NL West Debate: Who Boasts the Better Bullpen—the Giants or Rockies?

Anthony MastersonCorrespondent IMarch 6, 2009

The MLB Community Leaders here on our beloved Bleacher Report were commissioned (ha! if only) to write pieces sparking debate between writers of rival clubs as we look ahead to the 2009 season.

My rival writer, the Jet to my Shark if you will, was a phenomenal writer named Andrew Nuschler (though I hear that's not his actual name) who wrote a fantastic piece on why he believes the Giants have the edge over the Rockies in the bullpen department.

His article really was great and I completely agree with it...except for all the parts where he showed that he's imbibed a few too many orange Jell-o shots (everyone knows that purple is a way better flavor than orange anyway.)

In his piece, he dissected, not the entire bullpen, but the pitchers shutting the door in the final three innings.  His matchups went thusly:

The Giants' Bobby Howry vs. the Rockies' Taylor Buchholz

8th inning setup men Jeremy Affeldt vs. Manny Corpas

Closers Brian Wilson vs. Huston Street

So here I go to try and tackle the matchups myself and get a Mile-High viewpoint on the whole situation.


Bobby Howry vs. Taylor Buchholz

Right away, this contest is a bit, well, contested with the news breaking yesterday that Buchholz will be out 4-6 weeks with a slight tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow.

I'll give Howry the benefit of the doubt by pairing him not with Buchholz, who is coming off a career year in 2008 (2.17 ERA, 56/18 K/BB ratio, only five home runs surrendered all year playing in one of the best hitting parks in Major League history) to make it a fair fight.

Instead I'll pair Howry with the man who will more than likely step up to replace Bucky for the beginning of the season, Jason Grilli. 

Howry has enjoyed a solid, steady 11-year career where he has certainly been more successful than not.  Last year, however, may be an indication of a downward trend in many statistical categories for the 35-year-old right-hander.

A 5.35 ERA with the Cubs was a career high (barring the 12.46 ERA he carried in Boston in 2003 when he only pitched 4.1 innings the entire season) and he also allowed thirteen home runs, another career high. 

You could say that moving to the more spacious AT&T Park (or whatever they're calling it nowadays) would behoove him, but when you look at the MLB Park Factor stat here, it shows that AT&T Park and Wrigley Field placed 11th and 8th respectively in terms of their tendency to favor hitters.

Not enough of a difference to assume that Howry's 2008 troubles will be put to bed.

With his 2008 decline in his hip pocket, I find it hard to believe Howry has the ability to bounce back to the form he's showed in past years.

Jason Grilli, on the other hand, enjoyed a career year pitching the late innings in Colorado in 2008, compiling a 2.93 ERA while only allowing one home run in his 61.1 innings after coming over in a trade from Detroit.

At 32, he still has a few years left in the tank for his mid-90s fastball and knee-buckling slider to wreak havoc on hitters as his 59 strikeouts in his time with the Rockies will surely attest to.

EDGE:  Grilli


Jeremy Affeldt vs. Manny Corpas

This is a tough one for me because I was very upset when the Rockies let Jeremy Affeldt walk after his brilliant 2007 donning the purple pinstripes (3.51 ERA while only allowing three home runs in 75 appearances.)

He's got a yellow snapdragon curveball (as our pal George Frazier likes to call it) not unlike the bender that Taylor Buchholz possesses.

He's got a mid 90s fastball coming from the left side and he's definitely more than just a left-on-left guy.

Therein lies the rub against Affeldt, however as even in his phenomenal year with the Reds in 2008, opponents still hit a comfortable .323 against him. 

His strikeouts increased considerably from 46 to 80, but so did his home runs allowed from three to nine.

Manny Corpas did not bask in the glory of his incredible 2007 campaign where he usurped the closer's role from Brian Fuentes en route to a sterling 2.08 ERA and trip to the World Series.

Or, perhaps, he did a bit too much basking.

Out of shape and lacking focus, he lost the closer's job in April and never regained the killer instinct that made him one of the league's most devastating pitchers two seasons ago.

His 4.52 ERA could have been much worse as his fastball flattened out and his arm slot made his once knee-buckling slider into a hanging breaking ball.

Corpas has turned a corner this spring in his quest to reclaim his post as closer as his five innings of hitless baseball between the Rockies and the Panamanian World Baseball Classic team can attest, but his ability to bounce back will be a mystery until Opening Day rolls around and his role has been defined by Skip Hurdle.

EDGE:  Affeldt


Brian Wilson vs. Huston Street

This is, of course assuming Huston Street is named the Rockies' closer come Opening Day as the battle is being fiercely waged between Streeter and Corpas. 

My colleague, Andrew Nuschler, wrote in his article that this matchup is no contest, believing Wilson out-classes Street in every statistical category and the thought of comparing the two was comical, nay, absurd at best.

Well, I've got news for you Nuschy, this contest is closer than you might think.

Street's down year has been well-publicized and talk of his demise began to spring up last year when his velocity dipped to the high 80s, well below his normal low-to-mid 90s range.

While fielding a ground ball in June of last season, Street's foot slipped out from under him, straining his left hip flexor.  Weaker men would have succumbed to the pain, but not Streeter.  He continued to pitch through the injury and his success on the hill began to falter.

Call him foolish, call him headstrong, but just don't call him washed up. 

Once he made time for rest during the course of the season, his hip improved and so did his results. 

In his last 17 appearances of 2008 spanning 19.2 innings, Street only allowed three runs while striking out 20 compared to five walks.  And don't look now, but his fastball topped out around 95 mph. 

I see no reason why we should expect nothing less than the pitcher who has saved 94 games in his first four seasons.

Onto Brian Wilson.

First of all, nice name.  What, was Jim Morrison taken?

Second of all, Wilson led the National League in saves last year with 41, but with sabermetrics starting to seep their way into the minds of statisticians everywhere and VORP and OPS are seen as more important than AVG and runs scored, saves are becoming less and less magical than they once were.

A sabermetrician's viewpoint questions why holding the lead in the 9th inning is seen as more important than holding the same lead in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings? 

That being said, what I see when I look at Brian Wilson's 2008 stats are an unsightly 4.62 ERA and right-handed opponents hitting a whopping .381 off the right-hander.

This isn't disregarding the 41 saves he put up nor the 67 strikeouts in 62.1 innings, but an inability to retire right-handed hitters and a propensity to allow more than the occasional run will catch up to the flame-thrower in 2009.

However, since Street is a new acquisition and I have yet to see him perform in a Rockies uniform, I cannot make any bold predictions on how his time in Colorado will play out. 




To be honest, there are plenty of question marks with both teams, but at the end of the day, I'd rather have the Giants starting rotation, but the Rockies bullpen on my pitching staff. 

We're definitely going to miss Holliday though...


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