The Milwaukee Brewers’ bullpen in 2012 was a dumpster fire. The Crew relief corps ranked dead last in the majors with a 4.66 ERA. The ‘pen was tagged with 33 losses, the most in the big (two more than even the moribund Houston Astros). Not shockingly, the Brewers were also last in baseball with 29 blown saves.
They surrendered 56 homers in just 512.1 innings. As a unit, the bullpen posted a WHIP of a horrific 1.483.
There was nowhere to go but up.
Up they went in 2013 … and then some. It was a remarkable turnaround for the Brewer relief corps, which finished fifth in the majors, and third in the National League, with an ERA of 3.19. The relievers were a combined 26-28 (the 28 losses tied for the 20th-most in baseball with the Colorado Rockies) and their 23 blown saves tied for 24th with the Seattle Mariners), but by and large, the relief corps was much, much better.
They surrendered one fewer homer (55) in 11.2 more innings (524). The WHIP fell from that ghastly 1.483 to a more respectable 1.240.
The Crew went through three different closers in 2013. John Axford, who was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals on Aug. 31, started the season with the job, but lost it quickly to rookie Jim Henderson after taking a blown save and two losses within his first four appearances of the season. From May 3-July 24, Axford was one of the best relievers in baseball—working in a setup role—but from that point forward, his season unraveled again.
Henderson closed for the Crew until late May, when he hurt his hamstring and landed on the disabled list. At that point, the Brewers turned to Francisco Rodriguez—holder of the single-season record for saves when he notched 62 for the Los Angeles Angels in 2008.
K-Rod converted 10-of-10 save chances before he was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles on July 23, thrusting Henderson back into the role.
Henderson has 28 saves in 32 opportunities, but only one of his four blown saves came in the ninth inning or later—the others came when he was still in a setup role.
The biggest development in the bullpen, though, might have been the emergence of Brandon Kintzler as a dependable eighth-inning man. In 71 appearances, Kintzler was 3-3 with a 2.69 ERA and 1.065 WHIP in 77 innings, walking 16 and striking out 58. But from May 5 on, Kintzler was 1-3 and notched 24 holds and a 2.09 ERA and 1.021 WHIP in 64.2 innings over 59 appearances. Only five of 21 inherited runners scored and he posted a 1.214 Average Leverage Index (anything higher than one means he pitched more often in high leverage situations).
One area where the Brewer pen fell short in 2013 was from the left side. Tom Gorzelanny did well in 33 relief apperances, posting a 2.70 ERA and 1.091 WHIP In 36.2 innings, but he missed the final month of the season with a sore shoulder after moving back to the bullpen. Gorzelanny spent some time in the rotation, going 2-5 with a 4.81 ERA and 1.397 WHIP in 10 starts.
Michael Gonzalez had a 2.57 ERA and 1.429 WHIP through his first 31 appearances and 21 innings through June 4, but after that point was simply awful.
In 44 appearances after June 5, Gonzalez posted a 6.21 ERA and 1.828 WHIP. His one-year deal is up and he won’t be back, from all appearances.
The Brewers don’t have a lot of lefty options in the farm system, at least not ones who would be considered even close to being ready for the big leagues. Some of the lefties that are projected to be available in free agency include Scott Downs, Boone Logan, Eric O’Flaherty (coming off Tommy John surgery in May), former Brewer Manny Parra (who was effective as a lefty specialist for the Cincinnati Reds), Oliver Perez and Matt Thornton, among others.
All in all, the Brewer bullpen posted a solid B in 2013, but will need to improve from the left side, in particular, in 2014.
Coming Tuesday: Grading the starting rotation.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
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