While starting pitching was definitely a problem last season, relievers had their fair share of problems too.
At the beginning of the season, the bullpen was simply untouchable. Aided by the emergence of Trevor Hoffman on April 27th, the Brewers bullpen started an incredible run. With contributions from Mitch Stetter, Todd Coffey and Mark DiFelice, the Brewers bullpen was rolling on all cylinders.
And then, it suddenly all stopped.
As the Brewers starting staff was leveled with injuries and inconsistency, the bullpen’s workload increased. Short starts became more of the norm and the bullpen was expected to pitch multiple innings every night. Needless to say, this can take its toll on a bullpen.
The ‘pen went onto finish the year with a 3.97 ERA, ranking 16th out of 30 in MLB. All said, they finished pretty respectable, but their near 5.00 ERA after the all-star break really took away a special season.
Well, the faces have again changed for this part of the team (are you starting to see a pattern?). Gone from last year’s team are Mark DiFelice (injury-out for season,), Seth McClung (released) and David Weathers (released).
To help replace the loss of DiFelice, the Brewers sought help from an inter-divisional foe. On December 9th, just days after the DiFelice news, the Brewers signed LaTroy Hawkins to a two year deal totaling $7.5 million.
Hawkins, 37, pitched very effectively the last year and a half to resurrect his career in Houston. During that span, Hawkins posted a miniscule 1.71 ERA in 84.1 innings. The reason for his sudden success was his ability to throw strikes. In those innings, Hawkins walked just 21 batters, while striking out 70.
Hawkins biggest asset will be where he pitches. Seeing as Todd Coffey will be returning as the setup man, Hawkins will now be the likely 7th inning guy. The combination of Hawkins/Coffey/Hoffman immediately jumps the Brewers to having one of the toughest back ends of the bullpen in baseball.
Another very important new feature this season is the availability the Brewers have with their long relief. With the signings of Randy Wolf and Doug Davis, the Brewers now have two starters who will be relegated to the bullpen. Whether those starters are effective remains to be seen, but they can provide more innings in mop up games where the Brewers had to pitch important relief pitchers a year ago.
Anyway, here is the Brewers offseason regarding relief this offseason. Again, I’ll be looking at the stat WAR (wins above replacement level) for this.
LaTroy Hawkins: 0.3
Mark DiFelice: 0.4
Seth McClung: -1.0
David Weathers: -0.8
All said, the Brewers literally won with addition by subtraction. Dropping McClung and Weathers gives another 1.8 WAR they were subtracting based on their ’09 season. The Brewers were really dealt a blow with the loss of DiFelice, but the Hawkins signing helps.
The bullpen becomes key this season. Seeing as the St. Louis Cardinals are the clear favorite to repeat next season, having a strong bullpen is needed for the Brewers. I really expect a good season considering the bullpen shouldn’t have to log so many innings. It really does all start with starting pitching. If they are able to go deeper into games, the bullpen is a direct benefit.