Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Brewers First Half Report Card: The Bullpen

To wrap up the mid-season grading of the Milwaukee Brewers, below is how the bullpen ranks up. Unlike last year, the bullpen has actually been a bright spot for the Brewers this season. Minus a few hiccups here and there, the bullpen has been a dominate force the National League. Coming out of the All-Star break, the Brewers bullpen ranks 3rd in the NL in ERA. With that, here we go.

Tyler Thornburg – A

Thornburg has only thrown 13.1 innings this season, but he has been very useful in his short time in the big leagues. He has compiled a 1.35 ERA and has only walked four batters while striking out nine. His biggest vulnerability last season was giving up the homerun ball. This season, he has yet to surrender a homerun (although Gomez and Schafer both pulled back balls that would have been homeruns with Thornburg on the mound). In my opinion, he deserves a spot in the starting rotation (at least on a trial basis). With the way the season is going (which is way, way down the drain), we may as well see what he can do for us.

Francisco Rodriguez – A
The Brewers’ current closer has a 1.19 ERA in 22.2 innings this season. He has struck out 25 while walking 8. He has only given up two homeruns this year, which is pretty impressive because that seemed to be one of his biggest weaknesses last season. He has limited opponents to a .200 batting average off of him and is a crisp 9/9 in save opportunities. Personally, I don’t think he can keep these numbers up for much longer so I’m hoping that we can ship him off to a contending team before he comes back down to earth.

John Axford – B+

While he struggled mightily for the entire month of April (losing his closer’s role to Jim Henderson), he was eventually able to get back to being the dominant John Axford who fans enjoyed watching in 2011. He has a 3.72 ERA in 38.2 innings pitched in 2013. He’s walked 17 batters, struck out 40, and has allowed 6 homeruns. He is 0/4 on the season in save opportunities, but has been very effective when used in the seventh and eighth innings. He probably has done enough to earn his closer’s role back, but with K-Rod and Henderson both currently on the team, Axford probably won’t get many opportunities to close out games for awhile.

Burke Badenhop – B
Overall Burke has been pretty effective for the Brewers this season, although his 4.14 ERA doesn’t necessarily reflect that. He has thrown 41.1 innings and has only given up four homers, while allowing 9 walks and striking out 30. In his career, he has always had more success getting out right handed hitters, but this year his splits are pretty even. If used in the right circumstances, he can usually get the job done.

Brandon Kintzler – B+

Kintzler owns a 2-0 record with a 3.40 ERA in 39.2 IP this season. He has only allowed 2 homeruns and twelve walks while striking out 37. He has not allowed any unearned runs to score this season. While other guys have had good months and bad months, Kintzler has been relatively consistent for the Brewers all season long. He has done a very good job getting the Brewers through to the next inning with the lead. He has zero blown saves and has recorded 9 holds this season. He’s been used in pretty much every situation this season with the exception of the closer’s role, and has shown that he’s a versatile bullpen pitcher who can be very useful for this team in the future.

Mike Gonzalez – C

While he has a respectable 3.00 ERA for the season, he hasn’t exactly been as efficient of a pitcher as some of the basic pitching stats would suggest. He has an 0-3 record this season with three blown saves to his name in 33 innings pitched. He has issued 17 walks while striking out 40 and giving up four homeruns. These all look like pretty good numbers, but you have to account for the fact that he is a “left handed specialist,” meaning that he comes into games with the specific purpose of getting out left handed hitters. Often times this means that he will be inheriting a couple of baserunners, and it’s his job to keep these runners from scoring. This season, Gonzalez has allowed 48% of inherited baserunners to score. FOURTY EIGHT PERCENT! He has a LOB% of 88% with his own baserunners, which is much better, but these are not the kind of numbers you want to see out of your left handed specialist. He was all sorts of awful in April and then seemed to figure it out in May, but hasn’t been overly impressive since his good month of May.  He has a WAR of 0, which means that he has no positive impact compared to others who are in the same role as he is. Overall he’s done an okay job, but has done a pretty poor job of getting left handed hitters out – which is what the Brewers primarily would like to use him for. He’s actually been better facing righties than lefties this year, which is kind of strange, but hey, at least he’s getting someone out?

Tom Gorzelanny – A+

Gorzelanny has probably been the Brewers overall best pitcher in 2013. He has been used both as a bullpen man and a starter, and Roenicke just announced that Gorzelanny will remain in the starting rotation permanently after his last outstanding start against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He has a 1.88 ERA in 52.2 IP. Most of these innings came out of the bullpen, but he has made a couple of spot starts for the Brewers this season. He has walked 20 and struck out 50. All three of his losses this year are undeserving, and two of them came in his last two starts, where he allowed zero earned runs in a combined twelve innings pitched. He has only allowed 5 homeruns this season and is holding opponents to a .196 batting average, which is outstanding. With all of the problems the Brewers have had with their starting rotation this season, it’s nice to see a guy be able to step up and help out when the Brewers desperately needed someone.

Jim Henderson – A

Henderson was installed as the closer when John Axford was removed from the role after a very poor start to the season. Jim has a 3-3 record with a 2.41 ERA in 33.2 innings pitched. He has converted 10/13 save opportunities this season and has only allowed two homeruns. He has walked 14 and struck out 35. He was virtually impossible to score upon during the first month and a half of the season, but has looked more vulnerable as of late. He had a DL stint earlier this season thanks to a tweaked hamstring and lost his closer’s role to K-Rod. He hasn’t seemed to be able to have as much success in the eighth inning as he had when he was closing games, but I think this is more of a coincidence than a “mental” thing. If (well, hopefully “when”) K-Rod is traded, Henderson may get his closer’s role back. It will be interesting to see if he could go back to being lights out in the closers role or if he continues to struggle like he has been in the seventh and eighth inning lately. Overall, he’s been better than anyone could have hoped for this season.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Kristin Zenz (@10iskristin)

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