Tagged: bullpen

Brewers Bullpen Prepares Through Communication


Monday night I sent out this tweet.

It wasn’t the first time I saw Francisco Rodriguez more or less holding court. The other three high-leverage pitchers were huddled by the veteran closer’s locker (to be fair, the lockers of Will Smith and Jonathan Broxton aren’t exactly far away from that of Rodriguez, and Jeremy Jeffress need only come down a handful himself) and were locked in a pointed discussion. That is to say that this looked to be more than your light-hearted postgame celebratory chat.

Tuesday, I decided to confirm my presumption and get a bit more insight from some of the men involved and find out what kind of leader the bullpen has in K-Rod and what kind of advice can be gleaned from the veterans who have combined to pitch in parts of 26 MLB seasons.

I first asked lefty Will Smith, the possessor of the Slider of Death, why it’s valuable to have those guys around him. For the record, Smith’s locker is between Broxton’s and K-Rod’s.

“In my case, I ask (Rodriguez & Broxton) because obviously they’ve had a lot of success. They know what they’re doing. So, my thought process: Why not use them as a learning tool?”, said Smith. “We’ll sit and we’ll break down ABs and what you threw to (a certain hitter).”

But what about the fact that they’re right-handed and he’s a southpaw? Does that matter in breaking down hitters? Smith offered that it doesn’t.

“Just because these guys are right-handed doesn’t mean anything. They still help out a tremendous amount with me and (Jeffress) the most, for sure.”

For his part, Jeffress echoed much of Smith’s sentiment when I asked him what exactly they talk about in those mini-meetings.

“We just break down each one of our outings. What we can learn from it. What we can do better. Just how we attack each and every hitter each day.”, Jeffress said. “Then it’s all about coming together as one because we’re all in this together. And at the end of the day we gotta go home and face what we’ve just been through.”

Jeffress then went bigger picture on me by saying that, “We (Smith and Jeffress) pick their brains so much because we know that this game doesn’t last forever for everyone. The next guy is right there so we just wanna take what they learned and what they taught us and just put it in play for the next couple years.”

I brought it back with a question about huddling early in a series because while you may not face the same guy you did last night, you might face who your teammate did. Jeffress responded about Broxton as his fellow power righty. “(Broxton) will tell me that ‘I didn’t pitch him this way, (or) the best way to go about him is that way.’ Just execute your pitches.”

Broxton told me that their huddles are a multi-directional conversation. It’s not just Smith and Jeffress asking for advice. “We just like to sit down and talk and try to pick each others brains. I may try to pick Will’s or K-Rod’s, or K-Rod wants to know what was our thought process out there. We just try to go over it,” Broxton said. “You’re out there trying to read batters and swings and trying to see what each other’s doing and their thought process too.”

As for his having a fellow veteran like Rodriguez in the clubhouse to bounce his own questions off of, Broxton said “That’s what makes (K-Rod) so great. You can sit down and talk to him about anything. Basically just asking him what is he seeing and get his thought process and (then) put yours together and you can come up with a game plan.”

Game plans are all well and good, but when it comes down to it, each guy still has to go out there and execute. Jeffress said that the veterans show faith in the less-experienced to perform every time it’s their name that’s called.

“They give me a lot of trust,” said Jeffress. “They give everyone in the bullpen a lot of confidence, a lot of trust to believe in their self to go and do the job.”

Again, this “think tank” approach is not new to a clubhouse featuring Francisco Rodriguez, nor is it closed to just the four men who got together yesterday. I’ve seen him talking to Brandon Kintzler after games last year, in particular there was a game where Kintzler struggled pretty badly and it looked to me as though Rodriguez called him over to discuss the outing. K-Rod was talking to him about pitch execution and how pitching Kintzler’s game to the best of his ability would be good enough to get the job done.

Suffice it to say, it has piqued my curiosity a few times over the past couple of seasons. After a particularly rough outing for Broxton it felt right that he would be leveraging the experience of Rodriguez, if for no other reason that K-Rod had a much smoother outing the same night.

