The Bullpen Sleepers
There are few things that we disagree with the mainstream media on more than the value of veteran relievers. I guarantee you that you’re going to see a ton of stories this spring about how the M’s bullpen is a huge weakness, how their lack of experience is going to cost them a lot of wins, and how the loss of Putz and Green is going to affect the entire pitching staff. Whether it’s Baker, Street, LaRue, Arnold, whoever… this is an article that you can just count on getting published at some point in the next month or so.
I’m here to tell you that this bullpen could actually be pretty good. There are an awful lot of interesting arms coming to camp with the M’s, and finding six solid relievers isn’t going to be as tough as people might think. We’ve talked about the nifty low-cost pickups of Tyler Walker and David Aardsma already, and most of you are aware of what to expect from Roy Corcoran, Mark Lowe, Miguel Batista and Ryan Rowland-Smith. But, there are other guys coming to camp that could prove pretty useful out of the pen this year, and this post is about them. In no particular order:
Chris Seddon, LHP, Non-Roster Invitee
Seddon is a 25-year-old LHP who spent the last three years starting in Double-A and Triple-A for the Rays and Marlins. He has generic left-handed pitcher stuff – an 88 MPH fastball, an 81 MPH slider, and a 78 MPH change-up. With no real out-pitch against RHBs and just average command, Seddon isn’t going to have much of a career as a starting pitcher in the big leagues. However, check out his career minor league splits:
Vs LHB: 592 batters faced, 7.4% BB%, 17.2% K%, 52% GB%, 6 HR allowed, 3.54 FIP
Vs RHB: 1992 batters faced, 9.2% BB%, 17.3% K%, 39% GB%, 66 HR allowed (!), 5.06 FIP
The home run rates ought to jump off the page. 92% of his career minor league home runs have come off right-handed bats despite just 78% of his opposing batters being right-handed. His big fatal flaw as a minor league pitcher is giving up long balls to right-handed hitters. Against lefties, he’s just fine.
So, now, the team has an opening in the bullpen for a left-handed reliever who can get left-handers out, and they happen to play half their games in a park that is extremely hard on right-handed power hitters. The park somewhat neutralizes Seddon’s fatal flaw, and his best skill is one the team has need of. And remember, these are his numbers as a starter – move him to the pen, and his velocity is going to jump a couple of ticks. There’s no reason Seddon couldn’t be a league average LOOGY right now, and if he takes to a bullpen conversion well, there’s George Sherrill-type potential here.
Shawn Kelley, RHP, Non-Roster Invitee
We talked about him initially when the NRI list came out, but it bears repeating – Kelley just killed Double-A batters last summer and dominated the Venezuelan Winter League a few months ago. His fastball/slider combination gives him two pitches that can miss bats and he’s got pretty good command of both. He doesn’t have a great weapon against lefties, so he might not end up as a future closer, but if you’re looking for a guy who could emerge as a right-handed strikeout reliever, he’s the main one to watch.
It’s unlikely that Kelley makes the roster out of spring training, as he’s currently penciled in as Tacoma’s closer to start the year, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him join the team at some point this summer. He’s the kind of pitcher who won’t need much time in the minors.
Jose Lugo, LHP, Rule 5 Selection
As a rule 5 pick, Lugo has something of a leg up on the competition for the last spot in the bullpen. If the M’s don’t keep him on the big league roster, they lose him, so if the team has a hard decision to make, Lugo’s probably getting the tiebreaker. And, really, he should – he’s a power left-handed arm who gets extreme sink on his fastball. His secondary stuff needs a lot of work, but think of him as something like a left-handed Roy Corcoran with a bit more velocity – the groundball rate makes up for a lot of his other weaknesses.
Yes, he was 24 and hasn’t pitched above A-ball yet, but he’s faced 1,350 batters and has a career GB% of 59%. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t give up home runs – just 13 in 321 innings as a pro. It’s hard to hit the ball over the wall when you’re just punching it on the ground all the time. And, even without any real good secondary stuff, he’s run a career 2.4 K/BB rate, even holding his own against RHBs. He’s probably not going to be a great reliever this year, but a left-handed power sinking fastball out of the pen isn’t something to be ignored. He’ll probably spend most of the season throwing low leverage innings and working on a strikeout pitch of some sort, but don’t sleep on Lugo – he could turn into a nifty little arm down the stretch.
Eric Hull, RHP, Non-Roster Invitee
A little guy with big numbers, Hull has fallen victim to the anti-short-RHP bias. He’s listed at 5’11 but is probably more like 5’9, so that gets him written off in a lot of circles from the start. However, he’s got nothing left to prove in Triple-A, where he’s just blown hitters away the last few years. He’s struck out 25.4% of the batters he’s faced as a professional pitcher, and is at 28.5% against RHBs. His FIP against righties in Pawtucket last year was 1.82. He doesn’t throw 94, but he pitches like a guy who does.
Like Kelley, he’s unlikely to break camp with the team, but he’ll provide depth in Tacoma should the team needed a right-handed reliever who can generate swings-and-misses. His upside is as a situational reliever, but if the team isn’t getting good performances from the Walker/Lowe/Aardsma/Corcoran/Batista group, they’ll have another option down on the farm.
The best way to build a good bullpen is to stick a ton of interesting relievers in a dog fight and give the jobs to the winners. That’s exactly what the M’s have done this winter, and they’ll come to Peoria with something like 13 or 14 potential bullpen options with some potential. Even if you haven’t heard of these guys before, that doesn’t make them talentless hacks.
There’s a good chance that, by the end of the year, the M’s bullpen will be one of the pleasant surprises of the season.