AZ Diamondbacks Bullpen: Depth Chart Discussions

In the coming weeks, we’ll be covering each team’s potential depth charts in an effort to shine a spotlight on the interesting playing time battles that will be waged this spring. Obviously none of these depth charts are set in stone — rather they should function to focus your attention in the right places to find cheap fantasy value.

Early pecking order:

The closer:
J.J. Putz

The setup guys:
David Hernandez
Brad Ziegler
Heath Bell

Middle relief:
Tony Sipp
Matt Reynolds
Josh Collmenter
Joe Paterson

Outside looking in:
Eury de la Rosa
Charles Brewer
Eric Smith

Putz returns for year number three in the desert and remains one of the better closers in the National League, both in the real world and fantasy. No one denies the stuff; he hasn’t had a SIERA over 2.47 the last three years, but the injury cloud that always seems to loom over Putz will only get darker as he gets older. He has battled elbow issues constantly during his career and hasn’t broached the 60 inning mark since 2007. As a soon-to-be 36-year-old, durability concerns will only grow stronger, but unless his elbow explodes like a grenade (hattip Scott Williamson), Arizona figures to ride him as their back of the bullpen horse.

Hernandez remains one of the top setup men in baseball and one of the better under-the-radar closer handcuffs for fantasy purposes. Last year he pushed his K% to another level (35.3%) and countered that by shaving his walk rate down to 7.9%. His velocity was up slightly and his SwStr% bounced as well, implying that many of the gains Hernandez made have a solid underlying foundation. He (interestingly) ended up missing out on a couple save opportunities to Bryan Shaw last year when Putz was unavailable, but Shaw was sent to Cleveland in the three-way D-Backs/Indians/Reds deal, so Hernandez should be the bonafide eighth inning guy and number one in line for saves should something happen to Putz. He’s a great ratios booster and speculative pickup late in drafts this year.

Bell returns to the National League West after one year of exile. The Marlins virtually gave Bell away (only getting back infielder Yordy Cabrera in return) which shows just how far his stock has fallen. Remember, he was one of the most sought-after relief pitchers on the free agent market in the last half decade or so. In 2012, Bell’s walk rate jumped, with his BB% broaching double-digits for the first time his career. To make matters worse, his K% stuck near 20% showing that his 2011 drop (from the 25-30% range) might not have been a fluke. The fact big league managers tend to be stubborn and like guys with “closing experience” might be the only way Bell stumbles into any sort of fantasy value. He’s obviously not knocking on any doors right now, but (peripherals be damned!) he will likely be next in line if something were to happen to both Putz and Hernandez. However, unless his rates make a surprise comeback, he seems destined to settle into the 6th/7th innings with a few 8ths sprinkled in.

In his first full-season with Arizona, Ziegler continued to do what Ziegler does: get right-handed hitters out. Ziegler’s career .242/.372 career RHH/LHH wOBA split underscores just how effective (ineffective) the side-arming ROOGY is against right-handed (left-handed) hitters. With the back end of the bullpen staying the same, expect Ziegler to continue to get high-leverage appearances in the 7th and 8th innings, especially in situations with good righties coming to the plate. Just to note, there seems to be some chatter around fantasy sites that Ziegler could be a dark-horse for save candidates if Putz were to go down. While he did close a few games for the Athletics in 2008 and 2009, his splits make it highly unlikely he leapfrogs the superior Hernandez or the experienced Bell. He’d have to be part of a closer-by-committee or the right-handed half of a platoon to see any meaningful ninth innings this year. Not counting on it.

Sipp came over in the same trade that saw Shaw sent packing. While he was once a former top-flight closer prospect, he’s shown to be nothing more than an average middle reliever during his four years in the majors. Expect another season with a mid-4’s xFIP and near 10% BB%. He actually generates a lot of swings and misses (career 11.3% SwStr%) so there would be upside here if he could get the free passes under control, he’s just shown no indication that is forthcoming. Reynolds is a less-useful left-handed version of Ziegler. His RHH/LHH wOBA split was .390/.325 in 2012 pitching in Coors. While his SwStr% is also a rather robust 11% (given his ~20% K%), his velocity has declined each of the three seasons in the majors. He’ll serve as a lefty specialist but has little appeal otherwise. After a somewhat fluky 2011 that saw his ERA dramatically outperform his FIP, Collmenter saw improvements across the board in his 2012 rates after a move to long relief. He’s unlikely to garner any fantasy value unless injuries strike the Diamondbacks rotation and he makes a few spot starts, but he should be one of the more quietly effective long-men in baseball in 2013. Paterson is a soft-tossing southpaw who has sporadically gotten major innings the last few years. However, his only real fantasy relevance is that he might end up blocking a more intriguing minor league candidate at some point in 2013.

One interesting name to keep an eye on is de la Rosa. Arizona added him to the 40-man this offseason to keep him out of the hands of other teams. While only 5’9″, the left-handed pitcher put up a 2.57 FIP and a 27% K% in AA last season. He could be a candidate for a mid-season callup if something happens to any of the above, and could provide some immediate intrigue in leagues that count holds and/or weight strikeouts heavily. Charles Brewer and Eric Smith are both guys who were once moderately-touted prospects but have failed to showcase starting-quality ability in the minors. Smith has already begun a transition to the pen, but both might end up seeing some spot low-leverage time with the big club down the road. Neither has big upside, but both have stuff that may play up in relief (especially Smith’s heavy sinker).

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There are few things Colin loves more in life than a pitcher with a single-digit BB%. Find him on Twitter @soxczar.

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“After a somewhat fluky 2011 that saw his ERA dramatically outperform his FIP”

Are you looking at someone else’s page? I’m seeing a 3.38 ERA and a 3.80 FIP, and there’s nothing dramatic about that.