The story of Milwaukee's bullpen fortunes all started during free agency, when Francisco Cordero decided he needed $46 million instead of $42 million and headed for Cincinnati to close games, where he converted 34 of 40 save opportunities, including a perfect 6 of 6 against the Brewers, four of them at Miller Park. However, the Reds finished in fifth place.
Milwaukee also lost Scott Linebrink to the White Sox, for whom he compiled a 2-2 mark and 3.69 ERA in 50 appearances, helping the South Siders reach the American League playoffs.
Those departures garnered Milwaukee four extra draft selections in June, which hopefully will provide future dividends. But in 2008, they could have used both of those guys to patch the many holes that developed.
That left the Brewers with few options, including Derrick Turnbow. General manager Doug Melvin's revamping featured trading Johnny Estrada to New York for Guillermo Mota, obtaining Salomon Torres from Pittsburgh—and convincing him to play in Brew City—and signing free agents David Riske and Eric Gagne.
It's report card time, and here are the grades, with extremely mixed results:
The 2003 National League Cy Young Award winner just hasn't been the same pitcher since elbow and back surgeries in 2005-06. No one could have expected that, but fans sure wanted more for the one-year, $10 million contract he signed right before being named in the Mitchell Report for steroids use.
Anyway, it didn't take long for folks to get a preview of what was to come: Gagne gave up a single to Derrek Lee, walked Aramis Ramirez on four pitches and served up a 3-1 gopher ball to Kosuke Fukudome before getting an out in the ninth inning of opening day at Wrigley Field.
Gagne converted 10 of 15 saves and had a 6.27 ERA through May 13. Then he walked two and allowed a homer in two-thirds of an inning against the Pirates on May 20, leaving with a shoulder issue that put him on the disabled list. He didn't pitch again until July 3, but Salomon Torres had supplanted him as the closer, relegating Gagne to work in the sixth-eighth innings.
The right-hander compiled ERAs of 5.63 and 4.91 in July and August and then blew his first and only two save opportunities in September. However, he bounced back to finish the final month with nine straight scoreless appearances, allowing two hits in 8.2 innings. Gagne then worked two scoreless frames in the NLDS.
He finished with a 4-3 mark, 5.44 ERA and went 10 of 17 in save opportunities with 11 home runs. Gagne, despite his demotion and the wrath of fans, was a team player. However, like with Jeff Suppan, the organization and fans deserved more bang for their buck. It was a nice gesture when he donated 5,000 tickets for one of the Pittsburgh games in the final home stand, but those fans would have come anyway had he given them much more during the season.
Final grade: D+
Before this closer by necessity wore down and went down the tubes with the rest of the team in September, Torres was a candidate for comeback player of the year. He entered the final month with a 2.54 ERA and had converted 26 of 32 save opportunities, including all eight chances in June and a 0.84 ERA in August.
Torres then lost games to the Mets and Reds, blew a 6-2 lead in the ninth at Wrigley in the finale of Dale Sveum's first series as interim manager—on Geovany Soto's grand slam--and allowed three more runs and another homer in the only loss to the Cubs in the season-ending series at Miller Park.
He gave up three long balls in September, which equaled what he had allowed all season before that, and finished the month with an 8.53 ERA despite converting two of three save chances. Torres worked in two games in the NLDS, recording a save and allowing no runs despite giving up four hits.
Torres couldn't have given much more after working more than one inning eight times before becoming the closer and eight times after inheriting the job, ending with 28 saves.
Final grade: B
He notched a save in the season opener against the Cubs and had several other nice outings, including a save at Los Angeles that ended with a strikeout of Manny Ramirez. But for the most part, it was a disappointing, frustrating campaign that featured a stint on the DL and then eventual season-ending elbow surgery in September.
Riske signed a three-year contract with $13 million guaranteed plus and option for a fourth season. But he never seemed to find his rhythm, finishing with a 1-2 record and 5.31 ERA, blowing five of seven save opportunities and recording a 7.20 ERA at Miller Park.
He finished with 27 strikeouts and 25 walks, much of his ineffectiveness due to the arm troubles.
Final grade: C-
This guy's versatility and willingness, even though he'd prefer to be a starter, to fill whatever role the team puts him in was again a major asset again.
The right-hander made the rotation out of camp but struggled after opening with a win against the Giants, finding himself at 2-5 with a 6.43 ERA after nine starts, including a two-homer loss at Boston in which he gave up five earned runs in four innings May 18. Up to that point, he had allowed 12 long balls, including four in a setback at Houston.
