Friday, December 12, 2014

By Robert Cunningham, Staff Writer - 

Starting Bullpen Players

A perfect bullpen pitcher is not unlike what you look for in a good starting pitcher as described in the previous section.

Mariano Rivera, Craig Kimbrel, Wade Davis, or, perhaps Aroldis Chapman are more recent examples of what a high quality reliever can do to impact the game.

Generally a high strikeout rate is a very desirable characteristic. Combine that with a low walk rate and a high strand rate and you have yourself a valuable asset for the final innings of a close game.

Let’s take a look at what the Angels bullpen might look like to begin 2015.

Late Inning Relievers

Author’s Note: I have purposely left Jairo Diaz in this article despite his trade to the Rockies for Josh Rutledge. Although it would have been interesting to see what Jairo could do in our bullpen, generally relievers are easily replaceable and the team needed additional middle infield depth. Additionally new lefty Scott Snodgress has been left off of the Steamer Projections because there was no projection available.

The $7MM option on Huston Street was exercised by the Angels on October 30th.

In the 28 games that Huston participated in after he joined the Angels in mid-July he tossed 26.1 innings of 1.71 ERA while limiting hard contact by his opponents, holding them to a collective .249 Slugging percentage.

It would only make sense for the Angels to bring him back and have him anchor the bullpen again. Considering how well he suppresses slugging the Angels may even consider negotiating an extension with Huston.

Beyond Street, Joe Smith will return for the 2nd year of his 3-year contract. At $5.25MM, Smith should provide quality work as a set-up man as part of the bridge to Huston Street.

Joe participated in 76 games in 2014, throwing in 74.2 innings with a sparkling 1.81 ERA and a 0.804 WHIP. He only gave up four long balls the entire season.

Cesar Ramos, recently acquired from the Rays in exchange for fan favorite Mark Sappington, is a lefty reliever the Angels will use in a LOOGY or long relief capacity.

Look for the Angels pitching staff to encourage Ramos to use his sinker more in combination with his excellent slider, curve ball and changeup.

Kevin Jespen, entering his 3rd year of arbitration, should prove to be an interesting decision for the Angels. His salary will likely escalate over $2.5MM and Jerry Dipoto will have to decide whether they keep him one more year, try to offer him an extension, or trade him this off-season.

After changing his arm slot pre-season, Jepsen had his best MLB season to-date, pitching 65 innings of 2.63 ERA ball. The real question is, was this a fluke (his 2014, .263 BABIP was much lower than his career .322 BABIP), the addition of a changeup, or a real mechanical change that contributed to his success?

It would seem like the latter two but only the Angels coaching staff and analytics department know the full truth. His changeup did rate a 1.52 on Pitch F/X per 100 pitches which is certainly above average so that was a contributor to his success.

Although Jepsen would still be cheap at $2.5MM-$3MM he may be expendable in trade due to the possible budget constraints that Dipoto may be facing in 2015.

Behind Street, Smith, Ramos, and, maybe, Jepsen you have a set of young, high-upside relievers including:

Vinnie Pestano
Jeremy Mcbryde
Cam Bedrosian
Jairo Diaz

Pestano was recently acquired from the Indians and, despite his poor results in limited Major League action before coming to Anaheim, had terrific peripheral numbers (2.22 xFIP and 2.20 xFIP for Cleveland in the Majors and Minors respectively). Barring an injury in 2015, this may prove to be one of Dipoto’s savvier moves from 2014.

Besides Pestano, the Angels recently signed free agent Minor Leaguer Jeremy Mcbryde to a Major League contract. Also they have homegrown player Cam Bedrosian.

Both are right-handed and have solid upside. Cam can really dial up the velocity on his fastball consistently coming in at the mid to upper 90’s and can even touch triple digit heat.

Middle Relief

If the above bullpen options haven’t got you salivating by now, imagine a relief corps that has Mike Morin pitching in middle relief?

Really the options here are Jeremy Mcbryde, Mike Morin, Yoslan Herrera, Danny Reynolds, Scott Snodgress, and Fernando Salas. Morin has certainly proved he is capable of contributing to the team’s success (2.90 ERA across 59 MLB innings pitched in 2014) but it is possible that since he has options he might start down in the Minors, being one of the first called up in case of injury.

Yoslan, who signed a Minor League deal in December 2013, pitched 16.2 innings in relief, although he needs to reduce the number of walks he issues. Herrera would be a good middle relief candidate at the league minimum.

Salas had a solid season with a 3.38 ERA and increased use and success with his changeup. Fernando will be entering his 1st year of arbitration and could make about $1.5MM for 2015. This will be another case where Dipoto will have to decide if he keeps Salas, non-tender’s him, or trades him.

Notably Fernando has minimal platoon splits, which is a useful trait in a reliever and a strong reason why he may be retained.

Right-hander Danny Reynolds, a 6th round pick for the Angels in 2009, switched from being a starter to a reliever this year with strong results across three different levels. As a reliever his stuff has played up and he has shown a good ability, in a small sample size, to miss bats and limit the long ball.

Finally the Angels just signed left-hander Scott Snodgress to a Minor League contract with a Spring Training invitation. The Angels liked the velocity spike they saw last year when Scott pitched out of the bullpen for the first time. He features a quality fastball/slider combination.

Best Guess 2015 Starting Bullpen

In no particular order:

Huston Street
Joe Smith
Vinnie Pestano
Jeremy Mcbryde
Fernando Salas
Kevin Jepsen (if Jepsen is traded then Morin or Bedrosian)
Yoslan Herrera or Mike Morin (only if the Angels start the season with an 8-man bullpen)
Cesar Ramos

Bullpen Depth

Cam Bedrosian
Mike Morin
Jairo Diaz
Atahualpa Severino (not on 40-man)
Trevor Gott (not on 40-man)
Daniel Reynolds

Street, Smith, Pestano, and Salas all have previous MLB closing experience. Jepsen, if he is not traded, also has closing experience.

By trading for Pestano last season and signing Mcbryde early this off-season Dipoto has set the table for starting 2015 with solid relievers and good depth.

It would not be surprising to see the Angels acquire or trade for additional AA or AAA Minor League relievers to continue to supplement the Major League staff later in the season.

Relievers have the highest turnover rate in baseball. Dipoto knows this and he also knows that for that reason you shouldn’t spend significant amounts of payroll on them.

A reliever like Street, who is one of the best at suppressing hard contact by an opposing team, is someone that Dipoto will pay money for because he is that good.

Jerry understands that investing in one or two elite relievers is required at times but his goal is to continue digging under the rocks and trading for bullpen pieces like Pestano that have previous late inning experience or have underlying peripherals that point to pitching excellence.

In Part VI we will discuss the Bench players.
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