2010 In Review: RH Relief Pitchers

David Hernandez – 8-8, 4.31 ERA, 2 SV, 79.1 IP, 72 K, 42 BB, 1.42 WHIP, 8.17 K/9

Hernandez started the season as the Orioles fifth starter but was converted to the bullpen after going 1-5 with a 5.31 ERA over 8 starts. He had a strikeout to walk ratio of 27/28 during that time over 42.1 innings. His fastball worked much better coming out of the bullpen where he could crank it up to as fast as 99 mph and he didn’t have to worry about mixing in his breaking pitches as often. He was 7-3 with a 3.16 ERA over 37 innings with 45 strikeouts and 14 walks after becoming a reliever. He even had a short stint as the closer before Alfredo Simon took over the role. He missed some time with a lower leg injury in August after trying to cover home plate on a wild pitch. Scouts always said he would wind up as a back end of the bullpen pitcher and it looks like they were right.

2011 Prognosis: Hernandez will be an important pitcher in the Orioles bullpen next year, most likely as a 6th/7th inning guy. Shorter stints work better for him and I expect that to continue. If he puts up a 3.16 ERA over a full season he would be a pretty good middle reliever. He also has more room to grow and the potential to be a set up man or even the closer by the end of the season. On paper the O’s bullpen should be one of their strengths heading into 2011 and Hernandez should be a big part of that.

Matt Albers – 5-3, 4.52 ERA, 75.2 IP, 49 K, 34 BB, 1.48 WHIP, 5.83 K/9

The good thing about Albers’ season was that he stayed healthy and amassed alot of innings without hurting himself. The problem was that he was just as inconsistent as he was in 2009. When hes good, hes really good but there are too many times when he loses his mechanics and the ball is too hittable. He was great in May (2.70 ERA) and July (1.93) but bad in the other four months of the season (6.75, 6.94, 5.40, 4.73). He gets alot of groundballs with his sinker so he has value as a guy that can induce a double play but theres no telling which version is going to show up on any given night. He could stand to lose some weight and maybe that plays a factor in him struggling to maintain his form on the mound.

2011 Prognosis: Albers will still be under contract for the Orioles in 2011 and will most likely make the team as the 6th or 7th guy in the bullpen but I would think he’ll be on thin ice and will need to show more consistency if he wants to stay with the team all year. There is alot of pitching coming up through the minors so he will have more and more competition for the job as time goes on. If he can pitch like he did in May and July more often or at least limit his slumps to shorter lengths he can give us good value. A good spring training would be good for his job security.

Jason Berken – 3-3, 3.03 ERA, 62.1 IP, 45 K, 19 BB, 1.33 WHIP, 6.50 K/9

Berken was in the same boat as David Hernandez except that he made the transition to the bullpen sooner, in spring training. He started off as the long man and mop up guy and excelled in that role. As pitchers got hurt and underperformed he moved up the ladder and eventually became a set up guy. At the all-star break he had a 1.95 ERA over 50.2 innings with 37 strikeouts and 14 walks. Unfortunately he didn’t fare as well in the second half, putting up a 7.71 ERA over 11.2 innings before being shut down with a tear in his labrum (shoulder). I’m sure the injury was a big reason for his decline in performance and its a tough injury to recover from.

2011 Prognosis: Berken opted against surgery and will reportedly be ready to go for spring training. With this injury the Orioles can’t expect him to come back pitching the way he was in the first half of 2010. Matt Albers went through a similar injury in 2008 and has been inconsistent ever since. If Berken struggles in spring training I would start him out in AAA Norfolk’s bullpen until he got his feet under him. If he looks alright he should start out pitching in lower leverage situations until we have a more definitive idea of how hes recovered. I wouldn’t expect anything lower than a 3.75 ERA.

