If there’s one thing I like about the 7-5 start to the season, it’s the bullpen. I’m very comfortable with this bullpen when the Pirates are holding a lead, or when they’re trying to stay in the game. That wasn’t exactly the case in years past. There was Matt Capps bombing last year. There have been guys like Tyler Yates and Denny Bautista blowing up in the middle innings.
One of the biggest concerns this off-season was the bullpen. This was especially the case after trading Jesse Chavez to Atlanta, and non-tendering Matt Capps. However, the Pirates signed Octavio Dotel, Brendan Donnelly, D.J. Carrasco, and Javier Lopez to add to Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek. So far, the decisions have paid off.
A casual observer would look at the 5.58 ERA (before today’s game), which ranks 24th in the majors, and say that the bullpen doesn’t look that special. It doesn’t take a close look to realize that the overall stats can be misleading.
The 2010 numbers are heavily influenced by a few bad outings that occurred in non-essential situations. The worst performances have come from Hayden Penn, D.J. Carrasco, Javier Lopez, and Jack Taschner, all of whom have received the majority of their work in times when the Pirates are either up or down by 4 or more runs. In fact, those are the only relievers who have pitched this season when the Pirates have been either up or down by more than three runs. In those 13.2 innings, the four relievers have combined for an 8.57 ERA, and a 1.76 WHIP.
In games where the Pirates have kept the game close (3 run lead or less, tied, or down by 3 or less), the bullpen has a 4.03 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP in 29 innings. What’s even better is that the back of the bullpen (Dotel, Donnelly, Meek, Hanrahan) have combined for a 3.13 ERA, and a 1.22 WHIP in 23 innings of work.
Not everything has been perfect. Donnelly, for example, has allowed seven walks in six innings. Dotel has allowed two homers in six innings, and has a blown save in four chances. Javier Lopez has been used as a lefty specialist at times, but he came on to face two lefties on Friday and walked both batters, throwing just one strike and eight balls.
The bullpen also doesn’t have a shut down guy. Handing the game to Dotel isn’t like handing it to Joakim Soria. At the same time, it’s probably a little better than handing it to Matt Capps, who may have a good ERA and a few saves for Washington this season, but has been doing the tight rope walk routine in each save opportunity. There’s also enough options available that the Pirates are covered with a backup plan, in the event that someone has an off night.