Detroit Tigers 37 8.31 4.79 2.72 4.08 0.2
Brian Wilson San Francisco Giants 35 8.72 5.20 3.19 3.40 0.7
Heath Bell San Diego Padres 35 6.79 3.23 2.55 3.07 0.7
Drew Storen Washington Nationals 34 8.03 2.19 2.77 3.48 0.6
Mariano Rivera New York Yankees 33 8.45 0.92 2.20 2.23 1.8
Leo Nunez Florida Marlins 33 8.31 2.88 4.63 4.02 0.1
Joel Hanrahan Pittsburgh Pirates 32 7.85 2.04 1.73 2.17 1.8
JJ Putz Arizona Diamondbacks 32 8.28 2.17 2.76 3.10 1.0

I look at this list and a few things come to mind:

1)      Craig Kimbrel is absolutely filthy.

2)      Mariano Rivera is still one of the very best.

3)      Closers are more overrated than I originally expected.

4)      A lot of saves does not equal success.

5)      Craig Kimbrel.  Wow.

Craig Kimbrel is having the best year ever for a rookie closer.  It isn’t even September and he has 40 saves.  Not only that, but he is striking out more than 14 batters per 9 innings.  His FIP is a ridiculous 1.20, and his WAR is at 3.1, which is 1.3 higher than any other closer in the Major Leagues.  His ground ball rate is 43.7% and has only given up 1 home run in 63 2/3 innings.  If the Braves end up winning the Wild Card and have a lead late in games, the shutdown duo of Johnny Venters and Kimbrel should be able to save the game for the Braves in most instances.

John Axford has had a strange way to becoming one of the premier closers in all of baseball.  It took him many years to get there, but under the tutelage of Trevor Hoffman, the career saves leader, whom Axford took his job from, he has flourished.  In 2010, Axford had 24 saves after taking over for Hoffman mid-season, and this year’s 37 so far are tied for 2nd in the big leagues.  Axford gets over 50% ground balls, and keeps the ball in the yard, two main factors for his success.

Jose Valverde is one of the closers whom I find to be overrated.  Part of his success can be attributed to a lucky .250 BABIP.   He also walks close to 5 batters per 9 innings, which is extremely high, especially when he does not strike out a very high number of batters.  Valverde may appear to be very good with 37 saves, but his 0.2 WAR suggests that he is basically a replacement level pitcher.  Surely he is not worth the $7M he is being paid.

Brian Wilson is loved by many in the game.  He is funny, has a strange personality, (which seems to be perfectly suited for the bullpen) and he has an outrageous beard.  Since 2008, he has accumulated 162 saves, so he is very valuable at the back-end of the Giants’ bullpen.  He keeps the ball on the ground, with a career 50% ground ball rate, but he walks a ton of batters (5.20/9IP).  He gets a lot of save opportunities because the starting rotation is very good, and his team doesn’t score many runs, so there are a lot of close games. 

Heath Bell has put up some ridiculous numbers over the last few years, but these numbers come with half of his games played in the cavernous PETCO Park.  While his last two seasons had his K rate over 10, he sits at 6.79 for this season.  His ground ball rate is also down 5% to 43.  Although his ERA is a good 2.55, his xFIP is 3.89, and like Wilson, gets saves because of an anaemic offense that results in his team often being in close games.

Drew Storen is another of the Washington Nationals’ young phenoms.  He moved up the ranks, throwing only 53 2/3 innings in the minor leagues before making his debut in 2010.  He has been a tad lucky as his BABIP is .241, but he gets a lot of ground balls, so the hits will even out.  He also gives up a higher than average home run per fly ball rate at 11.1%.  Storen doesn’t walk many, and as he matures, should probably strike out a higher number.  When Washington starts winning more games, he will have even more opportunities for saves.

Mariano Rivera is up to his usual tricks. Even at 41 years old, he is carving up hitters with his signature cut fastball.  Rivera has a ridiculous 9:1 K:BB ratio, as well as getting ground balls 47% of the time.  His WAR sits at 1.8, tied for second best for closers.  The only question is when will this guy ever slow down?

