2016 Positional Power Rankings: Relief Pitchers (#16-30)


We continue the 2016 Positional Power Rankings — finish them, in fact — by looking at the sometimes difficult-to-project bullpens of each of the 30 major-league franchises. Here, in this article, we will examine the bottom half of baseball’s relief-pitching corps, with Craig Edwards handling the better half of the bullpen marriage. If this is your first go around, here’s an introduction to help you out. Now here’s a graphic detailing where each of the bullpens stand:

RP_PPR

Some really good teams on that graph. Some not-so-good teams on that graph. We turn our attention to the not-so-good ones, who, even though they may have vastly improved (hey, Rockies!), still find themselves performing the metaphorical mop-up duties of the 2016 bullpen power rankings.

Onto the relievers!

#16 Rockies


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jake McGee 65.0 10.3 2.8 0.9 .310 76.8 % 3.15 3.14 1.5
Jason Motte 65.0 7.3 2.6 1.3 .307 72.5 % 4.33 4.33 0.2
Chad Qualls 55.0 7.5 2.1 0.9 .314 71.5 % 3.78 3.56 0.7
Justin Miller 55.0 8.7 3.2 1.0 .309 72.9 % 3.87 3.85 0.4
Boone Logan 45.0 9.9 3.6 1.0 .319 72.9 % 3.91 3.73 0.3
Miguel Castro 40.0 8.3 3.9 1.0 .315 71.3 % 4.38 4.19 0.1
Chris Rusin   35.0 5.4 2.6 1.2 .316 69.0 % 4.81 4.62 0.0
Jason Gurka 30.0 7.3 3.1 1.0 .312 71.2 % 4.27 4.19 0.0
Christian Bergman 25.0 5.3 2.1 1.5 .312 68.4 % 5.10 4.95 -0.1
Scott Oberg 20.0 7.5 4.0 1.1 .309 71.2 % 4.46 4.51 0.0
Adam Ottavino   15.0 9.5 3.1 0.9 .312 74.3 % 3.51 3.51 0.0
Jeff Hoffman 10.0 6.9 3.3 1.2 .312 71.2 % 4.57 4.57 0.0
Carlos Estevez 10.0 8.2 3.1 1.1 .314 71.8 % 4.13 4.01 0.0
The Others 55.0 8.2 4.0 1.2 .322 69.5 % 4.73 4.50 0.0
Total 525.0 8.1 3.0 1.1 .313 71.9 % 4.13 4.03 3.0

What a difference a year makes! Last March, we had this bullpen projected for 0.5 WAR and 28th place. This year, they’ve made it up to 3.0 and 16th. Team sports represent one of the few arenas in which an entity could make so drastic a transformation in one calendar year, and the process, dear readers, was quite simple: fire most everyone and hire new people! It seems primed to work, at least on paper, and before anything has actually happened. That is confidence.

As with anything that happens in relation to pitching half of a season’s games at Coors Field, however, the outcomes of this bullpen could be quite volatile. With a completely revamped back end of Jake McGee, Jason Motte, and Chad Qualls, the Rockies would appear to have three very solid end-of-game options. But that papers over the fact that only one of these pitchers (Qualls) is a solid ground-ball pitcher, and even he has always had his share of home-run issues (career 13.1% HR/FB rate). Even if the batted-ball outcomes might appear slightly scary on the surface in relation to homer-happy Coors Field, the Rockies should at least have a solid bullpen this coming season, and a vastly improved one from 2015.

None of this mentions the hopeful return of Adam Ottavino, one of the darlings of the first month of the 2015 season. Should he return to full health sometime around the All-Star break (he’s just started a throwing program on his way back from Tommy John surgery), he could provide a serious shot in the arm that could elevate the overall production of this bullpen.

#17 Pirates


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Mark Melancon 65.0 8.2 1.8 0.6 .302 76.3 % 2.69 2.84 1.4
Tony Watson 65.0 8.3 2.2 0.6 .299 75.3 % 2.93 3.11 1.0
Arquimedes Caminero 55.0 9.0 3.4 0.8 .300 74.3 % 3.43 3.63 0.3
Neftali Feliz 55.0 7.9 3.1 0.8 .303 73.8 % 3.58 3.67 0.2
Jared Hughes   45.0 5.8 2.9 0.6 .304 72.0 % 3.66 3.93 0.0
Cory Luebke 40.0 7.3 3.1 1.0 .301 69.3 % 4.15 4.06 0.0
Jeff Locke 35.0 7.0 3.2 0.8 .306 71.2 % 4.00 3.96 0.0
Kyle Lobstein 30.0 6.2 2.7 0.8 .310 70.6 % 4.03 3.91 0.0
Juan Nicasio 25.0 7.7 3.5 0.8 .306 71.9 % 3.94 3.88 0.0
Rob Scahill 20.0 7.0 3.3 0.8 .306 71.6 % 3.96 4.01 0.0
Trey Haley 15.0 8.4 5.0 0.8 .304 72.7 % 4.13 4.23 0.0
John Holdzkom 10.0 10.2 4.7 0.6 .307 74.9 % 3.37 3.45 0.0
Andrew Schugel 10.0 6.2 2.7 0.9 .311 70.2 % 4.19 4.08 0.0
Guido Knudson 10.0 7.9 3.8 0.9 .308 72.5 % 4.06 4.09 0.0
The Others 16.0 8.2 4.0 1.2 .322 69.5 % 4.73 4.50 0.0
Total 496.0 7.7 3.0 0.8 .304 72.9 % 3.57 3.65 2.9

I am fairly confident in stating that I am not the only baseball fan/analyst who thinks Mark Melancon is older than he is. I’m not sure whether he’s simply one of those players who looks older, or whether my internal baseball clock refuses to believe that he only broke into the majors in 2009. In truth, Melancon is just 31. In fact, at the time of this writing, it is his birthday, and a I’d like to extend sentiments for a happy birthday to the Pirates’ closer.

