A team already off to a good start in the relief department has been the Arizona Diamondbacks. After posting the 6th-worst relief ERA in the Divisional Era (since 1969) according to Elias, the Diamondbacks bullpen has turned it around early in 2011. Arizona relief pitchers lead baseball with a 10.38 strikeout per 9 innings ratio and have a combined ERA of 2.77. In three of five games they have not allowed an earned run.
Newcomer and closer J.J. Putz has not allowed a baserunner in his two appearances, and according to Inside Edge, is throwing his first pitch for a strike 83 percent of the time. There are areas of concern however. Relievers are allowing a .288 batting average, with a WHIP of 1.62.
The Boston Red Sox terrible start to the season has been well documented to this point, and the bullpen should bare a huge portion of the blame. Through the first week of play, Red Sox relievers have posted the highest ERA in baseball (8.04) and have allowed only two fewer runs than they’ve scored as an offense.
Much of the problem stems from Boston’s newcomers, Dennys Reyes and Dan Wheeler. Granted, it’s still very early, but the two have been less than effective thus far. Reyes’ primary pitch is the fastball, but he’s only converting it into a strike 33 percent of the time this season according to Inside Edge, down from 57 percent in 2010. Reyes has since been designated for assignment.
Meanwhile Dan Wheeler had been one of the best middle relievers in baseball for the Tampa Bay Rays over the last three seasons. His .195 opponent batting average was tied for 3rd among relievers with 20 or fewer saves and at least 150 innings pitched according to Baseball Reference. But this year, Wheeler has already allowed two home runs in his first three outings, both off of his fastball. Last year, Wheeler gave up seven home runs all season. That is a concern, as Fangraphs tells us that his ground ball-fly ball ratio has been under 1.00 in every season since 2005. As a pitcher that relies on fly-ball outs, Wheeler may struggle in a park like Fenway, which had an ESPN Park Factor of 1.083 last year (a rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter), 7th-highest in baseball.
ClippardThe underrated bullpen performer of this past week is arguably Tyler Clippard of the Washington Nationals. After a rough start to his career with the New York Yankees, Clippard has found a home in Washington. This past week he didn't get credited with a run allowed in six innings of relief. In each of his four appearances, Clippard entered the game with runners in scoring position. Twice he allowed a runner to score but both were via outs. So far only two of the 11 batters to face him with runners in scoring position have reached base and both were via a walk.