As it stands right now, there are not many locks to the bullpen right now. Here is what pirates.com projects as the current bullpen.
1. Joel Hanrahan
2. Evan Meek
3. Chris Resop
4. Daniel McCutchen
There are only four spots on the Pirates depth chart which is interesting, but due to all kinds of changes to the 40-man roster as well as the wide open competition in the bullpen, it truly is anybody’s job to win.
Joel Hanrahan truly had a nice season for the Pirates. As one of two to make it the entire year in the Pirates bullpen, Hanrahan learned some valuable lessons from Octavio Dotel early in the year becoming the regular set-up man and eighth inning man. Hanrahan constantly mowed down hitters striking out a total of 100 batters, the second best total of all Pirates pitchers.
After Dotel was traded in July, management said that Hanrahan and Evan Meek would share closing duties. This seemed to be a lie though, as Hanrahan got almost all of the closing opportunities.
Hanrahan saved a total of six games and finished with a 4-1 record with an ERA of 3.62. In his 69.2 innings, he gave up 58 hits, 28 runs (all earned), 6 homers and he walked 26 batters. Hanrahan also had 18 holds.
For Evan Meek, the road to the Majors was a long road. He was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 2002 MLB Draft but later played in the Minors for the San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He was selected by the Pirates in the 2007 Rule-5 Draft. During the season, Meek looked overmatched and he finished 0-1 with an ERA of 6.92. He was designated for assignment on May 4, 2008 and by Rule-5 rules was sent back to Tampa Bay on May 14. The Pirates sent cash to Tampa Bay in return for Meek and promptly sent him to the Minors. He pitched 9 games for the Altoona Curve and was then promoted to the Indianapolis Indians.
Meek spent the 2009 season in the bullpen with the Pirates. He finished the season with a 1-1 record in 41 appearances, had a 3.45 ERA, gave up 2 home runs, 0 hit batsmen, 29 walks, 42 strikeouts, a .209 average against, and a 1.34 WHIP, in 47.0 innings pitched. Unfortunately for Meek, he got injured in the latter part of the season, and thus did not pitch down the stretch.
Meek started the 2010 season as the seventh inning man behind both Hanrahan and Dotel. Then-manager John Russell asked Meek on numerous occassions to pitch multiple innings, and for most of the first half of the season had an ERA under 1. Early in the season, Dotel had given up a run in six straight games as closer and Meek was called upon for the save against the Los Angeles Dodgers and earned the save on April 29. Meek remembered the honor saying how much it meant for him, and how he idolized Los Angeles Dodgers Broadcaster Vin Scully and how much the save meant for him.
An early highlight for Meek occurred on May 14 against the Chicago Cubs. He entered the game in the sixth inning with the score tied at 6. He pitched two scoreless innings and struck out four including Derrick Lee, Xavier Nady and Alfonso Soriano. The Pirates won the game 10-6.
Another highlight came on June 10 against the Washington Nationals. He came into the game relieving Zach Duke. The bases were loaded with no outs, and Meek quickly got Willie Harris to line into a double play and then retired Cristian Guzman and ended the inning with only 6 pitches.
Despite Andrew McCutchen being the front runner, Meek was the Pirates lone representative to the All-Star Game as he carried a 4-2 record with an ERA of 0.96. “It’s surprising,” Meek said. “A lot of starters and closers go to the game. I’ve always said there are a lot of great middle relievers out there who deserve to go to the game. I think they’re overlooked a little bit. It’s amazing to be selected, an overwhelming feeling.” Meek was the first Pirates reliever selected that was not a closer to the game since Mace Brown in 1938.
On August 3, Meek stepped up to the plate against reliever Jordan Smith of the Cincinnati Reds. Despite the long shot, Meek lined single into right field and received an ovation from the crowd.
Meek finished the season with a 5-4 record, an ERA of 2.14, 70 strikeouts, 4 saves in limited duty and 15 holds. All of these numbers were career highs.
Chris Resop also has an interesting tale, as he went from seemingly the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. He was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fourth round of the 2001 MLB Draft. He made his Major League debut for the team in 2005 and stayed with the team in 2006 until he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Kevin Gregg.
He was claimed off waivers by the Atlanta Braves on October 25, 2007. On May 28, 2008, Resop was designated for assignment by the Braves. He was assigned to the Richmond Braves until July 7 when the Braves sold Resop’s contract to the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Central League.
Prior to the 2010 season, Resop signed once again with the Braves and was called up on June 15 after pitching 73.1 innings, recording a 1.84 ERA and allowing 46 hits, 27 walks, and striking out 81 batters. He held batters to a .183 average.
Soon after Resop was placed on waivers and on August 4, he was claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Resop got off to a great start with the team using his fastball and other pitches to overwhelm the hitter.
