2014 HH Angels Projections, Part 5: BULLPEN

A bullpen leader? Don't think it can't happen, folks. - Ronald Martinez

Although the starting rotation was the most ENIGMATIC section of the Angels' roster last season, the bullpen was easily the most PROBLEMATIC. Does that change in 2014?

We're almost done: my last "raw number" projection before the pretty, shiny finalized numbers come out later on.

Today we look at the bullpen. Last season the Angels banked on an innings-eater rotation while investing little into the bullpen, going in on two years of a lights-out Sean Burnett and taking a one-year risk on TJ recoveree Ryan Madson. Unfortunately, Burnett injured his flexor tendon and pitched just 9.2 innings in 13 games of 2013, and Madson never threw a single pitch above High-A rehab (though Burnett was lights-out in his brief 9.2 innings, pitching to a 0.93 ERA). Aside from that, Kevin "King of Mediocrity" Jepsen retained his crown, pitching to a 4.50 ERA before bowing to an appendectomy in August; Michael Kohn, also a TJ recoveree last season, had a great year...outside of blowing three saves against Texas, all via the walk-off home run; Ernesto Frieri lost his closer role for a good portion of the summer due to his sudden inability to locate corners of the strike zone; Garrett Richards, Jerome Williams, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson all did stints shuttling from the bullpen to the rotation; Dane de la Rosa provided the bullpen's one bright spot, although starting the season with a struggle, drawing to a close with a 6-1 record, 2.86 ERA, 1.161 WHIP, 8.1 K/9 and just 0.4 HR/9, seeming to clinch himself a setup role on the 2014 team.

This season, the team takes a different angle.

Jerry Dipoto finally embraced Frieri as the team's closer, handing him the job months before spring training began. Shortly before THAT, however, he inked Cleveland sidearm setup marvel Joe Smith to a three-year, $15.75 million contract, and picked up Rule V lefty Brian Moran from Seattle, via Toronto, in a trade for international signing money. Burnett appears on track to return to the team by Opening Day, even if beginning spring training late. Richards finally emerges from the bullpen into the rotation where he belongs, and likely to stay there. De La Rosa, Kohn and Jepsen are all set to return as well. And for added depth, Dipoto inked the likes of Brandon Lyon, Mike Monster and Clay Rapada to minor league deals, while also acquiring guys such as Fernando Salas, Josh Wall and Robert Carson via trades and waivers, and even still also having young guns like Buddy Boshers, Michael Roth and Cory Rasmus at the ready. Basically? Dipoto has depth in case the bullpen still manages to implode this season.

To play judge and jury of who makes the bullpen is MOSTLY easier than with the bench; Kohn, Burnett, De La Rosa, Smith and Frieri are all virtual locks. However, it looks like there will be open season between Moran, Salas, Jepsen, Blanton, Rasmus, Rapada, Carson, Wall, Lyon and possibly even Monster, an indy-league find, for the last two spots. The projection is a bit easier when considering that Moran and Jepsen cannot be optioned without being either returned to their original team (Moran) or exposed to waivers (Jepsen). So let's begin!

BRIAN MORAN, RELIEF PITCHER

2013: 2-5, 3.45 ERA, 1.436 WHIP, 12.2 K/9, 4.25 K/BB, 62.2 IP (w/ AAA Tacoma)

Moran was selected by Toronto with the 5th overall pick in the Rule V Draft at the Winter Meetings this past December, and then immediately traded to the Angels for $244,000 of international signing money. Moran was a 7th round pick of the Seattle Mariners in the 2009 MLB Draft, as a college junior out of the University of North Carolina. A high-strikeout lefty reliever (he possesses a career K/9 rate of 10.6), he looks to be a solid add to the Angels' bullpen, should he show well enough in spring. And the Angels certainly hope he shows well enough--they gave up 10% of their international signing pool for him.  His high WHIP last season was uncharacteristic--a bloated 10.1 H/9 rate, sharply different from his pre-2013 minor league average of 7.7. He looks to be the most serious Rule V pick for the Angels in 14 years. Could he turn out like a Johan Santana or a Josh Hamilton--two of the biggest names of our current generation to come out of the Rule V Draft?