Alfredo Simon – 4-2, 4.93 ERA, 17 SV, 49.1 IP, 36 K, 22 BB, 1.54 WHIP, 6.57 K/9

Simon underwent Tommy John surgery in the beginning of the 2009 season and recovered fast enough to be ready for spring training of 2010. Thats a success in and of itself. He started the year in AAA Norfolk’s rotation and after three starts (four appearances) to the tune of a 1.59 ERA over 17 innings with 14 strikeouts and 5 walks he was called up to Baltimore. Surprisingly, he immediately got a shot at being the Orioles closer and actually started out doing very well with a 3.24 ERA and 13 saves over 25 innings before the all-star break. Unfortunately things unwound for him in the second half and he wasn’t very effective at all, going 2-1 with a 6.66 ERA over 24.1 innings. Maybe his arm began to fatigue in the second half after the year layoff but he wasn’t exactly dominant even when he was going good.

2011 Prognosis: Simon will try to win a spot in the bullpen in spring training but I expect him to start out back in AAA Norfolk as the closer. He can work on things there and the Orioles can try to decide if his first half of 2010 was a fluke or if he just tired out in the second half. I don’t expect much from him next year but he can be solid insurance in case of injuries in the big league bullpen. He needs to limit his homeruns allowed to be effective at Camden Yards.

Koji Uehara – 1-2, 2.86 ERA, 13 SV, 44 IP, 55 K, 5 BB, 0.95 WHIP, 11.25 K/9

Koji is a guy that is frustrating to watch. When hes healthy, hes great, but he is hurt alot. He was a starter for the Orioles in 2009 but the team decided the bullpen would suit his fragile body better so he was converted into a reliever. He started the year on the disabled list but came back in May where he was effective over seven appearances before getting hurt again. He came back in July and managed to stay healthy from there on out and eventually became the closer in August. He was great in the second half with a 2.57 ERA and all 13 of his saves over 35 innings with 45 strikeouts and only one walk. Thats right, he had a 45-1 strikeout to walk ratio. He was the rare closer that you knew was going to come in and throw strikes. He blew two saves on homeruns but I’ll take that over a guy that walks two every time out and could unravel at any time.

2011 Prognosis: Uehara will be a free agent and I’m really hoping the Orioles make a run at re-signing him. Any pitcher with a strikeout and walk rate like his in 2010 is a very valuable asset to a major league bullpen. We could plug him in at closer and know what we’re going to get every time out, as long as he stays healthy. And thats the big question that I’m sure the Orioles are trying to answer. If they don’t think he can stay healthy than he won’t do us any good sitting on the disabled list. Either way Koji is going to get plenty of attention on the free agent market with his performance in the second half. If he doesn’t find anything to his liking he can always return to Japan.

Jim Johnson – 1-1, 3.42 ERA, 1 SV, 26.1 IP, 22 K, 5 BB, 1.41 WHIP, 7.52 K/9

Johnson was supposed to be a sure thing coming into the season as the set up man to Mike Gonzalez. By the end of April neither one was on the active roster. Johnson struggled mightily to start the year (6.52 ERA over 9.2 innings in April) and was demoted to AAA Norfolk in a surprising move before discovering he had an injury that was bothering him. He went on the disabled list for about three months before rehabbing his way back to the Orioles. When he returned in late August he looked more like his old self, pitching to a 1.62 ERA over 16.2 innings with 13 strikeouts and one walk from then to the end of the season. When he came back he looked like a different pitcher, getting tremendous movement on a faster fastball and getting lots of ground balls.

2011 Prognosis: Johnson looked as good as he did when he broke out in 2008 at the end of the season and it would be huge if he could continue in that form. Something in the low threes as far as ERA goes would be a nice bounce back season to re-establish himself moving forward. He’ll only be 27 on opening day so theres plenty of time for him to get his career back on track. He’ll enter the 2011 season scribbled in as the right handed set up man. I don’t expect him to get another crack at closing any time soon.

Frank Mata – 0-0, 7.79 ERA, 17.1 IP, 9 K, 8 BB, 1.85 WHIP, 4.67 K/9

Mata was called up in late May after pitching well as AAA Norfolk’s closer. He didn’t fare as well when he got to Baltimore and was sent back down in July. He walked too many batters and his stuff was way too hittable. In AAA he did much better with a 3.16 ERA over 42.2 innings, striking out 30 batters and walking 20. In 10.1 innings during winter league he has a 2.61 ERA with 4 strikeouts and 2 walks.

