I don’t really have any news to report today, so I’m going with some more analysis. Stats are through Wednesday’s game.
The current state of the Braves’ bullpen is not strong. With Soriano, Gonzalez, and Moylan ailing in various degrees, that is to be expected. This is not news, and it probably shouldn’t be alarming to anyone.
Relievers are generally overvalued, so I have no problem with the Braves’ usual strategy of “let’s see what we have let the guys who are performing best have the bigger roles.” Let me first suggest how I would use the Braves’ current group of relievers, and then I’ll analyze what Bobby Cox is doing.
To me, there is a three-way tie for the best non-injured Braves reliever at this very moment. (If you want to include the injured players on the list, I like them in this order at full health: Gonzalez, Soriano, Moylan.) The current cream of the crop includes Will Ohman (most experience), Manny Acosta (best live arm), and Jorge Campillo (who had the best performance until he lost the plate on Tuesday).
For someone who is being used some of the time as a LOOGY, Will Ohman has done a decent job against righties in his career, holding them to a .770 OPS. LHBs are around the .600 mark against him, but the figure against RHBs makes him useable for a full inning’s work. I like that out of a left-handed reliever. He’s not going to strike out a lot of guys, and his command isn’t great, but he’s useful. He’s also been incredibly lucky so far, and his ERA probably will settle into the 4.50 range eventually. That’s not terrible, and I suspect he’ll be reliably average over the course of the year.
Campillo has shown fairly steady improvement, and he really started strong out of the gate this year. I generally don’t have a problem giving a guy like him an important role as long as he’s cheap and performing well. I don’t know a ton about him, but he seems to like pitching to contact, which is a great way to minimize your pitch totals and hopefully stay healthy. As long as he keeps the ball in the park, that should be fine.
Manny Acosta is generally considered to have the best arm of the current group of relievers, so he is the temporary closer. He’s the opposite of Campillo in some ways, showing poor command but not giving up that many hits. Both types of relievers can be effective, and Acosta clearly belongs, but preferably not permanently as the closer.
I would use each of these players in similar high-leverage situations until the better relievers return. These guys offer a wide range of options, since you can use Ohman if a tough lefty hitter is coming, Campillo if you want to force contact (but not necessarily for ground balls), and Acosta if you need a strikeout. None of them blow you away, but they’re probably not going to lose a ton of games for you, either. I would spread out their usage so as not to wear them out for the rest of the season.
Right now, the next group would consist of Royce Ring and Blaine Boyer. Jeff Bennett would slide into this category if the starting rotation is ever healthy.
I actually like Ring a lot, but I’m not convinced he can be relied upon like the previous group because he can’t seem to pitch a full season. He doesn’t show much of a platoon split, but it wouldn’t hurt to throw him out there if a particular batter struggles against lefties in general. He’s settled down a lot since a rough start, and he’s just .001 in WPA behind Soriano for the team lead as a relief pitcher.
Boyer stands out as the negative clutch guy in the bullpen so far, at -.871 in clutch performance. His ERA and peripherals are decent enough, though, to suggest that he will be a solid reliever long-term. Like Ring, you could easily lump him in with the 3 pitchers I mentioned before as long as he keeps up his current sub-4.00 ERA.
Give these guys the middle-inning 1.0-leverage work, and you’ll probably be okay.
“The rest” is made up of Buddy Carlyle and Chris Resop, plus any of the previous groups’ relievers who start struggling.
Carlyle is a below-average pitcher with decent enough command not to embarrass himself, but he’s going to give up his share of hits, and he’s not going to miss a lot of bats. He’ll be okay in short stretches.
Chris Resop throws really hard but, strangely enough for a pitcher, he can’t actually pitch. He’s getting blasted right now, but he’s not as bad his 9.72 ERA. Then again, he’s probably more of a 5-6.00 ERA pitcher, and you don’t want too many of those guys around, either. His fastball is straight, and no one cares how hard he throws if everyone can still hit him.
I would give these guys mop-up duty: Carlyle in long relief, and Resop for an inning or two.
How is this different from the current plan?
It’s really not that much different, except that Bobby tends to bring in his worst relievers when it still feels like the Braves’ offense could get them back in the game. He seems to like Resop more than he should, and he tends to use Ring almost exclusively as a LOOGY, even though Ring doesn’t show much of a platoon split.
I’ve grown more comfortable with Cox’s bullpen management over the years, although I think he may bought into the La Russa reliever specialization plan a little too much. I would prefer to have a longer average relief outing and a lower number of appearances in order to reduce the chance of injury, but I’m no expert on that sort of thing. As long as he generally uses the best relievers in the highest-leverage situations, I think the Braves will be just fine.