2018 Positional Power Rankings: Bullpen (#1-15)

Welcome to the last installment of our positional power rankings series, tackling the top half of the bullpen rankings. Just in the last decade, we’ve witnessed the game achieve record offensive levels by certain measures. One positional group, shortstops, is enjoying a golden era. Some positions are weaker, some are stronger. The game and its positions experience peaks and troughs of production. But relief pitchers give us a constant: they keep marching forward, to greater workloads and relevance.

Last season, bullpens accounted for a major-league record 38.1% of total innings thrown, up three percentage points (35.1%) from 10 years earlier. In 2017, relief pitchers beat their previous record for workload — set the previous season — by 578 innings. Thirty years earlier, bullpens accounted for 31.8% of innings; 50 years earlier, for 26.0%. This trend has been a constant.

The bullpen becomes even more important in the postseason, when urgency and off-days warp the game. Last postseason, relievers accounted for 46.4% of innings. Bullpens have become and more important, and teams have responded by trying to build super ‘pens. The top-eight teams in the projections here all went to the postseason last season. While most free agents endured historically long waits to sign this offseason, relievers were quickly plucked from the market. Expect relievers to continue growing in importance and workload.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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Pirates Hurdles
6 years ago

The Pirates are putting Glasnow in the bullpen, Brault too.

6 years ago

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates have a top-5 in MLB bullpen this year. There is a ton of upside. Rivero looks like a truly dominant pitcher, and they have several guys who can miss bats. I’m very high on Feliz in particular- the stuff is outstanding and he was really rushed through the higher levels by the Astros- he started two games in AAA for a total of 8 innings (after only 79 innings in AA), so much of his development has occurred in the majors. It’s quite notable that Rivero was treated exactly the same by the Nats- he spent 43 innings in AA and 6.2 innings in AAA.

Glasnow in the bullpen could be a great move. The issue is almost entirely mental (his AAA numbers are staggering), so getting some zero-pressure innings on the major league level may be what he needs to turn the corner.

Kontos and Schugel don’t have much upside, but they should be solid. Brault will be the first guy up to move to the rotation when needed and I suspect he’ll be pretty strong in a long relief role.