Much relief: Bullpen has had big role in D-backs’ early success

May 23, 2017, 12:02 PM | Updated: 1:48 pm
(AP Photos)...
(AP Photos)
(AP Photos)

The D-backs may have entered the year with a huge question mark of a bullpen, but through 46 games, the relievers have mostly provided answers.

Entering Tuesday, Arizona’s relief corps is comprised of right-handers Archie Bradley, Randall Delgado, J.J. Hoover, Fernando Rodney and Tom Wilhelmsen, as well as southpaws Andrew Chafin, Jorge De La Rosa and T.J. McFarland (Delgado will, however, start in place of the injured Taijuan Walker on Wednesday).

That D-backs bullpen has put up a 3.73 ERA this year, the ninth-best in Major League Baseball.

But part of that solid ERA comes from stranding opposing baserunners. D-backs pitchers have allowed just nine of their 52 inherited runners to score this year. That’s a rate of just 17 percent, which is tops in all of baseball by a healthy margin.

Futhermore, even though manager Torey Lovullo has had to field questions on whether Fernando Rodney (2 BS, 8.04 ERA) will remain closer, the D-backs have nonetheless converted on 85 percent of their save opportunities (11-for-13), which is the third-best in baseball behind only the Indians (100%, 13-for-13) and Rockies (88%, 21-for-24).

And it’s not as though the D-backs shelled out big money or made blockbuster trades this year to put together a marquee bullpen. Instead, Arizona has benefited from pitchers who may have been fairly anonymous to D-backs fans previously, or even pitchers who hadn’t been relievers at all:

–Hoover (3.00 ERA, 1.467 WHIP) had a 13.50 ERA in 18 appearances last year with the Reds and a career 4.12 ERA overall. He spent time in Triple-A in 2016 and signed a minor-league contract with Arizona in January.

–Two pitchers — Bradley and De La Rosa — were almost exclusively starting pitchers prior to this season. De La Rosa (2.35 ERA, 1.109 WHIP) had 65 relief appearances under his belt in his 13-year career prior to this season, but he had only pitched three times in relief since 2009. Bradley (1.35 ERA, 0.850 WHIP), meanwhile, had never appeared in relief in the majors.

–Rodney (8.04 ERA, 1.660 WHIP) signed in the offseason as a free agent, entering his age-40 season and coming off a year in which he posted a 6.16 ERA after the All-Star break.

–Wilhelmsen (4.19 ERA, 1.190 WHIP) finished last season with a 6.80 ERA after stints with the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers. Before reviving his career to make his major league debut in 2011, the Tucson native had previously served as a bartender.

Call it good luck, or call it good talent evaluation by GM Mike Hazen and the rest of the Diamondbacks’ staff. Either way, the relief arms in Arizona are a part of the formula that has the team sitting eight games over .500.

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Much relief: Bullpen has had big role in D-backs’ early success