Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Kevin Towers has been referred to as a genius by many in the industry over the years. The one thing that Towers has been specifically known for is cultivating a bullpen to shorten games on the back end. This off-season, Towers acquired former National League All-Star closer Heath Bell from the Miami Marlins to add to an already stellar bullpen, featuring veteran closer J.J. Putz and devastating set-up man David Hernandez. One of the issues that Towers had to consider was Bell’s salary, and although the Marlins will pay $8 million of the $27 million that Bell is owed over the next three seasons, it represents a large financial commitment to an already strong D’Backs bullpen . Is Towers foolish for spending so much money on his bullpen or is this just part of a master plan that the Snakes GM is putting into place to return Arizona to the top of the N.L. West division?
In an ever-changing game, where a phenom like Stephen Strasburg, can be shut down after hitting an pre-set innings limit near the end of the 2012 season, bullpens have become vitally important. If you look at the Nationals and Strasburg, they definitely could have used his services in the post-season. But to avoid injury, the average starting pitcher’s work load today is increasingly becoming lighter. With significant investments in young pitching, more and more teams are handling pitching with white gloves. Gone are the days of double-digit complete games and 250+ innings pitched per season. Many teams are content with starters offering 6 quality innings and handing the ball over to their bullpens. Agree or disagree, pitch counts and innings limits are here to stay.
Shortened games may be something Diamondbacks fans are familiar with. In their N.L. West winning season of 2007, the Arizona bullpen featured a dominating duo of Brandon Lyon and Jose Valverde who helped lead the team to a N.L.C.S. appearance where they were swept by Colorado in four games. A successful regular season featured the duo, which typically began work in the eighth inning of games in which the D’Backs led with Lyon in the set-up role and then finished by handing the lead to “Papa Grande” for the ninth. Valverde led the N.L. that season with 47 saves. The duo did seem to shorten games at times, allowing the team to maintain and lock down leads which led to a 90 win season.
Exiting the 2012 season, Arizona was able to pencil in their bullpen as a strength of their team heading into the 2013 season. Putz, who had a team option picked up this off-season, will remain the closer. The D’Backs have a nice insurance policy for the veteran Putz with Hernandez, who not only has been the eighth inning set-up guy, but has been able to close games for Arizona as well when called upon. Double play specialist Brad Ziegler has been masterful in generating inning saving ground balls to get the team out of tough jams. Adding to the already solid bullpen did not seem to be high on the team’s off-season priority list. When news broke of a deal that brought Heath Bell to the team weeks ago, it came as a pleasant surprise to Arizona fans. As recent as 2008, Bell helped a San Diego bullpen set-up games for then closer Trevor Hoffman, before becoming a closer and saving 151 games from 2009 through 2012. It appears that the team will look to insert Bell into a seventh or eighth inning role, one in which he performed well in San Diego, but not nearly as well in Miami.
What Towers could have in the making here could be genius. If Bell can rebound from a disappointing 2012, and the returning members of the bullpen hold form, Arizona could again have the dynamic of being able to shorten games with a Bell and/or Hernandez set-up to Putz. If this is in fact what Towers is up to, the 2013 Arizona Diamondbacks could be taking an interesting approach in their attempt to return to the top of the NL West.