We’ve reached the end of the actual rankings portion of the Positional Power Rankings, having covered every single position on the field, designated hitter, starting rotations, and now bullpens. Tomorrow, Dave Cameron will wrap it all up. I encourage you to get caught up and ready for the season by reading every single post, starting with Cameron’s introduction. But as your journey has brought you here, please read on for a look at 15 of the best bullpens in the game. Below is a graph showing every bullpen and their projected WAR on the season.
Last season, 375 pitchers recorded at least 10 innings as a reliever last season, an average of of more than 12 per team. As a result, there are a lot of names and projections listed below. Bullpens can change greatly from year to year and even during the season. The Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers remade their bullpens on the fly last season on their way to the playoffs. The Royals have made significant changes since last summer when Wade Davis was not even the closer yet. It helps to have a great reliever at the back end of the pen, but if you want to be ranked first on this list, you need to have three.
|Andrew Miller||65.0||13.7||3.0||0.8||.309||81.5 %||2.32||2.39||2.3|
|Dellin Betances||65.0||13.3||3.5||0.7||.301||81.7 %||2.33||2.49||2.0|
|Aroldis Chapman||55.0||14.3||4.0||0.7||.309||82.3 %||2.35||2.50||1.4|
|Chasen Shreve||55.0||9.5||3.7||1.1||.303||75.4 %||3.77||3.96||0.3|
|Branden Pinder||45.0||8.1||3.4||1.3||.301||72.3 %||4.36||4.46||0.0|
|James Pazos||40.0||8.9||3.9||1.0||.304||72.8 %||3.98||4.02||0.1|
|Nick Rumbelow||35.0||9.1||3.0||1.2||.306||72.9 %||4.03||3.96||0.0|
|Bryan Mitchell||30.0||7.3||4.4||1.1||.308||69.6 %||4.82||4.74||-0.1|
|Kirby Yates||25.0||9.4||3.8||1.4||.305||74.7 %||4.18||4.42||0.0|
|Nicholas Goody||20.0||9.7||3.7||1.0||.306||73.7 %||3.81||3.82||0.0|
|Tyler Olson||15.0||6.6||3.1||1.2||.297||71.7 %||4.29||4.54||0.0|
|Jacob Lindgren||10.0||10.4||4.4||1.1||.305||75.9 %||3.75||3.91||0.0|
|Johnny Barbato||10.0||8.4||3.8||1.2||.307||72.5 %||4.34||4.44||0.0|
|Evan Rutckyj||10.0||8.7||4.6||1.0||.296||73.2 %||4.04||4.28||0.0|
|The Others||19.0||8.2||4.0||1.2||.322||69.5 %||4.73||4.50||0.0|
Within these projections, there are 10 relievers forecast to produce at least 11 strikeouts per nine innings and at least 50 innings pitched. There are five relievers with at least 12 strikeouts per nine innings and at least 50 innings pitched. There are three relievers with at least 13 strikeouts per nine innings and at least 50 innings pitched, and all three are members of the New York Yankees. Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman were the only pitchers in Major League Baseball last season to exceed 14 K/9, striking out roughly 40% of all batters who stepped to the plate against them last year. Miller and Betances combined to lead the Yankees bullpen last season, and this season the team added Aroldis Chapman at a discounted price due to a offseason domestic-violence incident which eventually resulted in a 30-game suspension.
Last season’s Yankees bullpen pitched very well, posting the third-highest bullpen WAR, although with 530.2 innings, the pen was forced to carry a relatively large load due to fewer innings from the starting rotation. The fewer innings a bullpen has to pitch, the greater percentage go to the best pitchers. With three of the very best relievers in baseball, a healthier rotation could push the Yankees to the top spot this season.
The Yankees traded away another lefty in Justin Wilson to the Tigers during the winter. Wilson was perhaps a bit underrated, and limits the improvements the Yankees can make over last season’s very good pen. Chasen Shreve is the forgotten lefty in the Yankees pen with the potential to be this season’s Justin Wilson. He can prpoduce strikeouts, but last season, they came with walks and a few too many home runs. After Shreve, we have a host of replacement-level pitchers the Yankees can cycle in and out as they see fit, but the top three alone vault the Yankees to the top of Power Rankings by a healthy margin.
|Kenley Jansen||65.0||12.6||2.2||0.8||.305||81.8 %||2.34||2.38||2.0|
|Chris Hatcher||65.0||9.7||2.6||0.9||.306||74.8 %||3.23||3.20||1.0|
|Yimi Garcia||55.0||10.2||2.4||1.0||.297||77.9 %||3.01||3.24||0.7|
|J.P. Howell||55.0||8.1||3.4||0.8||.298||75.0 %||3.39||3.66||0.3|
|Pedro Baez||45.0||9.3||2.5||0.9||.302||74.7 %||3.29||3.31||0.3|
|Joe Blanton||40.0||8.9||2.0||1.1||.308||73.3 %||3.56||3.47||0.2|
|Luis Avilan||35.0||7.3||3.3||0.8||.299||72.5 %||3.68||3.85||0.0|
|Adam Liberatore||30.0||9.1||3.2||0.8||.302||74.3 %||3.39||3.49||0.1|
|Carlos Frias||25.0||6.4||2.5||0.9||.306||70.6 %||4.02||3.97||0.0|
|Alex Wood||20.0||7.3||2.6||0.9||.305||72.3 %||3.72||3.73||0.0|
|Ian Thomas||15.0||8.9||3.2||1.0||.304||73.8 %||3.73||3.78||0.0|
|Jharel Cotton||10.0||9.2||2.9||1.0||.304||74.3 %||3.60||3.66||0.0|
|Ross Stripling||10.0||6.9||2.8||1.0||.304||70.1 %||4.19||4.15||0.0|
|Francelis Montas||10.0||9.6||3.4||0.8||.303||74.8 %||3.34||3.44||0.0|
|Josh Ravin||10.0||9.6||4.6||1.0||.307||73.7 %||4.03||4.11||0.0|
There’s an argument to be made that the Yankees have the three best relief pitchers in baseball. That it’s merely an argument and not a absolute certainty is due principally to Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Over the last five seasons, Jansen has averaged 97 strikeouts against just 19 walks. After missing the first month of last season, Jansen struck out 80 batters with just eight walks in more than 50 innings. After the trade for Aroldis Chapman fell through, Jansen’s place in the Dodgers’ bullpen hierarchy is unquestioned.
