I never did an exhaustive survey of every team in baseball or anything, but before the season started, I really liked the bullpens put together in Seattle and Oakland. The A's looked to feature some assortment of Andrew Bailey, Brad Ziegler, Michael Wuertz, Jerry Blevins, Joey Devine, and a handful of other guys, for a unit that was strong from both sides and was capable of either getting a strikeout or inducing a grounder when necessity called. And the Mariners were set to have a primary four of David Aardsma, Mark Lowe, Brandon League, and Shawn Kelley, all of whom threw hard and all of whom could be expected to strike out something like a batter an inning. Even without a lefty, I thought the Mariner bullpen was going to be a strength of the team.
So what's happened? The Mariner bullpen has posted one of the worst ERAs and FIPs of any bullpen in the league, with a low strikeout rate and too many walks. And while the A's have been better about missing bats, they've canceled it out by allowing more dingers. All in all, Seattle's bullpen FIP came into today ranked 24th, and Oakland's came in ranked 25th, the two separated by only six points.
Both units, it's safe to say, have been disappointing, and Seattle's in particular has contributed to the team's greater failure. And the lesson here is anything but a new one: relievers are unpredictable. Not completely - if a guy is good in year x, you can usually expect him to be good again in year x+1 - but to a large degree. They're volatile. They're inconsistent. They're unreliable. In part because of sample size issues and in part due simply to nature as a reliever, bullpens can be very, very hard to project.
The A's, I think, have been done in mostly by injuries. Fortunately, this is a Mariners blog, and it's the Mariner bullpen that's really captured all the different ways in which a reliever can rather unpleasantly take you by surprise:
David Aardsma: regression and then over-regression
Mark Lowe: hurt
Shawn Kelley: hurt, underused
Brandon League: cut his usage of his best pitch in half
Sean White: just got worse
Injuries, changes in talent, changes in repertoire, and changes in stats. Aardsma was the easiest to see coming, as many of us spent the winter projecting worse results, but no one thought he'd struggle this bad. His 2009 luck has been completely turned on its end. The others are bigger surprises. No one would've expected any of those other four seasons. Not as the most likely outcome.
Three months ago, I thought the team's bullpen was shaping up to be something strong, something dependable. Now it's more of a crippling weakness, with only Brian Sweeney of all people pitching well. Sweeney's another great example of how unpredictable these guys can be. One run and zero walks in ten impressive innings. Who saw that coming from a 36 year old who last season couldn't get outs in Japan?
Relievers. You can't count on them or see them coming. It's why you shouldn't draft them high, it's why you shouldn't pay them much money, and it's why you shouldn't state with confidence that somebody's bullpen will be a strength or a weakness. I don't even so much blame the Mariners for what's gone on. I blame myself for getting too excited when I know I knew better.
It's hot in here again and I'm sleepy and I don't feel like writing long bullet points about another boring, predictable game, so:
- With a buzzed head, Jason Vargas just looks like a homelier lesbian
- Alex Rodriguez has now beaten David Aardsma with one excuse-me cheap home run and one excuse-me groundball single the other way. Nobody wins
- It should tell you a lot when the highlights were some fan freaking out after Ichiro touched her leg and Michael Saunders singling on a butcher boy slap up the middle
- Franklin Gutierrez has batted .208/.243/.340 over his last 115 trips to the plate
- With Guti struggling and Jose Lopez back to looking helpless, this team is SOL against lefty starters
- Curtis Granderson, Javier Vazquez, and Mark Teixeira have all been disappointments, and the still have the best record in baseball
I did want to win this game, especially after the Yankees tied it in the eighth, but with Jason Vargas and this lineup going up against Andy Pettitte and that one, maybe I should just be happy that the M's kept it as close as they did for as long as they did. Bear in mind the Mariners' only run scored when Pettitte fielded an Ichiro bunt and threw the ball away. Story of the year. 2010 : At Least They Kept It Close. You can't flush a game down the toilet if you're too far away to pick it up.