So finally, I went to the man himself to understand where this activity came from. I had more presumptions. K-Rod confirmed them.

“That’s something that I just learned coming up. I got the opportunity to have one of the best in the game teach me (in) Troy Percival,” Rodriguez said about his mentor with the Angels. “He told me when I was coming up, when he was teaching me everything, to make sure when I get to this stage and I’m a vet to make sure to teach the young guys how to prepare themselves and how to attack and how to compete out there every night. That’s something I do every single day with the young guys. It’s something I like.”

Rodriguez went on to say that he makes sure he talks to anyone in the bullpen after a game in which they pitched. If it’s a good outing, they talk about it. And if it’s a not so good outing? That’s right — they talk about those too.

Pitchers succeed in baseball more often than they fail. After all, even the best hitters are put out more than 65% of the time. But this approach that I suspect happens in far more places than Milwaukee is no doubt a key to those successes and to overcoming any failures.

Preparedness is half the battle in baseball. For a clubhouse with Francisco Rodriguez in it, that preparation is an ongoing, recurring, everyday thing.

(This article originally appeared on Today’s Knuckleball and was republished here with permission.)

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’14 – #47 Rob Wooten

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If you’re looking for an almost-daily countdown to Brewers’ Opening Day where a new player profile gets posted when said player’s jersey number matches how many days remain until said day, then you’ve come to the right place.

This is “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” and today we’re 47 days away from Opening Day on March 31st. As such, we’ll be focusing our attention on…

Rob Wooten.


Robert Davis Wooten (nicknamed: “Woot”), made his Major League debut in 2013. He was one of many for Milwaukee to do so last season. Wooten got the call as a belated birthday present, missing his 28th birthday by four days. He would pitch the next day right away after getting called up, covering 2.1 innings in relief against Colorado.

Those seven outs came without allowing a run of his own (he inherited two that first night, one of whom came around to score), and kicked off a streak of 11.0 scoreless innings pitched to begin his MLB career. Along the way, he picked up his first career Win (in appearance three, in relief, against the Chicago Cubs), and really demonstrated the mettle that had him slotted as the closer at Class-AAA Nashville prior to his callup.

Speaking of Nashville, Wooten’s season in Triple-A before his callup was what got him his shot. A 2.94 ERA in 52.0 innings across 40 games got him his shot. A 7.8 K/9, 3.75 K/BB, and 1.000 WHIP in those same 52.0 innings got him his shot. And he certainly made the most of it early on.

Nobody is perfect, of course, and when Wooten came back down to earth it was all at once. Or really all at thrice, but that’s not a thing.

Wooten finished the season with 27 appearances and allowed none of his own runners to score in 22 of them. He finished the season with a 3.90 ERA though because when he gave up runs, he tended to give up a bunch. Wooten allowed single tallies in the first two of his games allowing runs (including his first — and so far only — home run allowed) but then Wooten had outings in which he allowed two, three, and five earned runs respectively. The two- and three-run outings were consecutive (and were preceded by one of his one-run games) but then Wooten responded with seven straight scoreless appearances before the five-run blow which came at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. All told, Wooten’s ERA maxed out in 2013 at 4.38 before he tucked it back under 4.00 by finishing the year with three clean innings.

A quick footnote: I made mention of it at the time when Wooten was brought up back in July, but with that one home run he gave up on August 27th, Wooten has allowed a total of 16 home runs in six seasons of professional baseball.

The upcoming season will be Wooten’s seventh since he was a 13th round draft pick in 2008 and signed quickly. In that first year he played both with the short-season rookie affiliate Helena Brewers and the West Virgina Power which was the Class-A affiliate in 2008. Wooten played in both Class-A Advanced Brevard County and Class-AA Huntsville in 2009 and was originally on track to make his big league debut much sooner than 2013.

Unfortunately, Wooten would miss the entirety of the 2010 season following elbow surgery. When he came back to begin 2011, Wooten was a slightly different pitcher. Wooten hadn’t posted a K/9 below 11.2 as a pro. Those days were now gone. Some of that is because of the increased talent level of the hitters he faced as he moved up the organizational ladder, sure, but he repeated both High-A and Double-A in 2011. In his first stints he posted 13.2 and 11.2 K/9 rates. In 2011, he put up 7.6 and 8.6 respectively.