The Dodgers back Jansen with two solid setup relievers. Chris Hatcher emerged as a late-innings option towards the end of 2015 after struggling with injuries in the early part of the season. He is solid in the eighth-inning role, and should be able to build on last season’s success with a full season this year. Yimi Garcia is a part of that late-inning calculus as well, striking out batters at a very high rate while limiting walks, essentially making him a Kenley Jansen-light option for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers appeared set to have a bunch of starters-turned-relievers as options in the bullpen this season, but injuries in the starting rotation have limited those options. One former starter locked into the bullpen is Joe Blanton, who seemed to have bottomed out as a starter. Blanton is another Pirates success story who played an important role in their bullpen down the stretch last season. If he can continue to limit home runs, he will be a valuable asset for the Dodgers this season. Pedro Baez had a very good season for the Dodgers last year, and a bullpen that goes five deep at the top should be one of the best in baseball. They might not be able to match the Yankees’ top three, but the depth gives them the best projected ERA (3.24) and FIP (3.33) in MLB.
#3 Red Sox
|Craig Kimbrel||65.0||12.1||3.4||0.7||.306||78.8 %||2.68||2.71||1.7|
|Koji Uehara||65.0||9.8||1.9||1.1||.300||78.5 %||3.02||3.19||1.1|
|Junichi Tazawa||55.0||8.6||2.3||0.9||.312||74.3 %||3.45||3.39||0.6|
|Carson Smith||55.0||9.9||3.2||0.6||.313||75.0 %||3.08||3.06||0.7|
|Robbie Ross||45.0||7.7||3.0||0.8||.313||71.9 %||3.82||3.77||0.2|
|Matt Barnes||40.0||7.7||3.2||1.0||.309||71.5 %||4.18||4.11||0.0|
|Tom Layne||35.0||8.1||4.2||0.7||.309||72.3 %||3.90||3.90||0.0|
|Heath Hembree||30.0||8.4||3.3||1.0||.306||73.2 %||3.90||3.93||0.0|
|Brandon Workman||25.0||7.3||3.1||1.2||.310||70.5 %||4.51||4.38||0.0|
|Joe Kelly||20.0||7.3||3.3||0.9||.313||71.1 %||4.16||4.04||0.0|
|Noe Ramirez||15.0||7.1||3.5||1.0||.306||72.4 %||4.10||4.25||0.0|
|Steven Wright||10.0||6.2||2.9||1.2||.303||70.2 %||4.56||4.58||0.0|
|Edwin Escobar||10.0||7.1||2.6||1.2||.303||70.7 %||4.24||4.24||0.0|
|Pat Light||10.0||6.5||4.2||1.3||.310||69.5 %||5.18||5.12||0.0|
|Williams Jerez||10.0||7.3||4.0||1.1||.308||70.5 %||4.57||4.57||0.0|
In his time in Detroit, Dave Dombrowksi was criticized for failing to build a bullpen that could consistently hold the leads of his generally very good starting rotation. In what could be considered a change both for him and the Red Sox (as Boston moves away from the Ben Cherington regime), Dombrowksi boldly gave up some very good prospects to procure one of the best relievers in the game in Craig Kimbrel, most recently with the San Diego Padres. While Kimbrel is unlikely to recapture the glory of 2012 when he struck out more than 50% of batters, the current version — strikes out more than one-third of batter and walks fewer than 10% — still profiles as one of the best in the game.
The Red Sox did not stop with Kimbrel, also importing Carson Smith from the Mariners. Smith will begin the season on the disabled list with forearm cramping, which is concerning, but if the problem is temporary, he should help stabilize the bullpen before handing leads over to Kimbrel. Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa are the top holdovers from 2015 for the late innings. Uehara will turn 41 in the early part of the season and he has been losing velocity with age; however, the splitter is still incredibly effective and helps make up for the lost miles per hour.
The Red Sox bullpen was the worst in baseball last year at -1.4 WAR with a poor 4.24 ERA and even worse 4.64 FIP. A bullpen with Uehara at the helm might have provided better results this season, and it likely could not have gotten worse, but moving Uehara down in the pecking order by adding Kimbrel and Smith vaults the Red Sox near the top of these rankings. The Red Sox season turned out very poorly after high expectations last year. Whether they can reverse course this season is still up in the air, but the bullpen should move from weakness to strength.
|Ken Giles||65.0||10.8||3.3||0.7||.308||77.1 %||2.92||2.95||1.6|
|Luke Gregerson||65.0||8.4||2.3||0.9||.301||73.8 %||3.33||3.40||1.0|
|Will Harris||55.0||9.0||3.1||1.0||.295||75.1 %||3.50||3.73||0.5|
|Josh Fields||55.0||10.4||3.4||0.9||.306||76.2 %||3.38||3.38||0.6|
|Tony Sipp||45.0||10.5||3.0||1.0||.297||79.0 %||3.08||3.35||0.4|
|Pat Neshek||40.0||8.6||2.1||1.1||.298||75.3 %||3.55||3.69||0.2|
|Scott Feldman||35.0||6.0||2.6||1.1||.300||69.5 %||4.41||4.41||0.0|
|Wandy Rodriguez||30.0||7.8||3.1||1.4||.309||72.0 %||4.48||4.53||-0.1|
|Michael Feliz||25.0||7.7||3.4||1.2||.308||70.8 %||4.45||4.39||0.0|
|Kevin Chapman||20.0||9.3||4.8||0.9||.307||73.2 %||4.07||4.11||0.0|
|Juan Minaya||15.0||8.4||3.9||1.0||.307||72.3 %||4.10||4.11||0.0|
|Jandel Gustave||10.0||7.0||4.1||1.0||.310||69.8 %||4.65||4.57||0.0|
|Danny Reynolds||10.0||7.8||4.5||0.9||.306||70.8 %||4.44||4.41||0.0|
|The Others||12.0||8.2||4.0||1.2||.322||69.5 %||4.73||4.50||0.0|
The Astros decided to remake their bullpen ahead of the 2015 season by bringing in Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. While Neshek did not contribute as planned, Gregerson pitched well, and in the regular season, the bullpen was a strength for the surprising Astros and their 3.38 FIP was the best in the majors. The team’s strikeout rate (25%) was behind only the Dodgers’ and Yankees’ marks while their walk rate (7%) sat behind only the Giants’ and Blue Jays’ figures among MLB bullpens. After struggling in the playoffs, Houston tried to make sure the bullpen did not exhibit any negative regression ahead of this season.
