Sep 16, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Brandon Kintzler (53) throws to a St. Louis Cardinals batter during the eleventh inning at Busch Stadium. The Brewers defeated the Cardinals 3-2 in twelve innings. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Given the success of our starter projections, we at RtB are going to project some relievers, beginning with Brandon Kintzler. Prior to the signing of Francisco Rodriguez, I figured I would project the seasons for (then projected) closer Jonathan Broxton, and the setup potpourri of Will Smith, Jeremy Jeffress, and Kintzler.
Now I’m set to project five of the seven eventual bullpen arms and leave the others out, which seems silly. I feel the need to justify this oddity; I’m projecting the healthy pitchers that I believe currently project to see serious time in the final three innings of the game, when the Brewers are in a save situation or in an otherwise close game.
This leaves out four top options, lefty Neal Cotts, Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg (who both returning from injury), and perpetual odd man out Rob Wooten. Only two will make the Opening Day roster.
I would very much like to see the Smith/Jeffress/Kintzler squad all pitch similar amounts of late, meaningful innings, because all three have a serious chance of being the Brewers setup man in 2016.
I’m projecting the players in reverse order, beginning with the pitcher I expect to be the least valuable and ending with the team’s closer, though K-Rod is not necessarily being predicted as the lowest ERA-earner. So let’s start with Kintzler.
Kintzler was drafted in the 40th round of both the 2003 and 2004 June Amateur Drafts, signing in ’04 with the Padres. He pitched his way up to high-A in 2005 as a reliever, but missed the entire ’06 season, and returned to baseball with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of independent ball where he played two seasons, splitting time as a starter and reliever.
After posting a 2.79 ERA over 14 games (11 starts) with the independent St. Paul Saints (one of the best names in sports) in 2009, the Brewers signed him to AA Huntsville, where he struggled while continuing to appear mostly as a starter.
As a full-time reliever in 2010, Kintzler was outstanding, posting a 1.47 ERA in 49 innings between AA and AAA, and received his first Big League call-up that September. Kintzler would have been a regular out of the Brewers bullpen the following year if not for an arm injury that cost him all but 14 2/3 innings of the season.
The setback from the injury also cost him most of 2012, forcing an extended stay at AA Huntsville, and he pitched just 16 2/3 innings in the Bigs that year. In his first full and healthy season with the Brewers in 2013, Kintzler exceeded expectations, winning the setup job behind closer Jim Henderson and posting an outstanding 2.69 ERA over 77 innings.
Kintzler began 2014 as the setup man but lost the job early to Smith. He still had a good year, posting a 3.24 ERA over 58 1/3 innings, albeit with a 4.68 FIP. While xFIP (3.87) and SIERA (3.71) liked him more, they had him around the value of a league-average reliever.
It’s also true that FIP sometimes has trouble accurately representing the success of groundball pitchers, but Kintzler had an abnormally high strand rate, at 83.8%. The average for relievers in 2014 was 73.9%.
With that in mind, here goes:
G 60 IP 55 ERA 3.84 xFIP 3.78 WHIP 1.291 H/9 9.0 HR/9 0.8 GB% 57.0% BB/9 2.7 K/9 5.8 K/BB 2.15
I can’t imagine Kintzler repeats his sub-5.0 K/9 performance, but I still think he drops to league average or slightly below in 2015. I trust the floor of Kintzler more than a teammate like Jeffress, but the latter seems now to have the ceiling of a closer, assuming he can limit walks.
Steamer currently projects Kintzler to post an ERA of 3.93 (3.92 FIP) over 40 innings, worth a whopping 0.0 fWAR. Kintzler’s ceiling has been reached and I believe is now likely out of reach. That’s not to say that the groundballer is not valuable, and an inning eater out of the ‘pen that can post near-average numbers would have a job on all 30 MLB teams.
One final note on Kintzler is his peculiar splits versus righties and lefties. It’s most likely due to small sample size, but Kintzler has an OPS of .733 versus righties, and a .624 OPS against lefties.
Bizarrely enough, that means that Kintzler, from a career perspective, would make a much better “lefty” specialist than LHP teammate Neal Cotts. The southpaw is bad against lefties (.753 career OPS) as far as same-handed pitching goes.
It’s possible that given more time, Kintzler’s numbers will level out, but it’s interesting to picture him being brought in every time the Crew needs to get a lefty out.