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2007 Baseball Season Preview: The Bullpen

As the 2007 baseball season heats up Rock Chalk Talk will preview the 2007 KU baseball team position-by-position.  Today the bullpen.

Departed Talent Career stats
Don Czyz: 128 games, 13-9 record, 31 Saves, 211.1 Innings, 216 Hits, 78/200 BB/K, 3.36 ERA.
Ryan Anthony: 11 games, 1-0 record, 11 innings, 18 hits, 4/8 BB/K, 6.55 ERA
Trey Randa: 7 games, 0-0 record, 5.1 Innings, 8 hits, 2/1 BB/K, 10.19 ERA.
Carter Holt: 5 games, 0-0 record, 3.1 Innings, 2 hits, 5/3 BB/K, 13.50 ERA.

Returning Talent 2006 stats
Paul Smyth (Soph): 36 games, 5-1 record, 1 save, 54.1 Innings, 72 hits, 15/37 BB/K, 6.13 ERA.
Ryotaro Hayakawa (Sr): 20 games, 0-0 record, 20 Innings, 23 hits, 8/11 BB/K, 5.85 ERA.
Matt Lane (Jr): 8 games, 0-0 record, 8 Innings, 10 hits, 5/6 BB/K, 7.88 ERA.

Newcomers
Thomas Marcin (Fr): Huntington Beach Cal.
Hiarali Garcia (Jr.): transfer from Eastern Oklahoma Juco
Brett Bochy (Fr): Poway, Cal.
Brett Bollman (Soph): transfer from Arkansas
Andres Esquibel (Jr.): transfer from Palomar Juco, weekday starter.
Wally Marciel (Fr): Kailua, Hawaii, weekday starter.
Max Ellenbecker (RS Fr): Lawrence KS.

Don Czyz may have been the best baseball player ever at KU.  Don was KU's first All-American since 1996, and was named the 2006 winner of the NCBWA Stopper of the Year award.  Czyz led the NCAA with 19 saves last year and has left his mark all over the KU and NCAA record books.  Czyz ranks #1 in KU history for games pitched (128) and saves (31).  To put those numbers into greater perspective the man Czyz took those records from, Jimmy Walker, appeared in a career total of 79 games and saved 13.  Czyz simply redefined these categories in the KU book.  Only three KU pitchers have appeared in more than 30 games in any one season.  Paul Smyth (36 in 2006), Jimmy Walker (33 in 1993) and Don Czyz (three times, 37, 36 and 33 in 2006-2004).  Czyz final year at KU was a masterpiece.  He went 6-0 with an ERA of 1.56.  Opponents hit .206 against him.  In 63.1 Innings he gave up only 49 hits and 15 walks while striking out 60.  When the Jayhawks were leading after the 7th inning they complied a record of 35-0.  Czyz was always the man on the mound late in the game if the outcome was in doubt.  His 19 saves in 2006 ranks as the 11th best year in NCAA history.  Not surprisingly Czyz found his services in demand when the MLB draft took place and he was taken by the Marlins in the 7th round.  Of the many players to come out of the program in recent years Czyz seems to have the best chance of rising up in the profession.  His short season at Jamestown in low-A ball was reasonably successful (22 games, 3-1 record, 4.91 ERA, 6 saves) and already he is being included on Marlin prospect lists.  John Sickels places him just off the top-20 list even though he only had 20 innings of professional ball under his belt.  If Czyz puts up a solid second season in the minors he should move up the list and find himself given consideration for a cup of coffee perhaps as early as 2008.

Reliving Czyz' KU career is certainly no chore but, sadly, we must move on.  Czyz' departure leaves a huge hole in the KU bullpen.  Not only is a new closer needed but the departure of Czyz also causes a much larger ripple effect than might be expected.  Czyz not only closed games, he also regularly pitched long innings in close and extra innings games.  He averaged 1.7 innings per appearance.  Czyz basically filled the role of closer and, not too infrequently, set-up man.