Ken Giles, acquired in a trade with the Phillies, has little closer experience since being stuck behind Jonathan Papelbon for his first year and a half in Philadelphia, but there is little reason to expect he will not excel in that role for the Astros. Expecting a sub-2.00 ERA like he has produced the last two seasons is asking a bit much given he has allowed just three home runs in 115.2 MLB innings. Only Wade Davis has pitched more innings than Giles and given up as few homers over the past two years. Even if he does allow a few more bombs, Giles should still be a very good options at the end of games this season.
With the hopefully healthy Gregerson bumped down an inning, the somewhat surprising trio from last season of Tony Sipp, Will Harris, and Josh Fields offer the makings of a very solid group. If Neshek recovers some of his All-Star form, the end of games could go just as well as they did last season for the Wild Card-winning Astros. It’s possible a starter conversion from Scott Feldman could provide some upside as well.
#5 White Sox
|David Robertson||65.0||11.7||2.7||0.9||.310||77.6 %||2.88||2.74||1.9|
|Zach Duke||65.0||9.6||3.9||1.0||.307||74.5 %||3.69||3.80||0.6|
|Zach Putnam||55.0||9.7||3.7||0.9||.309||74.8 %||3.58||3.58||0.6|
|Nate Jones||55.0||10.5||3.2||0.8||.313||75.6 %||3.27||3.13||0.8|
|Matt Albers||45.0||6.5||2.9||0.9||.306||71.8 %||3.95||4.01||0.1|
|Jacob Turner||40.0||6.4||3.2||1.4||.316||67.6 %||5.21||4.83||-0.1|
|Dan Jennings||35.0||8.1||3.6||0.8||.315||72.3 %||3.92||3.76||0.1|
|Jake Petricka||30.0||7.1||3.6||0.7||.309||71.8 %||3.93||3.90||0.1|
|Tommy Kahnle||25.0||9.6||5.2||1.0||.309||72.1 %||4.41||4.26||0.0|
|Zach Phillips||20.0||8.6||3.9||1.0||.306||73.5 %||3.93||4.04||0.0|
|Daniel Webb||15.0||7.5||5.1||1.0||.313||69.5 %||4.89||4.71||0.0|
|Michael Ynoa||10.0||8.0||5.2||1.2||.311||69.9 %||5.06||5.00||0.0|
|The Others||5.0||8.2||4.0||1.2||.322||69.5 %||4.73||4.50||0.0|
The White Sox were not very good last season, but that was not the fault of the bullpen. A bullpen’s best friend when it comes to performance is the starting rotation. With Chris Sale at the top and a few other innings-eaters following him last year, the White Sox ended the season having used their bullpen less than any other team at 441.2 innings and just 414 appearances. A dozen MLB teams recorded 100 more relief appearances last season than the White Sox. Keeping innings and appearances down meant closer David Robertson could provide more impact to the final line. That should be the case again this season.
Robertson pitched well in his first year with the White Sox after spending most of his career in the shadow of, and then replacing, Mariano Rivera in New York. His 3.41 ERA was partially due to some bad luck stranding runners, as his FIP was an excellent 2.52 on the season. The ERA should come down this season to match his peripherals. The rest of the bullpen has some questions, but good potential as well.
Zach Duke had some struggles last season, but should bounce back this season. Zach Putnam struck out more than 30% of batters last season, but he also walked more than 10% of them and recorded a very high 18% HR/FB rate. If the home-run rate falls a good amount and the walks fall even a little, Putnam will be a major boost to Chicago’s pen. Nate Jones, in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery could round out one of the better bullpens in baseball.
|Zach Britton||65.0||9.6||2.7||0.6||.301||77.3 %||2.67||2.81||1.8|
|Darren O’Day||65.0||9.7||2.4||1.0||.297||77.7 %||3.08||3.40||1.1|
|Brad Brach||55.0||9.7||3.8||1.0||.298||75.4 %||3.58||3.73||0.5|
|Brian Matusz||55.0||9.4||3.3||1.1||.300||76.5 %||3.59||3.89||0.3|
|Mychal Givens||45.0||9.4||3.9||0.9||.303||74.2 %||3.68||3.80||0.2|
|Vance Worley||40.0||6.3||2.1||1.3||.309||69.9 %||4.47||4.40||0.0|
|Dylan Bundy||35.0||7.7||3.3||1.1||.300||72.7 %||4.06||4.21||0.0|
|Zach Phillips||30.0||8.6||3.9||1.0||.306||73.5 %||3.93||4.04||0.1|
|Odrisamer Despaigne||25.0||5.4||2.7||1.3||.302||68.1 %||4.89||4.87||-0.1|
|T.J. McFarland||20.0||6.3||3.0||0.8||.309||71.1 %||3.97||3.95||0.0|
|Chaz Roe||15.0||8.1||3.6||0.9||.304||72.9 %||3.91||4.01||0.0|
|Oliver Drake||10.0||10.0||3.8||0.8||.307||75.8 %||3.40||3.48||0.0|
|Jason Garcia||10.0||7.4||4.9||1.3||.299||70.7 %||4.96||5.13||0.0|
|Dale Thayer||10.0||7.2||3.1||1.5||.298||72.5 %||4.55||4.80||0.0|
|Todd Redmond||10.0||6.9||3.1||1.2||.302||71.3 %||4.45||4.52||0.0|
|Chris Jones||10.0||6.3||2.5||1.2||.303||70.8 %||4.42||4.49||0.0|
|Chris Lee||10.0||5.5||4.6||1.2||.303||69.3 %||5.20||5.31||0.0|
|The Others||14.0||8.2||4.0||1.2||.322||69.5 %||4.73||4.50||0.0|
By WAR, the Orioles had the very best bullpen in baseball a year ago. The great bulk of that WAR (3.9 of 6.4) came from two players: Zach Britton and Darren O’Day. The duo is back to shut down opponents, although it took $31 million to lure O’Day back when the reliever hit free agency. Britton transitioned to the bullpen full time in 2014 and put up sub-2.00 ERAs in both seasons including a fantastic 2.01 FIP last season. Britton’s 2.1 WAR was behind only Cody Allen, Aroldis Chapman, and Dellin Betances last season among relievers, and his 1.8 projection for this year is behind just Andrew Miller, Betances, David Robertson, and Kenley Jansen.
