We've talked a lot about the bullpen lately. Mostly about how most of them aren't as bad as they were being labeled. Without much of a surprise, they aren't. Let's look at the four arms thriving in our pen.
J.P. Howell has a K/9 rate of 10.13 and BB/9 of 1.69 even with a BABIP over .420. For someone who averages nearly 40% balls, it's pretty outstanding that he's managed to limit his walks thus far. Hitters are whiffing on more than 10% of his pitches, a nudge higher than last year. If the Rays absolutely must have a designated closer as the only way to rid ourselves of Troy Percival, Howell might be the best choice. His stuff generates hacks and he's a lefty without overly discernable platoon splits.
Brian Shouse has faced 13 righties and 6 lefties. His raw stats are going to look rough because of his usage patterns thus far - which has been largely as the second mop-up guy. Shouse has allowed one lefty to reach base thus far this season, and that was on a single. Shouse's job is to get lefties out so expect that platoon rate to expand pari passu. Oh, and while you shouldn't expect nearly 80% grounders all year, Shouse is getting everyone to pound the ball into the ground at this time.
Joe Nelson is growing on me at a ridiculously quick rate. His silly Vulcan grip and desire to cannibalize Troy Percival (see Rays program) are residue in my cerebrum. Nelson is the perfect example of how someone with two pitches can succeed. His mid-to-high-80's fastball shows the strain of years and surgeries past, and yet he still uses it nearly 70% of the time. His ridiculous change-up sits about 10 miles per hour lower and keeps righties and lefties off balance all the same. Nelson has thrown a ninth of the total amount of innings he did in 2008 already, and he's thrown 123 pitches, the most he's thrown in a major league season is 931. Not sure how important either of those figures really are, but it's something to keep an eye on.
Finally, there's Lance Cormier. His BABIP is .401, that'll come to Earth soon enough. I hate to sound like a broken record, but Cormier is doing exactly what he did last season, only in an inflated run environment. That's absolutely perfect. A modest amount of swings and misses coupled with groundballs and nothing leaving the playing field is going to make Cormier valuable to any team with a defense as strong as ours.
No need to beat a dead horse on the others, although Grant Balfour's whiff rate is back around what we would expect. Now, to just throw more strikes overall.