Heath Bell and Bullpen Help

Buster Olney kicked up some dust Friday when he tweeted a tweety tweet about the Phillies knocking on doors, looking for relief help.

Seemingly content with the state of the bench – at least, prioritizing it below the ‘pen – Ruben Amaro, Jr. looks to have run out of patience with regard to the health issues of Jose Contreras and Brad Lidge. In tandem with the likely loss of Roy Oswalt for what appears to be a not-insignificant amount of time, the rationale is understandable.

Oswalt, who has averaged more than six innings per start in his time with the Phillies, will now yield time to whichever one of Kyle Kendrick or Vance Worley wasn’t going to be the regular fifth starter anyway, and that shift could put extra strain on the ‘pen. Worley has averaged exactly five innings per start in the Majors – and exactly 5.2 IP per start through his minor league career – and Kendrick has averaged just better than 5.1 IP per start as a Major League starter.

Either way you slice it, that’s an average of one extra inning per start that the Philly ‘pen will need to cover, and neither Kendrick nor Worley will be available to do the work any longer.

The core bullpen trio of Madson, Bastardo and Stutes has performed admirably to date. Combining for 81.2 IP, 89 K and 32 uIBB with a 1.76 cumulative ERA, these three have been up to the task all season. Beyond them, however, lies a murky sea of uncertainty. Danys Baez, since his majestic, five-inning relief appearance May 29, has an 11.88 ERA in 8.1 IP. J.C. Romero is gone. David Herndon, while continuing to get ground balls, yields only modest work; sort of this era’s Clay Condrey.

With word leaking that the Phillies have interest in Heath Bell, then, it seems like Amaro is not content to let Herndon start pitching high-leverage innings. As good as the top three have been, they can’t pitch every game. Ask Pedro Feliciano how that method works out.

A reliever like Bell would simultaneously lighten the load on the three most reliable relievers – two of whom aren’t the most seasoned of veterans, for what that’s worth – while adding an arm that’s produced 341.1 IP of 2.56 ERA baseball with 9.5 K/9 since 2007.

Again, this is always assuming the price is right, but Bell seems more and more like a guy the Phillies could really use. He’ll be entering free agency this winter, having exhausted his final bit of arbitration eligibility, and earns a wage the Phillies can probably afford. As of May 30, the MLB Trade Rumors’ unofficial Elias projection had Bell slated to be a Type A free agent. As Bell is certain to seek a multi-year deal worth quite a bit of money, he would absolutely decline arbitration.

Guessing which prospects would be of fair value is not really my style, and I can’t attest to what San Diego may covet, should Bell be available. What I do believe is that Bell is a solid arm this bullpen may not need right now, but will almost certainly need soon.

Athletics Series Preview with Dan Hennessey

The Phillies wrapped up a short six-game road trip against the Seattle Mariners and St. Louis Cardinals, splitting both series overall. They have returned home to Philadelphia to prepare for the Oakland A’s for another inter-league series. The A’s are a bit like the Phillies: strong with pitching, but have struggled offensively. The degree of struggle makes all the difference as the A’s have averaged just 3.6 runs per game while the Phillies average 4.1 per. To help preview what figures to be a pitching-heavy series, I caught up with Dan Hennessey (@DanHennessey31) of fellow Sweet Spot blog Baseballin’ on a Budget and asked him a few questions. He did the same with me, so trek on over to BoaB afterwards to check out my take on the Phillies.

. . .

1. The A’s are coming off of a sweep of the San Francisco Giants, and are on a five-game winning streak overall. Just five games out of first place in the AL West, do you see the A’s being contenders going into the second half?

No.

The A’s, despite being just five games out, are chasing a more talented team, the Texas Rangers. Texas suffered through major injury problems this spring (Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, etc.) and still managed to hang onto the division lead. The A’s needed to take advantage of that stretch and didn’t capitalize. The rotation is now without four of its best six pitchers, and not a single hitter has even been average. As of a couple weeks ago, every single regular had underperformed his projections. I don’t think there’s any question that the A’s will be “opportunistic sellers” at the deadline this July.

2. A couple former Phillies are in the A’s starting rotation. How have Gio Gonzalez and Josh Outman looked so far this year?

Gio’s been terrific. He’s limiting walks, which have plagued him throughout his career, while continuing to strike out almost a batter per inning. He’s basically a two-pitch pitcher (fastball/curveball, very occasional changeup), but he’ll throw either pitch in any count and is commanding his fastball much better.

Josh Outman was the seventh stater coming out of spring training after missing the last year and a half after Tommy John surgery. Of course, he’s now the A’s third best starter and has pitched fairly well so far in his six starts. His strikeout rate is way down so far, and it’s only been 35 innings, but it’s something to watch going forward.

3. No regulars in the lineup have an OPS+ over 100. Is this a chronic problem? Can Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore help the offense?

Two of the A’s Opening Day infielders (Daric Barton, Kevin Kouzmanoff) are now in Triple-A; offseason acquisitions David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui have been mostly awful. Only Josh Willingham has come close to being productive. Sizemore and Weeks can help, but they’re average players at best, not the game-changing offensive forces the A’s desperately need.

4. Andrew Bailey recently made his return. How much does his return help the bullpen?

The bullpen performed well in his absence, but Bailey’s return helps to define roles. We saw with Brian Fuentes and Bob Geren that roles and expectations were not always communicated; that shouldn’t be a problem with Geren out and Bailey stabilizing the back end of the bullpen. Fuentes, Grant Balfour, Brad Ziegler, and Joey Devine have all been very good this year. A lot of them might find themselves on other teams come August.

5. Bob Geren found himself in hot water, but was fired two weeks ago. Do you think that was the correct solution to the team’s problems?

Bob Geren, for all the disfunction in the clubhouse, didn’t make a single out this season. The correct solution to the team’s problems would be to find hitters that, you know, hit, and to not have four starting pitchers go on the DL within six weeks of each other. Bob Geren wasn’t helping, but he certainly wasn’t hurting as much as some A’s fans suggested.

6. The A’s will draw Cole Hamels, Vance Worley, and Roy Halladay. Let’s ignore Worley for the moment: which of Hamels and Halladay is a better match-up for the A’s?

Hope for rain? The A’s struggle against even the most mediocre pitchers; they probably won’t have much of a chance against either ace. That said, I’ll say Hamels. The A’s are a right-handed heavy lineup (though the splits don’t suggest they’re that much better against lefties), and Halladay’s command and patience will likely be too much.

7. Grab your crystal ball and give us your prediction on how the series will play out.

Two of three for the Phillies, and it might not be particularly close. I’d say it’s more likely to be a Phillie sweep than a series win for the A’s.

. . .

Many thanks to Dan for his rather straightforward analysis of the A’s and what to expect in this series. Make sure to add him on Twitter and check out his blog for his thoughts on the A’s.