The 33-year-old O’Day is a bit behind Britton, but should still provide an excellent season. He is great against righties, but his unusual motion does not play up as well against lefties. He handles them sufficiently well, however, to have been one of just five pitchers to record at least 200 innings over the last four seasons and an ERA under 2.00 (Chapman, Wade Davis, Kimbrel, and Uehara are the others). There might not be a bigger contrast in styles between setup man and closer between the mid- to high-80s from the righty O’Day to the mid-90s power of the lefty Britton.
After the two at the top, Brad Brach and Brian Matusz were solid last year and should be again this season. Matusz is a prototypical LOOGY, excelling for short periods, while Brach is his opposite, a righty who comes in for more than one inning at a time. Brach’s 79.1 innings in 62 appearances last season was third among relievers behind only Betances and Philadelphia’s Justin De Fratus. Mychal Givens was fantastic after his callup last season, striking out 38 batter against just six walks in 30 innings, and if his minor-league control problems are officially behind him, he could be in the mix for some important outs. Former top prospect Dylan Bundy will get a chance to show his stuff as well. While not a pitcher as a professional, Buck Showalter has a reputation for being a good manager of bullpens. Last season, the Orioles had the fewest relief appearances on no days rest, and they have been consistently in the bottom half of teams during Showalter’s tenure.
|Trevor Rosenthal||65.0||11.4||3.5||0.6||.312||78.3 %||2.68||2.71||1.6|
|Kevin Siegrist||65.0||10.8||4.0||0.9||.298||78.8 %||3.07||3.43||0.7|
|Jonathan Broxton||55.0||8.3||3.1||0.8||.302||73.7 %||3.59||3.61||0.4|
|Jordan Walden||55.0||10.2||3.6||0.8||.300||76.8 %||3.11||3.27||0.5|
|Seth Maness||45.0||6.3||2.0||0.8||.308||72.5 %||3.62||3.67||0.2|
|Tyler Lyons||40.0||8.3||1.9||1.0||.304||73.8 %||3.52||3.54||0.2|
|Samuel Tuivailala||35.0||10.1||4.7||0.8||.307||74.3 %||3.59||3.64||0.0|
|Miguel Socolovich||30.0||8.7||3.2||0.7||.306||74.4 %||3.34||3.37||0.1|
|Mitchell Harris||25.0||6.6||3.8||1.0||.303||70.8 %||4.36||4.43||0.0|
|Dean Kiekhefer||20.0||6.3||1.8||0.9||.304||71.4 %||3.71||3.75||0.0|
|Matt Bowman||15.0||6.4||2.8||1.0||.305||70.3 %||4.22||4.20||0.0|
|Jayson Aquino||10.0||5.8||2.9||1.2||.305||69.3 %||4.66||4.67||0.0|
|The Others||13.0||8.2||4.0||1.2||.322||69.5 %||4.73||4.50||0.0|
The Cardinals had a very good bullpen last season, finishing eighth in MLB with 4.6 WAR, but much like the rest of the pitching staff, their ERA outstripped their peripherals, leading to a 2.82 ERA, thanks to an 80% left-on-base percentage which was second only to the Royals. Anchored by Trevor Rosenthal, the Cardinals closer erased many doubts stemming from a high walk rate in 2014 by cutting his walk rate nearly in half while maintaining a strikeout rate near 30%.
After Rosenthal (or by inning, before Rosenthal), the Cardinals will use lefty Kevin Siegrist in the setup role where he excelled last season and his 81 appearances were tops in the majors. While bullpen aces were in demand this offseason, the Cardinals chose to strengthen their team with depth. They brought back Jonathan Broxton, who was adequate last season and signed Korean closer Seung-hwan Oh (he does not yet have a player page, but ZiPS projected him for half a win) aka Final Boss aka Stone Buddha. Oh has pitched well in camp and could provide more depth late in games so Siegrist can get a bit more rest.
Seth Maness returns and one of the surprises of camp has been the health of Jordan Walden who only pitched one month last year, but has high-leverage experience and success in his recent past. Given his history, he is not someone on whom the Cards can likely count to carry a significant load. If Tyler Lyons’ stuff can play up in the bullpen, he could play an important role as well with Miguel Socolovich and Sam Tuivailala ready in Memphis when injuries occur.
|Hector Rondon||65.0||9.0||2.6||0.7||.299||76.2 %||3.00||3.15||1.2|
|Pedro Strop||65.0||10.6||3.6||0.7||.293||77.5 %||2.88||3.20||1.0|
|Justin Grimm||55.0||10.6||3.6||0.8||.301||77.8 %||2.97||3.17||0.8|
|Trevor Cahill||55.0||8.0||3.8||0.8||.306||71.8 %||3.97||3.94||0.1|
|Travis Wood||45.0||8.7||3.3||1.0||.297||75.2 %||3.58||3.82||0.1|
|Adam Warren||40.0||8.1||2.8||0.7||.296||74.5 %||3.27||3.48||0.2|
|Neil Ramirez||35.0||10.0||3.7||0.9||.298||77.1 %||3.19||3.49||0.1|
|Clayton Richard||30.0||5.4||2.2||1.0||.303||70.9 %||4.07||4.16||0.0|
|Brandon Gomes||25.0||8.1||2.7||1.1||.295||74.1 %||3.71||3.95||0.0|
|Jean Machi||20.0||7.5||2.9||0.9||.297||72.9 %||3.66||3.80||0.0|
|Carl Edwards||15.0||10.5||5.4||0.7||.304||74.6 %||3.65||3.71||0.0|
|Pierce Johnson||10.0||8.2||4.0||0.9||.301||72.5 %||4.05||4.19||0.0|
|Andury Acevedo||10.0||7.7||5.3||1.1||.296||72.4 %||4.52||4.89||0.0|
|Spencer Patton||10.0||10.0||3.6||1.0||.299||74.5 %||3.63||3.76||0.0|
The Cubs do not have any weaknesses between their lineup, rotation, bench and bullpen, but if there is an area that might be considered less strong, at least by appearances, it is probably the bullpen. Hector Rondon is a good pitcher whose ability to limit walks and keep the ball in the ballpark balances his lack of elite strikeout numbers. Pedro Strop is next in line and, while his strikeout numbers are considerably better due to a fantastic slider, he also walks hitters at a fairly high rate. They are good, but not great.
