Taking stock of early bullpen performances
With approximately two percent of the season in the books, the danger of overreaction is significant in baseball right now. Anything can happen over a three- or four-day span. Say, for instance, a whole slew of blown saves.
But while it's a few months too early to label 2012 as some sort of "Year of the Blown Save," it's entirely worthwhile to look around the two leagues and notice that there's some very real relief uncertainty in the Majors early. MLB.com decided to check in with some of the teams for which ninth-inning angst is the most prominent and see what the plans and contingencies look like.
Red Sox: The idea here was great. Don't overpay for Jonathan Papelbon's age 31-34 seasons, and instead rebuild the relief corps with a cadre of less-expensive, nearly as effective alternatives. Boston went out and got Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon, giving it two closer types in place of one. The Red Sox were confident enough in their mix to move setup man Daniel Bard into the rotation.
Then Bailey got hurt. And Melancon and Alfredo Aceves stumbled against the potent Tigers. And suddenly there was panic in the streets of Boston. That's just how it goes in Boston, but the truth is that this is one situation where overreaction would be especially unwise. The pitchers are here. There's a good bullpen, even without Bailey, at Bobby Valentine's disposal. Whether the Red Sox go with a committee or stick with Melancon or Aceves, it's better than blowing everything up -- or re-tracking Bard without ever finding out whether he can be a starter.
Reds: The situation here is quite similar to the one in Boston, minus the early panic. The Reds let a high-dollar closer walk over the winter, and brought in a couple of less-costly options. Then the guy ticketed to close went down to injury -- in this case, Ryan Madson will miss the entire season. For Cincinnati, the replacement was a little more obvious, with Sean Marshall stepping in.
There's no reason to think Marshall can't do the job, aside from the silly notion that lefties can't close. Billy Wagner and John Franco are among the hurlers who might beg to disagree with that one. The bigger question here is Aroldis Chapman. As with Bard and Boston, the real casualty here might be the rotation, since Chapman may well have the ability to be an outstanding starter. With Madson down, it appears he'll instead relieve once again.
Rays: Nobody is better at getting creative with a bullpen than Tampa Bay. The Rays have no problem letting a closer go and finding another reliever to step in and pick up saves. This year, they elected to go with Kyle Farnsworth before the veteran got hurt, but this is another team that has certainly covered itself with plenty of good options.
For now, the inconsistent but hard-throwing Fernando Rodney is the guy. But Joel Peralta is another intriguing candidate, and however Joe Maddon aligns his relievers, it's safe to figure he'll get the most out of them. The Rays always have plenty of arms and they always put them in situations to win. The worry factor here should be low.
Royals: The Royals signed Jonathan Broxton to help back up and bridge the gap to Joakim Soria, then Soria learned he'd need elbow surgery. Now it's a mix-and-match and it will be intriguing to see a pretty traditional organization use a non-traditional method like closer by committee. Few teams have an arsenal of bullpen arms like K.C. does, though, so it really has a chance to work.
Broxton is the veteran with the "proven closer" tag, while Aaron Crow is the kid with the big arm. Greg Holland just gets outs. Though they're all right-handed, they're pitchers with different skill sets, and there's an opportunity to get creative with them. Whether it works remains to be seen, but this is one of the more intriguing bullpens around.
Indians: Cleveland is one team where the worries come from having not made a change over the winter. Right-hander Chris Perez converted 36 of 40 chances last year, a fine ratio, but did so with some distressing indicators. His strikeout rate plummeted while his walk rate stayed steady, a worrying combination. He then missed all of Spring Training due to a side injury before having a rough outing in his regular season debut.
Perez has been effective in two subsequent outings, and either way, three games is of course too small a sample to get a real read. But this is one team that can't afford to give away any wins if it hopes to play in October, and the impressive Vinnie Pestano is waiting in the wings. The good news for Cleveland is that it has options. The bad news is that it doesn't have much wiggle room as it evaluates those options.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.