The 2013 Bullpen

Dave · September 17, 2012 at 10:48 am · Filed Under Mariners 

When discussing a team’s core building blocks, we generally focus on the position players and starting pitchers. They produce a majority of the value on any given club, and because of the fickle nature of relief pitching, it’s foolish to think that your good relievers today are still going to be good relievers tomorrow. They’re inconsistent, they get hurt, and they’re just generally an unpredictable bunch. There’s a reason why so many teams treat their bullpens as fungible assets.

But, I have to say, I don’t remember any team in recent years putting together a bullpen that is both as good, as deep, and as young as the Mariners have right now. There are certainly other good bullpens out there, but the Mariners actually have so many useful relievers right now, they’re going to have to dump someone before the 2013 season opens, and figuring out who that should be isn’t exactly an easy task.

For reference, the average swinging strike rate of American League relief pitchers this year is 9.8%. The Mariners currently have eight relievers above that line.

Stephen Pryor – 14.0%
Carter Capps – 12.8%
Charlie Furbush – 12.3%
Josh Kinney – 12.3%
Lucas Luetge – 11.9%
Shawn Kelley – 11.5%
Oliver Perez – 10.8%
Tom Wilhelmsen – 10.1%

Yes, that’s right, the team’s best reliever — the guy who throws 99 and has perhaps the best curveball in baseball — has the worst swinging strike rate of the regular relief corps. Of course, swinging strike rate isn’t the be-all, end-all of pitching, as there’s also throwing strikes, getting ground balls, and in Wilhelmsen’s case, freezing people with ridiculously good curves in the strike zone. However, getting swinging strikes is a huge part of a bullpen’s success, as outs are significantly more important than efficiency out of your relievers, and the ability to generate a swinging strike is a pretty good proxy for high quality stuff.

The M’s essentially have two types of relievers right now: flamethrowers (Wilhelmsen, Capps, and Pryor) and slider-heavy match-up guys (Luetge, Furbush, Perez, Kinney, and Kelley). This is, to some extent, an ideal bullpen, in that you have three guys who have the kinds of fastballs that should allow them to pitch full innings without worry too much about the match-ups, and then you have five specialists who are pretty tough on same-handed batters, and can be mixed and matched effectively when needed. Of course, eight relievers is one too many for April-August, so someone will have to go away before the start of next year. The best bets there would be either Oliver Perez (free agent) or Josh Kinney (arbitration eligible), though if Perez is willing to re-sign for $1 or $2 million, I’d rather have a third lefty with some velocity rather than a situational right-hander. Cost will likely be a factor there, though, and some other team might offer Perez enough money to make that decision easy for the Mariners.

Either way, though, the Mariners essentially have a full, deep, talented bullpen for 2013 ready to go. They don’t need to add any free agent veterans to help mentor the youngsters. They don’t need to go looking for a middle guy who can soak up innings. While it’s unlikely that each of these pitchers will perform as well next year as they have this year, the foundation is in place for a pretty terrific bullpen, and it’s unusual in that none of them are anywhere close to making any real money.

Kinney and Shawn Kelley are the only two under team control for 2013 who will be eligible for arbitration, meaning that the other five can all have their contracts renewed for something close to the league minimum. Kinney and Kelley probably won’t make more than $750,000 to $1 million, given their service time and MLB performances to date, so they won’t be far from the league minimum either. In reality, the Mariners should be able to put an entire bullpen together for next year at a total cost under $5 million in salary.

Lots of teams have put cheap, young bullpens together before. Lots of teams have put good bullpens together before. It’s a bit more rare to put a bullpen together that that is good, cheap, and young at the same time, however.

The Mariners still have a lot of work to do with their position players and in the starting rotation. However, when it comes to the bullpen, they’re essentially set, and this does give them a pretty nice advantage heading into the off-season.


19 Responses to “The 2013 Bullpen”

  1. maqman on September 17th, 2012 10:59 am

    I agree Dave, they are good, cheap and young. I still think Z will build his usual pile of spring training invitee arms and see what shakes out. He also may use one or two as trade bait, along with one or two of our abundant catching prospects and maybe one of our premium rotation prospects for a thunderstick.

  2. bat guano on September 17th, 2012 11:09 am

    Has anyone heard any talk of moving Furbush into the rotation? Seems like that might be a worthwhile thing to at least consider. If it doesn’t work he can always return to the pen, but now that we’ve got some other quality lefty relievers, I think Furbush could be more valuable to us as a starter.

  3. Mariners35 on September 17th, 2012 11:09 am

    Which out of that group is the most likely trade piece? As maqman notes it’d be nice to help convert some of that excess into some help, esp. in the OF.

    It’d be nice if it were as simple as just trading whoever is most extraneous or costs more (sounds like Perez or Kinney from the way you describe it). But perhaps if you can make a deal look better by including say Furbush in it, perhaps he would be an ok odd man out.

    Perhaps another way to ask is, who’s untouchable in that pen for trade purposes, apart from the bartender?

  4. Adam B. on September 17th, 2012 11:29 am

    This is one of the most encouraging outcomes of this otherwise mediocre season. The Mariners have all but ridden themselves of dead-weight, and have established a strong foundation of cheap role-players and upside players with youth.