Following Rondon and Strop, the Cubs have a parade of pitchers with considerable starting experience. Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill each have more than 100 starts in the majors while Justin Grimm and Adam Warren have started before, and at least in the case of Warren, could start again. Of those four (Clayton Richard could be thrown in as well), Justin Grimm has the best projection for this season, but Travis Wood put up the best numbers last season by keeping the ball in park and his projection might underrate him. Trevor Cahill also put up great numbers in the bullpen last year in limited time.
While perhaps not their strength, the Cubs bullpen has a lot of elements that could play up in relief this season. As long as the relievers are not called upon to move up to the rotation, Wood, Cahill, Grimm, and Warren could all be above average. If you squint, Neil Ramirez might have some upside if he can find some of his old form. Building up the pen behind Rondon and Strop could make the Cubs pen deeper and stronger than the projections indicate.
|Jeurys Familia||65.0||9.8||2.7||0.7||.301||76.8 %||2.83||2.98||1.4|
|Addison Reed||65.0||9.0||2.9||0.9||.305||74.6 %||3.48||3.51||0.7|
|Antonio Bastardo||55.0||10.6||4.1||0.8||.297||76.6 %||3.28||3.45||0.5|
|Hansel Robles||55.0||10.0||3.1||1.0||.297||75.9 %||3.31||3.47||0.4|
|Sean Gilmartin||45.0||8.4||3.0||0.8||.304||74.1 %||3.42||3.51||0.3|
|Erik Goeddel||40.0||8.6||3.4||0.9||.303||72.1 %||3.78||3.72||0.1|
|Logan Verrett||35.0||7.6||2.1||1.1||.302||71.9 %||3.87||3.86||0.0|
|Bartolo Colon||30.0||6.1||1.3||1.1||.306||70.8 %||3.98||3.87||0.0|
|Jim Henderson||25.0||9.5||3.7||1.1||.304||73.0 %||4.05||3.98||0.0|
|Jerry Blevins||20.0||9.3||3.0||0.9||.298||75.7 %||3.28||3.49||0.0|
|Dario Alvarez||15.0||10.0||3.9||0.9||.306||75.0 %||3.55||3.73||0.0|
|Josh Smoker||10.0||9.4||4.0||0.9||.307||73.1 %||3.75||3.74||0.0|
|Akeel Morris||10.0||10.7||5.0||0.9||.306||74.4 %||3.76||3.84||0.0|
|Josh Edgin||10.0||8.7||3.6||0.9||.300||74.5 %||3.57||3.78||0.0|
|Jeff Walters||10.0||8.5||2.8||0.8||.303||72.8 %||3.54||3.51||0.0|
Including the postseason, Jeurys Familia recorded 88 appearances and pitched 92.2 innings last year. This came after another 76 appearances the year before. Whether that heavy load will come back to haunt him this season is unclear, but the projections say he is going to have another very good year. Familia was actually better in 2015 than he was in 2014, so it is possible a heavy workload will not wear on the big right-hander. The Mets need to hope so because the options after Familia are not inspiring.
Addison Reed is a Proven Closer, but he has only been an elite-level reliever in one season, back in 2013, after which the White Sox immediately traded him to the Diamondbacks. Reed was solid last season between the Diamondbacks and the Mets after some early-season struggles. He is an above-average reliever and should prove to be a fine fit as the Mets setup man.
Antonio Bastardo gets outs, but they come with a lot of walks. Hansel Robles has more potential, and he could be a guy that could step up and play a key role for the Mets this year as long as the home runs last year were a small-sample-size blip. Sean Gilmartin returns as long-man, but none of the other relievers inspire much confidence. The Mets rotation looks great, and there is no reason the bullpen can’t do a solid job converting the starters’ strong performances into wins.
|Sean Doolittle||65.0||10.1||2.2||1.0||.300||78.1 %||2.98||3.09||1.3|
|Ryan Madson||65.0||8.8||2.7||0.8||.306||74.7 %||3.31||3.41||0.9|
|Liam Hendriks||55.0||8.9||1.6||0.8||.308||75.9 %||2.95||2.93||1.0|
|Fernando Rodriguez||55.0||9.0||3.6||1.0||.301||73.6 %||3.73||3.83||0.2|
|John Axford||45.0||9.4||4.6||0.9||.311||73.0 %||3.97||3.90||0.1|
|Marc Rzepczynski||40.0||8.3||3.6||0.7||.313||72.9 %||3.70||3.70||0.1|
|Felix Doubront||35.0||7.1||3.4||1.0||.306||70.8 %||4.31||4.23||0.0|
|Ryan Dull||30.0||8.4||2.9||1.0||.303||73.2 %||3.79||3.83||0.0|
|J.B. Wendelken||25.0||7.8||2.8||1.1||.308||71.1 %||4.23||4.12||0.0|
|R.J. Alvarez||20.0||9.1||4.4||1.0||.307||72.5 %||4.15||4.15||0.0|
|Raul Alcantara||15.0||5.2||2.6||1.1||.302||69.0 %||4.62||4.62||0.0|
|Daniel Coulombe||10.0||8.0||5.3||0.9||.307||71.5 %||4.47||4.49||0.0|
|Andrew Triggs||10.0||7.2||2.6||0.9||.304||71.9 %||3.84||3.89||0.0|
|The Others||20.0||8.2||4.0||1.2||.322||69.5 %||4.73||4.50||0.0|
From 2012 to -14, Sean Doolittle was one of the very best relievers in baseball. Only Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Greg Holland accumulated more than the 5.6 WAR produce by Doolittle during that time. Even including his 2015 season, which he missed most of due to a labrum tear which did not require surgery, Doolittle’s WAR ranked ninth from 2012 to 2015. He did manage to close the season strongly, getting 13 strikeouts against 2 walks in his final 11 innings. That return provides optimism heading into the season, although the team does have reinforcements should Doolittle miss time again.
