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The newly-redesigned Padres bullpen

In this, the last of my spring training roster analysis, I’ll take a look at the bullpen and see what we might expect from this bunch. In previous columns, I looked at the infield, outfield, and starting pitching, trying to figure out how many more wins this team could win if everything turned out right, everyone stayed healthy, and those who we expect to improve did.

I think that the 2014 Padres need at least 92 wins to get into the playoffs, and I think that improvements, and general health, should see the Pads add 13 wins. That puts them at 89 wins, just three short of where I see the playoff line being.

The bullpen was surprisingly mediocre last season, with most of the team stats sitting on the wrong side of the middle. They weren’t horrible, like the Rockies, but they weren’t good either.  After the sixth inning, Padres pitchers were hit for a .396 slugging average, which was the fourth worst in the NL. If they’re going to improve and win more games, the first thing they need to do is improve this weak spot.

The Closer – Huston Street

He can’t give up 12 home runs in a season again, can he? He can’t have a home run to fly ball rate of 13% again, can he? For those checking, that 13 % is almost double the major league average.  Last season was horrible and ignore his ERA. His FIP was a lovely 4.89, the worst of his career. All of his other stats looked similar to years past, so are we all willing to consider this an aberration?

I’m not sure.

Street’s always been a flyball pitcher, flirting with danger in Colorado. It’s a dangerous combination for a closer, a pitcher whose stuff tends to go up rather than down. It certainly can’t make Bud Black’s heart rate sit at a nice, relaxed beat.

Like other players I’ve mentioned in the past columns, Street is someone who shouldn’t even be on this roster. The contract extension was a bad choice and then not trading him at the deadline last year was another mistake. There was a rumor last spring training that the Tigers and Padres were going to exchange Street for Rick Porcello. If there was any truth to that, and the Padres turned it down, they should be crushed for such a bad decision.

The Setup Man – Joaquin Benoit

There are things that I really like about Benoit. First, he throws strikes, pounds the zone, and gets people out. His walk rate is good and he’s shown a willingness and ability to pitch in high pressure situations. Stories coming out of Padres camp say that he’s already showing leadership and the ability to teach the younger pitchers. He’s a good teammate and a great member of the team.

Isn’t that Luke Gregerson?

If the Padres didn’t have to get another outfielder to cover for the inevitable injuries, would we even be talking about Benoit? Could that money have been spent better? Do you realize that Street and Benoit, at a combined salary of $13M, are getting paid 15% of the payroll? That’s a horrible misspending of money.

And if you think that watching Street give up long flyballs is going to be stressful next year, Benoit has a worse flyball to groundball rate. Cameron Maybin is going to be busy in the late innings this season.

 

The Rest of the Pen –

Dale Thayer

Thayer had an interesting year last season to try to base a prediction on. His strikeout rate improved and he gave up hits at the same rate as 2012. But his walk rate jumped and he got smacked for more homers after Petco got adjusted. He’s 32, which means that he is what he is… he’s not going to get any better but there is a chance that he’s going to get worse. If he loses anything on that fastball, this could get ugly quickly.

What I’d be interested to hear is why Bud Black seems hamstrung to only use Thayer for less than an inning. His splits are pretty similar, so he doesn’t have any strong tendencies one way or another. He’s got the personality for high leverage situations, so Black should be able to use him to get through a tough outing. But yet, for the second year in a row, he pitches less than an inning per appearance. Is he that fragile?

Nick Vincent

He’s cheap, he’s in the perfect age where we start seeing real improvement, and he’s destroyed righties his entire career. What’s not to like about him?

The Padres seem to be slowly increasing his workload, although I don’t see the point of having a healthy 27-year-old sitting in the pen waiting and waiting to get called on. Yes, he’s not a power pitcher who lights up a radar gun, but he’s proven to be effective. Get him out there more often and let’s see what he can do if given more work.

Patrick Schuster

If he makes the roster, and many people think he will because the Padres traded for him and don’t want to send him back to the D-Backs, it will hopefully be because he’s a hidden gem who the Padres unearthed. But looking at his minor league stats, his bad walk rate, his mediocre strikeout rate, the fact that he hasn’t pitched above A-ball, and Josh Byrnes’ insane desire to add as many ex-D-backs as he can, I wouldn’t hold my breath on this guy working out. If he’s pitching any valuable innings this season, it’ll either be a miracle or a white flag.

