Last season, the Brewers bullpen was pretty solid. Occasionally they would slip up, but for the most part the bullpen was a strength of the 2011 Brew Crew. Thanks to free-agency and an unusually tight pocket book, the Brewers were unable to retain two of the biggest pieces of that bullpen, LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito. That left the team a little thin on relief arms.
During the off-season the Brewers were financially handcuffed, thanks in part to K-Rod accepting his arbitration (Scott Boras screwing us again). That single move cost the Brewers $8 million dollars, virtually destroying any chances the Brewers had of signing any arms through free-agency. So, the team had to get creative and also has to put a great deal of faith in the young arms of this organization.
In my opinion, there are 3 bullpen tiers for the Brewers; 1) Guarantees 2) Probables 3) Wild Cards. Some of these names will be new to you, but they are names that you should learn.
2012 Bullpen Guarantees
John Axford – 2011 stats: 46 saves, 86 strikeouts, appeared in 73.2 innings while only allowing 4 HR’s. Axford emerged in 2011, as one of the best closers in all of baseball. There is no doubt in my mind that Axford will be the closer for the Brewers, until he proves he can’t do it anymore. Axford will be arbitration eligible at the end of this season, so the guy has a little extra to play for.
Francisco Rodriguez – 2011 stats (with Brewers only): 31 appearances, 1.86 ERA, 33 strikeouts to only 10 walks. K-Rod was acquired from the Mets on the day of the All-Star game. Although he is currently on my sh*t list, having him close down the 8th inning in front of Axford gave the Brewers on of the best 1-2 punches in baseball.
Kameron Loe – 2011 stats: 72 appearances, 3.50 ERA, 61 strikeouts to only 16 walks. Kam went in spurts. Sometimes he was as good a reliever as there was in the game of baseball. Other times, he was just a taller version of Jeff Suppan. That aside, Low was the work hors of the Brewers bullpen. It is rare that a reliever appears in almost 50% of a teams games over the course of a season.
2012 Bullpen Probables
Jose Veras – 2011 stats: 79 appearances, 3.80 ERA, 79 strikeouts to 34 walks. Last season Veras pitched for the Pirates, but he began his career as a Yankee. The Brewers acquired him via the Casey McGehee trade. The only way that Veras does not start the season in the bullpen is if he really tanks in spring training, which is possible. Therefore, he is more probable than guaranteed. If he goes out and has a terrific spring, he could get the bump to guaranteed.
Manny Parra – 2011 stats: None available due to injury. Parra will make the team if he can stay healthy. The team will need a left handed arm in the bullpen. Manny has plenty of experience, so if he performs well in spring training (and doesn’t get hurt) he will make the opening day roster. His health has always been the concern. Brewers fans know that he has the stuff, so we will see how this shakes down.
Marco Estrada – 2011 stats: 43 appearances, 7 starts, 4-8 record, 88 strikeouts to 29 walks. Last season we learned that Estrada is much more effective as a starter than out of the bullpen. However, you can not have a pitcher with major league stuff, wasting away in Nashville. Estrada is probably the best option for long relief going into 2012. Should one of our starters get into trouble early, Estrada would be the one to mop up the mess.
2012 Bullpen Wild Cards
Zach Braddock – 2011 stats: 25 appearances, 7.27 ERA, 18 strikeouts to 11 walks. Braddock has to prove that he can pitch to major league hitters again. In 201o, Zach was a monster out of the bullpen. Last season was derailed due to sleep disorders. His potential to make the opening day squad is minimal, but if he can show his stuff in spring training and catch a few Z’s in the process, he can sneak into the bullpen. Unless he doses off…
Tim Dillard – 2011 stats: 24 appearances, 4.08 ERA, 27 strikeouts to 4 walks. Dillard is just too inconsistent to be guaranteed a spot in the bullpen. Odds are strong that he will start 2012 in Triple-A, but he is probably just an injury or two away from being back in the big leagues. My only real problem with Dillard is that for every batter he strikes out, he gives up half a run (13 runs allowed in 24 appearances). Not good enough.
Michael Fiers – 2011 stats (Nashville): 10 starts, 8-0 record, 1.11 ERA, 69 strikeouts to 22 walks. Fiers was lucky enough to get a late season call to the Brewers in 2011. He made two appearances, allowed no runs, struck out 2 batters and walked 3. If Fiers has a solid spring, I could see him stealing a roster spot from Parra or Estrada. As a young kid, it would probably be best for him to play a full season in Triple-A. In 2011, Fiers moved from Double-A, to Triple-A to the big leagues. This kid is going to be a big part of the Brewers future.
Seth McClung – 2011 stats (Triple-A Rangers): 19 appearances, 5.19 ERA, 49 strikeouts to 34 walks. In my opinion, McClung was only brought back to create more competition amongst the young players. McClung has not appeared in a major league game since 2009, so it would be surprising if he made the big league roster out of spring training. It is a feel good story though, in interview he has said that since leaving Milwaukee, nowhere else has felt like home. I like that and hope it works out for him, but I am afraid that at this point in his career this signing was more of a favor to Seth than an actual job opportunity.
Mike McClendon – 2011 stats: 9 appearances, 2.63 ERA, 10 strikeouts to 3 walks. McClendon has made multiple appearances with the Brew Crew over the 2010 and 2011 seasons. In over 33 innings of major league work, Mike is 5-0 with a 2.86 ERA. Mike McC is on the verge of being a part of the guaranteed bullpen list. This guy has dominated hitters at every level of the minors, so he will be someone to watch this spring training.
The hope is that we will only have to use K-Rod and Axford all season, but we will need to fill in some of the voids left Hawkins and Saito. This spring training will be very important for everyone that I classified as a “Wild Card”. Spring Training is more important to those gentlemen than any other players on the Brewers roster. I would like to see McClendon and Fiers on the roster, but they are still very young and there is no need to rush them into the big leagues.
We are two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to camp, so we will know soon enough.
Enjoy the Super bowl everyone. Here is my prediction: I will go grocery shopping with my wife, watch the Puppy Bowl, and fall asleep early. Gotta love Super Bowl Sunday.