Monday, July 07, 2008

Who Goes To The Pen?

I've seen all of you Pushing for Suppan, and I'm here to tell you that this is not as simple as that. There are four good options, as I see it.

Dave Bush

ERA+ = 91

David has been outstanding as of late, but just as you should not read too much into Suppan's recent bout of shittiness, so too you should not start writing in Bush for the All-Star game, especially since voting is now closed. However, over the last month Dave's ERA is a mere 2.65, and teams are hitting a collective .223/.263/.346 off of the guy. We shouldn't ignore that either.

At this point it would be wise to look at Bush's Home/Road splits.

Overall, in 8 home games Bush's ERA is 2.87. In 9 road games it is 6.95. That's quite the split. So, has Bush benefited from pitching at home a lot lately? Kind of.

3 of his last 5 starts, (and 5 of his last 8) have been at home. While he gave up only 1 run to Pitt this past weekend, he did give up 4 in only 5 innings at Arizona in the start before that. On the road at Atlanta he pitched a dandy, giving up only one run again, which was preceded by another 1-run effort at home against Toronto and a 3-run effort at home against the Twinkies.

Basically, in his last 5 games he's pitched very well at home, put up one great road start, and one mediocre-to-lousy road start. Going back another 5 games we see his platoon split in clearer detail. On the road at Boston, Pitt, and and Colorado he gave up 4, 6, and 5 runs respectively while lasting only 6, 5, and 4 innings respectively.

Sandwiched in between he gave up 2 runs against Atlanta in 7 inning and 1 run against Houston in 7 innings.

Dave has looked better lately, but it might be because he has been at home, and he also has really dominated Atlanta for whatever reason.

He might make a good closer. Something to consider.

Manny Parra

ERA+ = 117

What? Why would you put Manny Parra in the bullpen, he's been great!

True enough, however, pitchers throwing their first year in the big leagues tend to hit a wall around 120 inning where they tend to lose about a point of ERA. Manny Parra has thrown 92.7 innings already.

Parra has been fantastic in the rotation, and it might be PR suicide to demote him, but it might also be in the team's best interest not just long-term (clearly we are in it to win it this year) but also for later in the season. Parra is also a high strikeout option that would probably work better out of the pen than Suppan or Bush.

Parra is an older prospect who did throw 130 innings last year (minors + majors) which means he may be able to stretch to 140-150 without too much trouble, especially since he's an older prospect. Still caution might be justified with one of your future building blocks.

Seth McClung

ERA+ = 103

McClung really seemed to benefit from being moved into the starting rotation, although he was far from poor over the last year in general. His ERA over the last month (4.08) is only marginally better than his ERA over the last 365 days (4.11). In fact, it's difficult to say whether McClung improved because he became a starter, or if his improvement coincided with becoming a starter, as there were signs of improvement before.

It doesn't really matter in the long run because ultimately if he's good, he's good. Who cares why?

McClung also may have durability issues as he has been a reliever for a few years, although his age and previous starting experience should mitigate against this a bit.

What is also noteworthy about McClung is that he has pitched much better on the road. In 11 games away from Miller Park his ERA is a fantastic 3.28, while on the road it jumps by 2 full runs. On the road, Seth's SO/BB ratio is 5/2, whereas at Miller park it falls to 5.5/4. A home/road platoon with Dave Bush would be a creative and intriguing solution to this problem.

Jeff Suppan

ERA+ = 92

My concern with Suppan is that he is the least likely candidate to bring any value to the bullpen. Smoke-and-mirrors junk-ballers are not a well-suited to high-leverage situations as your typical fireballer. Suppan has always dealt with a high WHIP by nibbling around the corners and not allowing the runners that he inevitably walks to benefit from anyone slugging behind him. Combine his ability to limit slugging percentage with a penchant for inducing double-plays and you have a serviceable starter. Barely.

When Suppan gets too much of the plate or gets up in the zone, look out. His mid-80s stuff gets absolutely hammered by any major-leaguer who can lay off of his breaking stuff.

Yes, in his last 4 starts he has gotten lit up by the opposition, but as bad as he was in his last 4, he was that good in the 4 before that.

Suppan is an innings-eater. If he doesn't have his stuff, he can really get shelled. The result is an ERA which does not truly reflect his value to the team. He had a run like this early in the season as well when the Cubs hammered him for 7 runs before he recorded an out.

If Suppan were to go to the pen, LOOGY-dom might be in his future as this year lefties really struggle against him for some reason (.268/.348/.371).

Righties, on the other hand, are the cause of Suppan's problems as they are murdering everything he throws (.328/.392/.531).

(Note: This is a new problem as Suppan has had a proper platoon split for the last few years, although his career numbers are almost completely neutral so he probably fluctuates from year to year. Last year lefties hit him better. Weird.)

This is not an easy decision, and I do not envy Ned Yost having to make it. I'm sure he'll get killed no matter what he does.

I would run a home/road platoon with McClung and Bush. With some planning you could easily have one ready to start while leaving the other as a bullpen option until his spot in the rotation got close. If Suppan continues to flame out you can demote him later, but putting Suppan in the pen creates its own set of problems. Suppan probably does deserve the demotion at the moment, I'm just not sure it's in the best interest of the team. Starting, after all, is not inherently more prestigious than relieving.

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