Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Breaking Down the Bullpen Problem

Mark Lancaster said it in the Tribune this morning: the bullpen narrative is already becoming old. You could see it on Jim Hickey’s face last night in the sixth, when Shawn Camp was in the middle of his nightmare. The new pitching coach rolled his eyes, cursed, bolted out to the mound and said something sharp. He must have been thinking: what do we have to do to hold a lead?

It would be easy to gripe about the problems, though; let’s take the opportunity to think about how a team can solve this particular issue. First, looking at Camp and Ruddy Lugo, who have been ineffective this year: can these guys develop any further to eventually become reliable? Their PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus seem to think they can be decent, at least (Camp, Lugo). Maddon sounded supportive but noncommittal last night (his quote in every story has two elements: one, “I’m going to keep talking to these guys,” seemed hopeful, while the other, “That’s who we’ve got, that’s what we’re going to work with,” may have betrayed some frustration.)

How do you work with this bullpen problem during a season? It seems as if Maddon and Hickey plan to continue with the current relief corps, but there is the possibility of eventually replacing them. The Durham Bulls have received three consecutive impressive starts, from Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell, and, last night, from Mitch Talbot. Seth McClung and Chad Orvella are also on the Triple-A staff. When does it become time to try out some new arms in St. Petersburg?

The story to watch here is whether Friedman and Maddon make major adjustments to the pen during the season. If they sense a need—in terms of fan interest and player buy-in—for a significantly improved record this year, they may need to tinker.

Interesting take on the bullpen situation today at Rays Index.

And now, something more positive:

Jackson did struggle with his command last night, and ended up a ball/strike ratio that was less than stellar. He also, however, pitched significantly better than his line in the box score. In addition to pumping a mid-nineties fastball and generally effective slider, Jackson seemed composed and confident. Remember, the game was tied when he left with two outs in the sixth. Had Shawn Camp been able to get an out, Jackson’s impressive outing would have been the story.

“Nice job,” Maddon said when took the ball from his starter. Jackson may not have heard him, as he began walking toward the dugout.

Maddon stopped the pitcher, looked him in the eye, and said again, “Nice job.” He wanted the praise to be heard and noted. Jackson thanked him and jogged to the bench, where he sat and smiled. He beamed for a few minutes, satisfied with the knowledge that his development was moving in the right direction. The smile, of course, had faded entirely by the time the score was 8-2.

One more thing: Jorge Cantu started at first base for Durham last night. A future power hitting corner infielder for the Rays?


raysfan02 said...

This was a frustrating one!! Poor Edwin!

Ray said...

Maddon's doing a great job managing this young team. By this time, Piniella would be kicking the garbage can and talking to himself. Joe is classy and treats his young team with respect. I love this guy.

Tyler Hissey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tyler Hissey said...

Edwin Jackson definitely pitched well enough for a win last night. If Camp and Lugo continue to struggle, Maddon's leash on both pitchers will continue to get shorter.

J.P. Howell pitched well in Spring Training and is off to a good start, but he is better in a starter role then out of the bullpen. McClung had a terrible spring, but one source told me he that he may be up with the big league club in the very near future. Chad Orvella could not possibly doing any worse than Camp or Lugo. If the struggles continue, he could get called up as well.

Stokes and Reyes have been decent, but the entire bullpen may look completely different by the end of May.

It should be interesting to see what happens.

Ray said...

The Yanks have 10 times the payroll and their bullpen is suspect. The Rays are fighting an uphill battle with a young team. But what spirit! I love this team.