In some ways, this post is the hardest one to write. Projecting the bullpen requires thinking seriously about as many as a dozen different pitchers to try and come up with a semi-reasonable idea of what we can expect to see this year. Correspondingly, this is going to be a little long-winded. Sorry about that.

Of course, the one thing we can expect for certain is that the bullpen is going to be a lot better overall. The additions of Sean Marshall and Ryan Madson have put the Reds’ pen in the conversation for best in baseball.

Barring spring injuries, the bullpen is more or less set to start the year (though there’s always room for a dark horse) and will consist, almost certainly of Ryan Madson, Sean Marshall, Bill Bray, Nick Masset, Jose Arredondo, Sam LeCure, and Logan Ondrusek. Last year that group put together 6.0 WAR, albeit for three different teams.

Of course, WAR can only be so useful when we’re talking about relievers. I’ll give a projection at the end for the sake of consistency, but what will really be useful is simply to look at each player’s ERA from 2011 and determine whether that is likely to get better, stay the same, or get worse. Let’s start with the middle relief guys and work our way to the top.

Logan Ondrusek – Of the seven men who figure to start the season with the team, Ondrusek was probably the luckiest. His peripherals numbers simply don’t point to him being much of a pitcher. Few pitchers (no pitchers?) can survive by walking four batters per nine while only striking out six. If there’s one guy on the staff who could absolutely fall to pieces, this his him. Prediction: Worse

Sam LeCure – There was a perception that LeCure finally came into his own as a reliever last year, and the numbers bear that out. Unlike Ondrusek, LeCure’s 3.5 K/BB ratio can definitely play in the big leagues. He struggled at times last year, but overall, his numbers were right about where they should be. LeCure is a solid middle-reliever and can certainly be adequate in a more important role if the call comes. Prediction: Same

Jose Arredondo – Potential is Arredondo’s middle name. It’s easy to see how he could morph into a dominant, late-innings reliever. But if he’s going to do that, he has to get a handle on the walks. If there is someone who can challenge Ondrusek for luckiest pitcher last year, this is the guy. He does, however, have a higher ceiling. I’d expect to see at least some improvement in his peripherals this year, but I doubt it will be enough to drive last year’s lucky ERA down further. Prediction: A little worse

Bill Bray – We’ve seen enough of Bray now to know that he can throw a baseball. I could write a long paragraph about him, but really all I have to say is that he was a little lucky last year, so expect the ERA to go up a bit, but not too much. He’s still good. Prediction: A little worse.

Nick Masset – Now we’re getting to the front line relievers. Or, with Masset, at least front line-ish. Masset made some enemies among fans last year with his diminished performance. And indeed, there is cause to be concerned when we look at his Ks and BBs. However, looking at the Pitchfx data (by the way, if you haven’t checked out the awesome collaboration between The Hardball Times and Brooks Baseball, you should. They’ve classified every pitch manually. It’s awesome.), I can’t see any cause for the decline. His curveball seems to be moving more, but it also seems to be more effective, so who knows, really. As a result, I’m guessing he’s right in the middle of where he’s been the last few years. Prediction: Better

Sean Marshall – First let’s establish that seeing as he has been the best reliever in baseball over the last two years, Marshall is going to be a big improvement for the Reds. The question then is how likely is he to duplicate last year’s performance. The surprising answer is fairly likely. Marshall has been a fantastic pitcher for two years now, and there’s nothing in the numbers to make one think that’s going to change. The ERA will probably go up a bit, but not in a meaningful way. Prediction: Same

Ryan Madson – What I can say about him is much the same as what I said about Marshall. Last year’s save total means that there is a perception that his value is higher than Marshall’s, though Marshall is most likely the better pitcher. Of course, there are worse things than having these two for the eighth and ninth, regardless of the order. Madson has been great and there’s no reason to expect that to change. Prediction: Same

The Rest – The Reds are going to need more than seven relievers this year. Everyone does. There is good depth here though, and as long as the major players stay healthy, there shouldn’t be an alarming drop off if they have to go with some of the guys in the minors for a while.

Predicting a bullpen is a dangerous game. Relievers pitch so few innings that luck can play a hug role, even across an entire staff. Last year, the Reds’ 3.52 bullpen ERA was much lower than their peripherals suggested it should be. They might end up right in that neighborhood again, but they might also be a fair bit better. In any case, it will be easier to breath in the late innings this year and that is certainly something. In any case, only Ondrusek and maybe Arrendondo figure to severely regress and with the two new additions, this does figure to be a truly elite bullpen.

2011 Bullpen WAR: 1.2

2012 Best Guess: 5.5

Projected Difference: +4.3

Redleg Nation Position-by-Position Season Preview:

First Base
Second Base
Right Field
Center Field
Starting Pitching – Front End of the Rotation
Starting Pitching – Middle of the Rotation
Third Base
Starting Pitching – Back End of the Rotation
Left Field
Season Preview Wrap-Up