The Padres bullpen has the lowest ERA of all major league bullpens at 2.02. That is 16 runs in 72 innings. In fact, if their starting pitching didn’t have 12 losses on the young season, they would be undefeated.
A bullpen you can rely on is an underrated but important part of building a winning team. Pitching coach Darren Balsley deserves a lot of credit, and Bud Black shows flexibility in managing his bullpen to fit the pieces. What is interesting to see is how certain players can do great in the Padres bullpen, but are bad once they move on somewhere else. For example, Heath Bell amassed three All Star Games for the Padres and saved 134 games. Bell is on his third team in three years with only 34 saves and an ERA in the high four’s. Mike Adams was never quite been the same set-up man, Scott Linebrink got old fast, and the list goes on.
There are a couple of things that go into an effective bullpen: Strong individual pitchers, proper usage, and a strong closer. The closer is the anchor that sets everything else up. When the closer is in disarray, so is the rest of the bullpen. Look at the Detroit Tigers for proof there. So let’s take a quick look at how the Padres have done what they have done so far this year.
Strong Individual Pitchers
Dale Thayer, the bearded slayer who to his own credit stepped up in 2012 when Street was injured and saved 7 games. He also has 173 minor league saves in 200 opportunities. Right now though he has allowed one run in about 12 innings, striking out 11, and netting four holds, the money category for a reliever. Winner.
Next is Nick Vincent, who has looked strong and gained some high leverage opportunities as well. Vincent’s only allowed two runs so far this year, struck out twelve in eleven innings, and has only walked two. He is a fast developing pitcher and an important piece if Thayer/Benoit/Street loses any time for injury.
The featured left-hander in the bullpen is Alex Torres. Unlike Joe Thatcher last year, Torres has proved versatile against both lefties and righties this year. Despite walking six men in ten innings, he can be another dominating piece if that can be controlled, especially against the Dodgers and their strong left-handed hitters.
Lastly, Joaquin Benoit has been as good as advertised except for one outing. In nine innings, he allowed two earned runs and is a big presence on the mount to boot! If the Padres can have a lead heading into the 7th inning, it is looking pretty automatic these days.
Bullpen deployment is one of the biggest questions that comes up for a major league manager, and Bud Black has proven to be pretty good at building a bullpen in his time with the Padres. From Gregorson-Adams-Bell to Linebrink-Bell-Hoffman to the current trio of Thayer-Benoit-Street, the Padres relievers know their place in the ‘pen and are great at getting their job done. While I do feel that the specialization of certain pitchers can get a little ridiculous, you can’t deny it’s effectiveness either.
It feels like Huston Street has been around forever, right? He is still just 30 years old and is off to a great start. He has gone a perfect 8 for 8 in save opportunities this year and has been much more pleasant to watch. Not the typical tight-rope walker he has been in years past that Bell specialized in. He’s only allowed seven hits or walks in his nine innings of work with 11 strikeouts to go with it. He allowed his first run the other night, and it was meaningless as he finished the job and won the game 3-2. His 242 career saves certainly says something, and if he can stay healthy, fans would love to see him break his career marks of 68 games played and 37 saves set in 2006 with the A’s.
The 2014 Padres will rise and fall with their pitching, that much we know for sure. The offense has showed some positive signs with Everth Cabrera and the bench, but we just need more of it and in the same game. If the bullpen can keep going strong, the starting pitching continues its course, this team will continue to win and work their way to the top of the division. After all, for all their offense, the Dodgers bullpen is ranked 15th, the Rockies 18th, and the Diamondbacks 13th,but it is the 3rd rank Giants bullpen that the Padres need to watch out for.