So, Villanueva was sent to the bullpen, where he mostly flourished, registering ERAs of 3.77, 0.61, 2.70 and 2.35 during the final four months with a 2-2 record and a save. He was especially good at home, going 2-1 with a 2.34 ERA and registered a 1.95 mark after the All-Star break. He finished at 2.12 as a reliever, with 62 strikeouts in 59.1 innings.
Villanueva then helped the bullpen dominate against the Phillies in the NLDS, working 3.2 perfect innings in two appearances, striking out three.
Final grade: B-
This veteran deserves kudos for compiling a 5-1 record and 2.81 ERA in 69 appearances as the only southpaw out of the bullpen for much of the season. He struck out 33 and walked 14 in 51.1 innings.
However, he served up five home runs and blew three of his five save opportunities. He also allowed 18 hits, including two long balls, against lefties.
Shouse registered 0.93 ERAs in May, June and August, but he turned in efforts of 5.63 in July and 7.20 in September. The final month included a three-run homer to Shane Victorino in the eighth as the Brewers blew the first-game of a doubleheader in their four-game debacle at Philly.
Final grade: B-
The right-hander's campaign was a microcosm of his career—lots of peaks and valleys. Thus, he finished with a 5-6 record and 4.11 ERA in 58 games. He struck out 50 and walked 28 with 52 hits in 57 innings.
Like Gagne and many others, Mota's role fluctuated because of his inconsistency and injuries to others in the pen.
Mota compiled a 3.18 ERA through May, but then he finished at 6.48 in June that featured the meltdown at Colorado in which he allowed four hits and four runs without recording an out. Then his ERA skyrocketed to 10.13 in July and almost led his release as he gave up a combined four runs on four hits in back-to-back games at Arizona and then imploded again vs. the Rockies, giving up two homers and four runs in a contest at Miller Park.
However, he regrouped in August, not allowing a run in nine appearances covering 7.2 innings, and finished with a 2.61 mark in September. Gagne's former set-up guy in L.A. then gave up a solo homer and two hits in 1.2 innings in the NLDS.
Final grade: C-
This youngster with the unorthodox delivery was a welcome sight when available because he gave the Brewers a second lefty.
If only he hadn't suffered a bout of wildness in May, which made him undependable and forced his first trip back to Nashville. The second time strictly a numbers situation with the roster.
Overall, Stetter finished with a 3-1 record and 3.20 ERA, striking out 31 and walking 19 in 25.1 innings, which included 14 hits and two homers.
Stetter contributed a 1.93 ERA in June and 2.84 in July but it ballooned to 6.75 in September because of one bad outing and not many opportunities. However, the delivered big-time against Philly's left-handed bangers in the NLDS, where he made three appearances while striking out two in 1.1 innings.
Final grade: C+
He didn't have a record in 13 appearances during two stays in Milwaukee, registering a 4.40 ERA. He showed promise with a mid-90s fastball and movement. When he got that combination, the results were positive, but when he didn't he got into trouble.
Dillard allowed 17 hits, including two homers, seven earned runs, six walks and five strikeouts in 14.1 innings.
He also contributed a hit in his only at-bat.
Final grade: C-
Like Dillard, a right-hander who saw action in two visits to the big leagues, DiFelice worked 19 innings in relief with a 2.84 ERA. He gave up 17 hits and six earned runs, most of them on four long balls.
Final grade: C+
Going nowhere fast at Class AAA in Cincinnati's organization, the Reds released him in September and Milwaukee was more than happy to take a chance on Coffey, who had done some closing in 2006 and brings a quality slider to the table.
Coffey made the most of his opportunities, working 7.1 scoreless innings in nine outings, allowing six hits and two walks while striking out seven.
He also tossed a scoreless inning in DiFelice's win against the Cubs and got Seth McClung out of a big jam against Coffey's former mates at Cincy to end the final road trip.
Final grade: B
The former closer and All-Star selection's career spiraled out of control in a hurry as he finished 0-1 with a 15.63 ERA, walking 13 and allowing 12 hits and 11 runs in just 6.1 innings to start the season.
His final day with Milwaukee came April 30 in Chicago, when he was knocked around for six runs on four hits and four walks in two-thirds of an inning in the Cubs' 19-5 win.
Turnbow was designated for assignment and accepted a spot at Nashville, where he struggled even more to find his command and shattered confidence, compiling a 2-2 mark with a 10.50 ERA, which included 28 strikeouts but 41 walks, 21 runs and 17 hits in 18 innings. Eventually it was discovered that he had a partial tear of his rotator cuff and he spent the rest of the season rehabilitating in Arizona.
Final grade: D-