Resop was doing a great job for the team and then another roadblock came for Resop in the form of injury. Resop was sidelined for much of the end of the season, although he did pitch close to season’s end. Resop’s work though exceeded everyone’s expectation, and barring injury, Resop is likely to start the season in the team’s bullpen.
Resop finished his 2010 season with a 3.86 ERA although those numbers did not show his work in Pittsburgh as his one appearance in Atlanta resulted in an ERA 22.50/ This start did not reflect what he did in Pittsburgh. While wearing the Pirates uniform, Resop appeared in 22 games. In his 19 innings pitched, Resop allowed 10 hits, 4 runs (all earned), one home run, 10 walks, 24 strikeouts, and 5 holds. His WHIP was 1.05 and his ERA was 2.45 in the month of August and 1.29 in September.
Daniel McCutchen often times is the forgotten piece of the Xavier Nady trade. People remember that Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens were brought over. McCutchen tried to make a name for himself as a September call-up in 2009, and did a respectable job. In 2010 Spring Training, McCutchen beat out Kevin Hart for the fifth spot in the Pirates rotation.
McCutchen had his struggles in the rotation though, and the Pirates sent him down to AAA to fine tune his game.
McCutchen was brought up later on in the season and still wasn’t pitching up to par. The decision was made for McCutchen to pitch long relief and it was a role that McCutchen was fairly successful in. McCutchen still received the occassional start, and even emerged victorious in a couple, but McCutchen’s role is seemingly clear.
McCutchen finished 2010 with a 2-5 record and an ERA of 6.12. He appeared in 28 games and started only 9 of them. In his 67.2 innings, he gave up 83 hits, 48 runs (46 earned), 13 home runs, 28 walks and 38 strikeouts.
From there the relief options are seemingly endless. One guy that will not be in the bullpen is Chan Ho Park. Park was designated for assignment by the New York Yankees on July 31 after having a 5.60 ERA. He was claimed off waivers by the Pirates on August 4. On October 1, Park became the winningest Asian pitcher in the Major Leagues. He was signed by the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball this off-season although the Pirates did seem to show some signs of interest in Park. Park went 2-2 with the Pirates in 2010 and his ERA with the team was 3.49 and finished with a total ERA of 4.66 for the 2010 season.
One person that has a great chance of making the bullpen is Jeff Karstens. I failed to mention Karstens in my most recent post on starting pitchers. This is mainly because with the new mix of starters, it appears unlikely that Karstens will be a starter although there is a slight glimmer of hope for him.
Jeff Karstens attended Pirates spring training as a non-roster invitee. He pitched relief in 8 games for a 6.23 ERA and was reassigned to the minor league camp.
He began the season in the AAA Indianapolis bullpen, but problems with starting Pirates starting pitching prompted a call-up on April 27.
Since that time, Karstens has become the Pirates’ most reliable starting pitcher, posting an ERA of 4.31 that is the lowest out of the starting rotation.
Karstens was the pitching matchup in the highly anticipated debut of young phenom Stephen Strasburg, giving up 9 hits for 4 runs (4 earned) in 5 innings for his second loss of the season.
Karstens finished the 2010 season with a 3-10 record and an ERA of 4.92. Of his 26 appearences, Karstens started 19 times. He pitched in 122.2 innings, and gave up 146 hits, 72 runs (67 earned), 21 home runs, 27 walks and 72 strikeouts. Karstens though showed a lot of resilience and did not get much run support when he started, and thus his performance is not shown by his record. Karstens found himself with the ball in his hand when the Pirates needed a good performance, and more often then not he delivered. I could definitely see him being in the bullpen.
Another possible candidate for the bullpen is Aaron Thompson. Thompson was signed off waiver by the Pirates, and as a lefty will probably be given every opportunity to start the season in the Majors. The team has a shortage of lefties in the Pirates bullpen. Thompson, a former Washington Nationals prospect, finished his 2010 season with a record of 5-13 (although he went 1-0 for AAA affiliate Syracuse) and an ERA of 5.65 (1.80 for Syracuse). He appeared an started in 27 games, and 141.2 innings. He gave up 169 hits and allowed 97 runs (89 earned). He also allowed 16 home runs and walked 56 while striking out 99. Thompson is the team’s top lefty relief arm option as it stands right now, and he could provide a lot of innings for the team.
Another lefty option is Wilfredo Ledezma. Ledezma signed with the Pirates last off-season and started the season in AAA. He was called up on July 27 along with Steven Jackson to replace Brendan Donnelly and Brad Lincoln. He finished with a 6.86 ERA to go along with a 0-3 record. He appeared in 27 games and pitched 19.2 innings. He allowed 25 hits, 16 runs (15 earned), 2 home runs, 6 walks, 22 strikeouts and 3 holds. Ledezma was often a victim of bad luck though as he did not receive much help behind him. Still Ledezma was taken off the 40 man roster to make a spot for Thompson so Spring Training may be Ledezma’s last shot to make it with the Pirates, but as a lefty he will get looks but just because he is not on the 40 man roster, his chances do not appear to be that great.