When he began the 2012 season back at Double-A one more time, he was back up to a 9.1 K/9 but he progressively slowed down. And I don’t mean to focus on one stat like it’s the end all, but it’s an illustration of the change in his approach and results.

Still, even with the decrease in strikeouts, Wooten has mostly maintained his K/BB rate throughout his career, only once dipping below 3.00.

But enough about strikeouts.

In so far as Wooten had late-inning success in the minors (78 career MiLB Saves), Wooten projects to be more of an early-middle or multiple-inning relief weapon for Ron Roenicke, especially in this somewhat nostalgic 2014 edition of the Brewer bullpen. Jim Henderson is the closer. Francisco Rodriguez, Brandon Kintzler, and Will Smith all have experience setting up. The open jobs are long-man, which Wooten could do but really isn’t suited for, and maybe one middle reliever depending on the health of Tom Gorzelanny and the decision on Rule V guy Wei-Chung Wang.

Here’s the rub though: When Wooten was promoted to the Brewer’s 40-man roster last July, it was for the first time. He contract was purchased and he wasn’t ever optioned down last year. In other words, he can be bounced back and forth for three more seasons at this point. Wooten does not have a lock on a job. He’ll have to compete in Spring Training with a stable of young, hungry, eager bullpen arms. He’s got more of a track record in the organization which helps him, but they also know that he can be recalled from Nashville and do the job on short notice as well.

And despite rarely ever wanting to rely on Spring Training numbers as a true evaluator, for the 6’1″ right-hander it really could come down to how he performs in Cactus League play.

The Brewers are hoping he’s up the challenge.

Follow Rob Wooten on Twitter: @RobWooten35

Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:

Isn’t It Time to End This Experiment?


Tom Gorzelanny has a lot of experience as a starting pitcher. After debuting in “The Show” with a three game/one start cup of coffee in 2005 at the tender age of 22, Gorzelanny would go on to make 60-SOMETHING starts over the next three seasons. He began a transition after the 2008 season, but all of that is better outlined in my columns both when he was signed by Milwaukee and again during the “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” series this spring. With all of that experience, it made sense for manager Ron Roenicke to eventually reach Gorzelanny as an option to start games when the Brewers original starters and several other backup options began dropping to injury.

Even with a poor outing (4.2 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 2 HR) two starts ago against the Cincinnati Reds, his numbers this year have looked good overall. In fact, prior to his last start against the St. Louis Cardinals, radio personality Joe Block piled on some praise for the southpaw.

Furthermore, if Gorzelanny was able to replicate his success into the starting rotation, it would be great for Doug Melvin’s budget as he’s signed for 2014 at a reasonable rate for a reliever and a huge cost savings for a veteran starter.

With so much in the universe seemingly pushing Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke in this direction, one has to ask the still painfully obvious question: “Isn’t it time we ended this?”

Because here’s the thing about those numbers referenced by Block earlier… The majority of that 8th-best work came out of the bullpen. That’s because there’s a reason that Thomas Stephen Gorzelanny was converted to the bullpen full time in 2012 by the Washington Nationals. There’s a reason that they kept him there, effectively giving them innings and multiple scoreless outings. His only start of 2012 came on the final day of Washington’s regular season. And he only got that start because manager Davey Johnson was lining up his starting rotation for the postseason.

And for the record, how did Gorzelanny do in that start against the Cardinals?

3.2 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 2 HR…oof.

But it’s all fine and dandy to just tell you things and hope that you believe them. If you’d like some hard statistical facts to go along with my stance, then check out the following splits over the last two seasons combined and tell me where Gorzelanny best fits to help the Milwaukee Brewers win baseball games.