Also lost off the 2006 roster are Trey Randa (graduation), Ryan Anthony (transferred to Juco) and Carter Holt (to focus on academics).  Two other members of last years pen, Andy Marks and Nick Czyz, have moved into weekend starter roles.  This leaves the 2007 Jayhawks with only three returning relief pitchers.  Like the starting pitching staff, the KU bullpen needs to be rebuilt.

Those we already know
Probably more so than any other pitcher Paul Smyth offers some comfort to KU fans looking over the 2007 bullpen roster.  Smyth pitched often and effectively throughout most of 2006.  His final numbers (5-1, 6.13 ERA) look worse than he did on the mound.  If you start to dig into Smyth numbers a lot of positive indicators appear.  For one, he pitched better against tough competition.  His ERA in Big-12 games was 5.46, while in non-conference work it was 6.92.  A clear sign of confidence is how often Coach Price called Smyth's number.  Smyth's 36 appearances was second on the team only to Czyz' 37, and perhaps surprisingly, also tied for the second highest total in KU baseball history.  Smyth's BB/K per 9 numbers were solid (2.5/6.1) and his HR/9 rate was reasonable as well (0.99).  Smyth did a good job of keeping the ball down, inducing a very high rate of ground outs (0.6 F/G ratio).  The only thing that Smyth did not do so well was prevent hits.  Opponents hit .306.  Righties .292/ Lefties .360.

So, this is good or bad.  Smyth is a pretty well developed pitcher in most areas, except he is hittable.  Is he hittable because he doesn't have an out pitch?  His K and G/F rates seem to argue against this conclusion.  Is he hittable because he is predictable?  Maybe.  Classify this next part as irresponsible analysis by an idiot: it seemed to me that Smyth was a real Jeckel and Hyde show on the mound last year.  Some days he didn't seem to come to the park with his good stuff and he was pounded.  Other days he seems confident and mowed down the opposing lineups.  I remember one game last year where he gave up three consecutive hits and I just sat back and thought, "Oh, its one of his off days.  Price needs to get him out of there. It will not get better."  After watching him for a few months I came to accept that Smyth was not a pitcher who could start badly and then gained control of his game, nor was he one who started hot and than lost his touch.  He was who he was from his first pitch.

Smyth is the KU closer this year and so far his performance has been excellent.  In four games he has pitched 5.1 innings, given up one infield hit, walked two and struck out four.  Opponents are hitting .158 against him.  I think Smyth will be a decent closer for KU this year, but I would be very surprised to not see him struggle every third or fourth game, something I got used to not worrying about during the Czyz era.

Royotaro Hayakawa is one of the senior members of the KU squad and he will be expected to pitch in more high leverage situations in 2007 than he has in the past.  Over his career (30 total games) Hayakawa has primarily been a middle inning pitcher limited to short outings.  In 20 games last year he pitched 20 innings, gave up 23 hits and had an 8/11 BB/K ratio.  His ERA was 5.85.  In his five Big-12 appearances he was beat on badly, 12.79 ERA.  Hayakawa missed 2005 due to injury but his 2004 season was his best (9 games, 0.54 ERA) so perhaps 2006 can be qualified as a year in recovery.  If Hayakawa is able to pitch effectively he could become the righthanded set-up man in 2007.

Matt Lane is the only other returning arm in the bullpen.  Like Hayakawa Lane was primarily used in low leverage situations in 2006, and, with the exception of one rough night vs. Missouri State, he pitched relatively well.  It appears Lane will fill a similar role in the 2007 pen.  Middle innings and weekday work.

And those we don't yet know
The incoming class of relievers looks impressive.  Andres Esquibel and Wally Marciel are currently filling the role of weekday starters, but they will also undoubtedly make sporadic appearances out of the pen during weekend series.  For more information on these two best to check the Starting Pitching chapter.  Both are right handed pitchers.