    Really the last step towards contention is acquiring/developing some all-star caliber players, and the Mariners with payroll flexibility and a burgeoning cupboard of young talent, are also setting themselves up well in that regard,

  5. dchappelle on September 17th, 2012 11:29 am

    Great to have this strength, especially given how teams continue to overpay per WAR for relievers.

    Looks like Furbush would still be a bad candidate for starting given his splits and history. Tom Wilhelmsen now… I’d like to see if he can start, although I have to admit I think it unlikely they’ll let him try.

  6. Westside guy on September 17th, 2012 11:29 am

    I’d hazard a guess other teams will be most interested in Pryor or Capps out of this group.

    Well, technically they’d probably be most interested in Wilhelmsen; but Jack’s price for him would likely be too high.

  7. nwade on September 17th, 2012 11:32 am

    Relievers just don’t command a ton on the open market, except for when teams over-pay for a “proven closer”. Most teams are aware of the volatility and unreliability of reliever arms and don’t build around those as trade-pieces.

    And I agree with maqman – ya gotta build a small pile of arms because you *know* one or two of your good relievers is going to suddenly lose his touch or have his arm fall off during the offseason. Given Z’s ability to do this in the past, though, I’m not worried about it eating up salary we could use for other purposes… Yay!

  8. Alec on September 17th, 2012 11:37 am

    Z has been fantastic at finding good value in cheap role players (Ryan, the whole bullpen, Jaso). Hopefully he can have some luck with bigger pieces in the future.

  9. jordan on September 17th, 2012 12:14 pm

    What is the deal with Chance Ruffin? I thought he was supposed to be an above average bullpen arm?

  10. SonOfZavaras on September 17th, 2012 12:16 pm

    Good article, Dave.

    I am wondering what you think of the likes of Forrest Snow, Bobby LaFramboise and Chance Ruffin busting through for a job in the bullpen next year, though.

    Ruffin had largely a horrible season in 2012, but they seem to think he could still have a future. They’re sending LaFramboise to winter ball, and there’s buzz he’s nearly ready to help the major league squad.

  11. thurston24 on September 17th, 2012 12:32 pm

    Mariner 35,

    I don’t think any reliever is untouchable because they are relievers. If the right offer came, I would trade anyone in the pen. However, for Wilhelsen I would require a fair amount like a grade A prospect or young above average/borderline all star position player. Which is probably above his actual value.

  12. ripperlv on September 17th, 2012 1:24 pm

    I think thurston24 is on the money about relievers value. Go ahead and stock pile the relievers, it’s nice to have back-up. I think relievers trade value is highest at the trading deadline anyways. To get good position players/SP, we are going to have to trade position player/SP prospects, or develope them or sign free agents, but the trade value is not in relievers except as pieces in a trade.

  13. coreyjro on September 17th, 2012 1:41 pm

    Is there any chance that Wilhelmsen makes the transition to the rotation? Is it completely dependent on whether he can develop his change?

  14. 9inningknowitall on September 17th, 2012 1:50 pm

    I know that relievers seem to be a commodity that you can go out and get each off season but having a good strong and young set of relievers is kind of exciting for me. Each year we go into spring training hoping that we can put together a bullpen that isn’t going to give away games and I think with the group that is listed for next year that is really the least of our concerns.

    Playoff caliber teams need strong bullpens to be able to compete over the entire season.

  15. rjjunior on September 17th, 2012 2:00 pm

    I have the suspicion that Kelly is at least one of the odd men out. Just seems like Wedgie doesn’t like him or something.

  16. Jordan on September 17th, 2012 2:16 pm

    Thanks Dave, this is very encouraging. It seems the pile and large item pickup day will be mitigated to a lesser role this off season.

    Any conversion projects i.e. Wilhelmsen, Furbush etc. will likely depend on whether the Mariners can re-sign Iwakuma and Vargas or find reasonable replacements. Ramirez seems like the likely candidate for the 5th starter role which would leave only one major rotation addition (McCarthy?!)

  17. JH on September 17th, 2012 3:17 pm

    “What is the deal with Chance Ruffin? I thought he was supposed to be an above average bullpen arm?”

    He had a decent second half, and might end up cracking a big-league bullpen, but he’s been lapped a few times over by other good arms in the organization. Exhibit Z in the case against drafting college relievers in the first round.

  18. stevemotivateir on September 18th, 2012 7:13 am

    “Looks like Furbush would still be a bad candidate for starting given his splits and history.”

    Did you look at his splits this year? He’s been fairly effective against RHB. Though he’s given up a few HR’s, Right handed bats are only hitting .179 against him. His splits suggest he could be an effective starter. I’m certainly for it.

  19. DarkKnight1680 on September 18th, 2012 11:27 am

    I think it is definitely in the team’s best interest to stretch Furbush out in spring training and see if he can maintain his pitches as a starter. The bullpen doesn’t need help and starters are far more valuable than relievers. If he is even decent (4th/5th guy) in the rotation then you have a valuable trade chip as a young team-controlled guy. If he’s better than that, then its a bonus. If he struggles, you move him back to the pen with little harm. There’s really no downside.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.