All of this has a point, of course, and it’s that there are a few indicators that Melancon might be slipping a little bit: there was the 2015 dip in velocity on his hard pitches, and a subsequent loss in strikeout rate and swinging-strike rate. Even though he has been one of the best relievers in the majors by ERA over the past three years, there are indicators that there might be a few cracks in the armor. Is this the reason the Pirates moved from the 11th spot in 2015’s power rankings to 17th in 2016? Not at all. The Pirates bullpen is actually projected to account for 0.7 greater WAR than at this point in 2015, but the best bullpens in baseball have simply gotten much, much better.

Regardless of their ranking, the Pirates are set to use their top two of Melancon and Tony Watson heavily in 2016, as they’ve done for the past three years: they rank second and first, respectively, in relief innings pitched in baseball over that time span. And, while they are some of the best relievers in the majors at run prevention, the bullpen after them has many question marks. Can Arquimedes Caminero finally match results with velocity? Will Neftali Feliz turn it around after a terrible 2015? Does Cory Luebke come back from his second Tommy John surgery and provide meaningful production? The returns from spring training are mostly positive so far, but the final answers to these questions will dictate where the Pirates bullpen finds itself on this list at the end of the season.

#18 Giants


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Santiago Casilla 65.0 8.0 3.2 0.6 .289 75.5 % 3.03 3.43 0.5
Sergio Romo 65.0 9.3 2.1 0.8 .298 77.5 % 2.81 3.01 1.0
Hunter Strickland 55.0 9.9 2.2 0.7 .296 78.0 % 2.55 2.71 1.0
Josh Osich 55.0 8.8 3.5 0.8 .299 75.2 % 3.29 3.54 0.2
George Kontos 45.0 7.2 2.4 0.9 .294 74.0 % 3.43 3.66 0.1
Chris Heston 40.0 6.9 3.1 0.8 .300 71.6 % 3.77 3.91 0.0
Javier Lopez 35.0 6.6 3.7 0.6 .288 72.7 % 3.48 3.82 0.0
Cory Gearrin 30.0 8.6 3.4 0.7 .300 73.4 % 3.41 3.54 0.0
Steven Okert 25.0 9.4 3.9 0.8 .302 74.4 % 3.51 3.64 0.0
Mike Broadway 20.0 9.6 2.7 0.8 .301 76.4 % 2.99 3.14 0.0
Kyle Crick 15.0 9.7 7.3 0.7 .304 72.7 % 4.44 4.61 -0.1
Derek Law 10.0 9.1 4.1 0.7 .301 74.7 % 3.37 3.56 0.0
Joan Gregorio 10.0 8.2 4.2 0.9 .301 72.5 % 3.98 4.11 0.0
Total 438.0 8.5 3.0 0.7 .294 75.3 % 3.12 3.38 2.9

The Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. That is not news. However, an interesting trend in those seasons — and one that pertains to our purposes today — is that the Giants had an above-average bullpen in only one of those campaigns, 2010. Their bullpen produced 5.4 WAR that season, as opposed to 1.5 WAR in 2012 and just 1.2 WAR in 2014. This is not to say that a strict causation exists between championships and bullpen strength, but that, in an era of increased faith in the power of talented bullpens to deliver overall club success, the Giants have not put much stock in it when building their teams.

In fact, we could find more evidence for that bullpen posture. That was the case in 2015, when their bullpen accounted for just 1.7 WAR, good for ninth-worst in baseball. They’re once again set up to be in the bottom half in 2016, relying on a somewhat aging pair of Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo. Even so, Romo seems to have regained his dominant pre-2015 form, and Hunter Strickland’s step forward last season at least gives the Giants a young, fire-balling setup option and possible dark-horse closer should either of the aforementioned duo slip.

After those three, Josh Osich looks to be a potentially useful lefty, as he showed platoon-busting abilities in a small sample size during 2015. As such, he figures to operate in a wider capacity than say Javier Lopez, who will operate as the designated LOOGY.

#19 Brewers


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jeremy Jeffress 65.0 8.8 3.3 0.6 .316 73.6 % 3.38 3.32 1.1
Tyler Thornburg 65.0 8.0 3.8 1.0 .305 72.3 % 4.22 4.27 0.1
Corey Knebel 55.0 10.9 3.5 0.9 .309 75.8 % 3.29 3.31 0.8
Michael Blazek 55.0 8.1 3.4 0.9 .304 73.1 % 3.78 3.87 0.3
Franklin Morales 45.0 7.1 3.1 1.0 .306 72.0 % 4.05 4.12 0.1
Blaine Boyer 40.0 6.7 2.6 0.9 .305 71.2 % 3.93 3.86 0.1
Will Smith   35.0 11.6 3.3 0.9 .316 77.7 % 3.01 3.00 0.1
Chris Capuano 30.0 8.4 3.0 1.0 .315 72.0 % 3.93 3.76 0.1
Tyler Cravy 25.0 7.5 3.2 1.1 .306 71.5 % 4.23 4.27 0.0
David Goforth 20.0 7.3 4.2 1.0 .307 71.5 % 4.44 4.46 0.0
Junior Guerra 15.0 10.6 3.8 1.0 .311 75.0 % 3.67 3.66 0.0
Yhonathan Barrios   10.0 7.1 3.6 1.0 .307 70.9 % 4.35 4.30 0.0
Zack Jones 10.0 10.1 5.1 1.0 .308 73.5 % 4.20 4.22 0.0
Jacob Barnes 10.0 8.3 3.5 0.9 .312 71.6 % 4.07 3.95 0.0
Damien Magnifico 10.0 7.1 3.8 1.1 .306 70.5 % 4.58 4.57 0.0
The Others 26.0 8.2 4.0 1.2 .322 69.5 % 4.73 4.50 0.0
Total 516.0 8.5 3.4 0.9 .309 72.9 % 3.86 3.84 2.6

After a season in which they cracked the top 10, the Brewers were once again poised to retain a spot in the top 15 of these hallowed rankings. Then tragedy struck: Will Smith, their best reliever from 2015 (1.4 WAR) and at least partial heir apparent to the closer role, tore a knee ligament taking his spikes off after a game last Thursday. Regardless of whether he needs surgery or not, he’ll miss significant time, throwing the back-end of the Milwaukee pen into an unexpected reconfiguration.

