Bullpen Predictions for 2012

Well we did it. 100 losses with 11 games to go. The Astros will probably figure to lose about 7 more with a complete record of 55-107. So what do the Astros win? We'll probably win the 1st round draft pick next year unless the Astros win all of the next 11 games and some team like the Twins loses all of the final games of the season. But that is not likely, so celebrate with a dinner at Olive Garden, clank some glasses of fancy wine, because woo hoo dog-gone it, we won the 1st round pick in next years draft. Ain't that just great?

But in all seriousness, the team this year has just done terrible as a whole. There were a few bright spots on the team, but for all we know those bright spots could be just specks of white mold in a sea of black mold next year. But what can we reasonably expect from the Astros next year? 


The Bullpen

Starting off the 2011 season, the Astros chose 7 arms to man the bullpen. Brandon Lyon was named automatic closer, Wilton Lopez was given the set up position, Jeff Fulchino was untouchable, Aneury Rodriguez was the rule-5 pick, and Fernando Abad was the LOOGY. There were two other players who received spots in the bullpen based on their good spring trainings: Mark Melancon and Enerio Del Rosario

But ever since the first game of the season when Brandon Lyon blew the save against the Phillies, the original players in the bullpen to start the year off have been downright terrible with the exception of Mark Melancon and Wilton Lopez. Brandon Lyon was practically handed the closer's job even with a dismal spring training, Jeff Fulchino was still terrible, Aneury Rodriguez has had glimpses of success, but has been too inconsistent, Fernando Abad was a disaster, and Enerio del Rosario was just unspectacular. 

But as we wade through the blown saves and poor performances, we come upon some players who have done pretty well this year. Fernando Rodriguez is one, Mark Melancon another, Sergio Escalona has made his mark as a good lefty reliever, and Juan Abreu, Wesley Wright, and Lucas Harrell all have had success in short stints in the majors.

What does the bullpen next year figure to be starting off? My prediction:

CL: Mark Melancon
SU: Fernando Rodriguez
SU: Wilton Lopez
MR: Sergio Escalona
MR: Juan Abreu
MR: Xavier Cedeno
LR: Brandon Lyon

With Mark Melancon doing pretty well at the closer's role this year, I see him the automatic choice to become closer starting the year off next year. Wilton Lopez will again figure to be in a setup role to start the year off and Sergio Escalona will most likely be the main left hander in the pen with Xavier Cedeno or Wesley Wright for the 2nd spot. Cedeno in my opinion has much better stuff than Wesley and may end up being a valuable bullpen asset next year, possibly used in a set-up role as well.

Juan Abreu is a guy who I am very curious as to see what he could morph into. In his last outing he pumped 98mph fastballs, he threw a 90mph change-up, and threw several 82 mph curves which completely over matched the hitters he was facing. Overall this year at Triple-A, he has 77 strikeouts in 57.2 innings, a phenomenal amount, and has only given up 42 hits as well, only 15 of them being extra-base hits. If he keeps striking out hitters at that rate, he could become a shut-down closer sometime next year. However, two red flags pop up. In the past two seasons he's had a ground ball rate near 25 percent. I'm not sure if this is an issue for a pitcher like him, but if batters start getting a lot more balls in play against him, it definitely will. And he also has control and command issues as well which might be responsible for the low ground ball rates. Abreu certainly has the stuff to become a shut-down closer, but we will just have to wait and see if the other aspects of his game can come together in order for that to happen.

Next year will be an interesting year with Brandon Lyon back off the DL. He has had a history of bad spring trainings in the past and since he is coming off season ending surgery, my guess is that the Astros will put him in a long-relief role first and then try to work him back up to strength. If he does turn out to be a pretty good reliever, that will be a step up from what Aneury Rodriguez has done. If he turns out terrible, I see the Astros releasing him and replacing his spot in the bullpen with Lucas Harrell. Harrell is a groundball machine and would be a step up from what Del Rosario has done this year as well.

Injury Replacements

Should an injury occur, somebody will be called up to take a spot in the bullpen.

The most likely candidate would probably be David Carpenter. The Astros seem to like him, and while he is pretty much a 2-pitch pitcher, his fastball does have sink, and his slider can be effective at times. 

Other likely candidates include Lucas Harrell, Aneury Rodriguez, and Wesley Wright. Others could be called up, but these are the most likely candidates.

Wild Card

There are a few pitchers who haven't really been considered as possible call ups. For one, the Astros could select a pitcher in the rule-5 draft who could be relegated to the bullpen, but so could future waiver wire pickups as well. Some names internally that come to my mind are Jorge De Leon, Jason Chowning, Mickey Storey, and Sammy Gervacio. De Leon had a good year this year and could take a David Carpenter path to the majors, but still needs to work on things. Chowing also had a good year with several good strikeout games. Storey and Gervacio both did well at Triple-A.

Overall, it looks like the bullpen next year will be a whole lot better than it was the start of this year, with perhaps several surprises along the way (hopefully good surprises).

Up next: Rotation Predictions for 2012

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