Going Cheap Pt 3: 2010 Bullpen Options

In part one of this series I looked at whether you could find cheap bullpen options.  In part two of this series I looked at how you could find cheap bullpen options.  While there are probably many ways to do this, the two trends I am focusing on here are as follows:

1. Relief pitchers with strong K/9, K/BB, and HR/9 ratios in the minors.  Normally I’d look for a 6.0 or better, 2.0 or better, and 1.0 or less ratio, but for these purposes I’m looking for a 7.5, 2.25, and 0.8.

2. Starting pitchers with a strong K/9 ratio, but poor K/BB or HR/9 ratios.

Today I’ll be wrapping this series up by looking at some options for the Pirates’ 2010 bullpen.  So far I’ve been looking at top bullpen options, as in guys who pitched 50 or more innings, with a 6.0 or better K/9, a 2.0 or better K/BB, and a 1.0 or less HR/9.  It would be absurd to expect the Pirates’ to fill a bullpen with these types of options.  An optimistic view would be to have three options like this in the bullpen, which only nine teams did in 2009 (Toronto was the only team with four such options).  However, I’m going to be looking for guys with this potential, with the hope that they might fall a little short in one area and still be effective, much like we saw with Jesse Chavez in 2009.

I’ll be reviewing three areas: the internal Pirates’ options, the players acquired so far this off-season, and players on the free agent market.

Internal Options

Joel Hanrahan - Hanrahan is a lock to make the bullpen and will likely be the closer.  Hanrahan was a full time starter in the minors, and began his major league career as a starter.  He converted to a reliever full time in 2008, and has put up a 10.0 K/9, a 2.17 K/BB, and a 0.7 HR/9 the last two seasons. Those numbers put him in the company of some of the top closers in the game.

Evan Meek - Another lock for the bullpen, Meek had a strong 8.0 K/9 ratio in 2009, and a good 0.4 HR/9 ratio, but struggled with his control, with a 5.6 BB/9 and a 1.45 K/BB ratio.  Meek’s K/BB ratio improved as the season went on.  He had a 10:14 K/BB ratio in 17.1 innings from the end of April through the month of May.  He evened things out with a 6:6 K/BB ratio in 10.1 innings in June.  In July and August he turned things around with a 26:9 K/BB ratio in 19.1 innings pitched, before going down for the season on August 11th.  Let’s hope he carries those trends over in to the 2010 season.

Jose Ascanio - Ascanio will miss half the season with a labrum injury, which is always bad news for pitchers.  If he can return to his previous level of play he could be a strong option.  Ascanio has a career 8.2 K/9, 1.89 K/BB, and a 1.1 HR/9 in 39.2 major league innings.  One fewer walk and he’d have the acceptable 2.0 K/BB ratio.  He was a starter the majority of the time in AAA in 2009, with an 8.7 K/9, a 2.95 K/BB, and a 0.3 HR/9.  If he returns healthy, he could give the Pirates’ bullpen a boost mid-season.

Kevin Hart - I haven’t been in the “make Hart a reliever” camp, mostly because I feel his value is higher in the short term as a starter.  Hart has been a starter the majority of his career, with a good K/9 ratio, but a poor K/BB ratio.  In 2009 he spent time in the AAA bullpen, and posted a 10.5 K/9, and a 4.17 K/BB as a reliever, compared to a 8.8 K/9 and a 2.29 K/BB as a starter.  Hart has yet to show the same success in the majors, with a 1.37 K/BB rato in 44.1 innings in relief, but allows fewer homers, and more strikeouts out of the bullpen.

Daniel McCutchen - McCutchen, like Hart, would be better use with the Pirates out of the rotation during the short term.  However, McCutchen has strong ratios in AA as a starter, with an 8.43 K/9, a 2.93 K/BB, and an 0.57 HR/9.  In AAA he’s struggled at times with homers, although this past season he posted a 6.9 K/9, 3.79 K/BB, and a 0.6 HR/9 in a full season at AAA as a starter.  His strikeouts dropped in the majors as a starter, although it’s too small of a sample size to say whether he’d be more effective out of the bullpen.

