For five months, I was very impressed with our pitching staff, particularly our bullpen which broke out of the gate in a positive condition I never expected. Unfortunately, as we enter the home stretch of the season, it becomes clear that the staff wore itself our keeping us afloat through the middle of the season, and as soon as we were poised to make a pivotal move, they were running on empty.
Managing a pitching staff has always struck me as a difficult task with all sorts of nuances that escape the surface, and therefore something that is seemingly out of reach to manage from the armchair. That said, I would definitely point to a couple of cases where the arm was overused. Matt Belisle, for instance, is a common example.
While I stand by what I said above, that our bullpen greatly outperformed my expectations, I believe that this must be specified a little bit. Belisle and Joe Beimel performed far above expectations this season, Rafael Betancourt's illness plagued time has been balanced out by godlike K/BB numbers and while Franklin Morales, Manuel Corpas and Huston Street all struggled this year at one point or another, they strung together an overall effective closer's role.
So what's the problem? Why did these guys get to where they are right now? The problem, in my eyes, is that while our bullpen found ways to be effective, it did not succeed at being diverse. In other words, as effective as our pen has been in their "designated" roles, they didn't put it together in entirety. They were a group of guys who mastered one niche spot per player, and worked under the assumption that that's all they needed to be counted on to do all season. Tracy played along this way, and this is why you saw someone like Belisle get 0overused; there was no one else trusted to be used there. So while our bullpen's pitching numbers looked pretty, I now believe we had a serious flaw regardless: a lack of diversity.
I'm going to make a bold, half-joke (but only half) claim: consistency killed the bullpen. This is sure to bother those of you that harp on the belief that keeping players in a specific role is not only helpful, but a necessity in producing optimum results. It's a half joke because it doesn't have to be true; after all, a consistent bullpen with just a few different opportunities in a few different places, perhaps a more inspired road offense or fewer injuries, and this flaw doesn't matter. But in our particular case, I believe the fact that we didn't have more than one good alternative for our games, particularly in the 7th and 8th inning, lays an incredibly large burden on our #1 guys in both physical and mental resources. And now the shotglasses are empty.
Now, after multiple acquisitions and minor league callups, which would seem just the answer we may have needed, we're lost in a sea of too many choices. While Octavio Dotel profiles as someone who can take that pressure off the Belisles and Betancourts of the pen, how much help can he really give in two weeks? Plus, in this case, it may already be too late for that difference to be made.
I'll be discussing bullpen a lot over the coming weeks and months as we head into next season, because I believe it will require a very different design than this year's, as effective as it was. I want to emphasize I'm not looking to 2011 for this rockpile of out of dejection over the last four games, as I am always looking ahead in terms of roster construction. So don't jump the gun and rag on me for writing a "welp, season's over" post designed to ruin your perfectly good morning (or, if you read this later on, noon/afternoon/evening/night/twilight). It's just where my mind is right now.
Just a pair of links below the jump on a slow Friday in the doldrums.
Troy Renck of the Denver Post takes a look at the hole we dug over the past series.