2021 Positional Power Rankings: Bullpen (No. 1-15)

Earlier today, Eric Longenhagen previewed baseball’s lesser bullpens. Now, Dan Szymborski takes a look at the relief corps projected to be the league’s best.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, there have been gradual changes to how bullpens are built and deployed. Clubs are more willing than ever to admit that their closer is simply the best pitcher on their roster rather than one blessed with magical abilities, able to secure the final outs of a game where lesser men would fail. Closers are still a fairly big deal, mind you, but the trend of late has been to talk more about bullpens in terms of the entire unit, rather than just the closer and his backing band. As such, that’s how we rank them. There’s not a lot of turnover this year, with 11 of the top 15 teams from last season returning.

It will be interesting to see what effects the shortened 2020 season has on bullpen usage in 2021. By the time we get to October, it will have been two years since any pitcher threw 200 innings, and teams are likely going to protect their starters more than usual this season. Nobody really knows what the long-term effects will be of throwing pitchers into a 162-game marathon after a weird, shortened sprint season, one that featured two spring trainings set three months apart. Tommy John surgery may have a high success rate these days, but that doesn’t mean anyone wants to flirt with it.

We sometimes pooh-pooh the value of bullpens because of their volatility, but the fact is, the share of innings thrown by relievers has steadily increased over the last half-century, with their proportion of innings going from just over a quarter in the mid-70s to nearly half last year.

Forty-four percent of innings in 2020 were thrown by relievers and there’s no reason to expect a sudden reversal in 2021. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that 20 years from now, there’s no actual distinction between starters and relievers, with those classifications largely considered a relic. That’s still speculative, but for now, even if a reliever can’t match the value of a Jacob deGrom, bullpens have a very real effect on who makes the playoffs and who pops bubbly in late October.

2021 Positional Power Rankings – RP 1-15
1. Yankees
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Aroldis Chapman 63 14.1 4.3 0.9 .310 79.7% 2.85 2.94 1.9
Chad Green 64 11.9 2.7 1.3 .304 78.0% 3.39 3.53 1.4
Darren O’Day 62 10.2 3.4 1.5 .300 74.5% 4.22 4.53 0.3
Jonathan Loaisiga 64 10.2 3.2 1.3 .313 74.4% 3.93 4.01 0.6
Nick Nelson 62 9.7 5.4 1.3 .309 72.8% 4.68 4.79 0.0
Justin Wilson 50 10.9 4.8 1.2 .307 75.3% 4.02 4.15 0.3
Luis Cessa 47 8.1 3.5 1.3 .306 71.9% 4.52 4.64 0.0
Zack Britton 35 8.5 4.5 0.6 .303 74.2% 3.59 3.85 0.2
Michael King 30 7.8 2.6 1.5 .306 70.8% 4.59 4.65 0.0
Domingo Germán 28 9.6 3.0 1.6 .304 72.6% 4.51 4.55 0.0
Lucas Luetge 20 9.2 3.8 1.6 .309 73.1% 4.74 4.95 -0.0
Tyler Lyons 14 9.4 3.8 1.7 .311 73.3% 4.76 4.97 -0.0
Kyle Barraclough 12 8.9 4.9 1.5 .304 72.3% 5.00 5.24 -0.0
Clarke Schmidt 10 8.3 3.9 1.4 .309 70.8% 4.80 4.89 0.0
Brooks Kriske 4 10.2 5.9 1.4 .307 73.7% 4.81 5.01 -0.0
Adam Warren 4 8.2 3.6 1.4 .302 72.1% 4.66 4.78 0.0
Alexander Vizcaino 3 7.3 4.8 1.7 .307 69.2% 5.78 5.87 -0.0
Albert Abreu 3 8.1 5.6 1.8 .308 70.3% 5.76 5.98 -0.0
Other RP 2 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.0
Total 577 10.2 3.8 1.3 .307 74.3% 4.08 4.22 4.8

Thanks to the Nick Anderson injury, the Yankees regain the top spot on our rankings after being beaten out by the Rays in 2020. While there’s no particular reason to worry about this group, there’s also no denying that it’s shallower than the Yankees bullpens of recent history. The club no longer employs Adam Ottavino or Dellin Betances and are no longer in the very enviable position of being able to shut down opposing teams in the late innings with a parade of closer-quality relievers.

Further thinning the team’s depth (at least for now) is Zack Britton’s recovery from elbow surgery, which will likely keep him out of action in the early months of 2021. That’s worrisome, especially since last year it seemed as if Aaron Boone didn’t have much confidence in the relievers outside of Britton, Aroldis Chapman, and Chad Green. With Justin Wilson set to also start the season on the IL, the bullpen finds itself light on reliable lefties.

