2013 Expectations: Bullpen Part 1

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Due to the nature of the job the bullpen arms perform I am not going to bother predicting exact numbers for each player but instead focus on a more general idea of what my expectation is for each player. With a small sample of innings the numbers of bullpen pitchers can vary greatly without there being much variance in their actual performance. As a whole thought I’m expecting the Pirates bullpen to be roughly like the rest of the team which is basically around average. It’s tough to put a number on the bullpen but I could see them being worth roughly 1.5-2.0 WAR this season.

Jason Grilli

Grill enters the 2013 season as the Pirates closer which is a role he has yet to fill in his professional career. Last season and even in 2011 Grill was outstanding first in middle relief and then in set up duty for the Pirates. His strike out rate last season was amongst the best in the majors and for quite a stretch of time he seemed almost unhittable. Still truth be told Grilli isn’t a spring chicken and the drop off for baseball players can be quick and when coupled with the violate nature of relief pitchers it is certainly possible Grilli could struggle. My expectation is though that he’ll handle the closer role adequately and be an average closer for the Pirates. Grilli will likely regress from his strong 2012 but he should still have a solid 2013.

Mark Melancon

Melancon was the key piece of the Joel Hanrahan deal and is actually fairly similar to the Hanrahan the Pirates originally acquired. He is coming off a terrible 2012 but that is largely due to a few poor innings at the beginning of the season. Melancon is currently the favorite to take over the set up role and I think he can do quite well in that role. He is familiar with the NL Central and was actually rather successful in it back in 2011 when he was part of the Houston Astros. Melancon doesn’t strike a lot of batters about but his rate isn’t extremely low either and paired with his high ground ball rate he has the makings of a very solid bullpen arm. Melancon is very likely to rebound from his poor 2012 season and I could even see him getting a few save opportunities this season.

Tony Watson

Watson is the Pirates most experienced and at this point best left handed relief option. Make no mistake he isn’t a dominating pitcher but he has shown a nice ability to come in and pitch out of tight spots the last couple years and that is something that can’t be overlooked. I think the Watson we have seen the last year and a half or so is essentially what Watson is. He is a solid left handed middle reliever who should perform well during the season. My expectation is more of the same.

Jared Hughes

Hughes saw a rather alarming drop in his strike out rate last year but it was at least coupled with a lower walk rate. I have trouble believing his strike out rate won’t at least recover some in 2013 and although I’m hopeful it won’t I imagine his walk rate will also increase. Hughes is never going to be one to strike many batters out though so as long as he shows a slight improvement in his strike out rate his ground ball rate should be enough to keep him effective in 2013. The Pirates may let Hughes compete with Melancon early on for the set up role but I think he is best suited for a middle relief job where he can be called on to try and induce a groundball when one is needed. Hughes is another one like Watson who I think what we have seen is what we are going to get. I’m expecting some variation with his strike out and walk rates but I imagine his overall numbers will stay about the same.

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