Jeremy Jeffress is now likely to claim sole possession of the closer role, relying on his mid- to high-90s sinker to induce elite ground-ball rates. Given his repertoire, there’s the potential for a very solid reliever and closer there. He’ll be backed up mainly by the huge and promising arm of Corey Knebel, whose combination of power curve and fastball reminds our own Eno Sarris of the dominant Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles. Knebel is the future here, but he’s also subject to greater team-control, contractually speaking, than Jeffress and Smith, so he’ll probably be the last of the bunch to get the shot at ninth inning duties.

After that, the situation becomes a little murkier. Tyler Thornburg profiles more as a middle reliever, Franlkin Morales will most likely be used more in situational roles, and Michael Blazek has yet to cement the idea that his minor-league control problems are behind him. Until Smith returns, this bullpen will probably be searching for their third great arm, in turn relegating them to the bottom half of a very strong class of 2016 bullpens.

#20 Twins


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Glen Perkins 65.0 9.1 2.2 1.0 .309 76.1 % 3.36 3.38 1.0
Kevin Jepsen 65.0 8.5 3.4 0.9 .306 73.7 % 3.69 3.73 0.6
Trevor May 55.0 8.5 2.8 1.0 .316 72.0 % 3.94 3.70 0.4
Casey Fien 55.0 7.4 1.9 1.1 .304 73.3 % 3.73 3.75 0.3
Michael Tonkin 45.0 8.2 2.7 0.9 .311 72.7 % 3.73 3.67 0.2
Fernando Abad 40.0 8.0 3.0 1.1 .303 73.1 % 3.92 4.06 0.1
Ryan Pressly 35.0 7.5 3.5 0.8 .311 71.6 % 4.00 3.86 0.0
Ryan O’Rourke 30.0 9.0 4.2 1.2 .307 73.3 % 4.29 4.34 0.0
Alex Meyer 25.0 8.9 4.2 1.0 .315 71.5 % 4.28 4.12 0.0
J.R. Graham 20.0 7.2 3.1 0.8 .315 70.5 % 4.08 3.94 0.0
Mike Strong 15.0 7.6 4.0 1.0 .305 72.0 % 4.22 4.31 0.0
Pat Dean 10.0 4.9 1.9 1.3 .311 67.2 % 4.90 4.68 0.0
Mason Melotakis 10.0 7.1 4.2 1.1 .313 70.1 % 4.73 4.68 0.0
J.T. Chargois 10.0 8.3 4.2 1.0 .311 72.0 % 4.25 4.19 0.0
The Others 24.0 8.2 4.0 1.2 .322 69.5 % 4.73 4.50 0.0
Total 504.0 8.2 3.1 1.0 .310 72.7 % 3.92 3.88 2.5

The Glen Perkins train keeps rolling on in Minnesota, as the solid but far from elite 33-year-old continues to ply his trade. Indeed, Perkins is most likely safe atop his throne — as he has been for years now — as the Twins once again field a largely unexciting supporting cast of characters behind him. Kevin Jepsen is likely to serve as the main setup man and next in line to Perkins for the closer role, even if the control issues continue to be somewhat worrisome.

There is some excitement to be had here, however: with confirmation a few weeks ago that Trevor May will be used out of the bullpen (at least to start the season), we might be getting a hint at who the Twins view as their long-term closing option. Team-controlled through 2020, May has a big arm and has already produced solid results as a reliever, posting over 10 strikeouts per nine and a sub-3.00 ERA when used in that role. Even though the team maintained that his long-term future is as a starter, another season of good results out of the pen might have them changing their tune.

Casey Fien, despite posting a bullpen-best 0.8 WAR in 2015, had a few scary indicators of what might possibly come in 2016: his strikeout rate was cut in half since a career-best 29.9% rate in 2013, and a balky shoulder is not exactly encouraging for a 32-year-old. He’ll likely assume a role in the middle to back-end, with the rest battling for situational/support roles.

#21 Braves


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jason Grilli 65.0 10.5 3.0 0.8 .306 77.6 % 2.94 3.06 1.2
Arodys Vizcaino 65.0 10.0 3.5 0.8 .305 76.2 % 3.18 3.25 0.9
Jim Johnson 55.0 7.5 3.2 0.7 .314 71.2 % 3.80 3.70 0.3
Alexi Ogando 55.0 8.4 3.6 1.0 .300 73.5 % 3.79 3.96 0.0
Daniel Winkler 45.0 8.8 3.1 1.1 .300 73.0 % 3.82 3.91 0.0
Jose Ramirez 40.0 9.3 4.6 0.9 .302 72.9 % 3.89 3.96 0.0
Alex Torres 35.0 9.2 4.5 0.8 .302 73.3 % 3.69 3.78 0.0
Eric O’Flaherty 30.0 6.9 3.3 0.7 .310 70.8 % 3.90 3.78 0.0
Ian Krol 25.0 9.6 3.6 0.9 .306 74.4 % 3.50 3.56 0.0
Shae Simmons   20.0 10.1 4.0 0.6 .308 74.7 % 3.23 3.25 0.0
Chris Withrow   15.0 10.5 4.6 0.8 .297 75.1 % 3.49 3.64 0.0
Carlos Torres 10.0 8.5 3.1 0.9 .305 74.8 % 3.59 3.69 0.0
Matt Marksberry 10.0 8.0 4.7 1.1 .304 71.4 % 4.55 4.64 0.0
Daniel Burawa 10.0 8.8 4.6 0.9 .304 72.5 % 4.07 4.11 0.0
Mauricio Cabrera 10.0 8.5 6.0 0.9 .306 70.8 % 4.73 4.76 0.0
The Others 16.0 8.2 4.0 1.2 .322 69.5 % 4.73 4.50 0.0
Total 506.0 9.0 3.7 0.8 .305 73.6 % 3.63 3.69 2.4

The ageless wonder Jason Grilli continues to fly in the face of the slow march of time, proving once again that a select few are seemingly made to throw baseballs millions of times over with little physical repercussion to their arms. Even though an Achilles injury shortened his 2015, he’s poised to once again assume the role atop the Braves’ bullpen, providing the elite K-BB% he’s posted for three of the past four years. While it will be interesting to see how Grilli comes back from injury, there’s seemingly a lot left in the tank.

