Is There Any Bullpen Help Out There? Anywhere?

Kintzler
Photo: Tony Farlow/MiLB.com
  
I’m going to be blunt here: The Brewers’ bullpen has had a really terrible season. So many things have gone wrong, both for each individual pitcher and the unit as a whole, that you feel like you’re witnessing something historic each time the staff surrenders a hard-earned lead – all 23 times, if you want to go by blown saves. The sheer combined amount of bad pitching and terrible luck we’ve seen this year is nothing short of incredible, and we’re talking about a unit that’s still being counted on for 140-150 more innings this year.

What happens during the rest of the 2012 season, at this point, is unimportant. But, the Brewers haven’t yet thrown in the towel for 2013, which they will probably go into with a bullpen that looks very different from this year’s squad. Over the next six weeks, Ron Roenicke and the front office will be best served by turning their focus to next year when running the team, and that includes the bullpen.

There are a lot of things the club could do that ostensibly fall under this strategy, but I’d personally be in favor of letting John Axford close again (assuming the Brewers plan of having him close again next season), using Jim Henderson in the 7th or 8th with the hope that he could occupy a similar role in 2013, and trying to feature pitchers that might still have roles on next year’s club – I’m thinking of Kameron Loe, Manny Parra, and possibly Jose Veras. Also, since there’s no real downside to doing so, it would make sense for the Brewers to take a look at any relievers in the minors who they think could help out sometime in the near future.

Unfortunately, despite many frustrated fans’ belief that the AAA bullpen could probably do better than the current one, that really isn’t the case. Jim Henderson was Nashville’s best pitcher this year by a huge margin (both from a stuff and a performance standpoint), and while his struggles as a closer look more like a product of bad luck than bad pitching, his results at the major-league level haven’t been much better than those of Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford.  Really, the list of pitchers who might eventually prove useful in some capacity is very short:

Brandon Kintzler:

Kintzler went into spring training this year with a good chance of making the big-league bullpen, but he came down with elbow trouble and has spent the entire season slowly getting back into action, just getting promoted to Nashville a few days ago. Kintzler’s stuff has apparently rebounded to the point that he’s throwing 92-94 mph again, and he has some major-league experience from his call-ups in 2010 and 2011. Barring something going wrong health-wise, he figures to be almost a lock for a big-league look at some point this year.

Juan Perez:

Despite not having impressed in a brief stint with the Brewers this year, Perez is left-handed, touches the mid-90s, and has a decent slider, which is helpful when it comes to getting chances. Perez, as usual, has struggled with walks this year (a rate of 4.75 per nine innings), and his numbers are merely decent, but he has struck out more than a third of the left-handed batters he has faced this year (22 out of 65). Perez’s stuff and command issues, on the surface, look very similar to Manny Parra, but Perez is three years older and lacks the ability to go multiple innings, which hurts his cause.

The Field:

There’s one problem will all three of these guys: They aren’t on the 40-man roster. Normally, if the Brewers needed bullpen help, it would be a guy that could be called up without DFA’ing someone, but there just aren’t any good options on the 40-man:

Recently-acquired righty Fautino De Los Santos throws hard, but hasn’t even been able to get batters out at AAA. Tyler Thornburg, Wily Peralta, and Ariel Pena are all working as starters right now, and while they might be able to help in the ‘pen now or next year, putting them there likely isn’t what’s best for their long term development. The same applies to John Hellweg, even though he’s going to spend the rest of the season as a reliever to limit his innings. Cody Scarpetta and Santo Manzanillo are both injured, which leaves Josh Stinson, a 24-year old right-handed starter who has spent the whole season in Huntsville as a starter.

Conclusion:

The general reaction to the Brewers’ bullpen woes has been “Please! Do SOMETHING!”, but the club has already exhausted almost every option they have on hand; they’ve done everything they could and it still hasn’t helped. Among those left, Perez has had a good year, but, in my opinion, Kintzler is really the only reliever that could be an immediate help to the Brewers or profiles to have a role on next year’s club. As for next year, the Brewers still have a significant problem to address, but that’s another article – one that I’ll probably end up writing in about three months.

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