Brewers bullpen, soon to be running on empty?


Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

No one can argue the bullpen has been a key element of the Brewers early season success. However, the last few weeks have been blighted by extra innings games. The result is that, despite a MLB leading 28 quality starts, the bullpen has been well used.

Francisco Rodriguez still holds a 0.00 ERA and 15 saves, while despite struggling last weekend Tyler Thornburg has dominated alongside Will Smith and Zach Duke in the Brewers bullpen.

Clearly the Brewers have a real desire to hold on to Wei-Chung Wang. However, there are consequences. Essentially the bullpen is a man short, Wang has appeared just 5 times. Ignoring Brandon Kintzler (who spent time on the DL with neck injury), all other Opening Day members of the bullpen have logged at least 17 outings. Now, you might argue a lot of players have made 17+ appearances. Yet, the most alarming statistic for the Brewers bullpen is that on 32 occasions relievers have been summoned on zero days rest. In context, the league average is 21 and the Brewers lead the MLB in this category.

There have been a lot of close games in 2014. Of course, this increases the pressure on the pitcher. Brewers relievers have been used in high leverage situations 51 times, tied for the major league lead with Colorado Rockies. A lot of this relates to Rodriguez 15 saves, but there have been a number of stressful late inning situations. It all adds up.

It might seem early in the season to show concerns around the bullpen. However, the current workload would seem unsustainable through 162 games.

Wang’s acquisition in the Rule 5 Draft has been a feel good story for the Brewers, but the future upside might be outweighed by the short term damage. It seems unlikely that Rodriguez, Duke, Smith and Thornburg can perform under the current levels of pressure and so regularly on short rest over a full season. Although, the loss of Jim Henderson to the DL and arrival of Rob Wooten at least means a fresher arm to pick up some of the workload.

It will be interesting to see how this situation develops through the remaining weeks and months of the season. The Brewers seem all-in on Wang and may end up having to sacrifice a bench player down the stretch to prevent the bullpen crumbling.

I want to believe that holding Wang on the roster will be worth it.  Ultimately, if the Brewers continue to play as many tight games where Ron Roenicke is unwilling to use him, the toll on the rest of the bullpen could be enough to cost them in the season run-in. Surely, too high of a price?