Now, don’t get too upset about my relative grumbliness. This group is still one of the best in baseball (look where they’re ranked!), it’s just expected to achieve the same level of dominance it was in 2018 or ’19. Chapman missed part of 2020 due to a COVID-19 diagnosis but came back without missing a beat, and ranks second in our projections among all relievers. Green, meanwhile, ranks fifth. That’s a combination any team would envy.

The team might make up for its lesser depth by relying on more innings from pitchers like Jonathan Loaisiga and Nick Nelson, who are both quite capable of going several frames if the need arises. Johnny Lasagna is particularly interesting, as the team hasn’t completely given up on the idea of him as a starter and all of the projection systems have his ERA around or below four.

2. Mets
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Edwin Díaz 63 14.6 3.5 1.0 .315 80.7% 2.76 2.76 1.9
Trevor May 64 12.0 3.6 1.2 .303 76.9% 3.49 3.55 1.3
Miguel Castro 62 9.6 4.4 0.9 .299 73.6% 3.82 3.99 0.5
Dellin Betances 58 12.0 5.0 1.0 .306 76.0% 3.70 3.99 0.4
Jeurys Familia 56 9.7 5.1 0.9 .307 73.3% 4.08 4.23 0.2
Aaron Loup 52 9.3 3.1 1.0 .311 74.7% 3.64 3.88 0.3
Seth Lugo 46 10.1 2.2 1.4 .304 74.4% 3.78 3.85 0.1
Jacob Barnes 38 9.8 3.9 1.2 .307 73.5% 4.01 4.11 0.1
Robert Gsellman 34 7.8 3.4 1.2 .307 71.8% 4.36 4.51 -0.0
Drew Smith 26 8.3 3.6 1.2 .303 72.7% 4.30 4.50 0.0
Sam McWilliams 21 7.5 3.4 1.4 .303 71.3% 4.70 4.91 -0.0
Stephen Tarpley 14 9.5 4.9 1.0 .308 73.3% 4.10 4.32 0.0
Arodys Vizcaíno 8 9.9 4.1 1.4 .302 75.3% 4.26 4.60 -0.0
Trevor Hildenberger 6 7.7 3.3 1.3 .307 71.8% 4.39 4.56 0.0
Joey Lucchesi 5 8.9 3.2 1.3 .306 73.3% 4.17 4.31 0.0
Sean Reid-Foley 5 10.0 5.1 1.3 .298 73.8% 4.36 4.65 0.0
Corey Oswalt 4 8.5 2.7 1.5 .303 71.9% 4.46 4.61 -0.0
Total 560 10.4 3.8 1.1 .306 74.7% 3.79 3.94 4.7

Nobody wants to look stupid, so after I loudly insisted he would rebound, I was quite pleased to see Edwin Díaz’s inflated home run total from 2019 dip back to levels commensurate with his abilities. The Mets’ relievers were strictly middle-of-the-pack in 2020, but Díaz wasn’t the problem, returning to a sterling 2.18 FIP despite a few more walks than you’d like to see. His slider was also once again effective after taking a season off.

The addition of Trevor May may be a loss for those who prefer watching him play Fortnite on Twitch, but it’s a boost for the Mets. May tinkered with his arsenal before last season, streamlining his curveball and slider into a single, harder slider with a bit more vertical drop than is typical of such a pitch. May’s career-high 39.6% strikeout rate was largely due to this change; the slider and curveball combined made up 19% of his strikeouts in 2018 and ’19, while the modified slider was responsible for 34% of his whiffs last year.

Miguel Castro’s velocity continued to climb in 2020 (averaging 98 mph) and he posted one of the more shocking strikeout rate increases I can remember, bumping his K/9 by just over five strikeouts per game over his prior full-season best. Note that I don’t mean five percent, but five batters. He can still get walloped at times, so he’s not my first choice to come in with runners on base, but he’s hard to hit when his slider’s working. At 87 mph, that pitch is up 4 mph since he was a rookie, and he’s not cheating there by throwing it as a cutter; it has more horizontal movement than the typical slider does.

One pitcher who might not match his projections is Dellin Betances. The various computer projections still see a lot of him from back when he could hit triple digits with his fastball. That kind of velocity seems to be firmly in the rearview, and he didn’t do anything this spring to shake my pessimism. Jeurys Familia is another risk, though the projections have faith that he’ll be at least adequate. But command is a problem, and even though it appears Familia will not be used in the most crucial of situations, his leash isn’t endlessly long.

Helping out the bullpen is the fact that the Mets added rotation depth this offseason, preventing them from having to dragoon Seth Lugo into starting.