Ryan Madson just completed one of the more amazing comebacks in recent history. After a 2011 season saw Madson as the closer for Philadelphia Phillies, he did not pitch in another MLB game until last season with the Royals. He made 68 appearances without issue, posting a 2.13 ERA and 3.09 FIP. After Madson’s tour with the champions, Oakland gave him $22 million for the next three years. The projections have Madson repeating his strong 2015 season. He might be Oakland’s setup man, but it is not clear if he is Oakland’s second-best reliever.
Liam Hendricks is on his fourth team in four years after Oakland traded Jesse Chavez to Toronto for Hendricks. While he struggled as a starter, Hendricks seemed to find a home in the Blue Jays pen last year. Moving to the pen added 3 mph to Hendricks’ pitches, boosted his strikeout rate, nearly eliminated his walks, and the 2.14 FIP was eighth in baseball and the best among relievers without a save. Oakland has a few other familiar names like John Axford, Felix Doubront, and Marc Rzepczynski, and a name that sounds familiar but probably is not in Fernando Rodriguez, but the pen figures to be fronted by Doolittle, Madson, and Hendricks.
|Jonathan Papelbon||65.0||7.8||2.1||0.9||.299||74.8 %||3.32||3.55||0.6|
|Shawn Kelley||65.0||10.5||3.1||0.8||.309||76.8 %||3.04||2.99||1.2|
|Blake Treinen||55.0||8.4||3.1||0.6||.311||74.3 %||3.23||3.25||0.7|
|Oliver Perez||55.0||10.4||3.4||0.8||.313||76.1 %||3.26||3.34||0.5|
|Yusmeiro Petit||45.0||8.0||1.9||1.2||.304||72.9 %||3.86||3.82||0.1|
|Trevor Gott||40.0||7.3||3.6||0.7||.305||72.0 %||3.81||3.87||0.1|
|Felipe Rivero||35.0||8.3||3.0||0.7||.298||74.5 %||3.32||3.43||0.1|
|Rafael Martin||30.0||10.3||3.0||0.8||.309||76.3 %||3.16||3.18||0.2|
|Abel De Los Santos||25.0||8.1||3.0||1.0||.305||73.0 %||3.89||4.02||0.0|
|Burke Badenhop||20.0||5.6||2.5||0.7||.307||71.0 %||3.86||3.84||0.0|
|Sammy Solis||15.0||7.2||2.9||0.7||.306||72.0 %||3.74||3.70||0.0|
|Matt Grace||10.0||6.7||3.2||0.7||.309||71.7 %||3.83||3.84||0.0|
|Nick Lee||10.0||8.8||6.1||0.9||.305||72.5 %||4.44||4.62||0.0|
|The Others||31.0||8.2||4.0||1.2||.322||69.5 %||4.73||4.50||-0.1|
For every single Opening Day closer on this list prior to the current team, the closer was projected to have the highest WAR among the relievers. Jonathan Papelbon is the first closer to buck that trend, and it is not because there is some super-elite reliever who is difficult to top. Of the closers covered in this post, Papelbon has the lowest projected WAR, and he is only better than a handful of closers if the back half of the reliever rankings are included, as well. Back in 2014, a ridiculously low 2.7% HR/FB rate kept his ERA and FIP low, obscuring his decline. His strikeout rates are down 10 percentage points from back in 2012 and his shiny 2.13 ERA last season was accompanied by a 3.70 FIP.
Papelbon will likely be adequate as a closer and not blow too many saves, but he is not close to the pitcher he once was and the 35-year-old could be facing a pretty steep decline. (Not that I’m rooting for that or anything. I mean, who wouldn’t root for Papelbon, amirite?) The Nationals traded away their best reliever in Drew Storen, and then signed Shawn Kelley to a three-year deal after Kelley had a bounce-back year with the Padres, which was preceded by two disappointing years with the Yankees. Kelley projects as the best reliever on the Nationals this year with Blake Treinen coming in second. Treinen throws hard, but he has walked a lot of hitters in the past. The projections have those walks coming down. If that is the case, Treinen will make a big jump forward this season.
I cannot tell which is more odd to me: that Oliver Perez is still pitching or that Oliver Perez is only 34 years old. In either case, he seems to have been around forever. Perez gets a lot of strikeouts that come with a decent amount of walks, but all in all, he is still a decent pitcher. The Giants gave up on Yusmeiro Petit after a disappointing 2015 season, and Trevor Gott has yet to show he can strike out MLB hitters, but both pitchers do have a bit of upside for a bullpen that should be a little above average this season.
