By Josh Flagner
To kick off my More Than a Fan National League East season preview series, I’ve decided to do something a little different. It’s an executive decision, if you will. I even went and put on a tie for this paragraph so I would seem extra official.
Instead of writing about a different team every week – I can’t possibly do it any better than the season previews that Lisa, Ryan, Stephanie, Dom, Mark, Deb, and Matt have already done – I’m going to pick out a position group and look at how that group stacks up in comparison to the rest of the division.
This week we’ll be spying on the bullpens on the National League East. That’s only natural, considering last week was a peek at the starting rotations. I’m so into providing our readers with exceptional material that I won’t even make jokes about anything being premature.
Evaluations. It’s not right to make premature team evaluations. I can’t give a grade until I’ve broken down each position group. This is only the second group, so of course I can’t give you a final grade.
(You guys have a sick sense of humor.)
*Due to the crazy turnover in most bullpens, these players aren’t locks to make their respective teams, nor are these pitchers the only members of their bullpens. They’re merely the projected depth charts. I think they’ll be mostly correct, but for all I know they’ll be six more cases of false identity and a torn ligament caused by video game playing this spring.
|Craig Kimbrel (Closer)||4||3||0.571||2.1||46||77||32||127|
The key to the Braves bullpen is a pitcher that probably shouldn’t be in a bullpen at all. Kris Medlen was one of Atlanta’s top pitching prospects before undergoing Tommy John surgery in late 2010. Medlen in the bullpen is really a win-win for Atlanta. He can pitch a ton of innings or move to the rotation in case of injury.
The Braves two stars at the back of the ‘pen are as good as it gets. Jonny Venters was 2011’s best set-up man and closer Craig Kimbrel was absolutely unhittable until a rough September cost him a sub 2 ERA. Eric O’Flaherty gets special consideration for having the most Irish name in the National League. He also held lefties to a .195 avg in 2011, but we all know what’s more important.
|Heath Bell (Closer)||3||4||0.429||2.44||43||62.2||21||51|
In case you don’t recognize Juan Ovedio, he’s the reliever formerly known as Leo Nunez. He’s also a reliever formerly known as a closer, but a terrible second half of 2011 ended his dreams of being the stopper. That role is taken by former San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell. Bell has 134 saves in his last three seasons and is expected to thrive behind set-up men Ovedio and Edward Mujica.
My hunch is that the Marlins bullpen will issue the fewest walks in the NL East this season. There’s a lot of consistency in Miami’s pitching depth, and that depth should make good backing up the bolstered starting rotation.
New York Mets
|Frank Francisco (Closer)||1||4||0.2||3.55||17||50.2||18||53|
Righty Ramon Ramirez is likely going to be the lone bright spot in the Mets bullpen. His 2011 season boasted nearly a strikeout per inning and only three home runs allowed. Also, moving into New York’s humongous Citi Field should help him keep the ball in the yard even more.
With no other ERAs under 3.50, only Bobby Parnell seems to have any potential in this ‘pen. Parnell has decent stuff and a good strikeout rate, but he choked last season when Francisco Rodriguez was traded, converting on 6 of 12 save opportunities. Parnell could move back into the closer role if Frank Francisco falters, which is almost likely considering Francisco couldn’t maintain the role all of last season. Also, his name is practically Frank Frank.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trust Frank Frank to close games.
|Jonathon Papelbon (Closer)||4||1||0.8||2.94||31||64.1||10||87|
The Phillies bullpen is the polar opposite of the Mets mess. Jose Contreras is the grizzled vet who can keep the place calm, Kyle Kendrick is one of the best spot starters/long relievers in the National League, Antonio Bastardo is the filthy set-up man (10.8 K/9), and Jonathon Papelbon is an all-star closer.
Expect Papelbon to light up the National League East after battling his whole career in the brutal American League East, but I’m making my favorite in this ‘pen Antonio Bastardo. It’s all in a name. How much higher would you pick Antonio Bastardo than Frank Frank?
A lot higher.
|Drew Storen (Closer)||6||3||0.667||2.75||43||75.1||20||74|
Closer Drew Storen and set-up man Tyler Clippard are the strongest 8th and 9th inning combo in the division. Clippard’s 10.6 K/9 and Storen’s 43 saves in 2011 mean that wins are locked up once the Nationals can get into the late innings with a lead.
If veterans Brad Lidge and Sean Burnett can stay healthy and consistent in 2012, expect the Nationals ‘pen to make the most out of their opportunities. There aren’t any funny names slated for Washington’s corps of relievers, so I’m just going to sit here scouring the minor league systems for a pitcher named Michael Mike Michaels.
The Phillies have the best starting rotation, but my favorite bullpen belongs to Washington. That’s almost enough to pull the Nationals into a tie for first, with the Marlins a close third. The Braves aren’t far behind, either. New York is far behind. So far behind.