Backing him up will be Arodys Vizcaino, who has a fastball that flirts with triple digits and a devastating mid-80s curve. The dominating stuff is there for him if he can harness it, and he’s almost certainly the team’s closer of the future. Given the fact that Grilli will likely be traded before the deadline, Vizcaino is a candidate for a late-season closing role, though his coming arbitration could see the Braves try to shield him from racking up too many of them. In that case, Jim Johnson could see the late-inning work, and manager Fredi Gonzalez has already hinted that he might go with an early-season combination of Grilli, Vizcaino, and Johnson while Grilli fully works back from injury.

The final pieces of the bullpen are largely unexciting, as Alexi Ogando and the others figure to be around replacement-level. Daniel Winkler could be an intriguing and deceptive arm, as he posted great strikeout and walk rates in ~70 innings at Double-A in 2014 before requiring Tommy John surgery. As a Rule 5 pick, he must make the Opening Day roster or be sent back to Colorado.

#22 Angels


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Huston Street 65.0 8.1 2.7 1.1 .292 75.3 % 3.57 3.80 0.4
Joe Smith 65.0 7.7 2.6 0.7 .299 73.5 % 3.32 3.49 0.7
Fernando Salas 55.0 8.9 2.2 1.0 .303 74.3 % 3.36 3.39 0.6
Mike Morin 55.0 8.5 2.6 0.9 .302 73.9 % 3.49 3.57 0.3
Jose Alvarez 45.0 7.9 2.9 0.8 .301 72.9 % 3.59 3.72 0.2
Al Alburquerque 40.0 9.8 3.9 0.8 .304 74.4 % 3.51 3.58 0.2
Deolis Guerra 35.0 8.3 2.7 1.1 .303 73.3 % 3.74 3.85 0.0
Cam Bedrosian 30.0 9.9 4.2 0.8 .308 74.2 % 3.59 3.60 0.1
Cory Rasmus 25.0 9.6 3.8 0.9 .299 75.1 % 3.55 3.75 0.0
Matt Shoemaker 20.0 7.6 2.1 1.2 .298 72.9 % 3.81 3.90 0.0
Victor Alcantara 15.0 6.9 4.7 1.0 .295 71.3 % 4.46 4.71 0.0
Javy Guerra 10.0 6.9 3.3 1.0 .301 70.9 % 4.27 4.34 0.0
A.J. Achter 10.0 8.0 3.1 1.2 .296 73.5 % 3.99 4.20 0.0
The Others 21.0 8.2 4.0 1.2 .322 69.5 % 4.73 4.50 0.0
Total 491.0 8.4 3.0 0.9 .301 73.6 % 3.62 3.73 2.3

At this time last year, FanGraphs’ own bon vivant and huckster of college arms Carson Cistulli reflected on Huston Street’s propensity to post ridiculous left-on-base rates thusly:

“Much like a divorced father who’s always forgetting when it’s his day to pick up the kids from school, Angels reliever Huston Street has become accustomed to stranding people. In the case of Street, however, it’s not children suffering the baleful effects of their parents’ legal separation who he’s stranding, but rather major-league baseball runners.”

Mr. Cistulli was right: between 2013 and 2014, Street recorded a strand rate of 96.1%, by far the highest rate of any pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched. The question in 2015 was: had Street found some secret sauce? Did he have simple powers of focus and run prevention that kicked in only when runners reached base?

The answer, communicated in a savage and unsurprising manner, was resoundingly, catastrophically no. In 2015, Street’s LOB% plummeted to 80.4%, taking his ERA along for the ride. And, as he did last year, Street now finds himself as the leader of a bullpen full of arms that project on or better than his level. In this way, we can fondly think of the Angels’ bullpen as a bastion of parity, though one whose parity serves no great purpose. Joe Smith, Fernando Salas, and even Mike Morin could theoretically step into the closer role and produce close to Street’s level, though they will likely array themselves behind him in a configuration likely to change as the season goes on.

#23 Padres


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Fernando Rodney 65.0 9.1 3.9 0.8 .302 72.9 % 3.71 3.89 0.2
Brandon Maurer 65.0 8.2 2.9 0.8 .303 73.4 % 3.50 3.53 0.6
Drew Pomeranz 55.0 9.6 3.4 0.8 .301 75.8 % 3.27 3.45 0.5
Carlos Villanueva 55.0 8.0 2.7 0.9 .305 73.7 % 3.62 3.67 0.3
Kevin Quackenbush 45.0 9.1 3.4 0.8 .306 74.3 % 3.42 3.46 0.3
Nick Vincent 40.0 9.8 2.9 0.9 .308 75.4 % 3.25 3.24 0.3
Jon Edwards 35.0 10.8 5.1 0.8 .307 75.3 % 3.63 3.77 0.0
Josh Martin 30.0 8.9 3.4 1.0 .308 72.3 % 3.91 3.82 0.0
Luis Perdomo 25.0 6.8 3.7 1.2 .310 69.6 % 4.80 4.73 -0.1
Buddy Baumann   20.0 8.5 3.3 0.8 .307 73.3 % 3.63 3.65 0.0
Leonel Campos 15.0 11.3 4.4 0.7 .310 76.1 % 3.21 3.17 0.0
Tayron Guerrero 10.0 9.0 4.7 0.9 .307 72.6 % 4.12 4.16 0.0
Cory Mazzoni 10.0 9.2 2.9 0.8 .312 73.1 % 3.47 3.32 0.0
Ryan Buchter 10.0 10.3 5.5 0.7 .306 73.9 % 3.74 3.83 0.0
Blake Smith 10.0 8.8 4.6 0.8 .308 71.7 % 4.04 3.98 0.0
Cesar Vargas 10.0 8.4 3.1 0.9 .307 73.5 % 3.65 3.70 0.0
Total 489.0 9.0 3.5 0.8 .305 73.9 % 3.59 3.65 2.3