#12 Blue Jays
|Drew Storen||65.0||9.1||2.5||0.9||.302||76.4 %||3.17||3.38||1.1|
|Roberto Osuna||65.0||10.1||2.9||1.0||.296||77.1 %||3.14||3.35||1.0|
|Brett Cecil||55.0||11.0||3.1||0.8||.306||77.4 %||2.92||2.97||1.0|
|Jesse Chavez||55.0||8.1||2.5||1.1||.306||72.6 %||3.92||3.89||0.3|
|Gavin Floyd||45.0||7.0||2.8||1.5||.302||70.5 %||4.75||4.87||-0.2|
|Steve Delabar||40.0||9.7||4.3||1.1||.301||74.3 %||4.00||4.19||0.0|
|Randy Choate||35.0||7.1||2.6||0.8||.302||70.5 %||3.74||3.90||0.0|
|Aaron Loup||30.0||8.2||2.8||0.8||.303||73.5 %||3.47||3.68||0.1|
|Aaron Sanchez||25.0||6.8||4.4||0.8||.294||72.1 %||4.13||4.40||0.0|
|Ryan Tepera||20.0||8.1||3.1||1.1||.300||72.5 %||4.00||4.11||0.0|
|Bo Schultz||15.0||7.2||3.0||1.1||.295||71.9 %||4.13||4.29||0.0|
|Pat Venditte||10.0||7.8||3.3||1.3||.299||72.0 %||4.33||4.47||0.0|
|Arnold Leon||10.0||6.8||2.6||1.3||.306||69.7 %||4.57||4.51||0.0|
|Blake Mcfarland||10.0||9.0||3.2||1.1||.307||72.7 %||4.02||4.00||0.0|
|Joseph Biagini||10.0||6.5||2.9||1.2||.300||72.5 %||4.15||4.43||0.0|
|Brady Dragmire||10.0||5.7||3.5||1.1||.305||69.2 %||4.80||4.80||0.0|
|Ben Rowen||10.0||5.9||2.5||0.9||.302||70.6 %||4.10||4.16||0.0|
The Toronto Blue Jays were having all sorts of problems with their bullpen to start last season, and even their prodigious offense could not prevent the bullpen from blowing leads. The Blue Jays reconfigured their bullpen, making Roberto Osuna the closer, putting Aaron Sanchez in the pen and trading for Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins. After the season, the team opted to reshuffle again.
The team traded for Drew Storen to make him their closer, traded Liam Hendricks for Jesse Chavez, Mark Lowe left in free agency, LaTroy Hawkins retired, and Aaron Sanchez headed back to the rotation. Roberto Osuna, only 21 years old, now slots in as dual setup man with the returning Brett Cecil. Storen, Osuna, and Cecil make for a good top-three and Sanchez could always return to the pen if need be, but the rest of the pen is somewhat middling.
Jesse Chavez could be in the rotation at some point, but is not really an upgrade over Hendricks if only a reliever. Aaron Loup will not be ready to start the season. Steve Delabar has not been good since 2013, and Gavin Floyd has not been healthy and productive at the same time in half a decade. The team starts the year with a much better base at the end of games than last season, but middle relief leaves some questions that still need answering.
|Shawn Tolleson||65.0||9.2||2.6||1.1||.304||76.2 %||3.42||3.59||0.9|
|Sam Dyson||65.0||8.0||2.7||0.8||.312||73.4 %||3.48||3.51||0.9|
|Keone Kela||55.0||10.1||3.2||0.8||.308||75.1 %||3.25||3.19||0.9|
|Jake Diekman||55.0||9.6||4.3||0.8||.311||73.0 %||3.81||3.72||0.4|
|Tom Wilhelmsen||45.0||8.2||4.1||0.9||.301||72.3 %||4.01||4.06||0.1|
|Sam Freeman||40.0||8.3||4.5||0.8||.306||72.6 %||4.04||4.16||0.1|
|Tony Barnette||35.0||8.7||3.3||1.0||.311||74.1 %||3.86||3.88||0.0|
|Tanner Scheppers||30.0||7.5||4.0||1.1||.304||71.3 %||4.40||4.53||0.0|
|Alex Claudio||25.0||7.1||2.5||1.0||.307||72.3 %||3.88||3.91||0.0|
|Phil Klein||20.0||8.5||4.2||1.0||.303||72.6 %||4.10||4.17||0.0|
|Luke Jackson||15.0||9.0||4.2||1.0||.308||72.8 %||4.08||4.07||0.0|
|Andrew Faulkner||10.0||8.0||3.9||1.1||.306||72.1 %||4.36||4.44||0.0|
|Jose Leclerc||10.0||8.0||6.0||1.3||.307||69.9 %||5.37||5.38||0.0|
|Cesar Ramos||10.0||7.2||3.2||1.0||.307||71.7 %||4.11||4.10||0.0|
|Connor Sadzeck||10.0||6.5||5.5||1.0||.305||69.6 %||5.08||5.15||0.0|
|Matt Bush||10.0||8.2||4.0||1.2||.322||69.5 %||4.73||4.50||0.0|
A look at only the names for the Rangers bullpen might make you think middle of the pack sounds right, maybe even worse. Shawn Tolleson is not a household name. Keone Kela had a virtually unnoticed rookie campaign that saw him strike out 68 batters in 60.1 along with a 2.39 ERA and 2.64 FIP. Jake Diekman was a solid deadline pickup and Sam Dyson seems fine. After a closer look, we might be able to regard this staff as a bit underrated.
The problem, if the Rangers have one, is the lack of a lights out, game over-type pitcher. Nobody on the staff is projected for a sub-3.00 ERA or FIP, the first time we have seen that phenomenon in these rankings. Not unrelated, no pitcher is projected for at least 1.0 WAR, the first time we have seen that phenomenon, as well. The first team in the entire rankings aside from Texas not to have at least 1.0 WAR is the Angels, down at number 22 overall.
That said, Tolleson, Dyson, and Keola are all good pitchers who should provide good production for the Rangers. Diekman pitched well last year down the stretch and Wilhelmson has some variability about his game given his high walk rates, which could prove something of a positive in a one-year sample. The Rangers are likely to be in the thick of a very tight race in the American League West, and they, perhaps more than others, could benefit from a mid-season deal for a reliever that could help push the team over the top.
