Another look at the bullpen competition

I am coming way late to the party after much discussion about Eric Gagne yesterday but I really haven't posted anything of substance here for a while so I thought I would take this opportunity to do a rundown on most of the pitchers competing for the last few bullpen spots.  Swindle, Stetter, DiFelice, Dillard, Gagne, Julio, and Coffey all pitched in the big leagues last year so not only can we look at things like their ERA, FIP, K/BB but also their PITCHf/x numbers (you knew I was going to go there right?).  One of the things that I am going to talk a lot about is the upside for these pitchers.  Most projections have the Brewers on the outside looking in at the playoffs so if two pitchers appear similar the one with the bigger upside probably should have the advantage because they are likely going to need some booms to make the playoffs.

Starting with the LOOGY competition between Stetter and Swindle.  Stetter was up and down last year posting a nice 3.20 ERA but a FIP of 4.39 with 31 K's and 19 BB in 25.3 innings.  That is a huge number of K's and walks which is a little odd looking at his minor league numbers.  He is an incredibly interesting pitcher for a sinker/slider guy with nice bite to his slider and decent movement on his sinker.  His movement chart shows almost two horizontal bands which is due to his side armed release which puts his release point somewhat off the page.  In fact, he was in the top 5 widest release point last year.  Because of his rather unique movement he grades out as the most unique sinker/slider guy in all of baseball.  Swindle is his his 10th best comp but Stetter doesn't even show up on Swindle's comps.  I like Stetter a lot as a LOOGY and I think he has a lot of upside.  He gets a lot of ground balls and strikes out a lot of hitters which are excellent qualities in a LOOGY who likely will be coming in with men on base.

Swindle had a very limited time in the big leagues but pitched extremely well in AA/AAA.  In fact, he pitched extremely well pretty much at every level and is a few years younger than Stetter.  Even more than Stetter, Swindle throws pretty much side armed from the extreme side of the rubber towards first base.  He had the widest release point of any pitcher last year almost completely off my chart.  Swindle also is a sinker/slider guy who mixes in a change-up to RHB and a curve that he didn't really put on display for us.  Because of his extreme release point everything Swindle throws moves in to a LHB which explains his incredible low FIP against lefties in his minor league career.  Even better, his change-up looks like a real weapon against RHB.  He pitched well against them in the minors though not like he did against lefties.  He isn't going to get the same number of grounders as Stetter will but he probably will be more effective if the opposition pinch hits.  His upside is also very high especially if his change-up improves.

On to the right handed relievers starting with Tim Dillard.  Dillard pitched ok in the 14 innings he got in the big leagues and pitched ok in AAA last year though he didn't have a very strong K/BB ratio.  Dillard mostly throws a two seamer around 93 MPH but occasionally will mix in a four seamer around 95 mph.  He doesn't get a lot of sink with his sinker so he is closer to a guy like Fausto Carmona than Derek Lowe (though obviously not as good as either).  Dillard's strike out pitch is his slider but that pitch really doesn't slide a lot so that is an issue.  He also thows a change-up to lefties (almost every Brewer farmhand does these days) that has a good speed differential but not great deception with the movement.  Because of his velocity with his fastballs he has some decent upside but less than Stetter or Swindle in my opinion.  If he could get some real sink to his sinker he would be a much more effective pitcher.

DiFelice is a classic junkball pitcher.  He throws his 87 mph fastball less than 15% of the time favoring a cutter and a slider as his main pitches.  In fact 75% of his more than 300 pitches he threw in the big leagues were sliders.  His slider also has little horizontal slide to it.  Normally I would say that is a bad thing but if you are going to throw your slider so much to left handed batters it better not be moving down and in to them very much.  DiFelice throws a circle change (schocker) and a curve to lefties but you have to wonder how effective these can be with such a low fastball percentage.  DiFelice had a wonderful ERA and an excellent K/BB ratio in his very limited action though a rather mediocre FIP.  Despite pitching well at AA and AAA the last few years DiFelice is 32 next year and you have to question if big league hitters would eventually catch on to a 82 mph slider with almost no horizontal movement.  I think DiFelice is an ok choice for a bullpen spot but his upside is rather low.

Jorge Julio has been with six teams in the last three years and if you look at his performance it is easy to see why.  While Julio can be effective for short spurts he hasn't been able to put it together for any real length of time.  Why does Julio continue to get chances in the big leagues?  The answer is rather simple, he throws his fastball at 95 mph on average.  You just can't teach that.  Stop me if you have heard this one before but his problem is control.  You just can't walk as many hitters as Julio does especially in a close game.  In addition there is an issue with his fastball, while he throws it at 95 he has below league average "rise" with the pitch.  Pitchers who throw that fast like to work up in the zone but with poor rise this is a harder thing for Julio to do and get away with.  This means he strikes out way fewer hitters than he should with that fastball.  Also, he throws his fastball only about 50% of the time well below league average.  If you have a 95 mph fastball throw the $%^& thing.  His second comp is none other than Guillermo Mota and honestly I think that is a very good comparison.  Despite a fast fastball Julio has pretty much proven he can't get MLB hitters out consistently and I would put his upside as low.

Todd Coffey had been a pretty reliable reliever for the Reds a few years back but the last two years he hasn't pitched well at all.  Coffey has good control but doesn't really strike out enough batters to make him a really good pitcher.  His fastball is around 93.5 mph and he throws it more than 70% of the time which is a plus.  His off speed pitch is a slurvy slider with pretty good vertical movement but not exceptionally good movement.  I suspect Coffey would pitch better than he did with the Reds the last two years but really be nothing more than a replacement level reliever with almost no upside.  I'd love to have a guy like this stashed at AAA but I wouldn't really want to be forced to use him for any important innings.

Which brings us to Eric Gagne.  I am certain I don't have to say much about how Gagne pitched last year he was very bad.  He did get better as the year went on however and I think there might be a real explanation for this.  Early in the year last year Gagne was throwing way too many change-ups when that pitch wasn't really very effective.  By the end of the year however he appeared to get that under control and ended the year right around league average for fastball percent.  His fastball is still decent around 92 mph but his change-up appears to have degraded.  He doesn't even have an 8 mph speed differential with the pitch though he is getting some quality downward movement with it.  His splitter actually appears to be a better pitch right now with the same downward movement and a bigger speed differential.  His curve is a decent pitch too so if he would throw more splitters to RHB and curves to LHB and less change-ups in general he probably would be more effective.  Id put his upside in the middle of the pack below Dillard, Stetter, and Swindle but above Coffey, Julio, and DiFelice.

With room for a LOOGY and two other pitchers I feel a bit obligated to rank these guys now.  Despite having the least experience of any pitcher on the list I'd take Swindle first.  He has proven everything he needs to prove in the minors and is ready for a job in the big leagues.  I'd take Stetter next as it doesn't hurt have two lefties in the pen and, if used properly, they could be a very effective duo.  In my opinion there is a drop off between those two and the next four.  I think that replacement type numbers are about as good as we can expect from any of the four.  If money is no object I'd go with Gagne and let Dillard get work in AAA because it definitely appears he could use regular work (he does have an option left correct?).  It isn't that I think Gagne will pitch better than Dillard but given more time in AAA could really help Dillard I think.  DiFelice would be an ok choice too as long as someone was left in AAA ready to come in if hitters start picking up his slider.  I'd stay away from Coffey and definitely stay away from Julio unless injuries forced my hand.

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