2011 Prognosis: Mata was just taken off the 40 man roster to make room for Jason Berken, who came off the 60 day disabled list, and will become a minor league free agent. He might still come back to the Orioles on a minor league deal but I expect him to sign somewhere else. Hes a AAAA relief pitcher and a dime a dozen.

Rick VandenHurk – 0-1, 4.96 ERA, 16.1 IP, 17 K, 7 BB, 1.22 WHIP, 9.37 K/9

VandenHurk was acquired from the Florida Marlins in the Will Ohman trade. He showed some potential in his brief time with the Orioles at the end of the season but has to work on his command. Hes got good stuff, especially his slider, and could be a good long reliever. He was brought up as a starter but is better suited for the bullpen. With Florida’s AAA team he was 8-4 with a 4.68 ERA over 98 innings with 87 strikeouts and 40 walks but got better as the season went along. In three starts for AAA Norfolk he was 1-1 with a 2.18 ERA, 7 strikeouts, and 4 walks over 20.2 innings.

2011 Prognosis: VandenHurk will be out of options next year so he has to make the team after spring training or be passed through waivers. I think theres a good chance he makes the team, at least to start the year, as the long reliever. His versatility could help the team as long as he pitches well. He can work in one inning stints or pitch multiple innings if needed. He can also start in a pinch if theres a minor injury to one of the starters.

Cla Meredith – 0-2, 5.40 ERA, 1 SV, 15 IP, 7 K, 4 BB, 1.47 WHIP, 4.20 K/9

Meredith had a great spring training and came into the season as the “right handed specialist”. He pitched fairly well in April with a 3.60 ERA but only over 5 innings. He was only being used to face one or two batters at a time, which always seemed like a waste of a roster spot to me. In May he struggled to the tune of a 5.91 ERA over 10.2 innings and was sent down to AAA Norfolk at the end of the month. He continued his struggles there and never made it back to Baltimore. Over 27 innings with the Tide he had a 6.00 ERA with 17 strikeouts and 12 walks. He got alot of ground balls but they must have been hit hard because batters hit .292 against him.

2011 Prognosis: Meredith became a free agent after the season ended and I don’t think he’ll be coming back to Baltimore. He’ll probably get a minor league contract from some team but hes got progressively worse every season since breaking out with the Padres a few years ago.

Armando Gabino – 0-0, 13.49 ERA, 4.2 IP, 2 K, 3 BB, 2.57 WHIP, 3.85 K/9

Gabino had a good year at AAA Norfolk working as both a starter and a reliever. He was 7-0 with a 2.37 ERA over 83.2 innings with 75 strikeouts and 23 walks. He was rewarded with a September call up but struggled in limited action. Hes had plenty of success in the minor leagues but has yet to break out at the major league level.

2011 Prognosis: Gabino will try to make the team out of spring training but it’ll be a long shot. Most likely he’ll be back in AAA Norfolk’s bullpen unless he becomes a roster casualty over the off season. Hes another guy that can be used as insurance in case of an injury or under performance.

Kam Mickolio – 0-0, 7.36 ERA, 3.2 IP, 4 K, 3 BB, 2.18 WHIP, 9.81 K/9

Coming into spring training Mickolio was a favorite to make the bullpen but he performed bad enough to get demoted to AAA Norfolk to start the year. He got a brief call up in April hit around in three appearances and was quickly sent back down. He struggled with Norfolk as well, putting up a 6.37 ERA over 35.1 innings with 48 strikeouts and 17 walks. He was a legitimate prospect at one point but is pitching himself out of that distinction. Hes got good stuff but his mechanics are too inconsistent. His six foot nine height probably has something to do with that. Hes performed well in the Arizona Fall League so far with a 1.29 ERA over 7 innings with 10 strikeouts and 2 walks.

2011 Prognosis: If Mickolio can get it together he can still be a valuable asset to the Orioles bullpen. His performance in the AFL is promising and if he can keep it up he’ll give himself a good start toward spring training where he’ll battle for a spot on the team. Most likely he ends up back at AAA Norfolk where he’ll need to earn his next shot in Baltimore. Another year like this one and the Orioles might write him off.


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