This post is part of the Making the Orioles a Champion in 2014 Series. Below you will find links to the other articles. We will do our best to make sure the links go live with each new update.
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Despite the nearly 50/50 split of team pitching fWAR between them and the lefthanders, the right side of the Baltimore Orioles bullpen enjoys the lion's share of accolades for their pitching prowess. Whether it's Jim Johnson leading the American League in saves (50) for the second year in a row or finishing second in the AL among relievers with 40 shutdown appearances, Tommy Hunter amassing the second most innings for an AL reliever (86.1 IP) or ranking 10th in the AL for holds (21) on a fastball that averaged 96 miles per hour -- good for sixth-best along AL relievers) -- or the steady stream of outs generated by submariner Darren O'Day, the right side of the 'pen grabs headlines and narratives for their conspicuous methods of productivity.
At first glance, the right side of the bullpen doesn't appear to share too many similarities with its lefthanded brethren. Paced by the bowling ball sinker of Jim Johnson and the pure high-90's heat of Tommy Hunter, the Oriole righties display more dominant 'stuff' as compared to the lefties, who generally use location and change of speeds to do their job.
As we did for the lefties, let's look at how the righties went about generating their fWAR, broadly; again, we are limiting our evaluations to pitchers who threw at least 20 innings and rank their seasons by fair run average:
Looking at FRA, we find that, Pedro Strop notwithstanding, the righties of the 'pen performed admirably, living in 'good, occasionally great' territory; however, when using Value Added (RE24), we find that Hunter was a top-10 AL reliever, coming in with the sixth highest RE24 for 2013. Comparing FIPs to xFIPs and ERAs, we also see that, aside from midseason acquisition Francisco Rodriguez, the righties of the bullpen performed as expected, with Hunter having a modicum of luck or defensive talent helping him out throughout the season (ERA < FIP).
Let's now discuss lefty/righty splits:
While his results are skewed by a small sample size, we see that K-Rod fared reasonably well against lefties, with only a couple of long balls really sullying an otherwise stellar showing against lefties. Another surprising and encouraging sign comes from O'Day, who does well against lefties in spite of his submarine arm angle; a batting average against slightly under .300 that is slightly buoyed by a relatively high BABIP shows that while he is best suited for same side match ups, he is able to get the occasional lefty out, usually via the fly ball out. Looking back at his use of O'Day, we do see manager Buck Showalter using O'Day a little more generously than managers typically use their submariners. Johnson's lefty splits are no real surprise, showing his sinker/curve offering to be suitable for getting lefties out without much issue. Hunter historically suffers from poor splits, with his propensity to have problems against lefties exemplified in 2013 by his inflated wOBA against lefties this last season, showing similar trends as O'Day.
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Right away, we can see how effective and nasty Hunter is on righty hitters; no home runs to go with a minuscule batting average against and wOBA all led credence to Hunter's top-10 RE24 showing for relievers. We also see the similarities between both Hunter and O'Day shine through, with O'Day also showing himself to be a tough at bat for righthanded hitters. Again, we also see the Swiss Army knife style of pitching coming from Johnson's repertoire and a big reason why he excels in the closer's role -- regardless of batter handedness, he has a way to get them out. As effective as K-Rod was against lefties, sans the homer runs, he is ineffective against righties, showing the largest swing in stats when comparing and contrasting effects of batter handedness.
Much like the southpaws, there aren't too many things to fix on the right side of the bullpen when looking to 2014. While each of the big three -- Johnson, Hunter, and O'Day -- displays a particular weakness that could use shoring up, each of them are effective enough to remain in their given roles for next year without it grossly impacting the team.
For Johnson, a potential key to an improved 2014 will depend on his curve ball and in particular, the location of the pitch. While it still pairs exceptionally well with his two-seam/sinker as a change of speed and change of eye plane, 2013 saw him leave it up in the zone a little more than he did in 2012:
In response, hitters did a little more damage against it:
Overall, Johnson appears to be in decent shape for 2014, and with a little more snap and location to his curve, can improve upon a successful 2013 campaign.