Thomas Marcin, a freshman out of California, has looked very impressive in early action.  In three games he has gone long (6 innings), giving up only 3 hits, two walks while striking out four.  His ERA is untarnished and opponents are hitting .158.  As he is a freshman I have almost no information on which to evaluate him other than he is a big guy (6-4, 200), throws with his right hand and, despite not raking up huge strikeout numbers (6.0 per 9), he was a very effective high school pitcher.  Early indications are that Coach Price has confidence in Marcin and so we will probably see a good amount of him early in the season.

Hiarali Garcia is a transfer from East Oklahoma State Juco where he was a starter for the last two years.  Last year he put up great numbers (6-3, 2.58 ERA, 82.2 Innings, 69 hits, 22/89 BB/K) and Price has already gone to him three times in the first eight games so he also looks like one of the early mainstays.  Garcia always has maintained high strikeout numbers and good control so the big question he will have to answer will be about his ability to make his stuff as effective at the NCAA level as it has been in lower levels.  Only time will supply this answer.  So far the results are mildly positive.

Brett Bollman is an interesting case.  Last year Bollman pitched at SEC powerhouse Arkansas.  His numbers were not impressive but also not too discouraging for a freshman pitching in the toughest conference in the NCAA.  In 16.2 Innings he gave up 20 hits (.294 Batting Average), walked 4 and struck out 11.  All fairly respectable.  What killed his final line was that four of the 20 hits he gave up were taters, thus resulting in an ERA of 5.94.  I do not know why Bollman left Arkansas, or why he went there in the first place as he is an Oklahoma native, but I have hopes he will be a contributor out of the pen this year.  He is on the small side (5-8, 147) but many men his size have had very effective careers pitching in the NCAA, especially out of the bullpen.  Bollman has not yet appeared in a game this year, which does puzzle me.  Perhaps he needs to miss some time due to transfer restrictions?

Another arm in the pen I expect to see used often this year is that of freshman Brett Bochy.  Bochy is the son of MLB manager and player Bruce Bochy and comes as a highly regarded recruit.  Bochy is listed both as a position player and as a relief pitcher, something not terribly uncommon in NCAA baseball.  In my earlier conversation with Coach Price he indicated that Bochy would see time on the mound this year, although he did not make an appearance in any capacity during the first two series.

Max Ellenbecker, a left handed freshman who was red-shirted last year, is the final man in the pen.  He had a great career at Free State High School but he has yet to make an appearance at the next level so he remains a question mark.  I expect his early appearances will be in weekday games to define his skillset and get his feet wet.

So, what does KU have in the pen?
A whole lot of question marks and very few answers.  If things go just right Smyth will establish himself as the closer, Hayakawa, Garcia and Marcin will pitch under pressure, and Lane, Bochy, Bollman and Ellenbecker will take weekday and long relief duty.  If Esquibel or Marciel stumble as weekday starters then they most likely will swap places with someone in the setup crew.  

In truth, I can't say that I have full confidence in any specific one of these pitchers performing at a high level. I even have lingering doubts about Smyth.  I do expect that by the end of the season at least two or three will have established themselves as NCAA level pitchers, and that might give the Jayhawks the minimally deep bullpen needed to succeed in tournament play.  The thing about this whole situation is that I have no strong idea as to which will prove to be reliable and which will not make the jump.  All of them have some good qualities to latch on to.  At this point in the season it's an exercise in hope and crossed fingers.  Let's hope by April the situation has sorted itself out and a reasonable effective relief rotation has emerged.

The KU 2007 Starting Pitching is very iffy.  The Bullpen even more so.  KU fans know what to expect from the offense, five, six maybe seven runs most nights.  The season is going to be made or broken based on how many of the incoming pitchers prove they are able to get the job done.

Earlier preview chapters
Catcher
Infielders
Outfielders
Starting Pitching