Leo Nunez of the Florida Marlins may be the most overrated closer in baseball.  Nunez doesn’t get a lot of ground balls, nor does he strike out a ton, as he gives up a ton of fly balls (49%) and home runs (8 in 56 IP).  Nunez’s ERA of 4.63 actually looks worse than his 4.02 FIP, so he has been a little unlucky, but still not very good.

Joel Hanrahan has found a home at the back-end up the Pirates’ bullpen, and is thriving there.  While his K rate has dropped to 7.85/9 IP from almost 13 last year, he has walked less batters.  Hanrahan has been able to induce ground balls on over half of his plate appearances, and only given up 1 home run in 57 1/3 innings.  His stellar numbers have allowed him to tie Rivera for 2nd in closer’s WAR this year.

JJ Putz’s resurgence as a closer this year comes as no surprise to many.  Last year as a setup man for Bobby Jenks with the Chicago White Sox, Putz’s K rate was just below 11/9IP, while he walked only 2.5 per 9 innings.  He hasn’t put up the same strikeout numbers this year, but he is walking less batters.  Putz’s WAR of 1.0 puts him towards the top of the list of closers.

 

Out of the top 30 relievers in WAR, only 9 are full-time closers.  Francisco Rodriguez is among those pitchers, but since he does not close games since traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, he was not counted.  Although this doesn’t mean that just ANYONE can close games and earn saves, it does show that many pitchers who have not been given the opportunity probably could get the job done.  

 

 

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Intern, Rob Bland.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan onFacebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

Part III – My Name is Oney: Making My Name in the Guillen World

(Welcome to part III of a III part profile and interview series with Oney Guillen)

In part III of my interview series with Oney Guillen, I explore the future of Oney.  From his current career plans, to future opportunities, to even the possibility of rejoining the White Sox organization, Oney shared many insights to his fascinating life.  I also learned about Oney’s brothers, Ozzie Jr. and Ozney and discussed their careers as well.  Without further adieu, I present to you the final section, Part III, as I give you:  Oney Guillen.

MLB reports:  After having worked in the White Sox front office previously, would you take a job with a major league team if the opportunity presented itself?

Oney:  Absolutely I would definitely join another major league team.

MLB reports:  Could you envision yourself working for an organization other than the White Sox?

Oney:  I could only see myself working for another team.

MLB reports:  Why not the White Sox?

Oney:  After everything that has happened between myself and the Sox and considering the hard feeling, I definitely don’t think that the Sox and I will ever be the same.  It saddens me because my father is the manager of the team and I still cheer for the team.  But this is how things have worked out and that is ok.

MLB reports:  What role(s) could you see yourself taking on for a major league team?

Oney:  I know that I would be a great coach or manager one day.  Perhaps I could take a job in scouting, even scouting oversees.  I would also consider just being in the front office, which in the right situation would be great because I would actually have a say in the operations of the team.  There are so many things that you can do in baseball which makes the game so great.

MLB reports:  Describe briefly your relationship with your other brothers, Ozzie Jr. and Ozney.  Do you spend much time with each of them?

Oney:  Well, my dad told us that we should always be best friends.  My dad also made sure that his boys were very close and always took care of one another.  All my brothers were very close growing up and still remain close today.  I actually live with Ozzie Jr., so we see each other and spend time together all the time. 

MLB reports:  What do the Guillen boys do for fun?

Oney:  We like to go out and just do normal guys things.  We play video games, sports…you name it.  All three of us have a great dynamic together.  For example, we can get into heated arguments but it doesn’t reach a level where we insult one another personally.  As our father taught us, we hold each other accountable for our actions.

MLB reports:  Do you spend more time with one particular brother?

Oney:  I spend more time with Ozzie Jr. because we live together and Ozney is in Miami.  I have a great relationship with Ozney though and talk to him on the phone all the time and see him as often as I can.  I have always talked to Ozney like he was a man, even when he was little…maybe that’s why I felt like he was already man a couple of years ago.  Plus Ozney is as tall as sh*t… he is huge!

MLB reports:  Getting to another subject, you have become well known for your voice on the internet, including Twitter.  After your Bobby Jenks tweets in December, did you feel that you needed to change your approach or what you could say on Twitter?

