It’s time to break down ZIPS projections for the Pirates bullpen. I already wrote about Ryan Vogelsong in the starting rotation post here. And DiNardo broke down the hitters’ projections in this post. It’s time to finish off the North Shore Nine’s three-post season projections preview with the bullpen.
Mark Melancon: 2.51 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 68 IP, 8.47 K/9, 1.59 BB/9, 1.2 WAR
Melancon has been a model of consistency since coming to the Bucs in 2013 that includes closing out 100 games in three seasons and made at least 71 appearances each season. But the right-handed closer is 31 years old and has shown regression over the last year with the team. His ERA has gone from 1.39 to 1.90 to 2.23 last season while his FIP has seen a rise from 1.64 to 2.09 to 2.82. Now while last year’s numbers (his worst since joining the team) were still fantastic, the projections predictably figures more regression with a 2.51 ERA. It’s still overall numbers I would take from my closer though, and Melancon couldn’t have pitched any better in his 7.0 scoreless innings in Bradenton. The Pirates listened to offers this offseason on Melancon with him set to make nearly $10M in 2016, but when the dust settled they decided to continue “dancing with Melancon” for another season and hopefully it pays off with another strong season for the shark.
Tony Watson: 2.70 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 70 IP, 8.10 K/9, 1.93 BB/9, 0.9WAR
Speaking of consistency, Watson is the lesser known bullpen arm (at least nationally) but he’s been just as effective if not more than Melancon. Serving as the setup man the past couple seasons, Watson has improved his numbers every season with the Bucs…until last year but still was pretty damn good with a 1.91 ERA in 75 innings. His K/9 dropped two a game, but he’s projected for a little higher this season in 8.10 K/9. I don’t like the overall projection here of a 2.70 ERA. That’s basically an earned run higher than last season. They’re projecting that he regresses more toward his career numbers and his FIP, which was 2.84 in 2015. Like Melancon, Watson turns 31 in May and quickly getting on the other side of 30 when pitchers tend to fall off. I think Watson’s ERA will be over 2, but I’m predicting somewhere in between 2.20-2.50 and not as high as ZIPS projections.
Neftali Feliz: 3.73 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 52 IP, 7.64 K/9, 3.02 BB/9, 0.3 WAR
Can the Pirates and Ray Searage work their magic once again on another reclamation project? Feliz is probably one of the more intriguing signings this offseason, at least to me. The former AL Rookie of the Year is just two seasons removed from posting a 1.99 ERA. His hits per nine last year spiked dramatically with the Rangers and Tigers as he put together a disastrous season between the two teams. Now he heads to the NL for the first time as Uncle Ray gets a hold of him to hopefully find that live fastball he came with. The numbers this spring were encouraging—three runs in 8.2 innings, 1.04 WHIP, six strikeouts, three walks and a .200 BAA. His projections numbers are a safe choice, they’re definitely a lot better than last year’s totals which ZIPS recognizes coming to the Bucs for another reclamation project. I would take those numbers above, but I think he’ll be even better and surprise some folks around the NL.
Arquimedes Caminero: 3.44 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 74 IP, 8.71 K/9, 3.31 BB/9, 0.2 WAR
Speaking of reclamation projects, Caminero is a perfect example of the success the Pirates have had with cast-off arms that didn’t cut it elsewhere. Caminero was a busted prospect coming from the Marlins when he posted a 3.62 ERA in 74 innings in as a key component in the Bucs pen in 2015. ZIPS actually has him projected to be even slightly better. His spring certainly did not show that with 10 earned runs in as many innings, but I’m not ready to write him off because of 10 innings in Bradenton.
Jared Hughes: 3.59 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 64 IP, 5.46 K/9, 2.87 BB/9, 0.0 WAR
Hughes is another one of the Pirates key arms from their pen in the past couple years that also is 30 years old heading into 2016. He’s become the fireman coming out of the pen to jump into a sticky situation and squash rallies to hold leads. We already know that he’ll begin the season on the DL with a left lat strain after getting blasted early in spring. The injury shouldn’t sideline Hughes for hopefully more than a couple of weeks, but you can see the projections above, not great and definitely a drop off from last year’s 2.28 ERA. Hughes relies on the ground ball and the defense though so I think once healthy, there’s still hope that he can be effective in his similar role once again.
Cory Luebke: 4.15 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 18 IP, 7.27 K/9, 3.12 BB/9, 0.1 WAR
As far as the Pirates success with reclamation projects go, Luebke has a chance to be the best story if he produces and his talent shines through. There’s no question that Luebke is talented, but injuries have derailed his career to this point and hasn’t thrown a pitch in the Majors since 2012. He is truly getting a second chance with the Bucs even after shaky numbers this spring. He had scouts talking about his velocity and his strikeout to walk ratio (5-1) was intriguing in Bradenton. I honestly don’t know what to expect from Luebke and as you can see from the projections neither does ZIPS. I think if he shows any form of success in the pen, he’ll work a significant amount more than 18 innings. Then again, his health has always been the question so we’ll see. If the Pirates make this work and Luebke lights it up, I never want to hear anything from the yinzers again about the Bucs pitching acquisitions.
Kyle Lobstein: 4.43 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 130 IP, 6.02 K/9, 2.91 BB/9, 1.2 WAR
The Lobsterman pitched well this spring and clearly impressed the coaches and FO in earning a roster spot in the bullpen. His numbers with the Tigers were atrocious (5.94 ERA), but he has another chance in the form of a long relief spot at least to start the season. He’ll most likely head to Triple-A once Hughes comes off the DL. ZIPS projections are based off him being a starter for the majority of the season, so forget about those 130 innings. Lobstein is a stand in for now, but it’s hard to argue him making the team after his performance this spring—13 IP, 4 ER, 0.92 WHIP, .196 BAA.