3. White Sox
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Liam Hendriks 68 12.5 2.5 1.2 .309 78.5% 3.11 3.02 1.9
Aaron Bummer 62 9.3 3.8 0.8 .304 74.8% 3.40 3.66 1.0
Evan Marshall 60 8.6 3.4 1.0 .309 74.7% 3.85 4.03 0.6
Codi Heuer 58 8.5 3.3 1.1 .306 73.2% 4.00 4.15 0.4
Matt Foster 56 8.0 3.9 1.5 .300 72.8% 4.71 5.02 -0.1
Garrett Crochet 53 11.4 3.3 1.0 .305 75.9% 3.31 3.41 0.7
Jace Fry 44 10.4 5.2 1.0 .309 73.5% 4.09 4.17 0.1
Michael Kopech 36 9.5 4.5 1.3 .306 72.2% 4.58 4.71 0.0
Reynaldo López 34 8.2 3.3 1.6 .299 71.4% 4.82 4.98 -0.0
Carlos Rodón 26 9.0 4.0 1.5 .308 72.1% 4.73 4.85 0.0
Nik Turley 23 9.2 4.2 1.3 .308 72.8% 4.50 4.68 0.0
Jimmy Lambert 12 8.5 3.8 1.5 .307 71.5% 4.84 4.94 -0.0
Zack Burdi 12 10.3 5.0 1.6 .308 73.3% 4.87 5.03 -0.0
José Ruiz 8 9.1 4.8 1.4 .307 72.7% 4.77 5.01 -0.0
Tyler Johnson 6 9.5 3.9 1.3 .307 74.4% 4.22 4.49 0.0
Jonathan Stiever 5 7.6 2.7 2.1 .303 67.9% 5.63 5.63 -0.0
Bernardo Flores Jr. 3 6.2 2.5 1.3 .308 71.2% 4.58 4.76 -0.0
Other RP 3 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.0
Total 569 9.6 3.7 1.2 .306 73.9% 4.03 4.17 4.6

Players like Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez rightly got the most attention during Chicago’s 2020 resurgence, but the team’s bullpen was a significant plus as well. Despite not having any real household names outside of Alex Colomé, the Sox had a top 10 bullpen last time around, and the organization hasn’t beat that unit’s 86 ERA- since the 2005 team that won the World Series.

Colomé’s gone, but the team got someone even better, landing Liam Hendriks, our top-ranked reliever in our free agent Top 50. In 2020, Hendriks proved that his 2019 breakout was no fluke, and he’s now a galaxy away from the soft-tossing sort-of prospect he was a decade ago with the Twins. Often, these hard-throwing relievers have one troubling flaw, like allowing too many walks or gopher balls, but Hendriks suffers from neither of those maladies.

The projections are not sold on Matt Foster, but they’re quite convinced about the rest of the pen. Providing a bit of help is the return of Aaron Bummer, who was available for only nine innings in 2020 due to biceps and nerve injuries. Bummer’s breaking stuff is almost an afterthought; he has one real pitch, a high-90s sinker, something you don’t often see from a lefty. It’s a heavy one and batters hit it hard but straight into the ground. Of the pitchers with 100 sinkers put into play in 2019 and ’20, Bummers’ -9 degree launch angle tops the list of worm-burners.

Also available in the ‘pen, possibly for longer outings than typical, are Garrett Crochet and Michael Kopech. I’m a fan of Earl Weaver’s strategy of breaking in pitchers by giving them some bullpen time, and I’d rather see Crochet facing major leaguers than Triple-A hitters. Kopech is phenomenally talented, but he hasn’t pitched big league innings since 2018 (he underwent Tommy John and then, after recovering, opted out of the 2020 season), meaning he’s too big a risk to count on in the rotation right now. Hopefully that will change at some point in the near feature.

4. Padres
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Drew Pomeranz 56 11.8 4.3 1.1 .311 76.6% 3.55 3.69 1.0
Emilio Pagán 63 10.6 2.8 1.4 .297 75.2% 3.75 3.88 0.8
Mark Melancon 62 7.8 2.8 1.0 .311 73.7% 3.82 3.96 0.5
Keone Kela 58 11.9 3.5 1.1 .301 76.4% 3.35 3.41 0.7
Pierce Johnson 57 10.5 3.9 1.1 .305 74.0% 3.78 3.82 0.4
Tim Hill 53 8.7 3.2 0.8 .307 73.4% 3.58 3.76 0.3
Craig Stammen 46 8.2 2.4 1.0 .309 72.6% 3.71 3.72 0.1
Matt Strahm 44 9.2 2.7 1.3 .302 73.4% 3.95 4.13 0.2
Ryan Weathers 38 6.7 3.6 1.2 .307 71.3% 4.62 4.82 -0.0
Austin Adams 34 13.1 4.9 0.9 .310 78.3% 3.16 3.37 0.1
Dan Altavilla 22 10.8 5.1 1.2 .301 73.9% 4.15 4.34 0.0
Adrian Morejon 20 10.6 3.7 1.1 .315 75.2% 3.66 3.74 0.1
Taylor Williams 14 9.2 4.2 1.1 .310 73.1% 4.18 4.31 0.0
Nabil Crismatt 10 8.8 2.9 1.4 .305 72.3% 4.29 4.38 0.0
Michel Baez 5 9.8 4.5 1.1 .307 72.8% 4.14 4.25 0.0
Javy Guerra 5 8.8 3.6 1.1 .304 72.0% 4.12 4.11 0.0
Anderson Espinoza 3 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.0
Total 584 9.9 3.5 1.1 .306 74.4% 3.75 3.88 4.3

