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The Flyby - The Bullpen is Alive

Statistically speaking, the bullpen is actually fine! But it sure doesn’t always feel that way.

Boston Red Sox Photo Day
We don’t have a shot of Thornburg pitching on the Red Sox because it just hasn’t happened in a major league game, yet.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

To remind you, this past Friday our topic was what you think of our bullpen early on. As expected, the results were mixed.

It’s... Uh... A Bullpen? - gosawks

What they said - “Who the heck is Bobby Poyner?” It sucks to lose Carson Smith, because he was one of our better bullpen arms. Joe Kelly fan club represent! Craig Kimbrel is our rock. Matt Barnes... well there are other guys! Heath Hembree needed a hair cut. Poyner has a chance to be sneakily important. We might need Tyler Thornburg after all. Miss you Robbie Ross Jr.

I got curious what happened to Robbie Ross, because he was once a fun arm, even if not always the most exciting. Since leaving us at the end of the 2017 season, he signed with the Chicago White Sox, and has put up less than stellar numbers in a small sample size of 5 games and 2.2 IP at AAA Charlotte. Again, small sample size, but he’s walked 11 batters in that time frame. He recently got activated off the Disabled List and was assigned to Low-A Kannapolis. I don’t miss him right now.

The other topic here I want to touch on is Matt Barnes, because what is with him? In 19.2 IP, he’s put up a 2.75 ERA with decent peripherals across the board. The glaring weakness, as always, has been walks.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox
Still a member of the Matt Barnes fan club. Despite his walks, he’s usually good enough to get the job done.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Among relievers who are listed as “qualified” on FanGraphs (of which there are 187), Barnes ranks 20th in K/9, 57th in HR/9, 61st in GB%, 11th in batting average against, and 32nd in soft contact rate. These are all not just acceptable, but good numbers that place Barnes within the top 50 or so relief arms in the game today.

His spot there would be less contested if it were not for the high walk totals. For all the good, he has that one big red mark on his record. He currently has the 20th highest BB/9 among the same relievers on the list above. Of the players in the “top” 20, only 8 have an ERA below 3.00. And of those same 20, only one has an FIP below 3.00, Jose Leclerc. Barnes himself is close to the threshold, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.

Matt Barnes is an incredibly frustrating player, because at times he looks to be a legitimate top 30 or so bullpen arm in the game. There are also times where he may as well be pitching with his left arm, because he misses the zone with such regularity that a walk is a given.

Fun fact regarding Matt Barnes: on the road, he has a 2.31 ERA in 11.2 IP, with 10 walks to his name. At home? He has allowed only two walks in 8 IP, and has recorded a 3.38 ERA. Both are relatively small samples, but one would imagine swingback in both directions.

Bullpen Blues - Timothy_Smart

What they said - Statistical proof that the bullpen has performed well. Eye test makes us feel a lot worse than the numbers would otherwise indicate. Kimbrel has been good, but not the god he was last year. Kelly has played well, as far as counting stats and ERA rates go, but has given up way too much hard contact. Happy with Matt Barnes. Brian Johnson and Heath Hembree give them a sad face. Not too early to make a trade for a bullpen arm, but no clue who the target would be.

I also don’t know who the target would be, but I have a few names for who I think the targets should be, if teams are already selling off in late-May, early-June.

Here are a couple of names for you to peruse at your own leisure: Kelvin Herrera, Brad Keller, Nate Jones, Austin Brice, Amir Garrett, Jared Hughes, Jordan Lyles, Adam Cimber, Craig Stammen, and Kirby Yates.

Cincinnati Reds v San Francisco Giants
This might come as a shock to people, but my preferred target on that list is actually Austin Brice!
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

On this list, you’ll note a few obvious things. These players all pitch for teams that are either in last place, or are close to last place. Many of these teams are playing close to .333 or worse baseball. Mainly, however, they are not Brian Johnson.

The idea of cost is a hazy one, so I’m going to skim over that for the time being, to focus on which teams make the most sense as trade partners. I’ve selected three members of the Reds, and four members of the Padres above, out of the ten names I selected. It would be a fairly good bet to negotiate with either team, because both are already out of their respective races, and have a bounty of arms to select from, both high priced (I would assume Garrett, a former top prospect, would command a decent amount) and low priced (if the Reds charge a ton for Hughes, they are doing it wrong). But all of them are eminently attainable.

The Padres in particular are a likely trade partner. We’ve had a lot of trade history in the past few years, and they’ve have shown themselves to be willing to get creative in deals (such as when Anderson Espinoza as the lone return for Drew Pomeranz, a trade that has worked out extremely well for us). With the Sox farm system in disarray, this makes them a perfect match. Once you remove Michael Chavis and Jay Groome, the top prospects list in the system is very much up to personal interpretation. I haven’t updated personal rankings (and won’t until after the June draft), but I would argue our top prospects in the system once you get past the obvious two are Alex Scherff, Tanner Houck, Bryan Mata, Darwinzon Hernandez, and Jalen Beeks. You’ll note a few similarities, but they are all pitching prospects, and all of them, save for Beeks, has encountered struggles early on in 2018.

I’m not sure if it’s a fair deal, but I would propose a Mike Shawaryn (I’d say Blake Swihart, but does he even have any value remaining?) for Kirby Yates type deal. It’s possible this would be enough, because Yates is above the dreaded “30 years-old” line, and is in the midst of a career year when the Padres aren’t even close to being a contender. It’s possible I’m even offering too much, but I don’t know what fair value for a reliever is at this stage of a season.

At any rate, the bullpen could use a boost. Perhaps it will be Thornburg, but it’s possible the answer is presently on another team.