The other shoe finally dropped for Fernando Rodney in 2015, as his high-wire act finally caught up to him. All it took was a inflated HR/FB% to knock him from his role as the Mariners’ closer, who traded him to the Cubs to work in middle relief. Now 39 years old, he’ll most likely get one more shot at closing — this time for the Padres. His leash is likely to be very short, however, as seemingly better options wait in the wings.

Those options start with Brandon Maurer, who has struggled to find a consistent role over the past few years: after a few stints in the Mariners’ rotation, he found full-time work in the Padres bullpen in 2015. He discovered an incredible changeup there, but this spring he once again has been trying to nail down a rotation spot. With the news of the past week, it sounds like that experiment is over for the time being, and Maurer will move into a setup role to begin the season.

Another potential option is Drew Pomeranz, who showed a much-improved strikeout rate out of the Oakland bullpen in 2015 when compared to his starting statistics. At the time of this writing he’s also vying for a rotation spot, so he’s likely to at least split time between the bullpen and rotation. An interesting arm is Jon Edwards, who has shown incredible strikeout ability yet no small measure of wildness throughout his career.

#24 Diamondbacks


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Brad Ziegler 65.0 6.0 2.8 0.6 .296 73.0 % 3.40 3.74 0.5
Daniel Hudson 65.0 9.3 3.1 0.9 .300 75.8 % 3.34 3.49 0.7
Tyler Clippard 55.0 9.3 3.3 1.1 .281 77.8 % 3.29 3.87 0.2
Randall Delgado 55.0 9.1 3.6 0.9 .301 75.5 % 3.55 3.75 0.3
Josh Collmenter 45.0 6.0 2.1 1.2 .292 73.2 % 3.95 4.28 -0.1
Silvino Bracho 40.0 10.7 2.6 1.0 .302 78.3 % 3.02 3.19 0.3
Andrew Chafin 35.0 7.6 3.4 0.7 .298 73.7 % 3.43 3.62 0.0
Matt Reynolds 30.0 8.0 3.0 1.1 .298 74.4 % 3.85 4.12 0.0
Enrique Burgos 25.0 11.2 5.0 0.9 .309 74.5 % 3.73 3.74 0.0
Evan Marshall 20.0 7.8 3.3 0.8 .308 72.4 % 3.72 3.73 0.0
Sam LeCure 15.0 7.1 3.5 1.1 .299 71.7 % 4.23 4.35 0.0
Dominic Leone 10.0 8.4 3.8 0.8 .303 72.4 % 3.74 3.74 0.0
Keith Hessler 10.0 8.5 3.0 1.0 .304 73.9 % 3.69 3.80 0.0
Jake Barrett 10.0 8.0 3.7 0.9 .302 72.3 % 3.98 4.07 0.0
Cody Hall 10.0 7.7 3.2 1.0 .303 72.8 % 3.87 4.02 0.0
Matt Koch 10.0 5.6 2.2 1.2 .302 69.1 % 4.47 4.48 0.0
Total 493.0 8.3 3.1 0.9 .297 74.6 % 3.54 3.78 2.0

Brad Ziegler is certainly one of the most surprising closers of the past few years, simply based on the fact that he’s a submariner who throws in the mid-80s. Our own Jeff Zimmerman noted something even more unorthodox about his 2015 campaign:

“Brad Ziegler became the first pitcher since Todd Jones in 2007 to accumulate 30 or more Saves with a strikeout per nine rate under five.”

While we’re not ones to put too much stock in number of saves, we are ones to put stock in how teams view their players, and the fact that Ziegler was given the chance to accumulate that many saves speaks to how the Diamondbacks view him. And why not: his ground-ball rate of 72.8% was second only to Zach Britton among qualified relievers, and his ability to limit hard contact (and induce soft contact) is one of the reasons why he sports such a friendly batted-ball profile, despite his lack of strikeouts. He’ll get the first shot at closing, barring injury or performance issues.

Backing Ziegler is Daniel Hudson — who finally got on track in 2015 after two Tommy John surgeries put his career in jeopardy — and Tyler Clippard, who shows no signs of slowing down with his ridiculous and elite pop-up rate. The options thin after those three, though Silvino Bracho is one to watch, given the success of his stuff: he hasn’t posted a strikeout rate below 27.6% at any level of the minors while consistently keeping his walks below average. Even if he fails to make the bullpen out of camp, he’ll likely contribute — and possibly contribute surprisingly — at some point during the season.

#25 Tigers


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Francisco Rodriguez 65.0 8.5 2.4 1.1 .298 74.9 % 3.54 3.63 0.7
Mark Lowe 65.0 9.0 2.8 1.0 .307 73.6 % 3.57 3.56 0.8
Justin Wilson 55.0 8.9 3.6 0.8 .302 73.4 % 3.53 3.59 0.5
Drew VerHagen 55.0 5.8 3.4 0.8 .304 70.2 % 4.24 4.26 0.0
Bruce Rondon 45.0 9.4 4.2 0.9 .312 72.2 % 4.01 3.89 0.1
Kyle Ryan 40.0 5.2 2.7 1.1 .309 68.7 % 4.68 4.54 -0.1
Buck Farmer 35.0 6.7 3.1 1.4 .309 69.1 % 4.97 4.87 -0.1
Blaine Hardy   30.0 8.0 3.2 0.8 .307 73.1 % 3.71 3.74 0.1
Alex Wilson   25.0 5.9 2.5 0.9 .299 71.6 % 3.96 4.09 0.0
Shane Greene 20.0 6.0 2.8 1.2 .313 68.2 % 4.82 4.58 0.0
Bobby Parnell 15.0 6.1 4.6 1.0 .309 68.6 % 4.94 4.80 0.0
Angel Nesbitt   10.0 6.5 4.0 1.2 .307 68.9 % 4.93 4.87 0.0
Jose Valdez 10.0 7.4 4.8 1.1 .300 71.1 % 4.65 4.75 0.0
Jeff Ferrell   10.0 6.9 2.8 1.2 .311 70.6 % 4.54 4.47 0.0
Montreal Robertson   10.0 5.9 4.9 1.2 .309 68.7 % 5.35 5.26 0.0
Total 488.0 7.5 3.2 1.0 .305 71.5 % 4.09 4.08 1.9

