Did you know the Angels have the 5th best bullpen ERA in the American League?
More than likely you just responded "no" and then took a beat and asked, "how the hell did that happen?" Don't feel bad, I did the same thing when I saw that stat. After thinking about it for a bit more though, the answer to that seemingly rhetorical question was clear, Scott Downs is how that happened.
Sure, Jordan Walden has emerged as a potentially elite closer this season, but the problem that has plagued the Halos practically since Opening Day is getting the ball to Walden. We've dealth with the ineptitude of Fernando Rodney, the meltdown of Kevin Jepsen, the disappointment of Hisanori Takahashi and the inability of Rich Thompson to step his game up.
By all rights, the Angel middle relief should still be a flaming greasefire game after game, but it isn't, all because Scott Downs has emerged as an elite setup man and the steadying veteran presence the bullpen has been seeking for years.
Even the most ardent of anti-Reagins rebels can't find fault with one move. Signing Scott Downs has been nothing short of a stroke of genius, at least compared to the other borderline-retarded Tony Reagins made last winter. The only reason nobody has taken note until recently is because it took Downs a month to actually start his season due to injury and illness.
It was in that month-long absence that the Angel bullpen showed just how badly a guy like Downs was needed. So ineffective was the middle relief that role reassignments and reliever demotions ran rampant. But once Downs got healthy, that all slowed down to a crawl. Injuries forced a roster move here and there, but the team relief corps finally settled into their assigned roles and saw their performance stabilize as a result.
The only real movement the pen saw was by virtue of Downs steadily climbing his way up the ladder as he proved just how effective he was, earning Scioscia's trust in the process.
With Downs and his 1.57 ERA leading the way, the artists formerly known as the blowpen have taken just two losses in the Halos' last 20 games. In the 54 games that before that, the relievers took the loss 12 times, that was a reliever loss once every 4.5 games. Yuck.
The difference has been more than Downs pitching very well, it is that his high level of performance has allowed Mike Scioscia to manage the relievers the way he prefers. When Downs was either injured or rounding into form, far too often Scioscia found himself trying to play platoon match-ups or ride the bullpen's hot hand because he didn't trust anyone. Scioscia has always preferred to trust the ninth inning to his closer, the eighth inning to his top setup man and the rest of the innings to the next two or three relievers in his personal pecking order. It may not have been the most cerebral way to manage a bullpen, but it generally worked for the Angels who have relied on strong bullpens thoughout much of Scioscia's tenure.
Without that trustworthy man to hold down the eighth inning, Scioscia was left to his own devices and the results were a lot of overthinking (playing match-ups with an overmatched Takahashi) and misplaced trust (see Fernando Rodney). Now with Downs finally assuming the mantle of lockdown setup man, a mantle that has been vacated since Scot Shields' body broke down on him, Scioscia is back in his managerial comfort zone and the results speak for themselves.
Thanks, Scott Downs. We can all finally rest easy when Scioscia makes his call to the pen. And my stomach ulcer can finally start to heal.