In today's Q&A, Dejan Kovacevic writes about the uncertain bullpen. Here he describes part of the risk involved:
There might be only three holes, actually, if Franquelis Osoria lives up to the team's expectations this spring, but three is still an awful lot. It is a risk not only for the Pirates' ability to be competitive in 2008 but also, and more important, to damaging the psyches of its many young starters. What will happen if Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm and Zach Duke repeatedly watching seventh-inning leads vanish?
What will happen? The Pirates will lose a bunch of games.
And I disagree with the idea that the team has to do something to stave off a potential threat to the potentially delicate psyches of young starters. First of all, if the psyche of a young starter is that fragile, he's not going to make it no matter what you do with the bullpen.
Second, I think this kind of thinking establishes bad expectations for the starters. Their job is to pitch as well as they can. There should not be this idea floating around that it's expected that any one of these guys will not pitch well if the bullpen blew a lead for him after his last turn. The failures of one set of players can never be something that is commonly identified as a worthy or even likely excuse for failure by another set of players. The quality of the bullpen has no effect on the quality of the start, and we should not talk like it does.
There is, however, one way that a weak bullpen threatens the starters. If the manager is reluctant to remove someone because he has little faith in the setup options, then there may be a risk to the health of the starter. But this is easily avoided with reasonably strict adherence to pitch counts or some other, smarter pre-established workload expectation.
And I've seen a lot of mediocre to bad pitchers who can put up good statistics - be effective - for months at a time. It's not that hard. Get the defense ready, throw the ball where they can't hit it too hard, try to get three outs. Even a mediocre lefty can be pretty tough on some good hitters.
The bullpen is not going to be terribly good, but I don't see how this is a grave problem for the starters or the closer provided that the manager is not allowed to slag all the decent arms to accomplish immediate short-term goals.