Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Simple Solution to the Angels Bullpen Woes

The Angels bullpen has been its Achilles Heel all year. One wonders how much better the Angels' record would be if the starting staff had been healthy all year, and if that staff were able to turn leads over to a bullpen that could consistently get batters out. It's amazing that despite it all, the Angels still sit six games ahead of the Texas Rangers, poised to win their third straight division title.

But as the Angels gear up for the post season, there may be a solution to the ninth inning issues the team has recently faced. It's becoming increasingly clear that Brian Fuentes is not the answer. Since the all-star break, his ERA is a pathetic 6.38, and he's allowing opponents to post an OPS of .952. It's far too late to add a pitcher through an acquisition, and there are no Frankie Rodriguezes in the minor leagues, so no one is going to be snuck onto the post-season roster. Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger are intriguing options. Jepsen has been fantastic since the break, posting an ERA of 2.08 in 35 innings, while allowing a measly .513 opponents OPS. Bulger has been just as good, allowing an ERA of 1.99 while opponents are posting an OPS of just .634 against.

So the Angels can go into the post-season with either a closer who brings lights out stuff (Jepsen or Bulger), or a closer who brings playoff experience (Fuentes). But they might be able to do both. My suggestion for the role of post-season closer is Ervin Santana. I'm not the only person who thinks so. SenorChuckles over at Halos Heaven has offered the same advice.

In Santana's last 45 innings, he's posting an ERA of 2.96 and an OPS against of .717. Those numbers are solid, but keep in mind, he's put those up while pacing himself. Give him the opportunity to work in short stints, and you probably add a mph or two to his fastball. Let him cut loose a bit. He also give you the additional ability to work more than an inning if need be.

There's really no reason not to make this move. Santana has closer stuff. He has playoff experience. He's probably the odd man out in the rotation for playoffs. Lackey, Kazmir, and Weaver appear to be locks, and with two lefties in the pen (Oliver and Fuentes), Saunders is a good fit for the rotation. They don't need another lefty in the bullpen, and Saunders is pitching well enough since returning from injury to be a part of the post-season rotation. Don't let last night's game fool you. He had a rough inning that included only two hard hit balls, both of which should have been outs.

Will Scioscia do it? His usage patterns for Fuentes over the next couple weeks will tell the story. He's appearing less and less confident in his veteran closer. Santana in that role would leave the Angels' bullpen with a long reliever (Palmer), two lefties, and two power arm righthanders. But this is a move that doesn't harm the rotation and improves the bullpen. Santana's cool demeanor will serve him well in that role.