By all accounts, Francisco Rodriguez should not be as successful as he is. His average fastball clocked in below 90 mph during 2015, his BABIP spent the second straight year dwelling in the low .200s, and his LOB% continued to be its usual, slightly-inflated self. But Rodriguez still struck out over 25% of batters he faced, he posted a career-low walk rate, and his changeup usage is now almost at the level of his fastball usage. He’s aged, yes, but he’s learned how to pitch better as he’s done so.

For that reason, and the fact that the Tigers don’t have anyone better except for Mark Lowe, Rodriguez will get a long leash atop the bullpen depth chart. We shouldn’t rule out Lowe getting a chance if circumstances arise, however: his 2015 seemed to represent a light bulb illuminating, as his strikeout rate doubled alongside a halving of his walk rate. He’s a a no-brainer setup option and closer in waiting, should the Tigers need it.

The big question mark for the Tigers is the eventual fate of Bruce Rondon: he was optioned to Triple-A yesterday and won’t break camp with the team. We have to expect him to contribute at some point during the season, but his raw talent hasn’t matched up with his on-field performance as of yet. Until he can figure things out, hard-throwing Justin Wilson could get seventh-inning duties, with sinker-balling righty Drew VerHagen likely filling the main middle relief/spot starter role.

#26 Rays


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Danny Farquhar 65.0 9.1 3.0 0.9 .301 74.5 % 3.46 3.53 0.8
Alex Colome 65.0 7.5 2.9 1.0 .301 72.3 % 3.85 3.94 0.2
Xavier Cedeno 55.0 9.3 3.0 0.9 .302 76.5 % 3.22 3.47 0.5
Enny Romero 55.0 8.0 3.9 1.0 .304 71.6 % 4.18 4.18 0.0
Brad Boxberger   45.0 11.1 3.8 1.0 .298 77.6 % 3.19 3.43 0.3
Ryan Webb 40.0 6.3 2.7 0.8 .299 71.3 % 3.76 3.85 0.1
Steve Geltz 35.0 9.2 3.6 1.1 .290 75.0 % 3.62 3.94 0.0
Matt Andriese 30.0 7.3 2.2 0.9 .303 72.9 % 3.56 3.65 0.1
Andrew Bellatti 25.0 7.8 3.2 1.4 .297 71.8 % 4.44 4.59 -0.1
David Carpenter 20.0 8.4 2.9 1.0 .296 74.9 % 3.54 3.77 0.0
Jacob Faria 15.0 8.0 3.5 1.0 .302 72.5 % 4.07 4.18 0.0
Chase Whitley   10.0 7.4 2.7 0.9 .304 72.3 % 3.83 3.90 0.0
Taylor Guerrieri 10.0 7.0 2.8 1.0 .299 71.7 % 4.03 4.16 0.0
The Others 43.0 8.2 4.0 1.2 .322 69.5 % 4.73 4.50 -0.1
Total 513.0 8.4 3.2 1.0 .302 73.3 % 3.77 3.88 1.9

With the trade of closer Jake McGee to the Rockies and heir apparent Brad Boxberger to multi-month injury early in spring training, the Rays’ bullpen has taken a serious hit since last year’s projection as the second-best in baseball. They now find themselves thin, with Alex Colome the likeliest to see closing duties until Boxberger’s return. He profiles well given his mid- to high-90s fastball, but he has yet to find the strikeouts to match his arsenal, and his use up until now as a long relief option might make such a role change problematic.

Should manager Kevin Cash decide to go another route — or should Colome stumble in the early going — former Mariners reliever Danny Farquhar could step into the role. Though Farquhar’s velocity and peripherals have taken a dive since 2013’s breakout 1.8-WAR campaign, the Rays might be able to find and redirect the promise he showed a few years back, as they often do with reclamation projects. Regardless, Colome and Farquhar are likely to see meaningful innings even when Boxberger comes back, though Colome’s role is probably more malleable than Farquhar’s.

Rounding out the bullpen is main LOOGY Xavier Cedeno, who improved his platoon disadvantage remarkably in 2015. He could see a few more innings early in the season with Boxberger out, as could fellow lefty Enny Romero, of whom Kevin Cash has spoken highly during spring training.

#27 Mariners


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Steve Cishek 65.0 8.5 3.3 0.8 .311 73.2 % 3.67 3.60 0.6
Joaquin Benoit 65.0 9.1 3.1 1.0 .284 77.1 % 3.28 3.70 0.5
Tony Zych 55.0 8.7 2.4 0.9 .308 73.1 % 3.46 3.42 0.6
Cody Martin 55.0 8.1 3.5 1.2 .307 71.8 % 4.39 4.41 -0.2
Vidal Nuno 45.0 7.8 2.1 1.3 .299 72.9 % 3.96 4.07 0.0
Michael Montgomery 40.0 6.9 3.2 0.9 .304 70.2 % 4.19 4.15 0.0
Joel Peralta 35.0 8.3 2.6 1.3 .302 73.5 % 4.06 4.07 0.0
Evan Scribner   30.0 9.3 1.7 1.2 .304 74.7 % 3.44 3.42 0.1
Charlie Furbush   25.0 9.4 2.9 1.0 .300 75.8 % 3.31 3.51 0.0
Jonathan Aro 20.0 7.7 3.1 1.0 .304 72.6 % 4.01 4.06 0.0
Ryan Cook   15.0 8.2 3.7 1.0 .308 71.0 % 4.18 4.04 0.0
David Rollins 10.0 7.4 3.0 1.0 .307 70.9 % 4.18 4.14 0.0
Joe Wieland 10.0 7.0 2.3 1.2 .307 70.5 % 4.31 4.19 0.0
Mayckol Guaipe 10.0 7.2 2.7 1.0 .308 70.7 % 4.20 4.11 0.0
Donn Roach 10.0 4.1 2.7 1.0 .310 67.6 % 4.85 4.72 0.0
Total 478.0 8.2 2.8 1.0 .303 73.1 % 3.80 3.86 1.6