For Hunter, room for improvement lies in his ability to effectively and consistently get lefties out; while he probably won't do it with the flair and panache he does it against righties, his ultimate fate and success depend upon him to develop a wrinkle against lefties. Looking at his repertoire against both lefties and righties, it appears he uses his change up -- easily his least effective pitch per his PITCHf/x pitch linear weights -- exclusively against lefties and is one that hitters have fared well against, in the form of a .624 batting average against and 1.500 slugging percentage. Hunter might find more effectiveness against lefties by scrapping the change and utilizing his curve ball -- hit at a .265 batting average and .588 SLG clip by lefties -- more against lefties, essentially becoming a three pitch pitcher against lefthanders. Given his success with a three pitch repertoire against righties, the idea that less is more might prove fruitful for Hunter in 2014.
The outlook for O'Day is tied to his health. After suffering from some hand issues later in 2013 that ended up being carpal tunnel syndrome, it appears that with an offseason of rest and possibly a cortisone injection, the submariner will be fine for the start of spring training. Beyond the hand issue, given O'Day's submarine mechanics, an increased propensity for hip and back issues arising from the delivery are possible issues that the medical staff could be on the look out for as the season progresses. Injury predilections aside, O'Day's success with his mechanics and ability to get the occasional opposite handed hitter out on occasion bodes well for him to continue to be an effective reliever for the Orioles in a number of roles and situations, primarily against right handers.
One glaring omission from the discussion of the 2013 bullpen has been Kevin Gausman and for good reason -- he won't be in the 'pen for 2014. However, this segues well into a potential Gausman replacement for the spot starter/long inning guy that the Orioles are intimately familiar with: Jason Hammel.
Spending most of September in the bullpen after returning from a flexor mass strain in his pitching elbow last year, Hammel did show the ability to come out of the bullpen and pitch effectively. He is no stranger to relief appearances, having logged close to 100 innings in relief as a major leaguer, most of them coming earlier in his career with the Tampa Bay Rays. After a couple of seasons that saw him off to encouraging starts only to scuffle down the stretch while starting, combined with the logjam of starters at the major league level and on the free agent market along with the development of Gausman as the starter the team has always envisioned him to be, Hammel is behind the eight ball with respect to any hopes of starting in Baltimore. While he will garner a modicum of interest on the free agent market as a starter, the quality of free agent starters might put him in a place where a team friendly deal as a reliever might be conducive to his return to the squad in 2014.
Other internal options that could log time in the bullpen also include starter types such as knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa and swingman Steve Johnson, who will look to fill the spot start/long man role with the like of Hammel and lefty T.J. McFarland.
The free agent market for righthanded relievers is similar to the one seen for lefties -- old and injured, but with a few familiar faces. While the Orioles would do well do stand pat with what the current roster provides on top of what is down on the farm, a couple of names on the free agent market do stand out as potentially cheap, incentive laden signings who are looking to bounce back after injuries -- Jesse Crain, Ryan Madson, and Kyle McClellan. Crain, whose 2013 season was one of the more productive ones seen from a non-closing reliever in recent years, will look to return from a shoulder strain that kept him off the mound for the entire second half of the year. He could provide an additional power arm for the seventh and eight innings alongside Hunter, but without the severe left/right splits. Madson, recovering from Tommy John surgery, has had previous experience as a closer an set up man. McClellan, who pitched less than 10 innings in the bigs last year, is a favorite of general manager Dan Duquette and would be a low cost, low risk signing that could get reps in Class AAA Norfolk before joining the club. While McClellan in recent seasons has shown a propensity to give up the occasional homer, both Crain and Madson post career sub-1.0 HR/9 stats, with Crain also enjoying some success in limited innings as a visitor to Camden Yards.
What to Do in 2014
Much like their lefty counterparts, the right side of the bullpen doesn't suffer from too many holes. Should Hunter prove to be too susceptible to the big inning arising from his left/right splits, Johnson again leave too many pitches up in the zone, or O'Day fall victim to injury of ineffectiveness, there are enough arms in the minors and on the free agent market for a low cost solution to be pursued to fill the gaps. Overall, the right side of the Baltimore bullpen is well rounded as they stand. With keeping Hammel as a reliever or signing the likes of Crain or Madson to take the spots left by Gausman's move to the starting rotation and the unlikely return of Rodriguez, the right side of the pen has the potential to be even stronger in 2014.
All data courtesy of FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball.
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