Orioles Think Tank

Orioles Coverage for the Information Age

The Bullpen

Posted by Mike on May 8, 2006

The recent struggles of the bullpen have to be a major concern for the Orioles, but let me start this entry off on a positive note:  Jim Brower is gone.

I was cautiously optimistic about the pen this year, but the results have been ugly.  Frankly, I still think the O's handled it correctly.  In a season where a great many things must go right for the Orioles to contend, they decided to use it as a test to figure out which guys could be useful in future seasons.  They handed the closer's role to Chris Ray, avoided costly middle-relief signings, and went into 2006 with every intent of exploiting the free talent market.  The lone off-season move of note that they did make, acquiring LaTroy Hawkins, only came at the expense of the middling Steve Kline. 

So far, a lot of things have gone wrong.  Todd Williams went down to injury early.  Franklyn Gracesqui threw 10 mph slower than advertised.  Ricky Bottalico had one of the least effective spring training's in recent memory.  Leo Mazzone's pet project (Brower) flamed out.  And AAA superstar Aaron Rakers lost the season to injury in spring training. 

Rest easy, O's fans, it's barely May.  Things have to get better, right?  Let's take a look at the pen thus far:

Chris Ray- Our bullpen ace is living up to his billing.  His 5.6 BB/9 will have to come down if he hopes to sustain his success, but those walks have come in chunks, giving hope that some consistency can be gained as the season wears on.  What I worry about most is his inconsistent usage, which is a direct result of this ballclub's inconsistency.  As a first-time ML closer, Ray isn't used to this sporadic usage pattern, and it will be up to Mazzone and Perlozzo to keep him fresh.

Sendy Rleal- Low K rate + High BB rate + High HR rate= 3.38 ERA?  Expect Rleal's usage to go down (14 Games) unless he improves.  Luckily, his track record indicates that he is fully capable of becoming a solid set-up man in the long run.  He may always let up more HR's than ideal, but he is certainly going to improve on his 1:1 K:BB ratio. 

John Halama- No one expected Halama to be anything more than a last resort, long-man type.  But if the early goings are any indication, and this deceptively handsome and self-assured blogger believes they are, than it won't be long before he is swapping roles with someone in Ottawa.  4.0 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, 2.0 HR/9.  Not good, folks.

Todd Williams- He's back and he's generating grounders at a pace Brandon Webb would be jealous of.  Williams is a perfect example of what the free talent market can provide, if you know where to look.

Latroy Hawkins– He has not looked particularly sharp thus far.  While he's always endured an unjust stigma after blowing a few saves in a major media market, I was very fond of the Kline-Hawkins swap.  For years, Hawkins has been an elite set-up man, and the Giants even gave the O's $800K to even out their salaries.  He may be a tier below what he once was, but his K/9 rate will rise from 3.14 and he should provide some stability for the pen while just about everyone else gets shifted around.

Eric DuBose- In very limited usage, Dubose has shown very limited effectiveness.  But his 2003 season is another good example of what can be found in the free talent market.  Dubose's presence on this year's staff can be seen as a strike against the O's ability to cut bait, but I'm more than happy to give him a few more outings while more promising options get some seasoning in Ottawa.

Eddy Rodriguez- A perennial project, Eddy is back in Ottawa to work on his control.  He could end up being a useful part of future O's pens or he could end up as their 13th man for years to come. 

Tim Byrdak– Now on the 60-day DL and unlikely to contribute this season.  Many would argue that the latter part of that sentence was not contingent on the first part, but I have a soft spot for Byrdak.  At 32, it's unlikely he'll ever harness his crippling command issues, but his K rate still intrigues me.  He also held lefties to a .214 BA last year.  But he walked 12 righties in 11.2 ip, while allowing a .300 BA.  Clearly, he needs to be utilized more judiciciously. 

Chris Britton- With the ascent of Chris Ray, Britton is the best relief prospect in the system.  That still doesn't justify the way he was yanked into the bigs after 2.1 ip above A-ball and then sent back down after 4+ ip.  As an organization, the Orioles have to do a better job of protecting their prospects, particularly when they offer very marginal gains on other options in a season where they're not expecting to contend.  Britton is just the latest example.  His ridiculous CB will go a long ways to helping him dominate the Eastern League this year.  By 2007, he should be bridging the gap to Ray for years to come. 