|Cody Allen||65.0||11.6||3.2||0.8||.307||78.6 %||2.79||2.85||1.6|
|Bryan Shaw||65.0||7.7||2.9||1.0||.299||72.8 %||3.75||3.84||0.5|
|Zach McAllister||55.0||8.7||2.6||0.9||.311||73.4 %||3.61||3.49||0.6|
|Jeff Manship||55.0||7.9||3.1||1.0||.298||73.3 %||3.73||3.92||0.2|
|Joba Chamberlain||45.0||8.4||3.3||1.0||.308||71.9 %||3.98||3.93||0.1|
|Dan Otero||40.0||5.6||1.8||0.9||.308||71.1 %||3.89||3.86||0.1|
|Ross Detwiler||35.0||6.2||3.4||1.1||.314||69.4 %||4.71||4.62||-0.1|
|Shawn Armstrong||30.0||11.1||4.1||0.9||.309||76.9 %||3.35||3.43||0.1|
|Tommy Hunter||25.0||7.6||2.2||1.0||.303||72.9 %||3.64||3.66||0.0|
|Kyle Crockett||20.0||8.3||2.8||0.9||.308||73.8 %||3.57||3.65||0.0|
|Austin Adams||15.0||8.3||3.6||1.0||.308||72.1 %||4.04||3.99||0.0|
|Giovanni Soto||10.0||7.9||4.0||0.9||.306||71.9 %||4.08||4.09||0.0|
|Ryan Merritt||10.0||5.8||1.6||1.3||.307||68.4 %||4.57||4.40||0.0|
|Shawn Morimando||10.0||6.9||4.0||1.3||.307||69.9 %||4.91||4.89||0.0|
|Dylan Baker||10.0||6.4||4.9||0.9||.301||70.4 %||4.72||4.83||0.0|
The typical bullpen will usually have seven members at any given time, so it would not be fair to say any bullpen is a one-man crew, but Cleveland got pretty close last season. Cody Allen’s 2.6 WAR accounted for more than 50% of the team’s bullpen WAR last season, and these projections expect him to do the same again. They say that FIP can be a good predictor for future ERA. In 2013, Allen’s FIP was 2.99 and the next year his ERA was 2.07 but his FIP was again 2.99, but then last season, Allen’s ERA was 2.99 with an amazing 1.82 FIP that was best among all relievers with at least 50 innings.
After Allen, Zach McCallister pitched pretty well last season and the former starter could provide some decent innings. Relievers keep getting better and better, which has helped bring down scoring over the last decade, but that means it can be harder for a reliever to distinguish himself. Last season, the league-average FIP for relievers was 3.83 and the league-average ERA for relievers was 3.71. I mention this because the five pitchers aside from Allen and McCallister with the greatest projected innings all fail to reach that average standard. Bryan Shaw is pretty close, and a couple other players are not too far off. Building a good bullpen has gotten more expensive of late, and with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, Cleveland might not be in position to spend on relatively lower-impact players.
As for who else could help out the team, Shawn Armstrong will start the season in the minors, but he has some really good strikeout numbers that could come in handy. Tommy Hunter is currently working his way back from an abdomen issue, but he is only a couple years removed from some really solid seasons. Cleveland has a great, young pitching staff, and perhaps more than any team hoping to contend, they might benefit from good health and their starters pitching deep into games.
|Wade Davis||65.0||11.0||3.0||0.6||.298||79.9 %||2.43||2.65||1.8|
|Joakim Soria||65.0||8.8||2.7||0.9||.295||76.5 %||3.18||3.48||0.8|
|Kelvin Herrera||55.0||9.4||3.2||0.7||.298||75.5 %||3.04||3.21||0.8|
|Danny Duffy||55.0||7.5||3.2||1.0||.292||75.1 %||3.58||4.05||0.1|
|Luke Hochevar||45.0||8.5||3.0||1.1||.292||75.8 %||3.61||3.92||0.1|
|Dillon Gee||40.0||5.8||2.2||1.2||.299||70.3 %||4.31||4.39||-0.1|
|Chien-Ming Wang||35.0||3.6||2.5||1.1||.300||67.8 %||4.78||4.82||-0.1|
|Scott Alexander||30.0||6.4||3.7||0.9||.299||71.7 %||4.19||4.41||0.0|
|Miguel Almonte||25.0||7.3||3.5||1.2||.302||70.7 %||4.52||4.59||0.0|
|Chris Young||20.0||6.0||3.3||1.4||.278||73.3 %||4.33||4.92||-0.1|
|Brian Flynn||15.0||6.3||3.2||1.0||.305||71.0 %||4.32||4.40||0.0|
|Matthew Strahm||10.0||8.7||4.5||1.3||.301||71.0 %||4.72||4.81||0.0|
|Alec Mills||10.0||6.5||2.4||1.0||.305||71.4 %||4.03||4.07||0.0|
|The Others||41.0||8.2||4.0||1.2||.322||69.5 %||4.73||4.50||-0.1|
The Royals seem low, right? Let’s try to get to the bottom of what dastardly nerdery is afoot here. Last season, the Royals’ five best relievers by WAR were Wade Davis, Ryan Madson, Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, and Franklin Morales. Only Davis and Herrera are back this season with Madson moving to Oakland, Holland hurt in the middle of last year, and Morales let go. Joe Blanton, who contributed well from the pen in the early part of the year, is also gone.
Wade Davis sits alone at the top, one of the very best relievers in the game. His 0.94 ERA last season was incredible, and his 2.29 FIP and 2.0 WAR were not too far behind. At first glance, projecting Davis’ ERA to move up to 2.43 after after two seasons near 1.00 seems like quite a leap. This is a probably a good time to provide a reminder that projections tend to be conservative, and some of Davis’ career as a starter might be holding him back just a bit. That said, Davis’ ERA, FIP and WAR are all among the top five relievers’ marks, with only Detances, Miller, and Jansen better in all three categories. When compared with Davis’ projections last season (2.67 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 1.2 WAR), this year’s forecasts are improved. Davis’ projected FIP this year is in line with last year’s performance, and while Davis’ 31% strikeout rate from last year is very good, it was a bit of a drop from the 39% he posted in the 2014 season. The projections see another great season from Davis, but if his 92% left-on-base percentage moves down a little bit, his ERA might creep above 2.00 as opposed to the 1.00 of the last two seasons, which is still incredibly good.
The team signed Joakim Soria for a deal similar to what Madson got with Oakland, and similar production is expected. Kelvin Herrera is back and good things are expected from him. After Herrera, it gets a bit dicey, although who would have expected Ryan Madson at this time last season? Luke Hochevar will provide innings with the hope of a return to 2014 form when he struck out more than 30% of hitters. Dillon Gee looks to be a swingman. Danny Duffy could take a step forward by pitching out of the bullpen. He struck out 21 against 2 walks in 14.1 innings last season as a reliever, including playoffs. Potentially following the Madson path is Chien-Ming Wang, who will try to reinvent himself as a reliever this season after not making an active roster the past two seasons. Underrate the Royals at your own peril.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.