Another possible innings eater would be Sean Gallagher. The Pirates acquired him from the San Diego Padres for cash considerations on July 7. He appeared in 46 games (31 with the Pirates and 15 with the Padres). He finished with a 2-1 record (all three decisions were with the Pirates) and a 5.77 ERA. He pitched in a total of 57.2 innings, allowing 62 hits, 40 runs (37 earned), 7 home runs, 41 walks, 43 strikeouts and 3 holds (all with the Pirates). Despite his control problems and being off the 40-man roster, Gallagher was invited to Spring Training and thus has a shot to pitch himself into the Pirates bullpen. To do this, he will have to show control and limit the mistakes that plagued him in Pittsburgh last season.
Another option for the bullpen is Chris Leroux whom the Pirates got off waivers on September 13. Leroux came off an injury earlier in the season and received limited time with the Pirates towards the end of the season. He appeared in 6 games with the Pirates pitching in 4.2 innings and allowing 4 hits, 3 runs (all earned), 3 walks and 4 strikeouts. He also had an ERA over 5 and a 0-1 record. If it makes you feel any better, his stats with the Marlins were worse as his ERA and WHIP were both higher in his 17 appearances with the team. I am unsure what the Pirates see in Leroux but they put Gallagher and Ledezma off of the 40-man and for no apparent good reason have kept Leroux.
One final option that is not to be forgotten is Scott Olsen. I do not have him making my projected rotation and thus he is on this list. The team is short of lefties and Olsen in the bullpen makes sense, as he can eat innings as well as provide that left-handed arm the team needs. I have more information on Olsen in the starting pitching preview.
There of course are more options for the bullpen, as these are only a few of them. Other names include Jose Ascanio who is still trying to come back from injury, Tony Watson a lefty, Kyle McPherson, Michael Crotta and Ramon Aguero. All of these options are on the 40 man roster.
The Pirates have a lot of bullpen options, but one question remains, who will be the Pirates closer?
Well it is a two-horse race between Hanrahan and Meek. Both have had their troubles with the position.
Hanrahan relies solely on two pitches, in the fastball and slider. While it has gotten him this far, I feel that he needs to add at least another pitch because if he stays the way he is, he will become way too predictable. It is true that Hanrahan had 6 saves last season, but he also blew 4 saves last season. He just does not seem like a reliable option as if he were to be closer, he would have a ton of opportunities and when he closed for Washington, he did not fare that well either.
Meek had some closing opportunities as well but each time he comes out to close, it seems to be an adventure. Technically speaking, Meek blew 6 games last year, but it is not like he pitched that many times in the ninth inning. When he did save games, they were very similar to Matt Capps when he wore the Pirates uniform. Meek in the ninth inning actually got what seemingly no other pitcher did, and that was defensive help. The defense had to help Meek save the day on numerous save situations and I don’t think that he is ready to take the ball in the ninth quite yet.
Unless the Pirates can find a more reliable option, Hanrahan will have to be the team’s closer. Hanrahan will face some failure, but hopefully the team will be able to help him out.
Here is my projected bullpen come April 1 2011:
Scott Olsen- long relief
Jeff Karstens- long relief
Aaron Thompson- long/middle relief
Daniel McCutchen- long/middle relief
Chris Resop- middle reliever
Evan Meek- set up man
Joel Hanrahan- closer
Of course all of this could easily change, as I think the Pirates could use another lefty. I think that Ledezma will fall short. As I said earlier, I project Olsen to just miss making the team’s rotation, although it makes sense for him to make it. This would provide the team with two left-handed arms in the bullpen in Olsen and Thompson. Both have starting pitching backgrounds and could be used as long or middle relievers. Regardless both can eat up a lot of innings.
Resop is the only projected middle reliever and I can see him as the team’s regular seventh inning man, much like Meek was last season. Karstens has pitched as a long reliever in the team’s bullpen before so the title of long-reliever seems to suit him most although McCutchen has long relief experience as well.
This bullpen can have as many as four long relievers but perhaps two of these “long relievers” could move to provide middle relief and perhaps even move to long relief, as injuries happen and a long reliever or two may need to make spot starts.
Thank you so much for reading my early season preview breaking down each of the Pirates positions as they stand today. I hope you have enjoyed my take. I will continue to keep blogging and I may put down quick previews of each team in the Majors. This would include breaking down either a division or team at a time. It would potentially feature key additions and losses, placement in division and more!