Oney:  As far as I know, the reason for Twitter is for people to be able to give their opinions.  If the truth be known, I would have never said anything on Twitter if Jenks had not spoken out about the White Sox organization or my father.  But Jenks did speak out and I felt the need to respond, to defend both my dad and the Sox.

MLB reports:  Any regrets?

Oney:  I was heated when I wrote those tweets and maybe shouldn’t have said a couple of the things I said, sure.  But I can’t take them back now.  I don’t live in the past; I learn from my experiences and just look to the future.

MLB reports:  Have you spoken with Jenks since the tweets?

Oney:  We have spoken and everything is ok.  Let’s just say that everyone has moved on.

MLB reports:  Were you approached by anyone, including the White Sox organization or your dad with regards to your tweets, including limiting or changing them?

Oney:  No.  I was not approached by anyone.

MLB reports:  Following your career in baseball, you have taken on several new roles, from Triple Crown Productions to hosting/producing on 670 The Score.  Please describe for our readers what is Triple Crown Productions and please provide background on your current projects.

Oney:  Well, Triple Crown Productions is a marketing and branding company that my brother Ozzie Jr., friend Eddie and I started about a year ago.  We started it because we know so many people in the game and we really wanted to maximize our skills the most productive way.  So far, I can report that things have been really great with our company.

MLB reports:  What are some current projects of Triple Crown?  What is http://www.ozzieguillen.com?

Oney:  We handle all of the marketing for Ozzie Guillen and look after all his activities off the field, as well as for Joey Cora and a couple of other players so far.  We put together recently the “Ozzie Roast” which was a very successful event and other projects as well, including the official website for Ozzie Guillen, which we work with Major League Baseball on.  The site is great and we will continue to grow it.  We truly feel that http://www.ozzieguillen.com will be the best athlete website ever when it is completed. 

MLB reports:  Why the delays on the website?

Oney:  We have been working on the website for over two years because the process was delayed in approvals from MLB.  I am just glad that it is finally up and running.  As far I see it, better to be late than never.

MLB reports:  I understand that Ozzie Jr. is currently broadcasting White Sox games on the radio and Oney is playing baseball for the University of South Florida.  Any updates on your brothers and how they are doing?

Oney:  Oz Jr. is broadcasting both Bulls game and Sox games and he absolutely loves it.  Oz Jr. and I have a radio show on the Score 670 that broadcasts once per week.  It’s always fun when you get to talk about sports for a couple of hours every week.  We are in the process of getting another radio show with another company as well…stay tuned…

MLB reports:  What about Ozney?  How is your little brother doing?

Oney:  Ozney is currently studying and playing baseball at Miami Dade College.  He loves living on his own in Miami and absolutely loves living life.  If Ozney stays healthy, he should do just fine on the ball field.  If you want to know the truth, I have seen many players get a chance at playing in the minors and they were horrible.  With his ability, I don’t see why Ozney with his talent should struggle.  My brother will be alright.

MLB reports:  Where do you see Oney Guillen being in five years from now?  What do you see yourself doing and how will you be connected to baseball?

Oney:  In five years, I expect Triple Crown Productions to already be established and respected in the marketing and branding arenas.  Our client list is definitely growing.  I would love to still be doing radio and stay connected to the game of baseball in that way.  But really, no one knows what the future will hold.  All I know is that I want to be healthy.  As long as that happens, I’m going to be just fine.  For my family to be healthy and happy as well…all the chips will fall where they have to.

MLB reports:  Oney, thank you again for joining MLB reports.  It has been a pleasure speaking with you and learning about you.  Thank you for giving us the inside scoop and on behalf of baseball fans everywhere, we wish you well on your future endeavors.  Please keep us up to-date so that we can give your fans the Oney reports.

Oney:  Absolutely.  Thank you as well.  It was great meeting you and thank you for sharing my story.  We will definitely keep in touch.  Thank you as well to all my fans and supporters of the Chicago White Sox and Ozzie Guillen.  To the greatest baseball fans, I say:  Go Sox!

***A special thank you to Oney Guillen for his time and effort as part of being interviewed for this interview series.  Oney agreed to share private photos from his family album as part of this series.  A thank you as well to Peter Stein, my editor in helping to prepare this piece.***

Please click here to read Part II of Oney Guillen. 

Please click here to read Part I of Oney Guillen.

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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