One of the amazing things about the Padres is how quickly they assembled what is essentially an entirely new, but still dominant bullpen after breaking apart the old one. In 2018, they ranked second in relief WAR behind only the Yankees, but despite trading off many of that ‘pen’s key contributions, they haven’t fallen out of the top 10 overall. Of the main members of that group, only Craig Stammen and Matt Strahm remain.

The Padres didn’t do it in the simplest way (splashing large amounts of cash), though one of the exceptions was Drew Pomeranz, who signed a four-year, $32 million deal before 2020, a move that showed a good deal of faith in his continued success as a reliever. Pierce Johnson earned a two-year deal based on his performance in Japan, Keone Kela signed for a discount because of his injury issues, and Mark Melancon was willing to sign for one year and $2 million with a mutual option after attracting little interest this winter.

The Padres don’t have an Aroldis Chapman or Josh Hader at the top, but what they do have is a deep pool of talent: of the 17 relievers listed on their depth chart, only one, Ryan Weathers, has a little negative sign before his projected WAR. With 10 relievers projected with an ERA under four, the Padres could just give their bullpen weekends off and pitch the B-team without any major disasters. Yes, I know roster rules don’t work like that.

5. Brewers
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Josh Hader 66 14.7 3.6 1.2 .294 81.1% 2.93 3.03 2.1
Devin Williams 65 12.4 4.6 1.0 .311 77.3% 3.43 3.64 1.0
Brent Suter 64 9.1 2.1 1.4 .304 74.4% 3.92 4.08 0.4
Eric Yardley 63 6.8 3.2 1.0 .308 72.0% 4.16 4.36 0.3
Drew Rasmussen 58 11.1 4.4 1.2 .309 74.7% 4.05 4.16 0.2
J.P. Feyereisen 58 10.5 4.9 1.3 .302 73.2% 4.40 4.56 0.2
Ray Black 52 11.4 4.9 1.4 .300 73.9% 4.42 4.48 0.0
Angel Perdomo 44 11.2 6.1 1.2 .307 73.8% 4.46 4.64 -0.0
Freddy Peralta 40 11.3 4.0 1.4 .301 73.7% 4.16 4.21 0.1
Josh Lindblom 37 9.1 2.6 1.5 .308 71.6% 4.42 4.34 0.0
Justin Topa 28 8.3 3.3 1.2 .312 71.7% 4.40 4.38 0.0
Phil Bickford 24 8.7 5.0 1.5 .305 71.4% 5.08 5.20 -0.1
Aaron Ashby 22 8.3 5.6 1.2 .304 73.0% 4.72 5.15 -0.0
Brad Boxberger 14 10.6 5.3 1.6 .305 73.2% 4.79 4.98 -0.0
Bobby Wahl 10 11.3 4.8 1.3 .309 74.3% 4.26 4.35 0.0
Eric Lauer 8 8.6 3.5 1.6 .310 71.5% 4.81 4.87 -0.0
Jordan Zimmermann 6 7.4 2.2 1.8 .313 69.3% 5.14 5.02 -0.0
Clayton Andrews 5 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.0
Zack Brown 4 8.0 4.1 1.4 .307 71.3% 4.80 4.97 -0.0
Dylan File 3 7.8 2.3 1.7 .307 70.7% 4.72 4.79 -0.0
Zack Godley 3 9.1 3.7 1.3 .321 71.1% 4.64 4.47 0.0
Other RP 5 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.0
Total 679 10.4 4.1 1.3 .306 74.0% 4.12 4.24 4.2

You can have a great bullpen without a Josh Hader at the top of it, but it’s much easier when you do have him at your disposal. Hader’s the reliever food chain’s apex predator, thanks to his utter unhittability, which I swear is a word. The Brew Crew has a lot of good options, and as a result, they’ve mostly moved on from using Hader in multi-inning outings, leaving him to serve as a traditional closer.

One of those other options is Devin Williams, the NL Rookie of the Year in 2020. Moved out of the rotation as a prospect due to injury issues, Williams developed a wipeout changeup, a pitch I’d argue is the scariest of its genre in baseball. Command is sometimes an issue, and he’ll likely regress toward the mean in 2021, but there’s no reason he can’t be an effective fastball-change reliever as long as he remains healthy.