Steven Jackson - Jackson was also a starter in his early career, and switched over to relief in 2007.  Since that switch, Jackson put up a 9.12 K/9, a 2.52 K/BB, and a 0.52 HR/9 in 52.1 innings at AA, and a 8.81 K/9, a 2.93 K/BB, and a 0.45 HR/9 in 80.2 innings at AAA.  Jackson finished the 2009 season strong, with a 3.00 ERA in his last 24 innings, and a 13:11 K/BB ratio, with no homers.  So far he hasn’t shown the strikeouts needed to provide strong K/9 or K/BB ratios, but he could be an effective bullpen option.

Ty Taubenheim - Taubenheim has made a few appearances in the majors, but has mostly been a starter, with a 6.7 K/9, a 1.36 K/BB, and a 1.2 HR/9.  He’s been a starter for the majority of his minor league career, although in his minor league career as a reliever he has a 7.3 K/9, a 3.29 K/BB, and a 0.64 HR/9, compared to a 6.08 K/9, a 2.06 K/BB, and a 0.9 HR/9 as a starter.

Juan Mateo – Mateo was a starter in the minors up until the 2008 season.  The Cubs converted him to a reliever, but let him go after just 8.1 innings between AA and AAA.  In his time with the Pirates he’s posted a 7.7 K/9, a 3.47 K/BB, and a 0.65 HR/9 in 69 AA innings, and a 5.7 K/9, a 2.8 K/BB, and a 0.5 HR/9 in 71.1 AAA innings.  He made 10 starts for Chicago in the majors in 2006, with a 6.9 K/9, a 1.52 K/BB, and a 1.2 HR/9 in 45.2 innings.

Jean Machi - Machi looked good for the Pirates last year, with a combined 2.09 ERA, 6.4 K/9, 1.95 K/BB, and 0.5 HR/9 in 51.2 innings between AA and AAA.  He was one strikeout away from the acceptable K/BB ratio, although he did have a 2.0 K/BB ratio in his time at AAA.  I’d say he’s more on the Steven Jackson level of bullpen options.

Jeff Sues – Sues didn’t really have a bad season in 2009.  He posted an 8.5 K/9, a 2.0 K/BB, and a 0.8 HR/9 ratio in 78.2 innings in AA.  He struggled with walks at the AAA level, with a 9.0 K/9 and a 1.5 K/BB ratio, but that was only in 12 innings.  He’s a hard thrower, and has put up a good K/BB ratio throughout his career, outside of that brief stay at AAA, and his time as a starter in low-A ball in 2007.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the majors in 2010.

Kyle Bloom - Bloom has been a starter his entire minor league career, and has seen control issues every step of the way.  In 224 innings at the AA level he has a 7.0 K/9, a 1.47 K/BB, and a 0.52 HR/9 ratio.  He could be a strong candidate to improve his control in a move to the bullpen.  He’s also a good LOOGY option, with a career .197 BAA versus left handers, although the Pirates prefer pitchers who can get both sides out.  Bloom wasn’t bad in this area the last two seasons, with a .251 BAA versus right handers.  An interesting note, he had a .211 BAA in the first inning last year, compared to a .337 BAA in innings 5-7.

Ramon Aguero - Aguero might be too far off to make the majors out of Spring Training, but he put up some strong numbers last year.  He only pitched 12.2 innings at the AA level, but posted a 9.23 K/9, a 2.17 K/BB, and no homers.  He also put up some strong ratios in Lynchburg, and from seeing him pitch first hand on several occasions, I can say that he has the stuff to make it.  I could see him up in late 2010.

Derek Hankins - This is kind of a sleeper pick.  Hankins, a 10th round pick from the 2004 draft, has spent the last two seasons in the AA rotation, but was moved to the bullpen for part of the 2009 season.  He has a career 7.3 K/9, 2.75

K/BB, and 1.0 HR/9 in 194 AA innings.  However, in his 27.1 innings in relief in 2009, he posted an 8.9 K/9, a 3.38 K/BB, and no homers allowed.  He’s 26 years old.

NOTE: I’m not trying to claim anything great if (or when) Hanrahan and Meek have good 2010 seasons.  I just felt the need to include all of our bullpen options in this analysis.  At least those that fit the requirements.