Julio Manon– The 32 year old Manon has seemingly pitched everywhere.  He was an undrafted free agent signing by the Cardinals in 1992.  It took him 5 years to get out of rookie ball and another 6 years to make it to the show, where he was in effective for the Expos in 2003.  Most recently, the O's stole him from the Korean and Taiwanese professional leagues to close for Ottawa.  Seriously.  Along the way, he has always posted solid K rates with his FB-Splitter combo.  I can't say I'm especially optimistic he will work out, but this example at least signifies some creativity on the part of the front office.  He's certainly one worth rooting for. 

Kurt Birkins- He's only be expected to contribute as a situational lefty, which should push Halama back into long-relief duty, but that debut was inspiring enough.  Birkins was a draft and follow 33rd rounder in 2000.  He had soem success in his AA debut last year (as a starter) and was pitching OK in Ottawa when he was summoned.  If he can handle a LOOGY role, that would make things a bit easier on Perlozzo.  I can't say I was especially enthralled with the call-up at the time, but he has since pitched one of the more impressive innings of work I have seen in this young season.  That should go a long way to getting him more chances.

Beyond these guys you have the Ottawa clan, all awaiting their turns; Chris Piersoll, Brian Burres, Ryan Keefer (extended spring training), Winston Abreu, Scott Rice, and Cory Morris

None of these guys are likely to be more than decent middle relievers (with the possible exception of Morris, who offers a higher risk/reward), but every single one of them has a realistic chance of being a contributor on a major league team. 

So, what's my point?  Well, I'm not that worried.  The O's had a plan for this year's pen: throw a lot of young talent against the wall and see what sticks.  Many of these guys will wash out, but you can expect some of them to rise to the occasion as well.  It's not going to be pretty, folks, but I'm convinced that this is a necessary step towards building better bullpens for a team that has a better chance of contending in 2008 than in 2006.  Moreover, it's a good indication that the front office is inclined to believe the same.  For an organization that has too often confused rebuilding with stuck in neutral, this is a very good thing. 


5 Responses to “The Bullpen”

  1. Mike said

    FYI- I was going to put up a post about the Win Probability Added amongst O’s players, but Ted Cook (of Orioles Hangout) beat me to it. Check it out at:


    For more information on WPA, icluding other team lists, check out:


  2. bradley said

    couple comments, mike:

    1) as always, good job. i’ve held to the things aren’t as bad as they appear line wrt the bullpen since spring, too. williams has definitely stabilized things and i’m also liking what i see from birkins. as the fo called it’s shot on this being a transition year, they should absolutley be running able bodies through the pen until guys stick and get the done. i honestly think they’re close to finding that right mix.

    2) i know it was sort of talked of as a wacky move in spring, but maybe it’s time for ramon hernandez at the two hole, huh? maybe mora at 1?

  3. kilbs said

    You know, I’m not too worried about the pen either. It’s not as if I expected the Orioles to contend anyway. What does concern me is the ghost of Jason Grimsley and my fear that we’ll deal Loewen for some piece of crap reliever.

    I would argue that it is inherently difficult to construct a good bullpen year in and year out because of sample size issues from year to year. IIRC, the 97 bullpen was similar to the 98 bullpen, yet the 97 bullpen was spectacular while the 98 bullpen sucked. Further, I like the idea of going with youth and seeing what happens. It’s a lot better to have a stable of young arms and a few reclamation projects than throwing around millions for the Buddy Grooms of the world, as this organization knows all too well.

  4. Sam said

    Unrelated topic, but I think we should be batting Markakis lead off with Roberts out. Also, I hope Matos returning won’t steal AB’s from Markakis like it is tonight because that would just be stupid.

  5. bradley said

    on the subject of the outfield: fine defensive chops on display this evening…uh, what? at least markakis is still learning the outfield, what’s matos’s excuse? gibbons outght to know better, too, but he at least can make up for the runs he allows defensively.

    on pitching: at what point do you send liz to bowie?

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