In his tenure with the San Diego Padres, Kevin Towers developed a reputation as a bullpen expert. His expertise in this area made him a prime candidate for Arizona, who had the worst bullpen in the league last season. In his introductory press conference with the Diamondbacks, Towers expressed his beliefs when it comes to assembling relief pitching.
My goal here is put together a bullpen that’s better than San Diego’s. To me, it’s several weapons. A bullpen’s not just the closer. To me, you should have five to six guys that can pitch in the seventh, eight, or ninth inning against the middle-of-the-order hitter and be able to get a strikeout.
Towers began the rebuilding process on Monday, acquiring David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio from the Orioles for Mark Reynolds. While Hernandez and Mikolio aren’t exactly household names, they could end up playing key roles in Towers’ next dominant pen.
In Hernandez and Mickolio, Towers acquires two young, cost-controlled pitchers capable of posting big strikeout numbers. While some analysts were worried about Hernandez’s ability to strikeout batters at the major league level, he quelled those concerns last season, raising his K/9 by two full strikeouts. Although Mickolio doesn’t have much major league experience, he has shown the ability to strikeout a batter per innings during his brief stints in the majors.
Hernandez and Mickolio come with similar flaws; neither pitcher is particularly skilled when it comes to limiting walks. On top of that, both pitchers allow an absurd amount of fly balls. Although they are moving out of Camden Yards, it’s not as if Chase Field will do them many favors. Towers realizes that the ability to accumulate strikeouts late in games is a valuable commodity, however, and realizes that the upside of these pitchers is well worth the risk.
The fact that Hernandez and Mickolio get to leave the AL East cannot be understated. Instead of facing the middle of the order lineups in the AL East (Alex Rodriguez-Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis-David Ortiz, Adam Lind-Jose Bautista, etc.), the former O’s will have a lot less to worry about in the NL West.
In a separate post, Matt Klaassen examined the Orioles perspective of this trade. In the article, he explains that only the best relief pitchers will match the value of Mark Reynolds going forward. If this is the case, why would Towers pull the trigger on this deal? First off, Towers has no allegiance to Reynolds. It was Josh Byrnes, not Towers, that gave Reynolds a contract extension after a strong 2009. While Reynolds may have been a good fit for the Diamondbacks under Byrnes, Towers is taking the team in a different direction. Secondly, trading Reynolds allows Towers to free up extra money to make addition moves this off-season (like this one).
Reynolds is also the type of player that can frustrate managers as often as he can dazzle them. Due to a low contact rate, Reynolds holds the record for most strikeouts in a season. As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, Reynolds also holds the second and third spot on the single season strikeout list. Despite the strikeouts, Reynolds has been a valuable asset for the Diamondbacks over the past four seasons. The strikeouts and contact issues (combined with some bad luck on balls in play) led to a slash line of .198/.320/.433 last season, making Reynolds an expendable commodity to Towers.
Regardless of whether Reynolds outproduces Hernandez and Mickolio over the next few seasons, it’s clear that Kevin Towers has a plan for the Diamondbacks. As Towers stated in his introductory press conference, assembling the Diamondbacks bullpen was a major priority this off-season. If Towers’ reputation is warranted, Hernandez and Mickolio could have a much larger impact than anyone expects with the Diamondbacks.