Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bullpen Preview

Here's the first installment as I analyze the Sox, now that the Opening Day Roster has been announced.

In my honest opinion the Sox ‘pen will make or break the season (assuming there are no major injuries). The ‘pen seems to be the only unproven commodity for the Sox. Yes, the bullpen was solid last year, but many relievers had career years. That begs the question, was last year an aberration or the a sign of things to com?
Neal Cotts last year had a 1.94 ERA which is real solid, but the year before he had a 5.65 ERA. That’s a big gap, but I think the lefty will level out closer to a 2.50ish ERA, which is legit.
Cliff Politte also had a career year with a 2.00 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. He’s been up and down during his career, going as high as 7.12 and as low as 2.42, so it remains to be seen what he’ll pull out this year.
If Bobby Jenks can pitch like he did at the close of the season, the Sox will have their best closer since Keith Foulke. If Jenks continues to struggle like he has for much of the spring don’t be surprised to see Neal Cotts slide over into the closer’s role. I think Jenks will get back on track and finish with around 35-40 saves posting an ERA in the low 3’s.
Brandon McCarthy will serve as the long reliever. I think after playing most of the year in the bigs last year, he’ll be even better than before. I think he’ll cut down on the homers (13 in 10 starts) and continue to post a lot of strikeouts. If any starters struggle or get injured, he'll be the first in line to fill in, but look for him to spend most of the year in the 'pen. Next year is Contreras' walk year, so McCarthy will probably become a full-time starter then.
Boone Logan is one of the wildcards of the group. He struggled earlier in his minor leagues career posting high ERA’s (in the 6-7 range), but last year he changed his delivery from over the top to more of a 3/4 delivery and saw great improvement. The southpaw had a 3.31 ERA in the minors last year and shockingly has made the squad this year.
Matt Thornton is the last in of the trio of lefty relievers in the ‘pen. He's the other wildcard in the group. To sum him up, he’s a hard throwing lefty, who can shut down lefty batters. His strike out rate is pretty good, but he’s hampered by an insane number of walks. Hopefully his work with Coop and the lengthened stride in his delivery will help him cut down on the walks. For more on Thornton see below.
And yes, with Boone Logan in the lineup that means Dustin Hermanson will open up the season on the DL. This could actually be better in the long run for the Sox. If they get along okay without him, he’ll be a fresh, strong arm come the dog days of summer.
Overall, I’ll give this group a B/B+. If they approach numbers anywhere near last year I’ll give them an A/A-, but I’m just expecting at least one or two of the pitchers to come back down to earth.

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