There are two bullpen battles on the postseason roster. We covered the battle for long-relief a few days ago. Now it’s time to talk about who the last man in should be. Chad Dotson bravely tackles the case for Logan Ondrusek. Chris Garber argues that it should be J.J. Hoover, and I explain why it should be whoever loses the long-relief competition.
I think it’s safe to say that the general editorial position of Redleg Nation is that Logan Ondrusek probably has no business being on the postseason roster. His walk rate is the highest of anyone on the team who has pitched a substantial number of innings (other than Arredondo; their walk rates are roughly the same), and he compounds the problem by an inability to strike anyone out. (Ondrusek’s K rate is lower than any other reliever in the conversation). Plus, he gives up more homers than the other relief pitchers.
Let it never be said that I run from a challenge. It’s my responsibility to make the case for Ondrusek (and if you want to see a real challenge, wait until tomorrow, when I argue in favor of Wilson Valdez). Here goes…
To begin, let’s acknowledge that Ondrusek towers over the competition. Literally; the guy is 6’8″. That counts for something, right? Plus, I had the opportunity to meet him once, and he’s a really nice guy. Very grateful for the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues.
Ondrusek has been a reliably consistent member of the Reds bullpen for three years now. His 2012 ERA of 3.31 is in the same neighborhood as his rookie ERA of 3.68 or last year’s mark of 3.23. Ondrusek’s ERA+ this year is 128, which is not bad. (Yes, I know ERA and ERA+ are not great ways to judge relievers. Do I get points for the effort?)
The best argument for why Ondrusek will be on the roster is that Dusty Baker has shown signs of great trust in the big guy (although that may have waned lately). Ondrusek has pitched in some tight spots for the Reds, late in games, and he pitched in two of the three playoff games for Cincinnati back in 2010. Dusty hasn’t hesitated to give him the ball. He might want Ondrusek on the roster.
Okay, I give up. Yes, that’s the best I can do.
J.J. Hoover should absolutely be on the post-season roster. His strikeout rate (9.76 per 9 IP) is better than anyone but Chapman and Marshall. His walk rate is comparatively a little weaker, but still better than Ondrusek and Arredondo. In fact, all of his numbers rank him in the second tier of Reds relievers – just behind the two great lefties.
More than just performance, Hoover is currently filling a key role in the Reds bullpen. Since he returned from AAA in late August, Hoover has pitched in 8 games. In seven of them, he’s entered in the 8th, 9th, or extra innings. And in 3 of his last 4 outings, Hoover entered either in a tie game or to protect a 1-run lead. Leaving him off the post-season roster would mean slotting a new guy into Hoover’s current role. I don’t think that’s going to happen – and it certainly shouldn’t.
The Last Long Man
I don’t know who this will be. Really. I see reasons to keep Sam LeCure, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon. It will be very interesting to see who loses that battle. But then, I don’t really think anyone should lose that battle. All three of those pitchers are better than Ondrusek or Hoover. I’m not even going to pretend that Ondrusek has a case. He doesn’t; if he makes the roster, it’s through misguided loyalty.
No, it’s Hoover who should be the last man cut. He’s had a good season, but right now, we’re talking about 27 2/3 major league innings. His ERA is good, but the advanced metrics don’t believe it. It’s on thing to disregard the advanced metrics with someone like Arroyo or Cueto who have beat them for several years. It’s another thing to do it based off 27 innings.
LeCure and Simon have both pitched twice the innings Hoover has. They have good ERAs and good peripherals. Both can also easily go multiple innings. Hoover simply doesn’t compare with them.
Leake’s numbers aren’t as pretty, but as I mentioned several days ago, if you can start in the majors, you can almost certainly relieve in the majors. The biggest issue here is the role change, but right now, we’re talking about the last man in the bullpen. I can’t believe the role change matters all that much. Also, Leake strikes me as some who, like Arroyo early in his career, wouldn’t be bothered by shifting roles as needed. And then there is the added value Leake brings as a potential emergency starter. Pitchers are so fragile, it’s hard for me to imagine the Reds carrying only four verifiable starters on the playoff roster.
Certainly, I take my hat off to J.J. Hoover. This was a great debut campaign, and I look forward to seeing him in the bullpen next year. I just don’t want to see him there in the playoffs.
Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of this series when we look at the scrum for bench spots.
Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at jasonlinden.com.