The Orioles Bullpen Options

Jim Johnson led all of baseball with 101 saves over the past two seasons. On September 27th, Dan Duquette told Roch Kubatko of MASN that, “Jim Johnson is one of our core players,” and it was the team’s intention to keep him despite the $10.8M projected salary for 2014. Fast forward to late last week when Buster Olney tweeted that the Orioles were willing to listen to offers on Johnson. After a flurry of rumors yesterday, Duquette decided to allocate his resources to balance the roster to make it more competitive.

Doing so creates a large hole in the back of the Orioles’ bullpen as Johnson also led all of baseball in games finished over the past two seasons. Johnson stepped in to fill the void left by Kevin Gregg‘s ineffectiveness two seasons ago, and now someone else has the opportunity to do so. When Johnson did so, it was the easy choice as he had displayed the skills to do so while getting the ball to Gregg to attempt to save games. In looking at the current 40-man roster for Baltimore, there does not seem as clear a choice this time around.

A review of the late inning usage patterns from Buck Showalter shows that he favored four relievers in the late innings: Johnson, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, and Darren O’Day. Each of those pitchers appeared in the late innings at least 60 different times in 2013.

Pitcher Games RA9-WAR WPA
Hunter 65 1.9 1.76
Matusz 63 0.6 0.48
O’Day 68 2.0 1.12

Hunter made a smooth transition to the bullpen last season, throwing with more velocity than he had as a starter while striking out 20% of the batters he faced. He was able to maintain his low BB%, but remained susceptible to home runs because he still worked high in the zone.  Throughout his career, Hunter has had large splits as he lacks an effective third pitch to left-handed batters. 2013 was no different as his wOBA against lefties was 197 points higher than it was against righties due to the fact all 11 of the home runs he allowed were to left-handed batters. Over the past three seasons, his HR/FB ratio against them was 17.8% . He is not the only pitcher that struggles with splits.

O’Day has enjoyed more success against right-handed batters due to his arm angle, limiting them to a .246 wOBA over the past five seasons. That is 50 points below his wOBA against left-handed batters over the five-year span, but his 2013 splits were as drastic as Hunter’s. O’Day had a .207 wOBA against righties last season but a .384 against lefties.  This is where Matusz came into play.

Where Hunter and O’Day struggled to consistently retire left-handed batters, Matusz excelled. His .222 wOBA against left-handed batters was in the top 20 for all relievers in baseball (min 400 pitches). He retired 88 of the 112 left-handed batters he faced and they had just a .221 BABIP against him. When he faced righties, his wOBA was .333 and they had a .368 BABIP against him.

The one name in the bullpen who does not display issues with splits is Kevin Gausman. He had a .338 wOBA against left-handed batters and a .328 against right-handed batters in his rookie season. It would be a curious use of his immense talent to leave him in the bullpen again for 2014, at age 22, and then move him back to the rotation at a later date. The Neftali Feliz situation in Texas would be tough to ignore and Baltimore is already recovering from Dylan Bundy‘s career being delayed by injury.

The current roster makeup has the makings of a rather interesting closer by committee based on matchups and leverage situations. Showalter, often lauded as a master of bullpen management, could certainly make it work. Yet, the closer by committee theory would be a 180 from having a closer as a “core player,” on the roster.

This free agent class is thin in many areas, but relief pitching is not one of them. Brian Wilson, Fernando Rodney, Grant Balfour, and Joaquin Benoit each are out there for any team that is willing to commit the money to them. While the Orioles were not willing to pay $10.8M to a closer for one year, perhaps an amount near that over a two-year period may be in order. Otherwise, there are plenty of pieces on the free agent market, including surprising non-tenders such as Ronald Belisario and Ryan Webb, that could be added into a committee approach.

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16 Responses to “The Orioles Bullpen Options”

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  1. Michael says:

    Do you mean Neftali Feliz situation in Texas?

    PS I think Pedro Feliz still plays for the Camden Riversharks

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  2. Mark says:

    I think you meant Neftali Feliz, not Pedro.

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  3. Baroque6 says:

    Neftali Feliz?

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  4. Eastern NC says:

    The Orioles under Showalter won’t have a committee for the ninth. They like to have a closer for the ninth, and an “ace,” usually O’Day, for any tough situation earlier. Gausman looks to be a starter for next year. I predict they promote an option internally to close, and sign someone with a power arm to fill in innings. I think they’re looking to add offense with the added money.

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  5. jdbolick says:

    Why not bring back Francisco Rodriguez?

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    • Jason Collette says:

      Would really depend on cost. My personal feeling is that his flyball tendencies make him a scary for the park and the division.

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  6. Rallyk says:

    I’d like to see recently non-tendered John Axford for O’s closer. Assuming he can be had cheaply, I think he could be a great comeback player pick. His 2010 and 2011 seasons were excellent, and throughout his recent struggles he’s maintained a good K rate.

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    • Jason Collette says:

      Axford is an intriguing option. He is likely to have a few suitors over the coming weeks and is a nice bounceback candidate.

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  7. avery_crudeman says:

    Any thoughts on Josh Stinson as a dark horse candidate to close games for the O’s in 2014?

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    • Jason Collette says:

      I don’t see it. His minor league track shows a guy that has struggled to miss bats at the upper levels.

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      • avery_crudeman says:

        That’s true, but his BABIP looks pretty good. Johnson wasn’t exactly a swing and miss closer either. He definitely wouldn’t be my first choice though.

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  8. Tim says:

    I like Mujica or Axford as options in the 9th for O’s. Possibly, bring in both and allow Matuzs to try and move back into the rotation?

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  9. Daniel says:

    It’s a bit of an out there option, but why not sign another lefty specialist so that Matusz can be the closer? We know he has the stuff, and the biggest issue I see now is that the only remaining left handers in the bullpen for the Orioles would be Troy Patton (decent) and T.J. Macfarland (pretty much just a mop up guy). If they can get a cheap lefty specialist, I like Matusz for the closer job.

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  10. Gyre says:

    Take a hint from Boston and go with DAISUKE MATSUZAKA. Put him back on the normal Japanese workload, and chuck in incentives to keep risk low but potential rewards high.

    When DiceK was hot, the ball was unhittable, what else do you want in a closer?

    OK team him with Hunter for splits

    The point is he is cheap, and the upside is enormous. No one else fits that.
    O’s always go with some cheap pitcher that might turn out, DiceK looked hungry in those games with the Mets and he also looked like the tank wasn’t empty, just rusty.

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