The bullpen was pretty bad this year going by measurables such as ERA and WPA. In terms of more "true value" oriented stats such as FIP, we can hope for a bounce-back year for this BP next year (from horribad to mediocre), but in terms of real world results, they were pretty poor as a group.
Of course, our bullpen isn't really a serious issue for next year, considering that it is a rebuilding year, so that signing a Papelbon and/or Bell is pointless and unlikely, as marginal wins are fairly worthless next year.
In the interest of rebuilding, however, we are in the business of paying for wins in 2013 and beyond. Ideally, we should use the year to audition as many young relievers as we can. This, of course, includes closer of the future, as well as setup man of the future and so on and so forth -- relievers of the coming dynasty, if you will. I'm going to use "closer" in this post instead of what I really mean, which is "elite reliever," because it's shorter.
One trope for the sabermetrically inclined is that an average or even poor starter can be a closer, due to the difference in usage. I don't actually know whether that is a fact, but seems to be anecdotally true. So with that in mind, I looked at some starters for closer material.
Dillon Gee is an obvious conversion project, but fortunately he is probably too valuable as a starter for us to convert to a relief role. Schwinden to the bullpen is likely, he doesn't exactly seem like the making of a future closer, but no doubt he should get a chance to prove himself. Santana, Niese and Dickey are too valuable as starters. Pelfrey is arguable.
There are a number of reasons why Mike Pelfrey should not be converted to relief, but the easiest one is simply that he's arb-eligible again this year as a starter, which means he will be significantly overpaid if he's converted. Basically, if you're considering converting Mike Pelfrey to relief (a role he may or may not be good at) it makes much more sense to simply non-tender him and sign a closer with the roughly 6M you save or trade him for a closer.
The main problem with Mike Pelfrey as an elite reliever (aka closer) is the lack of K's. Other than that, it seems he would be a good conversion candidate -- he has a decent walk rate, throws hard and he's fairly young. Thus, I decided to look for other team's Mike Pelfreys who have K rates above 6. That is, they throw fairly hard (>90mph on average) and are fairly young (<30), but are also fairly terrible (>5 ERA), which would make both a conversion and a trade somewhat reasonable. Mind you, I don't think this is the only way to address the bullpen, just one way. It's helpful to identify these candidates for AAOP purposes, of course.
In a totally unscientific manner, I went through fangraphs and checked each teams starters. I didn't qualify these for IP or starts, I just looked at starting numbers. Here are a list of fairly hard throwing, fairly young starters who had rough years in 2011. There's sort of a mix of prospects, non-prospect 5th starters, and failed prospects. I've put parenthetical notes for some of them -- org prospect rankings come from Fangraphs. There might be others out there and I may have munged up the list (feel free to post updates and corrections in the comments.)
|Pitchers > 5ERA, >6K/9, > 90.5MPH AvgFBv, <30YO|
|Angels||Garret Richards(org 5th in 2011)|
|Blue Jays||Dustin McGowan|
|Cardinals||Lance Lynn (org 7th in 2010)|
|Giants||Dan Runzler (org 4th in 2010)|
|Indians||Zach Mcallister (org 3rd in 2009)|
|Orioles||Jake Arrieta (99 overall in 2010 BA),|
|Royals||Kyle Davies (free agent 2012), Daniel Duffy (org 7 in 2011)|
|Tigers||Jacob Turner (org 1 in 2010)|
|White Sox||Zack Stewart|
|Others of interest who missed the cut but for whatever reason are interesting|
|Blue Jays||Brandon Morrow (4.98 ERA)|
|Nationals||Tom Gorzelanny (4.01 ERA)|
|Pirates||James McDonald(4.28 ERA)|
|Red Sox||Andrew Miller (5.86 K/9)|
|Reds||Homer Bailey (4.32 ERA)|
|Twins||Francisco Liriano (4.77 ERA)|
|Yankees||Phil Hughes (5.63 K/9)
The Reds may have given up on Volquez and are likely to try to move him. Other teams might have better offers based on his excellent K/9 and arm strength -- even if he has no command. He is coming off Tommy John, so the Reds might be hoping the command returns, but they were rumored to be shopping him before the injury, so I think they'll listen to offers now.
Liriano is an interesting case. He'll want to start so that when he hits FA he'll make a ton of money, but there might not be much of a market if he continues to put up 4.50+ era's. He's had some injuries and he stands to make at least 6M in arbitration this year. The Twins will probably trade him this off-season, but will he want to relieve? More importantly what will it take to acquire him?
Phil Hughes is intriguing. I could see the Yankees at least considering non-tendering him, even if his most recent year depresses his arbitration raise. But the Yankees are made of money anyways, so it's unlikely they'll really do it or even consider trading him at his lowest value -- p.s. it's nice to have money.
Davies is a free agent and I doubt he'll go anywhere that he doesn't get to start. Duensing is a middle relief type already with some spot starts. Andrew Miller is terrible, even in relief, but he does throw hard for a lefty, and he's almost certain to be non-tendered. Happ will definitely be tendered and it's arguable whether he's a failed starter. With another season like this one, Happ might be available next year.
Brandon Morrow is probably the best closer candidate out there with his ridiculous K rate. I think he's a good 3rd-4th starter with future upside, but he would be a fantastic, lights-out closer right now. It would take too much to get him and even if we did, he'd be too valuable to us as a starter anyways. James McDonald and Bailey come next but all three are probably still in the long term plans of their respective organizations as starters. Still, I would at least call to see if we can buy low on one of them.
Gorzelanny was a non-tender candidate last year which is why he was traded, but I have a feeling the Nats will hang on to him this year, as he's been an excellent reliever and serviceable starter.
Everybody else is a still basically a prospect, even if they aren't highly touted like Zack Stewart. Not sure what it would take to get a Furbush, Rogers or Stewart. They're pre-arb and throw fairly hard. Despite a lack of established success at the MLB level, I would think a team would have to be severely mentally handicapped to move them.
So basically the realistic targets this year are Volstad, Ohlendorf and McGowan. Volquez and Liriano are also possibilities simply because they'll most likely be moved this off-season, but the price-tag may be too much. My favorites are McGowan and Volquez. I could see either of them as dominant closers.
Now that you know who some candidates are, are you in favor of starter conversions for the BP? If you are, which do you think would make the best reliever? Have I missed someone you think is obtainable and the closer of our future dynasty?