The back end of the Arizona bullpen was a mess last year. They tied with the Astros for the most blown saves in the league. J.J. Putz was spotty early in the season as the closer, and Heath Bell struggled in the role as well early in the summer. Brad Ziegler finally brought some stability to the role as he saved 13 games and blew only two after taking over the role in early July. But the D’Backs front office obviously didn’t feel comfortable with Ziegler maintaining the closer job, so they acquired Addison Reed in the offseason.
The bullpen should be much better this year, in part because of the added depth Reed gives them. But they should also be better because of some positive regression for Putz and David Hernandez.
Reed has 69 saves over the last two seasons, but only a 4.20 ERA. His FIP and SIERA are both under 3.50, and his strikeout and walk rates are both above average for a reliever. But they’re only slightly above average. So Reed’s value comes almost exclusively from saves. He’s not anywhere near the type of stud closer that will have have a big positive impact on your ratios nor will he have a huge positive impact on your strikeout total. He’s currently going as the 11th closer on average according to NFBC ADP, and that’s too high for a guy who only helps in one category. Because of his youth and the excitement over his gaudy strikeout rate in the minors, Reed’s perceived value is higher than his actual value.
If you’re looking for another reason to pass on Reed as a top 12 closer, take note of his big drop in velocity last year. His average fastball velocity was 94.8 in 2011, held steady at 94.5 in 2012 and then dropped significantly to 92.7 last year. And his lowest average fastball velocities by month last year came in the final two months of the season. There’s been no indication that Reed has suffered any sort of injury, but a drop in fastball velocity like that is always concerning. Even if it’s not a sign of injury, his fastball was less effective with less velocity as his rate of whiffs per swing dropped later in the year.
The Setup Men
The D’Backs will have quite a few decent options in front of Reed. Despite his slow start, Putz pitched well after returning from injury in June. The only red flag was that his walk rate spiked primarily because he wasn’t able to induce batters to swing at as many pitches outside the zone as he had in previous years. But the rest of his peripherals look good, and he’s a decent bet to be the normal eighth inning guy. He’s also my bet to take over the closer role if Reed struggles and/or gets hurt.
Hernandez has always been a fly ball pitcher, but he managed to keep the ball in the yard in 2011 and 2012 with a HR/FB rate around 5% and a HR/9 of 0.52. But last year his HR/FB rate ballooned up to 12.8%, and his HR/9 was 1.44. But, like Putz, he only has one peripheral number that looks bad. Assuming his home run rate settles somewhere in the middle of his good luck and bad luck, he should go back to being a competent middle reliever. He’s also the best candidate to fill the seventh inning role because he doesn’t have a big lefty/righty split like the remaining options in the pen.
And those remaining options are Ziegler and Joe Thatcher. As mentioned, Ziegler did a nice job as the closer last year, but he’s not your prototypical closer. He’s got a sidearm delivery and relies heavily on his extremely high ground ball rate. He’s also much better against right-handers than against left-handers. And that makes him a good partner with Thatcher to fill in the holes in the late-middle portions of games. Thatcher, like Reed, was acquired in a strange trade in which the D’Backs gave up a decent young piece for bullpen help. He’s pretty much a lefty specialist and will pair well with Ziegler as a situational piece.
The Other Guys
Josh Collmenter is likely to be the long man again, and he filled that role admirably last year. He posted a 3.13 ERA in 92 innings over 49 appearances. He’s likely to see a bit of regression in his home run rate, but he should still be able to post an ERA in the mid-to-high threes despite the regression because of the improvements he made against left-handers last year. He used his changeup a lot more against lefties last year, and that was the primary reason for a nice 2% spike in his swinging strike rate. Collmenter could potentially be somewhat interesting as a spot starter if he ends up filling any holes in the back end of Arizona’s rotation.
A number of other guys could end up filling the last spot or two in the pen, but the only one that’s really worth knowing is Will Harris. Harris languished for six and a half years in the Colorado system before getting called up late in 2012. After that season, the D’Backs claimed the right-hander off waivers. In 52+ innings last year, he posted a sub-3.00 ERA with above average strikeout and walk rates. About 74% of his work came when the D’Backs were trailing, and that figures to be the case again this year. But as far as guys who have little to no chance of getting many holds, Harris is pretty good.