The Mariners bullpen looks almost completely different this March than it did at this point last season, when Fernando Rodney was shooting arrows at everything and nobody while leading the charge. Now Steve Cishek, whose incredible performance between 2011 and 2014 was undone in a 2015 conflagration of strikeout and walk rate explosions, will assume closing duties. The team is hoping that the elite strikeout rates are just waiting to resurface, which by all accounts could happen if Cishek is able to find his slider’s effectiveness again.

The team also signed depth in Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook this offseason, both of whom promptly went down with lat injuries early in camp. In truth, the M’s probably expected a little more out of Scribner  — who has posted one of the best K-BB rates in the majors the past two years despite crazy home run tendencies — than Cook, but nevertheless, the injuries were a blow to their available options.

Those options get extremely thin after Cishek and the ageless journeyman that is Joaquin Benoit, with an unproven — but potentially very good — Tony Zych and uneven Vidal Nuno as the only other reasonable options for important innings. Zych is one to watch, but things could get ugly if he doesn’t work out and the also-unproven Cody Martin has to pitch a lot of high-leverage innings.

#28 Marlins


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
A.J. Ramos 65.0 10.4 4.2 0.7 .296 77.3 % 3.07 3.36 0.8
Mike Dunn 65.0 10.2 3.8 0.8 .302 76.3 % 3.27 3.40 0.7
Bryan Morris 55.0 7.0 3.7 0.7 .305 72.7 % 3.72 3.88 0.1
David Phelps   55.0 7.2 2.9 0.9 .306 72.1 % 3.86 3.89 0.1
Edwin Jackson 45.0 6.7 3.1 0.8 .305 70.1 % 4.13 3.97 0.0
Brad Hand 40.0 7.1 3.3 0.8 .305 71.2 % 3.98 3.96 0.0
Nefi Ogando 35.0 7.3 4.4 0.8 .305 70.7 % 4.38 4.35 -0.1
Raudel Lazo 30.0 8.1 2.9 0.8 .307 72.5 % 3.54 3.51 0.1
Kyle Barraclough 25.0 9.9 5.8 0.6 .301 73.8 % 3.78 3.88 0.0
Brian Ellington 20.0 8.3 4.1 0.8 .302 73.5 % 3.71 3.92 0.0
Scott McGough 15.0 6.5 4.0 0.8 .306 70.7 % 4.30 4.34 0.0
Nick Wittgren 10.0 8.0 2.2 0.8 .307 72.9 % 3.42 3.37 0.0
Tim Berry 10.0 6.3 3.3 1.0 .305 70.1 % 4.38 4.39 0.0
The Others 38.0 8.2 4.0 1.2 .322 69.5 % 4.73 4.50 -0.1
Total 508.0 8.2 3.7 0.8 .305 72.8 % 3.79 3.84 1.5

With the Marlins, we’ve officially entered the territory of potentially terrible bullpens that aren’t currently terrible because of a multitude of injuries. One injury, yes, to Carter Capps, who likely would have been the Marlins’ closer this year. Any team would drop in their projected ranks if their top option for closing games blew out his elbow, especially if that pitcher was one of the most effective relievers in the game.

But Capps’ injury exposes the limited depth the Marlins have: Miami is now facing the possibility of having only two useful options in A.J. Ramos and Mike Dunn, the latter of whom has always dealt with sometimes serious control issues. Those issues once again came to the forefront in 2015, and they don’t exactly bode well for a reliever who will likely be exposed to many important situations in the year to come.

And so the Marlins have to hope that Ramos dominates like he did last year, and Dunn is able to fix his control problems and succeed in a major setup role. But even if they do, really meaningful innings are going to have to be pitched by guys like ground-baller Bryan Morris, and a bevy of swing men in David Phelps, Edwin Jackson, and Brad Hand. There are quite simply a lot of holes in this bullpen, and not many great arms to fill them.

#29 Reds


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
J.J. Hoover 65.0 8.9 4.0 1.2 .287 75.8 % 3.82 4.29 0.0
Tony Cingrani 65.0 10.5 4.2 1.1 .296 77.1 % 3.57 3.89 0.4
Jumbo Diaz 55.0 9.7 3.0 0.9 .300 75.4 % 3.31 3.43 0.7
Ross Ohlendorf 55.0 9.1 3.0 0.9 .303 74.6 % 3.46 3.61 0.4
Keyvius Sampson 45.0 8.3 4.7 1.2 .300 72.1 % 4.57 4.74 -0.2
Blake Wood 40.0 10.2 4.7 0.9 .303 73.3 % 3.83 3.86 0.1
Chris O’Grady 35.0 8.3 3.0 1.0 .296 75.3 % 3.48 3.84 0.0
Caleb Cotham 30.0 8.9 2.7 1.1 .301 74.0 % 3.66 3.78 0.1
Brandon Finnegan 25.0 9.1 3.7 1.0 .298 74.0 % 3.72 3.92 0.0
Stephen Johnson 20.0 9.2 5.0 1.0 .304 72.8 % 4.23 4.33 0.0
Pedro Villarreal 15.0 7.0 2.4 1.1 .298 72.9 % 3.87 4.07 0.0
Ryan Mattheus 10.0 6.7 2.9 0.9 .307 70.6 % 4.13 4.05 0.0
Amir Garrett 10.0 7.9 4.9 1.1 .299 72.0 % 4.51 4.75 0.0
Rookie Davis 10.0 7.9 2.8 1.2 .305 70.9 % 4.24 4.21 0.0
The Others 22.0 8.2 4.0 1.2 .322 69.5 % 4.73 4.50 0.0
Total 502.0 9.1 3.7 1.1 .300 74.2 % 3.81 4.00 1.5

