The Pirates bullpen has been one of the more consistent aspects of the team for three straight seasons now. Dating back to the days of Octavio Dotel and Javier Lopez in 2010, the bullpen has been a strength of the Pirates. Pittsburgh goes about building their bullpen differently than other teams, as they have not given a long term contract to a reliever since Huntington has taken over as GM.
We have an organizational philosophy that values appropriating our resources to other parts of the roster and building a bullpen from a variety of options,” Huntington said. “We obviously like relievers with power stuff.” –Neal Huntington, courtesy of The Tribune Review
Coming into the 2012 season, the Pirates had several familiar faces returning to the bullpen, but potentially in different roles than used in 2011. Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, Tony Watson and Chris Resop all seemed to have spots in the bullpen locked down, but only Hanrahan was assured a specific role–closer.
To fill in the gaps, GM Neal Huntington opened up the other three spots for competition in spring training. Juan Cruz, Evan Meek and Jared Hughes all made the opening day roster, while pitchers Daniel McCutchen, Brad Lincoln and Daniel Moskos were optioned to AAA Indianapolis.
As the season has wore on, the chips have fallen into place in the Pirates bullpen very nicely. Hanrahan has been dominant again, notching 28 saves and a 2.11 ERA, earning his second straight All-Star Game appearance.
Grilli, 35, has become one of the best stories on this Pirates team and in all of baseball this season, as he boasts the lowest ERA (1.96) and the highest k/9 ratio (13.75) on the Pirates roster. Grilli’s 13.75 strikeout per nine innings ranks him third among pitchers in the National League with at least 20 innings pitched.
Until July 20th of 2011, Grilli was a Lehigh Valley IronPig, the AAA affiliate for the Phillies. That is when Neal Huntington came calling and Grilli was more than thrilled to make his way back to the show.
“I didn’t know that a first-place ballclub, a contending ballclub, was going to want me,” Grilli said. “But I had good numbers. I didn’t want to be an Iron Pig, and I had a history with Clint. It’s not like they picked me out of thin air.” –Jason Grilli, courtesy of David Golebiewski from The Tribune Review
Along with Grilli and Hanrahan at the back end of the bullpen, Brad Lincoln has begun to fit in nicely towards the end of the game as well for the Pirates.
Lincoln, 27, a former first round draft pick, has primarily been a starter his entire career until this season. Lincoln has struggled in the majors as a starter, but has certainly settled in as a reliever. In 20 relief appearances, Lincoln is 2-0 with a 0.55 ERA compared to his 6.08 ERA as a starter this season in five starts.
“I really believe with the fastball and the breaking ball that he’s got right now, he could pitch toward the back end of the bullpen. We’ll see what opportunities present themselves.”- Clint Hurdle, courtesy of The Post-Gazette
The rest of the Pirates bullpen has been just as reliable in 2012, as Jared Hughes, Resop, Watson and Juan Cruz have had standout seasons. Evan Meek was just recalled Saturday to replace the injured Juan Cruz after posting a 2.21 ERA in 27 appearances with AAA Indianapolis.
Jared Hughes currently has the second lowest ERA on the staff (1.99) and has been a workhorse for the Pirates, pitching 45.1 innings. Chris Resop, who struggled early in the season has really come on lately, allowing one earned run in his last eight appearances.
According to FanGraphs, the Pirates rank second in MLB behind the Cincinnati Reds in Bullpen ERA (2.62).