G GF IP W L SV ERA WHIP H BB K ER HR H/9 BB/9 K/9 HR/9 K/BB WAR
44 21 61.2 3 5 0 3.94 1.378 63 22 78 27 7 9.2 3.2 11.4 1.0 3.55 1.1


Would Scioscia be a "moran" not to include him the 2014 bullpen? Probably, yes. The team hasn't had a high-strikeout lefty (defined by a K/9 rate of at least 8.0) in the bullpen since Brian Fuentes (who, despite his postseason failures in 2009, was a decent closer) in 2010. If we could call Moran a LOOGY for 2014, I'd be thrilled. And if it doesn't work out (i.e. he makes the team and then tanks)? We have the likes of Rapada and Carson as AAA depth to bring up in his place. At this rate, however, I think Moran is a FINE risk to take. His 11.4 K/9 would project to be second only to Frieri on the team, as would his 3.55 K/BB.

KEVIN JEPSEN, RELIEF PITCHER

2013: 1-3, 4.50 ERA, 1.528 WHIP, 36 IP, 10.3 H/9, 9.0 K/9, 84 ERA+, -0.2 WAR

I call Jepsen the King of Mediocrity because it's what he is. His best season was in 2012, and it appeared to be far behind him in 2013. You'd be hard-pressed to blame it on his appendix (appendix pain doesn't persist for four months; if it did, he'd be dead), so his late-August appendectomy that mercifully ended his 2013 season is not to blame. Whatever he did in 2012, Jepsen could not repeat it. Could it be that last season was simply a down year, and Jepsen is entering his prime? A supposed non-tender candidate this offseason, Dipoto laid that speculation to rest after he offered Jepsen a 2014 contract, even going as far as to say the only way Jepsen was a non-tender was in the eyes of the media. Does he verify Dipoto's faith in him this season? Or does he find himself out the door before his third round of arb next season?

G GF IP W L SV ERA WHIP H BB K ER HR H/9 BB/9 K/9 HR/9 K/BB WAR
54 9 48.2 3 3 1 3.70 1.274 46 16 43 20 4 8.5 3.0 8.0 0.7 2.69 0.5


Looks like a nice halfway point between 2012 and everything else. If Jepsen gives us this as a middle-inning mop-up righty, I'll be thrilled. The numbers, out of their context, look average (giving more credit to "King of Mediocrity" as a moniker), but in the context of Jepsen, they look dazzling. 8.0 K/9 falls just beneath his career average, but 8.5 H/9 falls almost one hit per nine UNDER his career rate of 9.4. He also has an eerie pattern of having great (or at least better) seasons in years ending in an even number. Not that that has any statistical relevance (I didn't even notice it until doing this write-up), but it's worth a mention. If Jepsen could find himself more a help than a hurt this season, I'm all for him staying aboard.

MICHAEL KOHN, RELIEF PITCHER

2013: 1-4, 3.74 ERA, 1.321 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 101 ERA+, 53 IP, 0.6 WAR

Here's what's fun to look at. Minus Kohn's games against the Rangers (in which he infamously gave up three walk-off home runs), his 2013 stats: a 2.85 ERA, 1.204 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, and a 1-1 record. Basically, if we can keep him away from Arlington, he's bound to be a solid and reliable pick for the 2014 bullpen. All in all, he did very well for his first season back from Tommy John surgery (especially in consideration of the fact that he returned earlier than many recipients of the surgery typically do). He looks to develop into a solid bridge guy--a 7th inning man and maybe even the guy that spells Frieri if he's been worked 4 days in a row. How does 2014 shape up?