SP: 2-4, 10 G, 47.0 IP, 51 H, 27 R, 23 ER, 8 HR, 13 BB, 48 K, 1.36 WHIP, .271 BAA, 4.40 ERA
RP: 5-3, 76 G, 105.0 IP, 81 H, 36 R, 32 ER, 10 HR, 47 BB, 92 K, 1.22 WHIP, .215 BAA, 2.74 ERA

The real trouble lately for Gorzelanny though is what you might expect out of a guy who is flourishing in a long-/middle-relief role after failing as a starter. He gets hit quite hard as he attempts to get through an opposing lineup for the third time.

Here are his 2013 slash line splits (BAA/OBP/SLG/OPS) by time through a batting order as a starter:

1st Time: .274/.312/.384/.695
2nd Time: .209/.217/.373/.591
3rd: .394/.487/.727/1.214

There is more which we could get into including breakdowns of hitter handedness, leveraged situations, WPA, and more, but let’s just suffice it to say that none of those stats exactly support Gorzelanny remaining in the rotation either.

Gorzelanny is scheduled to start on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. He could do a great job. He could hold the upstart Bucs down for a quality start or more. But, based on the supporting statistics, it would be nothing more than a momentary divergence from the greatest likelihood with the next poor start just down the road a spell.

Does Tom Gorzelanny have a place on this team? Without question. It’s just that his place should be starting home games in the left-center field bullpen instead of on the mound.

Heeeee’s Baaaaaaack!


CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the Brewers have decided to call up Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez to the 25-man roster in advance of tonight’s game.

It was being widely reported that the team had until Thursday to decide but Heyman said that deadline was today in fact.

After pitching in consecutive games for the Triple-A affiliate Nashville Sounds, we shouldn’t expect Rodriguez to be available tonight necessarily but Ron Roenicke has stated in the past that Rodriguez can go even four days in a row if he has to. Even still, I have to believe a hitter heads down to begin with.

This move has not yet been announced by the team nor obviously would the corresponding roster move have been.

***UPDATE: Ron Roenicke told the media before pregame warm-up that Rodriguez is en route and if he makes it in time to be active, then they’ll announce the corresponding roster move.

Said Roenicke: “Frankie is on his way here, and we’ll wait to see if he can get here by game time. If he gets here, we’ll make a move. If not, we’ll do it tomorrow.”

As for his performance on the field since signing, Roenicke said, “I don’t know if he’s quite back to where he was last year, but he’s 90, 91 (on the fastball). Changeup’s been very good. We’ll see.”***

– Roenicke quotes courtesy Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel.

Stay tuned!

Brewers Have Spoken To Agents of Veteran Relief Pair

Standard disclaimer.

That is to say that most rumors passed along need to be taken with the caveat that very little that from a transactional standpoint that is discussed in baseball actually happens in baseball.

In other words, the exact thing that I’m about to tell you has happened, but that’s all that has happened to this point. It may or may not progress from this point, but that’s why we pay attention.

(Also, I usually do my best to get confirmation before I pass something along, but do only have this from one person right now. That person has proven extremely reliable, but still, it’s only the one and you deserve to know that up front.)

The Brewers have been in contact with the respective agents for two veteran relief pitchers. The contact was described as a “touch base”, kind of a way to see where they were at in case the Brewers decided to make a formal offer. That’s what I was told yesterday.

Today, I’m told that an offer will be presented to one of the two pitchers (if it hasn’t been already) but based on the circumstances it’s unlikely that the pitcher will accept the offer, at least not at the current dollar amount. That’s because the circumstances I mentioned  are that the same pitcher reportedly had a higher offer on the table from a different club and turned it down last week.

The pitcher who hasn’t received an offer (and I hope he doesn’t based on how his latest work in MLB went) is irrelevant today, in my opinion. He’s a former Brewer, but I’ll bring him back up if Milwaukee decides, for some reason, to make him an offer.

The other pitcher is also a former Brewers reliever, much more recently than his counterpart in fact. He was lights out for much of his first few months before succumbing to the same plague as the rest of the 2012 bullpen.

Yes, I’m talking about Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez.