Providing a contrast in styles for the Brewers is Brent Suter, whose fastball would impress only Tim Wakefield and possibly Jered Weaver. It’s not as if Suter has amazing secondary pitches that fool batters or that the slowball has killer movement; he combines an almost uncanny ability to locate the pitch with a deceptive delivery. Joining Mild Thing is Eric Yardley, whose mid-80s sinker looks like an Aroldis Chapman fastball relative to his loopy, low-70s Greinke-esque curve. Hitters have yet to figure out how to drive that one, though; it ranked 12th in baseball for lowest xWOBA.

6. Dodgers
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Kenley Jansen 63 10.6 2.9 1.4 .299 74.2% 3.92 4.02 0.8
Blake Treinen 67 9.3 3.4 0.8 .306 74.5% 3.41 3.55 1.1
Victor González 62 8.9 3.3 1.0 .306 74.4% 3.70 3.96 0.5
Corey Knebel 59 11.8 4.3 1.2 .306 76.7% 3.70 3.85 0.6
Brusdar Graterol 55 8.9 3.1 0.8 .307 74.9% 3.39 3.58 0.5
Jimmy Nelson 48 9.5 3.5 1.2 .311 74.1% 4.01 4.17 0.2
Joe Kelly 44 9.7 4.3 0.9 .309 74.3% 3.75 3.87 0.1
Dennis Santana 43 10.0 4.1 1.3 .307 73.3% 4.31 4.47 0.0
Tony Gonsolin 40 9.6 3.4 1.5 .300 73.2% 4.35 4.53 0.0
Scott Alexander 30 7.7 4.0 0.7 .307 74.1% 3.71 3.96 0.1
Dustin May 27 8.8 2.6 1.1 .306 73.4% 3.76 3.91 0.1
David Price 25 9.4 2.8 1.4 .303 75.1% 3.95 4.23 0.0
Alex Vesia 16 9.6 4.1 1.3 .302 73.4% 4.31 4.56 -0.0
Julio Urías 16 9.6 3.2 1.3 .298 75.0% 3.93 4.19 0.0
Brandon Morrow 10 9.4 2.9 1.1 .308 74.5% 3.70 3.83 0.0
Tommy Kahnle 5 12.5 3.4 1.0 .315 77.2% 3.16 3.08 0.0
Mitch White 3 9.1 3.3 1.3 .308 72.8% 4.20 4.30 0.0
Other RP 1 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.0
Total 614 9.7 3.5 1.1 .306 74.4% 3.81 3.98 4.0

Kenley Jansen certainly didn’t look sharp in the playoffs last year, and he’s lost his top-end velocity, but he’s a lot more effective than he might appear to the naked eye. Part of the reason is that he’s still incredibly tough to crush one against; he led the league in hard-hit percentage among pitchers with 25 balls hit in play in 2020, allowing only eight hits of 95 mph or higher and two barrels.

The source of the disconnect between how he looks and how he pitched overall is likely the fact that his struggles came in high-leverage situations last season. In his high-leverage outings, he allowed a .375 wOBA, following up a middling .316 in those situations in 2019. This kind of performance typically isn’t predictive, but given that the Dodgers do have other options, I think I’d prefer not to take that chance.

So, who better to close? The Dodgers have a surprising number of question marks for a good bullpen. Blake Treinen is the obvious next man in the pecking order, but he’s also coming off the lowest strikeout rate of his career, which is rarely an auspicious sign. Corey Knebel is only 15 games removed from rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and Brusdar Graterol, one of my favorite prospects, really struggled to put away batters last year for a dude with a fastball that can hit 100. Jimmy Nelson hasn’t been fully healthy since 2017, and Joe Kelly will miss the start of the season after a sore shoulder limited him to 12 games (10 innings) in 2020, thought he did see limited postseason action.

Perhaps the most dependable reliever now is Victor González, who throws a hard sinker and a slider with good drop; both pitches stymied batters during his rookie campaign. Hitters were unable to achieve good loft against the sinker, resulting in a .287 xSLG. His slider’s 56.6% whiff rate was the fifth-best in baseball.

Rounding out the ‘pen are Tony Gonsolin and David Price, who will start the year in relief after Dustin May was named the team’s fifth starter. On most teams, they’d be in the rotation, and they likely will see some time there, but the Dodgers like having Plans B, C, D, and E at their disposal.