G GF IP W L SV ERA WHIP H BB K ER HR H/9 BB/9 K/9 HR/9 K/BB WAR
58 12 49 1 1 0 3.49 1.286 38 25 49 19 6 7.0 4.6 9.0 1.1 1.96 1.0


Maybe this is the season where the wrath of Kohn is fully unleashed for the first time. His walk rate leaves a lot to be desired, but that's just about his only Achilles (sounds like a certain other Angels pitcher whom we just acquired this offseason). Five less walks would bring his BB/9 down to 3.7, his WHIP to 1.184, and his K/BB up to 2.45. He's literally one unsolved kink away from being, in my earnest opinion, one of baseball's premier middle relievers. This season looks like a step in the right direction.

DANE DE LA ROSA, RELIEF PITCHER

2013: 6-1, 2.86 ERA, 1.161 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 0.4 HR/9, 1.3 WAR

Literally came out of almost nowhere to give the Angels a feel-good story out of the bullpen. We criticized Scioscia's obsession with him at times, but in the end that obsession paid off dividends--a rarity for a Scioscia favorite. In his second half (29 innings pitched), De La Rosa pitched to a 1.86 ERA in 33 games, including just one earned run allowed from August to the season's end, and no earned runs the season's entire final month. He led the Angels' bullpen in WAR last season--more than Frieri, more than double Frieri's total, in fact (1.3 to 0.6). His closest competition was Scott Downs, who put up 1.1 before being traded to Atlanta. So call me crazy if I think De La Rosa can maintain that success. Against AL West rivals he held a 2.75 ERA, 9.1 K/9 and exactly 3 strikeouts per walk. He's a useful relief piece for certain. His one flaw comes in something he can't really help--he's going into his age 31 season. Meaning that last season and/or this season, could be the best of De La Rosa that we see. But for a team that wants to win now, let's milk that for what it's worth.

G GF IP W L SV ERA WHIP H BB K ER HR H/9 BB/9 K/9 HR/9 K/BB WAR
64 17 61.2 5 2 2 3.06 1.216 50 25 53 21 3 7.3 3.6 7.7 0.4 2.12 1.1


DDLR is here to stay, folks. These numbers are nice. And before anyone says, "I wish we could've had this in our bullpen last year," we did. Just from nobody EXCEPT De La Rosa. There's a lot of carryover in his success here, and aside from some slight age regression, I don't see any reason to expect a huge difference in his performance. Not a ton to say here.

SEAN BURNETT, RELIEF PITCHER

2013: 0-0, 0.93 ERA, 1.345 WHIP, 13 games, 9.2 IP, 0.6 WAR

The only thing wrong with Burnett's season? It was too short. Flexor tendon issues stole about 75% of Burnett's 2013, and have even carried over enough to where he will begin spring training late, though he is still targeted to be ready by Opening Day. He posted 0.6 WAR in spite of his lack of longevity in 2013--equal to Ernesto Frieri's WAR across an entire season. When Burnett was healthy he was locking it down, despite a deceptive WHIP. However, because his season was so short last year, there's really no prognosticating if that will be what to expect of him in 2014. For my numbers, it's almost as if I had to re-project him as a new player, with as little bearing as his 2013 had. Still, let's see what the raw numbers brought forth.

G GF IP W L SV ERA WHIP H BB K ER HR H/9 BB/9 K/9 HR/9 K/BB WAR
60 11 50.1 2 2 1 3.22 1.291 45 20 41 18 5 8.0 3.6 7.3 0.9 2.05 0.8


If he comes back like THIS from injuries, I'll be ecstatic. I'm not looking for Burnett to go back to his 2010 (2.14 ERA) or 2012 (2.38 ERA) form, but somewhere between there and 2011 (3.81 ERA) is nice. The mid-3 walk rate seems to be an epidemic amongst Angels relievers (or maybe it's just something that Dipoto likes in his signees). Maybe 50.1 innings pitched is a bit much to expect from a guy who could possibly miss Opening Day and shortly thereafter, but if he's healthy you can bet Burnett will be used. Frequently.