2010 Additions

Vinnie Chulk - Chulk was a starter up until the 2004 season with Toronto.    He struggled with Toronto in the major league bullpen from 2003-2005, but started to turn things around in 2006.  From 2006 to 2009 he has a 6.5 K/9, a 2.0 K/BB, and a 1.0 HR/9 in 143 major league innings, all in relief.  He’s also been much better in the NL, with a 6.9 K/9, a 2.22 K/BB and a 0.9 HR/9, compared to a 5.7, 1.51, and 1.1 in the AL.

Chris Jakubauskas - Jakubauskas has been a starter through most of his minor league career.  In 56.2 innings at AAA he has posted a 7.8 K/9, a 3.27 K/BB, and a 0.8 HR/9.  He pitched in the majors in 2009, spending some time in the rotation, but seeing the majority of his work out of the bullpen.  He posted a 3.5 K/9 and a 1.14 K/BB ratio in 40.2 innings as a starter.  In 52.1 innings as a reliever he posted a 5.3 K/9, and a 2.38 K/BB ratio.  He had trouble with the long ball, but could put up numbers similar to Jesse Chavez.

NOTE: I didn’t forget any of the signings or waiver claims, like Justin Thomas or Wilfredo Ledezma.  These are just the only two pitchers the Pirates’ have signed so far that meet my requirements.

2010 Free Agents

Chad Cordero - Cordero missed most of the 2008 and 2009 seasons due to shoulder surgery in 2008.  Cordero had great numbers prior to 2008, with a 2.79 ERA, an 8.2 K/9, a 2.52 K/BB, and a 1.1 HR/9.  He’s a risk with his injury history, but could be a strong bounce back candidate.

Joaquin Benoit - Benoit had a torn rotator cuff last year, and was out for the season after surgery in January.  That could have affected his performance in 2008, when he posted an 8.6 K/9 nd a 1.23 K/BB, with a 1.2 HR/9.  He had a 9.0 K/9, 2.4 K/BB, and 0.7 HR/9 in 248.2 innings in his previous three years in the bullpen, after converting from a starter to a reliever in 2005.  Another bounce back candidate.

Will Ohman - Ohman is another guy coming off an injury, having arthroscopic shoulder surgery in June.  The Pirates were interested in Ohman before the 2009 season.  Ohman put up a 9.1 K/9, a 2.14 K/BB, and a 0.8 HR/9 from 2005-2008, with a strong 8.1 K/9, 2.41 K/BB, and 0.5 HR/9 in 2008.  He’s left handed, but has been able to get right handers out as well.  The Dodgers declined his $2.2 M option, and he will likely cost much less than that due to his injury.

Kelvim Escobar - I wrote yesterday that the Pirates watched Escobar’s throwing session.  Escobar has mostly been a starter in the majors the last few years, but has strong ratios in that role.  He’s missed the 2008 and 2009 seasons due to injuries, with just one start in the majors in that time.  If he can return to a level similar to his old self, he could be a great bullpen option.  He’ll likely be signing a minor league deal.

D.J. Carrasco - Carrasco put up a strong 3.76 ERA in 93.1 innings with the Chicago White Sox last year, following a 2008 season in which he put up a 3.96 ERA in relief.  In those two seasons combined he has a 6.3 K/9, a 2.14 K/BB, and a 0.5 HR/9.  Carrasc has started some in recent years, but looks to be better as a reliever.  It was surprising that he was non-tendered, and the 33 year old will probably be signed at a reasonable rate for his production.  Carrasco was with the Pirates from 1999 to 2002, when he was lost to Kansas City in the Rule 5 draft after posting a 1.61 ERA, a 10.3 K/9, and a 4.61 K/BB in 72.2 innings with Lynchburg at the age of 25.

Kiko Calero - Calero posted a combined 2.09 ERA the last two seasons in relief, with a 10.6 K/9, a 2.3 K/BB, and a 0.1 HR/9 in 64.2 innings.  He’s 35, so he likely won’t see a big contract.  He was a Type B free agent, but Florida declined him arbitration, which would have guaranteed him a raise over his $500 K 2009 salary.  His age is up there, but he still has good stuff.

2010 Minor League Free Agents

Mark Worrell - Worrell had Tommy John surgery in March 2009 and missed the entire season.  The Padres non-tendered him and removed him from their 40-man roster last week.  Worrell pitched for St. Louis in 2008 at AAA, posting a 12.3 K/9, a 2.58 K/BB, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 58.2 innings in relief.  He had a low-90s fastball and a good slider.  He was traded to San Diego in the Khalil Greene trade last December.