7. Braves
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Chris Martin 65 9.5 1.9 1.1 .316 74.1% 3.52 3.42 1.2
Will Smith 64 12.1 3.2 1.3 .311 77.9% 3.51 3.53 1.2
A.J. Minter 60 10.7 3.8 1.0 .317 74.7% 3.73 3.73 0.7
Tyler Matzek 58 11.9 5.3 1.0 .318 75.7% 3.85 4.00 0.3
Josh Tomlin 54 7.4 1.4 1.9 .313 69.7% 4.99 4.85 -0.1
Luke Jackson 50 9.7 3.9 1.0 .324 73.4% 4.01 3.95 0.3
Grant Dayton 44 10.4 3.4 1.6 .311 74.1% 4.40 4.42 0.0
Jacob Webb 38 9.2 4.9 1.4 .306 72.4% 4.72 4.89 -0.0
Sean Newcomb 35 9.2 3.8 1.3 .306 72.4% 4.31 4.36 0.1
Nate Jones 28 9.5 3.8 1.2 .316 73.5% 4.15 4.29 0.0
Bryse Wilson 28 8.6 2.9 1.4 .311 71.7% 4.44 4.41 0.0
Chad Sobotka 25 10.2 4.9 1.1 .314 71.4% 4.45 4.32 0.0
Patrick Weigel 22 8.4 4.9 1.5 .308 71.4% 5.14 5.27 -0.1
Huascar Ynoa 18 8.9 4.6 1.3 .314 71.2% 4.76 4.77 -0.0
Kyle Wright 15 8.6 3.9 1.2 .316 70.6% 4.65 4.54 -0.0
Kyle Muller 12 9.2 5.5 1.2 .309 72.1% 4.74 4.87 -0.0
Touki Toussaint 8 10.1 4.8 1.2 .315 72.3% 4.50 4.53 0.0
Jasseel De La Cruz 8 8.0 4.4 1.2 .310 70.7% 4.75 4.79 -0.0
Vìctor Arano 4 10.0 3.7 1.3 .311 72.7% 4.22 4.16 0.0
Thomas Burrows 3 9.5 5.0 1.3 .307 73.4% 4.53 4.79 -0.0
Other RP 3 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.0
Total 642 9.9 3.6 1.3 .314 73.4% 4.19 4.20 3.7

Chris Martin built on his 2019 successes, allowing only two runs in 20 games in 2020. Two of his bigger changes were to reintegrate his slider into his repertoire and use his cutter as one of his primary tools against lefties in all counts. But his filthiest pitch, I’d argue, is his splitter-change, which moves essentially like a high-80s circle-change, which befuddled pitch classification algorithms. It’s one of the reasons for his career reverse platoon-split, to the tune of an impressive 113 points of OPS.

Fighting with Martin for save opportunities is Will Smith. Smith’s 4.50 ERA in his brief 2020 is concerning, and a FIP over seven normally sets off blaring klaxons, but given the small sample, the projections all pretty much agree on a return to form. That the Braves didn’t panic about Smith’s 2020 is an indication that they’re not particularly concerned either. He was plenty sharp this spring.

Last year’s projections expected A.J. Minter’s concerning 2019 walks to magically disappear, and that’s basically what they did. Martin isn’t the only pitcher on the team to confuse pitch classification algorithms, as there’s disagreement about on which side of the line Minter’s cutter-slider falls on. Minter’s comfortable enough with the pitch that he’ll happily throw it inside against righties rather than going purely fastball-change. It’s an effective enough strategy to keep Minter from having extreme platoon splits, which serve to convert many lefty relievers into situational ones.

Tyler Matzek was one of the best stories of 2020. After nearly falling completely out of affiliated ball in recent years and making a couple of stops in the Indy Leagues, his reinvention as a reliever has earned him a second life in the majors.

8. Rays
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Diego Castillo 65 10.4 3.5 0.9 .302 75.7% 3.30 3.51 1.2
Pete Fairbanks 67 11.4 3.8 1.0 .308 76.6% 3.43 3.56 1.2
Ryan Thompson 64 7.6 3.1 1.2 .304 71.4% 4.26 4.38 0.3
Collin McHugh 60 9.7 3.5 1.3 .302 73.7% 4.10 4.24 0.3
Chaz Roe 58 9.7 4.2 1.2 .307 73.5% 4.21 4.37 0.2
Shane McClanahan 53 9.4 4.2 1.4 .303 73.2% 4.49 4.72 -0.0
Andrew Kittredge 46 9.2 2.7 1.1 .309 74.7% 3.67 3.81 0.1
Cody Reed 40 10.4 4.0 1.0 .306 75.7% 3.55 3.80 0.2
Trevor Richards 34 8.9 3.3 1.5 .302 73.4% 4.40 4.60 0.0
Ryan Sherriff 32 6.6 3.2 1.3 .300 71.9% 4.51 4.78 -0.0
Oliver Drake 28 9.5 3.6 1.0 .304 72.9% 3.80 3.82 0.1
Nick Anderson 24 12.7 3.0 1.3 .304 79.3% 3.26 3.37 0.1
Luis Patiño 18 9.4 4.8 1.2 .302 72.7% 4.48 4.66 0.0
Jeffrey Springs 16 10.6 4.1 1.3 .308 75.1% 4.03 4.17 0.0
Josh Fleming 12 6.3 2.4 1.2 .306 71.3% 4.33 4.50 0.0
Brent Honeywell Jr. 10 7.0 3.1 1.3 .324 69.8% 4.83 4.73 -0.0
Chris Mazza 8 7.7 3.3 1.2 .304 71.7% 4.38 4.55 -0.0
Joe Ryan 6 9.3 3.2 1.7 .293 71.9% 4.68 4.89 -0.0
Brendan McKay 6 10.9 2.9 1.2 .305 76.0% 3.52 3.62 0.0
Stetson Allie 5 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.0
Hunter Strickland 3 8.3 3.7 1.4 .301 72.6% 4.54 4.71 -0.0
Total 651 9.5 3.6 1.2 .305 74.0% 3.97 4.13 3.6

