Making the Grade: Bullpen
Padres' relief pitchers were highlight of 2009 season
"Making the Grade" is a four-part series analyzing the performances of various units of the 2009 San Diego Padres. Today: the bullpen, followed by offense (next Tuesday) and defense (next Thursday). Starting pitching ran on Oct. 28.
SAN DIEGO -- Where would the Padres have been in 2009 without the performances of a bullpen that was essentially built on the fly in Spring Training and then tweaked radically during the regular season?
The short answer? The Padres' final record might have looked more like that of their 99-loss season of 2008 instead of a season in which they won 75 games and enjoyed a 12-game improvement.
The Padres bullpen was clearly the highlight of the season. The team had the sixth-best bullpen ERA in the National League (3.75), all while logging more innings (571) than any other team in the league.
Not bad considering the Padres entered the season having lost Major League career saves leader Trevor Hoffman to the Milwaukee Brewers and turning the ninth inning over to a pitcher in Heath Bell, who had never been a closer at the Major League level.
Bell made his first All-Star team, led the NL in saves (42) and proved to be an apt replacement for Hoffman.
The pitchers who bridged the gap from the starters to Bell also did a nice job in 2009, as rookie Luke Gregerson shined and Mike Adams, who might be a closer in the making, bounced back nicely from offseason shoulder surgery.
Rookie Luke Gregerson, the player to be named later in the Khalil Greene deal, didn't arrive until late in Spring Training, but quickly became a reliable late-inning option for manager Bud Black. He appeared in a team-best 72 games, had a 2.34 ERA and foes hit .224 against him. Want more? He allowed three runs at home all season, allowing 19 hits in 41 2/3 innings. He had 27 holds and will be counted on to shoulder the same important innings he did in 2009, relying on that wipeout slider.
What's not to like about the job first-year closer Heath Bell did in his first year after taking over as closer for Hoffman? Bell led the league in saves and had a 2.71 ERA. He blew six saves, including five in the second half, but the first-time All-Star was about as reliable in the ninth inning as they came in 2009. There's a chance the team could move the 32-year-old in a deal in the offseason. He's arbitration-eligible and he is due for a substantial raise.
In yet another of outgoing general manager Kevin Towers' dumpster dives, the Padres got Edward Mujica late in Spring Training as they scrambled to rebuild a bullpen in March. Mujica appeared in 67 games, including four spot starts. While his internal numbers weren't great (.273 opponent batting average, 101 hits in 93 2/3 innings), Mujica's resilience and ability to go long did prove valuable. It's unclear if he'll be given a chance to win a job in the rotation in Spring Training. If not, he'll be in the bullpen mix again.
What a career revival left-hander Joe Thatcher went through in 2009. He was hit hard in 2008, posting an 8.42 ERA in 25 games but came back -- after a stretch with Triple-A Portland -- a new pitcher in 2009, appearing in 52 games and posting a 2.80 ERA. Opponents hit .227 against him, including .182 by left-handed hitters. Moving Thatcher over toward the left side of the rubber might have given him a more deceptive look when facing left-handed hitters, who had a tough time getting a look at the ball. He'll be back in the bullpen in 2010.
Rookie Greg Burke, rescued from the Independent Leagues a few years back, got a chance to pitch in the Major Leagues for the first time after opening eyes during Spring Training. He had a better first half (3.70 ERA) than second half (4.64 ERA) as the league made adjustments to him over time. There's going to be no shortage of competition for jobs in Spring Training. Burke, who is coming off minor shoulder surgery, is going to have to impress again in order to win a job in the bullpen.
Didn't think Mike Adams could improve on his 2008 numbers (2.48 ERA in 54 games)? Think again. If the Padres do entertain offers to deal Bell, it will be because they feel Adams could slide into that role and have success. Adams, recovering from shoulder surgery last October, didn't appear in a game with the team until June, but all he did was post a 0.73 ERA in 37 games, allowing just 14 hits with eight walks. He allowed one earned run after June 16 and none after Aug. 17. Adams was slowed by a shoulder strain late in the season, but when he returned, he didn't skip a beat.
The Padres added Luis Perdomo in a deal with the Giants early in the season and squeezed 60 innings out of the Rule 5 pick (from the Giants, originally from the Cardinals). If Perdomo was in a game, the Padres were usually losing. Perdomo was able to help save the bullpen with several longer outings in losses. Walks were high (34) and his command needs some work. Perdomo could end up with Triple-A Portland, possibly as a starter if the team decides that's where his future is.
Ryan Webb was one of three pitchers obtained from the Oakland A's in the deal for Scott Hairston on July 5. With a big body, power arm and good movement, Webb was able to curtail his walks and improve his mechanics the longer he was with the team. He's got a chance to develop into a late-inning reliever for the Padres in time.
Adam Russell was one of four pitchers the Padres obtained from the White Sox in the Jake Peavy deal. He had a 3.65 ERA in 15 games with San Diego, showing good movement from two different arm slots depending on if the hitter was right-handed or left-handed. The Padres are still unclear if they'll allow Russell to do that moving ahead. He'll be in the bullpen mix in 2010.
Sean Gallagher gets some mention here because the eight appearances he made with the Padres after being a part of the Hairston deal with the A's, came in relief. He'll get a chance to make the rotation in 2010. Gallagher had a plus-curveball that looked good at times in his short stint with the Padres. Gallagher was very highly-regarded with the Cubs before he was dealt to the A's in the Rich Harden deal.
The Padres still aren't quite sure what to make of lefty Aaron Poreda, who was a key ingredient in the Peavy deal. Poreda struggled mightily with his command in Triple-A and walked five in 2 1/3 innings with the Padres late in the season. The fixes are said to be minor, as Poreda's command has been thrown by inconsistent release and landing points in his delivery.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.