The Reds were always going to find themselves somewhere toward the bottom of this list, given the gravity of losing a reliever like Aroldis Chapman and the reality of the rebuild they’re undertaking. That’s fine, and given the team’s trajectory, it’s a chance to see if there are a few surprises in their system that can get some meaningful experience.

The back-end of the bullpen, however, doesn’t seem like it’s going to unfold in that manner. The 28-year-old J.J. Hoover, who will officially start the year as the Reds’ closer, quite simply looks like he lacks the stuff to keep the job. He’s always had problems with his walk rate, and his strikeouts have come at the expense of home runs, and vice versa: in 2014, he pitched higher in the zone, getting lots of swinging strikes but giving up a lot of homers in Great American Ballpark; in 2015, he pitched lower in the zone, reducing his home runs but drying up his strikeouts.

So, with that said, Tony Cingrani and/or Jumbo Diaz are likely to see closing duties sooner rather than later, even though they both have serious home run/platoon issues. Diaz has the better stuff, so he’s likely to come out on top should/when Hoover falters. After the carousel of those three, Ross Ohlendorf might be the only other potential arm that can provide some steadiness in the middle-relief role. After him, it gets awfully murky, and by late season we could be seeing some of those aforementioned surprises.

#30 Phillies


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Andrew Bailey 65.0 9.8 3.4 1.4 .304 73.6 % 4.22 4.24 0.0
David Hernandez 65.0 9.6 3.3 1.1 .306 74.8 % 3.81 3.91 0.3
Dalier Hinojosa 55.0 8.8 3.9 1.0 .303 73.3 % 3.90 3.97 0.2
Jeanmar Gomez 55.0 6.5 2.9 0.9 .308 71.3 % 4.07 4.04 0.1
Daniel Stumpf 45.0 8.8 3.6 0.9 .301 74.2 % 3.64 3.83 0.2
Brett Oberholtzer 40.0 6.8 2.3 1.2 .308 69.8 % 4.39 4.22 0.0
James Russell 35.0 7.1 3.0 1.0 .303 72.0 % 4.01 4.09 0.0
Edward Mujica 30.0 7.3 1.9 1.2 .306 71.9 % 3.91 3.88 0.0
Luis Garcia 25.0 8.8 4.2 0.7 .313 73.1 % 3.72 3.65 0.0
Vincent Velasquez 20.0 10.2 3.6 1.0 .307 74.5 % 3.72 3.71 0.0
Elvis Araujo 15.0 9.3 4.5 0.8 .307 73.2 % 3.92 3.85 0.0
Hector Neris 10.0 8.4 3.6 1.2 .305 72.1 % 4.23 4.30 0.0
Michael Mariot   10.0 9.5 3.1 0.9 .308 74.1 % 3.53 3.51 0.0
Severino Gonzalez 10.0 6.4 2.0 1.4 .309 67.6 % 4.80 4.55 0.0
Colton Murray 10.0 8.7 4.0 1.0 .308 72.2 % 4.13 4.12 0.0
Mario Hollands   10.0 7.9 3.5 0.8 .309 72.2 % 3.92 3.86 0.0
The Others 18.0 8.2 4.0 1.2 .322 69.5 % 4.73 4.50 0.0
Total 518.0 8.4 3.3 1.1 .306 72.7 % 4.01 4.01 0.9

The state of the Phillies bullpen can be summed up as such: about a week ago, Andrew Bailey was seen as one of the favorites to claim the closer role for the team. Yesterday, one of the Philly writers speculated that he could be sent to Triple-A to open the season. This is the sort of open-ended, your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine environment of the 2016 Phillies that pertains to almost all positions, especially the bullpen. Should Bailey make the club and end up as the closer, it’d certainly be a feel good story; however, we have to think that there are probably better options at the back-end of the pen, right?

Perhaps not. David Hernandez hasn’t had meaningful success since his 2012 campaign with the Diamondbacks, Jeanmar Gomez doesn’t have swing-and-miss stuff, and almost everyone else is a completely unproven entity. Dalier Hinojosa might have the best arm out of the bunch, but he only has about 25 major-league innings under his belt. Edward Mujica may or may not make the team. At this point, the only thing we can say with confidence about the makeup of the Phillies bullpen is that we don’t have a lot of confidence in it.

We hoped you liked reading 2016 Positional Power Rankings: Relief Pitchers (#16-30) by Owen Watson!

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Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

newest oldest most voted
Moranall
Member
Moranall

Ziegler is so criminally underrated by fWAR. Over the past 4.5 seasons with AZ, he’s been worth 6.7 RA9-WAR. Yet, he’s only received 2.3 fWAR during this time.

During his tenure with OAK (3.5 seasons), he put up 5.9 RA9-WAR compared to only 3.2 fWAR.

All-in-all, Ziegler has averaged 1.575 RA9-WAR/year yet only 0.5625 fWAR.

I understand why – with his FIP being considerably higher due to his BABIP well below league average. But if you add the 1 or so WAR that he likely deserves, AZ is suddenly in the top 15 for projected bullpen WAR.

Moranall
Member
Moranall

Also, like to add: since 2012, Ziegler is 12th among all relivers in WPA despite only being a closer for 1.5 out of those 4 seasons. His average LI during this time is 1.53, so it’s not like he’s been hurt by leverage (since fWAR is leverage adjusted for relievers).