The loss of Nick Anderson to a partially torn ligament in his elbow is a big one for the Rays. He had the dreaded forearm soreness last year, causing him to miss time, but nothing looked terribly amiss until he ran of steam in the playoffs. It’s a good sign that surgery isn’t being recommended, but even in the best-case scenario where rest returns him to 100%, Tampa Bay don’t won’t have his services until at least the second half of the season.

Luckily for the Rays, they have a lot of experience building solid bullpens on the literal dime budget the front office is given to work with. Pete Fairbanks (and his high-90s fastball), who was picked up in the Nick Solak trade, is a good example of how the Rays build their bullpen. Slider-machine Chaz Roe returned on a one-year deal, and Collin McHugh will be a full-time reliever after opting-out of the 2020 season. McHugh put up a 4.70 ERA and a 4.43 FIP the last time we saw him in 2019, but it’s not as bad as it looks: his conversion back into a starting pitcher didn’t go well, and he returned to being effective as a reliever, with a 2.67 ERA and a 3.42 FIP.

There are lots of bullish forecasts for the Rays at the back-end of the rotation, with the projection systems all liking Cody Reed, Andrew Kittredge, and Oliver Drake. Jalen Beeks and Colin Poche will be unavailable due to Tommy John surgery, but Brendan McKay could be a late-season reinforcement as could Luis Patiño. I also put Jeffrey Springs on my breakout list even though he’s likely to pitch at Triple-A. But if he does dominate in the minors, the Rays are not a team to be biased against playing their farm hands.

9. Twins
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Alex Colomé 65 8.0 3.4 1.1 .301 72.6% 4.08 4.28 0.5
Taylor Rogers 64 10.2 2.7 1.0 .312 76.5% 3.30 3.42 1.3
Tyler Duffey 62 9.7 2.8 1.3 .309 73.5% 4.01 4.01 0.6
Cody Stashak 58 9.0 2.8 1.7 .307 71.6% 4.66 4.67 0.2
Caleb Thielbar 56 8.6 3.1 1.5 .304 72.3% 4.49 4.59 0.2
Hansel Robles 54 9.4 3.7 1.4 .303 72.3% 4.47 4.50 0.2
Jorge Alcala 45 8.6 4.2 1.4 .309 71.5% 4.83 4.91 0.0
Lewis Thorpe 38 8.6 3.1 1.6 .313 72.5% 4.70 4.76 0.0
Randy Dobnak 36 6.0 2.6 1.2 .313 69.7% 4.61 4.62 0.0
Derek Law 28 8.9 4.3 1.2 .313 72.7% 4.47 4.56 0.0
Brandon Waddell 25 8.0 4.7 1.4 .306 70.6% 5.07 5.22 -0.0
Ian Gibaut 18 9.7 4.9 1.2 .307 72.4% 4.47 4.64 0.0
Shaun Anderson 14 7.6 3.5 1.5 .310 70.4% 5.01 5.00 -0.0
Devin Smeltzer 12 7.2 2.7 1.7 .306 70.0% 5.02 5.08 -0.0
Edwar Colina 8 8.5 4.6 1.5 .309 70.4% 5.15 5.16 -0.0
Juan Minaya 6 9.0 4.4 1.4 .306 72.1% 4.73 4.87 -0.0
Glenn Sparkman 5 6.3 2.6 1.6 .313 68.4% 5.21 5.06 -0.0
Dakota Chalmers 4 7.8 7.1 1.5 .302 68.9% 6.05 6.15 -0.0
Ian Hamilton 3 8.4 3.6 1.3 .305 72.3% 4.43 4.56 0.0
Other RP 11 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.0
Total 612 8.7 3.4 1.3 .308 72.3% 4.40 4.48 3.0

If you need proof that teams are less inclined to get over-exuberant about a pitcher based solely on a microscopic ERA these days, look no further than Alex Colomé, who the Twins landed on a one-year deal. His cutter is undoubtedly a hard pitch to connect with convincingly, but Statcast thinks he over-performed his velocity data by 82 points of slugging percentage. ZiPS is a bit more optimistic but still sees about 65 points of difference. There’s some projection system disagreement on Colomé, with ZiPS giving him a bit more of the benefit of the doubt, as he’s over-performed these types of peripheral stats for a few years now. One thing that is a concern is the dip in strikeout rate, which tends to be a leading indicator of a pitcher’s decline.

