Lately I've been thinking a lot about high strikeout relievers. Guys like Grant Balfour and David Aardsma - because I like Australians, aardvark-esque names, and everything "a" related - so naturally Jason Bulger is an attractive player to analyze.
A former first-round pick, the Arizona Diamondbacks traded Bulger to the Angels for Alberto Collaspo in February of 2006. Bulger is 30, and has 34 major league innings, but that's about to change. When the Angels signed Brian Fuentes, they replaced the name and role vacated by Francisco Rodriguez' expedition to New York, but don't be shocked if Bulger is the one who reminds Angels fans of their once prodigal son.
Bulger no longer throws in the mid-90s as he did earlier in his career, and he no longer relies on his fastball to the point of near exclusivity. Instead, Bulger sits around 93 and mixes an assortment of off-speed and bendy things into his attack. His strikeout and walk numbers resemble a wilder K-Rod and his minor league FIPs replicate K-Rod at his best.
CHONE projects Bulger to post a 3.70 FIP, about a run worse than it projects Rodriguez, and a quarter of a run worse than Fuentes. That projection is based around his minor league numbers, but don't be fooled by Bulger's 6.35 ERA in the majors, his FIP is a decent 4.36.
Oh, and his major league career BABIP is .349. Here's where it gets odd. Bulger's liner drive rate in those 30-some odd innings is 28%. In the minors, those numbers are more in check with what you'd expect, which is to say 20% and below. Given that, I'm prone to believe Bulger's line drive rate suffers from small sample size.
Fuentes will be the headliner, and Scot Shields the mainstay, but don't be surprised if Jason Bulger is the one who catches everyone off guard with his performance.
*Yes those are Bulger's Triple-A statistics, unaltered/translated.