Could Rodriguez come in like he did back in 2011 and provide a spark to the Milwaukee bullpen? Or would his lackluster performances from 2012 carryover into this year season? For what it’s worth, K-Rod looked pretty bad during the World Baseball Classic while pitching for his native Venezuela. That being said, there could be a number of innocuous reasons for those performances.

Will Rodriguez come back to Milwaukee though? It’s no secret that he relishes a chance to close games, something that the Brewers are currently relying on Jim Henderson for, but the other club that reportedly offered him more money had that role to offer as well. That doesn’t bode well for Doug Melvin and company, assuming the report I heard is 100% accurate. Then again, K-Rod surprised many people by accepting the Brewers’ offer of arbitration after the 2011 season as well.

Again, just something to keep in the back of your mind. He may sign, he may not. He may decline, he may not even officially respond. If he does decline, you can expect a denial from the Brewers who understandably wouldn’t want the guys in the current bullpen to worry unnecessarily.

Thanks for reading. If you didn’t pick up your grain of salt on the way in, the shaker is by the door. Help yourself.

Hot Stove Report: Non-Tender Deadline Looms

Midnight EST on Friday is the next milestone in the off-season as all teams must decide whether to tender contracts to players under team control but who do not have a fixed contract value for 2013. This can lead to arbitration, to long-term contract talks, to a simple one-year deal or possibly even to a trade. Player who aren’t tendered become free agents and can sign with any team.

Often times a player is non-tendered because his cost outweighs his value. Non-tendered players are free to re-sign with their original team. This occurs to reduce cost associated with a player’s years of arbitration eligibility.

The Brewers began the off-season with a handful of non-tender candidates. Nearly all of them have since been designated for assignment and subsequently released (or they refused a minor-league assignment with the same effect). The Brewers do have a relatively high-profile non-tender candidate remaining, however…

Manny Parra.

Eventually a well-regarded prospect after being taken in the 26th round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft back in 2001, Parra is now a 30-year-old southpaw relief pitcher who doesn’t exactly get left-handed hitters out like he should if he were to focus his efforts.

It can be accurately stated that over the course of his career Parra fares better against lefties than he does against right-handed hitters. This is reflected in his career splits of .267/.349/.417/.766 against .290/.371/.438/.809. It’s also accurate that in his first season where he only pitched out of the bullpen, Parra beat his career averages.

Therein lies the question which must be answered by Doug Melvin et al. Should Parra become a LOOGy and, if so, how much is he worth (financially) in that role?

Parra has had a bit of relative success against right-handed hitters when you compare him to a “standard” LOOGy. What you have to ask yourself if you’re Melvin is whether Parra is consistently successful enough to continue to warrant a role where he faces multiple hitters are varying handedness in a given appearance.

I personally don’t think so and I would completely understand if Melvin and field manager Ron Roenicke altered Parra’s role in 2013…assuming he’s with the team.

That’s the other question. If Parra, who is arbitration-eligible, isn’t worth the usual increase by way of the arbitration process. This is Parra’s second year of arbitration eligibility. Parra made $1.2 million in 2012* which isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things. With the premium on bullpen arms, especially given that it could be argued that Parra has added value in that some might feel he could still start games, a 2013 salary of $1.75 million or more wouldn’t shock me.

So Parra isn’t as pressing of an issue as Jose Veras, Kameron Loe, and Nyjer Morgan were, for example. Each of those players were projected for new salaries of over $2.5 million. In other words, if the Brewers decide to keep Manny Parra for 2013, it works financially on its own merit. Putting everything together though with production determining value for that cost is what Melvin and company are no doubt weighing.

The other thing to note about the non-tender deadline is that there will be players released by other teams, some of which might be appealing to the Brewers. It could be a cheaper way to fill some of these bullpen roles which currently stand open for Milwaukee. If they do cut ties with Parra (and then don’t bring him back) the Brewers really only have three players currently in the bullpen. They are John Axford, Jim Henderson, and Brandon Kintzler.

They’ll need help. They’d do well for at least one piece of the help to throw the pill with his left hand. Will that be Parra? Stay tuned.

*Source: Baseball-Reference.com

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