Wednesday, July 1, 2009

7/1/09 - COL 0, @ LA 1 - "Relief Rant"

OK, here’s the deal: forget about our bats apparently missing the team charter from Oakland and being shipped back to Denver four days early. The real issue with our team, and the glaring difference between the Rockies and the division-leading Dodgers, lies in the relief corps.

Examine the Dodger bullpen. Jon Broxton is awesome and would be on my Cy Young ballot if the season ended today. I don’t know how anybody has ever gotten a hit against him. Nobody had ever heard of Ronald Belisario before the season, and he throws a bowling-ball sinker in the mid-90s. Ramon Troncoso was similarly anonymous, and is similarly filthy. Brent Leach is a homegrown lefty who can get lefties out. James McDonald is a homegrown starting pitching prospect with a swing-and-miss changeup. Guillermo Mota sucks, but at least he still throws 95 with a good slider.
That’s a good bullpen. It’s a bullpen full of young power arms, guys that the Dodgers aren’t afraid to throw into high-leverage situation just because there aren’t many lines on the backs of their baseball cards.

The Rockies are terrified to do this, and have been ever since they went with a young bullpen to start the 2005 season and Scott Dohmann and Chin-Hui Tsao gave up like 20 home runs in the first week of the season. Which is why you end up with a bunch of famous people in the bullpen. Famous people like Alan Embree, who was a part of championship-caliber teams in Boston and New York fairly recently but now is the rare lefty who can’t get a lefty out. Famous people like Juan Rincon, a valued part of Minnesota’s bullpen earlier this decade whose arsenal consists of a little slider and a whole lot of prayer. Famous people like Randy Flores, who has a ring with St. Louis and also can’t get lefties out, which creates an interesting matchup dilemma when the Rockies are facing a lefty thumper in the late innings and can’t go get a lefty that they know will lock him down.

Yeah, I know, Taylor Buchholz is out for the year and help is on the way in Manny Corpas, and if Casey Weathers hadn’t needed Tommy John surgery he’d probably be in the mix too, but there’s just nothing to suggest that the current bullpen is capable of long term success. Huston Street has been All-Star caliber, Josh Fogg’s a pretty inoffensive long-relief option, and Joel Peralta is pitching above and beyond any reasonable expectation, but of the currently healthy members of the bullpen, those are the guys who are even remotely trustworthy… and that’s as of today. Would you bet on Fogg and Peralta continuing to keep their ERAs below 3? Below 4?

Buster Olney quoted a talent evaluator from the American League who said that the Rox are two middle relievers away from being the best team in the National League. The talent evaluator apparently hasn’t seen the Dodgers play, but if the Rockies can be second best in the West, they’ll be squarely in playoff consideration this season. I can dig it. And the notion that the Rockies need bullpen help is absolutely true. But bullpen help isn’t going to come in the form of Juan Rincon. It’s not even necessarily going to arrive in Corpas, who was pitching better before his injury but still doesn’t belong anywhere near a tight game late.

It’s time for the Rockies to gamble on some power arms within the system. Once AA starter Sam Deduno is fully healthy and back in the swing, he should be in Denver. Same goes for Franklin Morales, whose velocity could play up in shorter stints and who could actually give the Rox an advantage against a lefty hitter late. I know the reluctance to use guys who ‘haven’t done it at the big league level before’ is there, but Joe Torre doesn’t seem to care and his team is running away with the West.

The Rox left LA with only one win. I hope they leave with a lesson about the value of power arms in relief, even ones you never would have thought to utilize.

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