April 11, 2009

Project-a-tron: The bullpen

I was waiting until the season started to do my bullpen projections (since I had no idea who would make the team), but I've been pretty busy for the past week. Here's who made the team (and their roles)

Closer: Gregg
Fireman/Setup: Marmol
Setup: Heilman
LOOGY: Cotts
ROOGY: Vizcaino
Out of options: Guzman
Rule 5: Patton
Released: Chad Gaudin

Waiting in the wings:

Working backwards up the bullpen ladder:

From a purely statistical perspective, releasing Chad Gaudin seems to be a bad idea. Based on his past numbers, his talent level is that of a 3rd or 4th best reliever, with additional value in his ability to be a spot starter. Working on the logic of his release, there are a few explanations:

  1. Gaudin never recovered from his drunken dumpster injury from last season, and is still pitching ineffectively because of it. If this is the case, then maybe releasing him was a good idea (since it essentially results in a change in his true talent level).

  2. Gaudin was still in Lou's doghouse, and had a crappy spring, and was released because of it (whether or not he was injured). If this is the case, this was a foolish move by Hendry/Lou. Lou's doghouse is pretty hard to escape though, so maybe Gaudin was doomed from the start

  3. Gaudin was extraneous, since the Cubs have many other 6th/7th starter alternatives. If this was the reason, this was also a foolish move by the Cubs, because even if Gaudin is not expected to long relieve or spot start, he's still likely one of the 7 best relievers on this team.
  4. The Cubs wanted to keep Guzman and Patton because they had them under team control for more years. I don't like this reasoning either, because if one of them tanks, the Cubs can't hang on to them. Of course, I don't think Gaudin has options either, so this doesn't hold a lot of water either.
I'm guessing what happened was #2 (with a touch of #1), and I think it's a bad move.

Guzman and Patton are on thin ice, since Guzman is out of options and Patton is a rule 5 guy. They're probably going to leave the organization if the Cubs try to replace them on the roster. Patton has shown good stuff in his single outing so far this year, with a really good breaking ball. I'm worried that he's going to get hit hard once other teams get some scouting on him - he has never pitched above A ball before this year, which is worrisome. Guzman was hit hard early in the spring, but seemed to pitch better after making some adjustments with Rothschild. He had absolutely filthy stuff in his first two appearances this year, including throwing a probable cutter in the low 90s, which is insane. I hope he sticks, but I'm not going to keep my hopes up on a oft-injured reliever.

Vizcaino is around because of his contract and the fact that he can get right-handers out. He's not going to earn that money on his contract, but he's *probably* one of the top 7 guys on the team. So far it seems that Lou recognizes that he is not one of our top relievers, and has used him as such. If he continues to be used in less leveraged situations, we'll get some value out of it at least.

Cotts is ostensibly the LOOGY on this team. I really hoped that the Cubs picked up someone like Ohman or Beimel instead to be their primary left-hander. Cotts is a better all around reliever which is nice, but if you want to have someone to *specifically* get lefties out, I'd rather have someone with a more extreme split. In fact, wierdly enough, Cotts actually has a lower OPS against for right handers over lefthanders by 3 points. Looking at these numbers make me really wish we signed Ohman, especially considering what little he signed for (a minor league contract? Seriously? I hope someone is investigating collusion this year). He has been a frequent resident of Lou's doghouse as well.

PlayerOPS vs RHHOPS vs LHH2009 Salary

Heilman is a pretty good pitcher, and gave Marshall a decent run for his money for the 5th starter role. Marshall pretty much had the job going into spring training though - if Marshall stunk up the joint he probably would have won the job but all he really needed to do was just be adequate to win the job. It seems like Heilman isn't the '6th' starter either - most of the chatter I've heard has Atkins (or maybe Samardzija) as the 6th starter, not Heilman. He'll do a decent job in the 7th/8th inning (depending on where Marmol comes in), and hopefully will help keep Marmol's innings down.

Marmol is our best reliever, and I was secretly pleased that he was not named the closer. He's penciled in as our 8th inning guy, but so far it seems that Lou is continuing to use Marmol as he did last year (to get any of the other relievers out of jams before the 9th inning). He'll be used in the 8th if he's not needed before then, which is about as optimally you can use a reliever withing the current managing framework in the majors these days. As foolish as it is, once you attach the 'closer' label to someone, not throwing him in the 9th inning is going perceived as a sign of a lack of confidence (unless they're pitching multiple innings). Hopefully Heilman saps away some of those innings that Marmol picked up last season, when he was overused due to the fact that he was the only reliever Lou trusted for large stretches last year.

Gregg should be okay in the closer's role, though he hasn't exactly gotten himself off to a great start. There's been lots of grumbling for him replacing Wood, and while his peripherals aren't quite as good, the fact that he's cheaper and more durable makes him a decent option. At least we have Marmol to step in if he falters (and after he leaves). Clearly (see below) Wood is much better than Gregg, but I'd much rather have Milton Bradley than Kerry Wood. They're being paid the same, but Bradley is going to have a much bigger impact on this club.

PlayerProjected FIPSalary
Wood3.212yr/$20.5MM + $11MM option

It will be interesting to see what the Cubs will do with their bullpen next year, after Gregg and Heilman leave. I wouldn't be surprised to see Heilman come back if he has a decent season (he lives in Chicago).

Finally, the projections:
Replacement Level304.550.40

The Patton projection is based of his CHONE ERA projection (not FIP). He's looked pretty good so far, but I don't think he will stick, given that he hasn't pitched above A ball.