Bobby Brownlie - Brownlie has mostly been a starter in his minor league career, but switched over to relief for half of the 2009 season with Atlanta’s AAA squad.  He pitched 21.1 innings in relief, with a 8.02 K/9, a 3.8 K/BB, and a 0.8 HR/9 ratio.  Brownlie was a first round pick in 2002 by the Cubs, but has yet to reach the majors, despite almost 600 innings between AA and AAA.

David Pauley - Pauley is 26 years old and has been a starter his entire minor league career.  In 503.1 innings at AAA, Pauley has a 6.2 K/9, a 2.26 K/BB, and a 0.9 HR/9 ratio.  Pauley has seen two brief appearances in the majors, with a 9.53 ERA in 28.1 innings.  His most recent appearance was with Boston in 2008.  Pauley only pitched 12.1 innings.  In his 7 innings as a starter he posted a 6.4 K/9, a 1.67 K/BB, and a 2.6 HR/9 ratio.  In his 5.1 innings as a reliever he posted a 10.1 K/9, a 3.0 K/BB, and no homers.

Devern Hansack - Hansack turns 32 in February, but has great ratios in his minor league career.  In 132.1 innings in AA he had a 8.4 K/9, a 3.44 K/BB, and a 1.0 HR/9.  In 279.2 innings in AAA he had a 8.3 K/9, a 3.2 K/BB, and a 1.0 HR/9.  The majority of that time was as a starter.  Hansack has three appearances in the majors.  In his most recent appearance, in 2008, he was exclusively a reliever, with a 6.8 K/9, a 5.0 K/BB, and no homers in 6.2 innings.

Jarod Plummer - Plummer turns 26 in January, and hasn’t played much above AA, but his numbers look good at the AA level so far.  Last year he was mostly a starter, with a 7.3 K/9, a 1.78 K/BB, and a 0.5 HR/9 ratio in 112.1 innings.  He was strictly a reliever in 2007 and 2008 at AA, with a combined 10.2 K/9, 5.0 K/BB, and 1.6 HR/9.  The homers were a problem, although he seems to have fixed that issue in 2009.  Even with the homers, those ratios look great.

Fernando Hernandez Jr. - Hernandez, who is 25 years old, has been exclusively a reliever in his minor league career.  In 196 innings in AA he has an 8.4 K/9, a 2.6 K/BB, and a 0.4 HR/9.  He pitched briefly in AAA in 2009, with a 9.0 K/9, a 2.13 K/BB, and no homers in 17 innings.

Alexander Smit - Smit spent most of the 2009 season in AA between the rotation and the bullpen.  Overall he posted a 9.3 K/9, a 1.74 K/BB, and a 1.1 HR/9 ratio in 71 innings.  Smit is left handed, but was solid against both sides of the plate, with a .234 BAA versus lefties, and a .213 BAA versus right handers.  Smit only had 20.2 innings as a reliever, with a 9.6 K/9 and an 0.87 HR/9, but struggled with his control, with a 1.38 K/BB ratio.

Jason Waddell - Waddell has a career 9.4 K/9, 2.4 K/BB, and 0.7 HR/9 in 127 AA innings, including a 8.8 K/9, 3.5 K/BB, and no homers in 14.1 innings in 2009.  He made his AAA debut in 2009 at the age of 28, with a 6.5 K/9, a 2.5 K/BB, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 27.2 innings.  Waddell is left handed

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I’ve only looked at about half of the minor league free agents with this list, and could go on, but I’d rather just see who the Pirates sign and analyze those moves, rather than look at every possible bullpen option they could bring in.  Feel free to mention any of your favorites that I didn’t go over in the comments.  It will be interesting to return to this list around mid-season, or at the end of the year, and see how many of these relievers, found using the trends I’ve noted, actually emerged as major league bullpen options.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • ecbucs

    one of the things is that a top 23 or top 19 prospect in one organization is not the same as top 23 or 19 in another. A lot depends on how much talent is in a specific team’s system.
    I see no reason to trade for middle relief or closers unless your team is in contention and you need some experienced.

  • Lee Young

    Good points!