Reds bullpen bounce back in works for 2015

Manny Parra pitches in the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.  

Gary A. Vasquez/Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — In a perfect baseball pitching coach’s world it wouldn’t matter which arm a pitcher threw with, his guy is going to be able to get an opposing batter out equally effective.

"It’s not always a perfect world," said Reds pitching coach Jeff Pico. "You’ve got to do the best with what you have."

The Reds bullpen in 2015 will have a different look than the one that finished up 2014. Aroldis Chapman will still be closing but after a season in which the rest of the relievers were a cause for consternation more than they were an effective bridge to Chapman the Reds are using this spring as an opportunity at redemption.

Reds relievers as a group were 14th in the National League with a 4.11 ERA despite pitching the fewest innings of any bullpen in the NL and having Chapman turn in one of the most dominating seasons any relief pitcher has ever had. When it comes to the makeup of this year’s bullpen, manager Bryan Price isn’t looking for a certain quota of left-handers or right-handers. He’s got one top priority:

"What I’ve always liked is pitchers that get everybody out," said Price. "I use that term kind of loosely, tongue-in-cheek, but where there’s not a huge disparity between batting average and slugging percentage against left-handed or right-handed hitter. And we’ve had that here before."

They have. The overall numbers of the bullpen in the last three seasons back Price up. In 2012, Reds relievers appeared in 425 games, pitching 434 1/3 innings with an ERA of 2.65 and a group Wins Above Replacement (WAR) rating of 6.2. Think what you will about the win-loss stat and how much weight it actually holds for a pitcher but the bullpen in 2012 was a combined 31-22. Overall, it was doing its job in helping the Reds win the NL Central division title.

Last season’s bullpen went 11-31 in 428 games, 422 1/3 innings pitched with its plus-4.00 ERA and a WAR of 1.1.

It doesn’t take a sabermetric genius to tell you the bullpen didn’t get the job done last year.

"The inconsistencies at times of our bullpen has opened up some opportunities for people to come people to come in and challenge for bullpen spots," said Price.

The Reds signed Burke Badenhop in the offseason while signing veterans Kevin Gregg, Paul Maholm and Jose Mijares to non-roster minor league deals to see if they can earn a spot on the staff. Maholm, a left-hander, began camp as a starting candidate but was told during the past week that, like fellow lefty Tony Cingrani, he would be competing for a bullpen spot. Manny Parra is also a left-handed option. Parra is coming off an injury plagued season but has been effective so far this spring.

Right-handers Jumbo Diaz, J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure and Pedro Villareal are still on the camp roster and battling for spots.

"We all want to get both sides out," said Parra. "The idea behind that is you’re not taxing your bullpen by having to bring in three guys in an inning. I would love to go out there, and the beginning of last year I did pretty well against righties and then as it went I started having a tough time and I saw fewer and fewer righties. It’s just kind of the way it progresses but we all want to be out there for a full inning. We don’t want to tax the bullpen."

Parra’s strength is against other left-handed batters. In 2013 he had 84 at-bats against right-handed and left-handed batters. The right-handers hit .310 against him with a .370 on-base percentage and .534 slugging percentage, although most of that damage was done in the first month of the season when batters hit .441 against him with a .486 OBP and .765 slugging percentage. Parra allowed just a .167 batting average, .237 OBP and .238 slugging percentage against left-handers.

Parra’s numbers across the board went up last season. It was a similar story for Hoover and LeCure, who had down seasons. Hoover’s was particularly rough as he went 1-10 with 4.88 ERA and gave up 13 home runs in just 62 2/3 innings. LeCure is a rarity in that he’s been more effective against lefties in his career than right-handed batters. Left-handers hit just .208 in 112 at-bats against him in 2012 with a slugging percentage of .313 and .167 in 96 at-bats with a slugging percentage of .208 against him in 2013, compared to right-handers slugging .339 and .411 against him those seasons.

Last season LeCure face left-handers for 93 at-bats. While they hit just .215 against him, they were on-base against him at a .324 clip and had a slugging percentage of .376. Right-handers had a .333 batting average, .384 OBP and .468 slugging percentage against LeCure last season.

Price has preached confidence that his relievers can all bounce back. Regardless of what the staff looks like at the end of camp, Price has one objective in putting it together:

"What I want are our seven best relievers in our bullpen that we’re confident can come into a game regardless of lineup and can pitch successfully."