Monday, January 26, 2015

2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview Bullpen: The Shark Tank Is Still Loaded

Hey gang!

Back for the last edition of the Pirate preview, looking at the bullpen.

I've always thought the idea of a fish tank in the clubhouse was a great idea. However, the times get really exciting as our leader of the Shark Tank begins work in the ninth inning, taking a bite out of dominant hitters and closing out victories for the Pirates. I remember starting 2014 with "Grilled Cheese Time", but by midseason, we were seeing "Landshark" sightings. For those of you that don't remember the old Landshark sketches on Saturday Night Live, take a look at the video below. Unfortunately, I couldn't find one of the original bits that was way funnier, but you'll get the idea from this clip from Monday Night Football.

That's where the bullpen begins, Mark Melancon. He became the closer shortly before Jason Grilli got shipped to the Angels for Ernesto Frieri. Melancon finished the season 3-5 in 72 appearances, with 33 saves, striking out 71 in 71 innings pitched. The amazing stat of Melancon's year is that he only walked 11 batters in 2014. His 1.90 ERA also tells us that if the Landshark was called upon, it was game over.

Even in the eighth inning, thinks looked good with a Bucco lead. All Star Tony Watson had a stellar season, going 10-2 in a league leading 78 appearances. His earned run average was 1.63 in 77 1/3 innings, striking out 81 batters and only walking 15. Watson added a pair saves to the team total as well.

As good as Watson was a season ago, the Pirate pen got stronger and may have received another option for the eighth in newcomer Antonio Bastardo. He was acquired from the Phillies on December 10 after a decent season as the bridge to the ninth for Jonathan Papelbon. Bastardo was 5-7 in 67 games (64 IP), walking only 34 while striking out 81 with a 3.94 earned run average in the band box in Philadelphia. Those numbers will get better at PNC Park.

Four more return from that 2014 bullpen. Jared Hughes went 7-5 in 63 appearances (64 1/3 IP) with a 1.96 ERA, walking 19 batters and striking out 36. Stolmy Pimentel battled back from injuries to post a 2-1 mark in 20 games. His ERA was high (5.23) despite better numbers after coming back. He struck out 38 in 32 1/3 innings pitched and walked 16. John Holdzkom made a great late season run in nine games, striking out 14 in nine innings pitched and walked only two batters. Bobby LaFromboise also made an impact in six games after being acquired from Seattle in 3 2/3 innings for the Black and Gold.

The Pirates have also made a couple interesting pickups in the offseason to this point (1/26/15). Former Bucco Brad Lincoln returned to the fold as a free agent pickup after spending most of last season at Philadelphia's AAA affiliate in Lehigh Valley. At Lehigh, Lincoln was tried out as a starter after several seasons in Pittsburgh and Toronto as a reliever with the hopes of someday closing. As a starter, Lincoln made 22 starts, going 6-11 with a complete game, walking 58 and striking out 112 in 123 1/3 innings. His ERA was 5.11, a little high, but decent after being in the bullpen for so long. The Pirates could end up using him as a long relief man or spot starter.

The other pickup was Rob Scahill from the Colorado Rockies. He made only 12 appearances for the Rox, pitching 15 innings, walking nine and striking out 11. My outlook for Scahill is probably Indianapolis until later, much like Vin Mazzaro a year ago.

As you can see, the Pirates' bullpen looks pretty solid to this point. There are a few guys still out there that could make decent to good pickups.

First, there hasn't been much news on former Washington Nationals Rafael Soriano this offseason. I know that Soriano lost the closer's job in 2014, but had a pretty good season. He 4-1 with 32 saves in 64 appearances for the Nationals. In 62 innings, he walked 19 and struk out 59. Since 2012, Soriano has had 117 saves between New York and Washington. Remember, before he took the Yankees' job from Mariano Rivera that he was also a great eighth inning guy as well. While he might be good enough to take the closer's role and/or eighth inning role, the price tag might be too high on him to take. His price may be declining and if the Pirates could get him at a reasonable price, he very well would be worth looking at.

Casey Janssen is also still available after being a teammate of Lincoln's in Toronto. Janssen was the closer for the Blue Jays in 2014 going 3-3 in 50 appearances. He had 25 saves in 45 2/3 innings pitched, walking seven and striking out 28. The Nationals checked in with him recently (January 18), but that is really the first news on Janssen since he hired a new agent on November 4. That tells me that Janssen is probably looking for a closer job, but I would not make him the closer over Melancon. He might be a good fall back option, but not a primary guy for closer duties.

Another arm that has been a closer before is Chris Perez, a Dodger in 2014. Perez struggled in Los Angeles as the Dodgers looked for a guy to handle the eighth inning to set up Kenley Jansen. However, Perez did not fare well. He wasn't atrocious in 49 games for the Dodgers though as he had a 4.27 ERA over 46 1/3 innings. He struck out 39 and walked 25, but he also be an arm for Ray Searage to look at to help recover.

The final arm for suggestion is also a project. Mike Adams, a former teammate of Lincoln and Bastardo's, struggled in returning from rotator cuff problems over the last couple seasons. In 22 games, Adams went 2-1 in 18 2/3 innings with a 2.89 ERA, walking eight and striking out 21. He may still have something left and is probably worth a least a look.

So at the moment, that's how the Pirates look for 2015. Starting next time, we'll begin to look at divisional opponents, starting with our biggest rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. We'll look first at their position players including offseason acquisitions and other potential minor league stars on the horizon.

Thanks for reading,

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