Can the Angels Bullpen keep it up?

The bullpen was once a thing you used if your starter was injured, completely fatigued, or getting torn up. Today, deep bullpens are a necessity for teams trying to win games, save their starting pitchers health, and create the most optimal scenarios for saving runs. High leverage situations. We have seen in recent years how bullpen usage has helped teams manipulate extra wins during the season, win close playoff games, or how bad decisions could get a manager fired even.

The Angels 2014 season was reflective of what a good bullpen can do. During that season, Garret Richards was at his best, and Matt Shoemaker had an incredible rookie season, while Weaver remained average. Santiago and Wilson started off okay, however, they fell apart throughout the season, and Santiago could barely find the strike zone by the end of theseason. Fifth starter, Tyler Skaggs, went down with injury, and then Richards ultimately went down for the season. At that point in the season, the Angels were fully in the hunt for the playoffs and winning the division. What kept them alive despite the lack of pitching depth? The bullpen. Huston Street and Joe Smith were aces of the 8th and 9th inning out of the pen, Kevin Jepsen put up a career year, same for Mike Morin, and Cory Rasmus was dynamic in his call-up, even having 6 bullpen starts, as they did not have a 5th starter.

To say our rotation has been uninspiring would be nice. Someone on the Angels SubReddit posted this about Ricky Nolasco.

This is sad, yet true. Nolasco’s ERA has been in the 5’s, while he’s been giving up home-runs at an insane rate. Lately, we’ve been helped out by Alex Meyer’s surprising brilliance. Overall, we have four consistent starters posting an ERA+ of below 100 (100 is the absolute average, anything below 100 means you’re a detriment to the team). When your “ace” is entering a pivotal game of the series and you know his average performance means we need to get incredible production from our offense, that’s not a good feeling.

So far, our bullpen has been able to alleviate many of these issues. Through the performance of many veteran relievers, some starters turned relievers, and then some younger names stepping up, the Angels have managed a 38–38 record with a bad rotation, bad offensive production, and Mike Trout even missing time.

Except, there’s a small issue, which does not seem like one. Our bullpen arms are far exceeding their usual output:

Bud Norris: A former starting pitcher is now spending his first year as a full time reliever. He’s been the arm that Scioscia calls for in the 9th inning. He’s posted an ERA of 2.43, had his best SO/BB ratio of his career and SO per 9 rates. Classic move of a starter translating better to a reliever later in his career.

Blake Parker: After a strong performance with the Cubs in 2013, Parker has been rocky and inconsistent. This season he’s posted an ERA of 2.16, a FIP of 1.40, a WHIP of .990, and 13.2 Strikeouts per 9 innings. Just a stud.

Yusmeiro Petit: In a 10 year career, Petit has posted his best numbers by far this year. He’s another guy who was a spot starter and reliever for other teams who has been translated to a full time bullpen arm. Petit’s ERA+ is 176, and while reliever ERA+’s are often highly inflated, there’s a stark difference from his career high of 107. His career numbers generally trend towards being a detriment, rather than being a contributor.

David Hernandez: He’s only been in 26 games and a total of 23 innings this season. However, David has posted his ERA, WHIP, FIP, and K/BB ratio so far. An excellent addition to our team so far. Hernandez has not given up a single home run this season.

Kenyan Middleotn: Hasn’t been spectacular, only solid. Then again, he’s young, and has a killer fastball. As a person who endured a team of off speed pitchers, it’s nice to watch a guy who can fire in a pitch the down the middle.

These guys have kept our season together, except the scary part is that they are all exceeding their career averages by wide margins. It almost feels like we are playing with house money. It’s not been a large sample size, and most of the guys have shown to be worse than this. They’re the reason we are still in contention for a wild card slot. Yet, if they fall back to the mean, our team could fall apart, dropping to the bottom of the American league again. A bullpen should not shoulder the team’s success, however, it’s been crucial for us so far.

If the hitting could improve a little, the rotation comes back to form, and we get our guys back from injury, especially our lord and savior, Trout, maybe we can make the push, giving some room for decline from our bullpen. The team wants to make the playoffs, I want us to be competitive, and the front office is unsure of what they want this year.

At the end of the day, the bullpen success has made me smile. I’m thankful for their production in helping us weather the storm that is our team.