JOE SMITH, RELIEF PITCHER

2013: 6-2, 2.29 ERA, 70 games, 63 IP, 7.7 K/9, 7.7 H/9, 2.35 K/BB, 1.8 WAR (w/ Cleveland)

Though he sounds more like he'd be your broker, your tax guy or the front guy for a Walter Clark-like law firm, he's actually been one of baseball's best setup men over the past three years. The signing rings a lot like the Scott Downs signing after the 2010 season, except that Downsie was a three-quarters lefty and Smith is a sidearming righty. Smith has posted 1+ WAR in each season since 2011, and never once been in the negative (his career high was 2.3 in 2011). He's used to pitching in the AL (Cleveland is actually, believe it or not, one of the most similar pitching environments to Anaheim not just in the AL, but all of baseball), and there's no "hitter-friendly shift" of any kind to worry about. So, Joe Smith, let's see what you've got!

G GF IP W L SV ERA WHIP H BB K ER HR H/9 BB/9 K/9 HR/9 K/BB WAR
70 13 60.1 5 2 2 2.54 1.044 44 21 43 17 4 6.6 3.1 6.4 0.6 2.05 1.7


Each of these relief numbers are starting to stack up more and more on ridiculous. Keep in mind with my raw numbers: they do not take into consideration teammate performance or team overall performance. These are individualized. My final numbers will be adjusted for several things, and among the biggest adjustments are team performance. That being said, regardless of how the rest of the bullpen does, Joe Smith is a freaking stud muffin. I love a good H/9 below 7, and Smith obliges. I love a sub-3 ERA, and Smith obliges. I love a nice WHIP below 1.200, and Smith obliges. Dipoto struck gold on this one. I see no reason why this signing doesn't turn out like the Downs deal--except I just hope we don't trade Smith in a time of need.

ERNESTO FRIERI, RELIEF PITCHER

2013: 2-4, 3.80 ERA, 68.2 IP, 37 saves, 67 games, 1.238 WHIP, 12.8 K/9, 0.6 WAR

I'll never get tired of looking at Ernasty's strikeout rate. The only problem is that last year, it was like seeing a diamond in a manure pile. He was well on his way to another stupidly awesome season in 2013, but then late-July and Texas happened to coincide. July literally stuck out like a swollen thumb in his month-by-month stats. Just going by ERA: April was 2.53. May was 4.15. June was 2.77. July was 8.64. August was 3.27. September was 2.84. Against Texas he held a 13.50 ERA, a 2.550 WHIP, and 6 home runs allowed--in just 6.2 IP. Against anyone who wasn't the Texas Rangers? A 2.76 ERA, a 1.097 WHIP, and 5 home runs allowed, in 62 IP. That's right. A team that comprised 10% of his playing time, managed to so adversely effect his statistics that his entire season, image and outlook was maligned. What to take out of that? Frieri's still a lockdown reliever, and we maybe should opt to let the lefties, Burnett and Moran, close against Texas. Anyway, enough of last season. Onto 2014.

G GF IP W L SV ERA WHIP H BB K ER HR H/9 BB/9 K/9 HR/9 K/BB WAR
62 49 62 3 3 39 3.34 1.161 44 28 106 23 10 6.4 4.1 15.4 1.5 3.79 1.2


STRIKEOUT EXPLOSION! It would appear that Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman will have some good K/9 company. My guess is that Texas still kills Frieri next season, but not to the tune of 2013, and if history is anything of a lesson to our coaching staff, he won't face Texas as much. And while it's not his 2012 season with the Angels, this line of stats is something I'd be perfectly happy with. When a pitcher's K/9 is more than twice their H/9, it's a beautiful thing. Oh, and when a reliever can rack up triple-digit strikeouts, it's beautiful. And it's not a foreign concept to Angels relievers. Let it be written, let it be done!

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