Friday, February 20

Handicapping the Bullpen - or, Is Delcarmen Delusional?

Now that we've finally had some live BP (meaning that this is only wildly premature, as opposed to astonishingly premature), it's time to start speculating how the 2009 bullpen is going to sort out. At least we're not the only ones ready to make bold predictions. As posted earlier, Manny Delcarmen says he wants to set up Pap this year. Possibly we were just getting those quotes live via satellite and there was a, say, 365-day delay on it, and Delcarmen was only saying what everyone in February 2008 expected to hear. Or maybe he knows something we don't. Either way, I've got my hunches.

Obviously Pap is set. But beyond that we've got some fresh faces, some developing stories, and some mainstays.

First there are the lefties. The Sox will likely carry only the two of them in the pen this year, so their places are secure. Lopez is a tough guy to summarize. I can't get rid of this nebulous feeling that he can't be trusted, but then every time I look at his numbers over the last couple years, I'm begrudgingly impressed. Okajima has had his battles, and has likely lost his spot in the 8th inning for good, but showed in stretches that he can still be a major contributor.

Takashi Saito is a smart and gregarious veteran (see earlier discussin of possible sitcom starring Saito, Brad Penny, and either a kid or a trouble-making dog) who's going to fit right in to the bullpen's rhythm section. Although he's coming off some injuries in 2008, since arriving in the States three years ago, Saito has been one of the most reliable bullpen arms in the game. In 180 career appearances (189.2 IP), Saito has 81 saves, a 1.95 ERA, 245 strikeouts. and has walked only 52 batters. Even at 39, even coming off an injury, those are impressive numbers.

The other big offseason addition, Ramon Ramirez, also looks to be battling for the setup role. Ramirez has put up some decent numbers on some difficult teams, and had a solid 2008. He can get some velocity on the ball, he doesn't walk too many, doesn't give up many home runs, and has generally kept his ERA low. Still, despite his track record, Ramirez is still seen as a potential guy, with something to prove.

And there's Delcarmen. He's got all the tools for a setup guy or even a closer, but just can't seem to make the breakthrough. Despite his reputation as a flamethrower, in his big league career he's never averaged more than a strikeout per inning. While he's had flashes of brilliance, he's struggled with control. But, he's worked hard, he's well liked by fans and teammates, and he certainly has potential. This could well be his year.

And Masterson. A set up man? Long relief? A starter. The talent is absolutely there, but where it will be deployed is a big question mark this season, and will likely play a big role in the Sox's fortunes.

So, for the wildly premature speculation: Saito becomes the go-to guy in the 8th inning early on in the season. Delcarmen starts out situational where the Sox need a strikeout, continues not to thrive in that role, and eventually settles into 7th innings when a lefty isn't imperative. Ramirez steadily develops during the season, comes to split time in the 8th with Saito, a mini-controversy erupts, both players are thrown off course, stagger, and Ramirez eventually takes the spot. Masterson goes long relief and is groomed for a starting role, which eventually becomes necessary, since everytime we think we have too many starters, we get massive injury attrition. Tazawa gets the call up and...okay, now we're getting into astonishingly premature territory, so we'll end it there.

Pap in the 9th. Saito in the 8th, overtaken by Ramirez. Delcarmen adrift, developing. Take it to the bank.


Anonymous said...

I think the Sox have 4 legitamate 8th inning guys in Saito, Ramirez, Masterson and Okijima. That said I think whoever has the hot hand will get the call.

Like everything injuries will certinaly play a role in it as well.

Anonymous said...

There's probably gonna be some mixing and matching, but if someone can win the 8th inning job, that's probably better than setup by committee.

Inside said...

Personally I’m not ready or willing to write off Oki. Sure he "struggled" last year in comparison to his absolutely lights out 2007. Let's hope he's made some adjustments and improves in 09'. If he does, this could absolutely be one of the best bullpens in Boston.

It'll also increase the likelihood that Masterson stretches out to become an eventual starter.

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