Tim Stauffer

Am I the only one who finds it hard to believe that he was drafted by the Padres in the first round of the 2003 draft? Is he the Padre with the most time on the team?

Stauffer is an interesting case of what to do when a first round pick doesn’t work out. They tried him as a starter and he kept getting hurt (or just being average). Now they’ve finally decided that he’s a nice bullpen piece and, for the most part, he is. He’s interesting in that he pitches better against lefties than righties, and that as soon as he knew he was staying in the bullpen, his strikeout rate went up and his walk rate went down. What I really would like to see Bud Black do with him this season is see if he can pitch more than one inning at an outing. He teased it last year, but I think Stauffer’s the perfect pitcher to do it with more often.

Alex Torres

Although I hated giving up Logan Forsythe, I really liked this trade for the Padres. This is one move that really strengthens the bullpen without hurting another part of it. Torres seems to have solved his problems with not finding the strike zone and he overpowers batters. I don’t think the Padres have any desire to see if he can start games, but instead see Torres as the future set up man / closer for the team.

If all goes well, Torres will be the most valuable member of the Padres bullpen this year. He’ll face all the high leverage situations before the eighth inning and shut down the better hitters. I would expect to see him and Benoit taking turns, depending on the match ups, shutting everyone down before they give the ball to Street and pray he doesn’t groove a fastball.

Here’s a crazy thought that would show that the Padres are not the incompetent managers that I sometimes believe they are. What if the Benoit contract is being used to keep the other bunch of relievers on this team from hitting arbitration with any save numbers? Street and Benoit get all the saves, which is how relievers get their money in arbitration. That way Torres and some of the other younger pitchers never get the counting stats and end up making less before they hit free agency. Is it possible?

Tony Sipp

Sipp is proof that if you’re a left-handed pitcher, you can always find a job in baseball. Surprisingly, I’ve read a few articles that say the he’s got a chance to be an effective pitcher this season. He’s an extreme flyball pitcher, which will be much safer for him in San Diego than in either Cleveland or Arizona. (Yep, yet another former Diamondback) If the Padres outfield can save him, he could lower that career ERA and be a useful pitcher, picking up the slack in the middle innings. He’s a good strikeout pitcher, so he’s got that going for him.

But there’s so much about him that’s scary. His control is mediocre at best, horrible at worst. He gives up a ton of homeruns, so expect many of his outings to involve outfielders at the warning track. He’s yet another pitcher who probably won’t go an entire inning. At this point in his career, he’s rapidly entering LOOGY status, which is strange because his career splits don’t show that he’s better against one side.

Maybe the D-Backs just used him incorrectly last season. Maybe the Padres need to give him a complete inning and see what happens. Maybe…

 

There are tons of other pitching possibilities I could look at, but I really just wanted to focus on the pitchers that I was somewhat certain were going to make the team. If Schuster gets sent back, and Sipp is cut, and we’re looking at Blaine Boyer or Josh Geer coming out of the pen, I actually don’t see that huge of a difference between them and Sipp or Schuster.

I wrote before that the Padres need to add three more wins from their bullpen to get into playoff contention. In all honesty, looking at the bullpen as it’s sitting now, at the start of spring training, I really only see them getting one more win by adding Torres. Benoit versus Gregerson is a wash, Street is about the same, and everyone else seems like a bit of a motley crew.

But here’s the rub – that puts the Padres at 90 wins for the season. I think any Padres fan would be ecstatic if they got to 90 wins in 2014, myself included, and it might just be enough if a team like the Reds, the Giants, or the Pirates fall apart this season. I think the Padres this year will be very reminiscent of the Royals last season – playing meaningful baseball in September, but falling a little short when the season ends.

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Tags: Alex Torres Dale Thayer Huston Street Joaquin Benoit Nick Vincent Patrick Schuster San Diego Padres Tim Stauffer Tony Sipp

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