Taylor Rogers, on the other hand, is dominant; his ERA finished around four in 2020 largely being due to a .400 BABIP that is unlikely to repeat itself. Rogers is another one of those pitchers who is hard to characterize from a data standpoint, thanks to his slider/curve getting lumped together over the years. He throws them with a similar grip, but a differing release point. I’d call his breaking pitches a family of slurves, but sadly, slurve has become a pejorative term.

Tyler Duffey’s 2019 breakout continued in 2020, with his knuckle-curve extremely effective, giving me warm Mike Mussina memories. He’s continued tinkering with a slower curve that sits in the low-70s and has more drop to it, a definite contrast from the knuckle-curve that he can push to 85-86 mph.

After the front three, the quality drops a bit, and even though the Twins rank well here — there are no actual disasters in the bullpen — it feels like they should have added one more arm to the ‘pen this offseason. Colomé’s fine, but he can’t replace all the innings thrown by Trevor May, Sergio Romo, and Matt Wisler in 2020. Soft-tossing Randy Dobnak will be the team’s main option to take the mop-up innings.

10. Cleveland
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
James Karinchak 64 15.2 5.8 1.0 .319 79.0% 3.27 3.29 1.5
Nick Wittgren 66 9.3 3.0 1.5 .307 73.1% 4.31 4.41 0.3
Emmanuel Clase 60 9.1 2.8 1.0 .309 74.0% 3.58 3.68 0.9
Phil Maton 58 10.5 3.2 1.2 .313 73.9% 3.88 3.84 0.5
Bryan Shaw 56 7.8 4.1 1.3 .312 70.4% 4.87 4.83 -0.1
Oliver Pérez 52 9.0 3.1 1.3 .305 73.0% 4.11 4.32 0.1
Trevor Stephan 46 8.8 3.7 1.6 .313 70.7% 4.97 4.94 -0.0
Kyle Nelson 42 9.9 3.5 1.8 .303 73.7% 4.68 4.87 -0.0
Cal Quantrill 32 7.8 2.9 1.5 .315 69.7% 4.89 4.76 0.0
Nick Sandlin 30 10.6 4.4 1.5 .306 73.3% 4.50 4.59 0.0
Logan Allen 24 8.1 4.0 1.6 .309 70.4% 5.11 5.19 -0.0
Blake Parker 20 10.1 3.5 1.5 .306 72.6% 4.36 4.38 0.0
Cam Hill 16 9.5 4.0 1.7 .310 71.3% 5.02 4.97 -0.0
Triston McKenzie 14 9.6 3.3 1.7 .303 71.2% 4.76 4.79 -0.0
Anthony Gose 10 9.3 13.3 2.4 .311 67.9% 8.88 9.36 -0.1
Scott Moss 8 8.7 4.7 1.6 .306 71.1% 5.15 5.27 -0.0
Sam Hentges 5 7.4 4.8 1.7 .304 69.9% 5.61 5.78 -0.0
DJ Johnson 3 9.5 3.8 1.2 .309 73.2% 4.19 4.29 0.0
Jean Carlos Mejía 3 6.9 4.0 1.3 .307 69.9% 4.97 5.02 -0.0
Other RP 14 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.0
Total 623 9.8 3.9 1.4 .310 72.7% 4.40 4.46 3.0

Even though Brad Hand’s velocity decline is concerning, Cleveland’s decision to place their closer on outright waivers before turning down his option felt like one of the more cynical decisions made by a team this offseason. Of course, even if he’d been retained, hard-throwing James Karinchak would likely have passed Hand as the team’s best reliever. Karinchak’s control isn’t immaculate, but he misses bats and led the AL with the lowest contact rate among pitchers with 20 innings throwing in 2020.

Emmanuel Clase missed the 2020 season due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension but will likely join Karinchak in taking the highest-leverage innings this season. Karinchak throws hard, but Clase throws even harder, with his fastball maxing out at 101.8 mph in 2019. Sure, Jordan Hicks hit 104, but that’s not too shabby! Clase also throws the hardest slider this side of Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler. Cleveland didn’t want Clase as the centerpiece in the Corey Kluber trade for no reason.

Phil Maton was one of the surprises of 2020, bumping up his velocity and his strikeout rate, and the projection systems have become believers despite a career ERA of 4.78. The computers are more bearish on Nick Wittgren, with none believing (yet, at least) that he can maintain a BABIP in the .250s.

Bryan Shaw returns to the Jake in less triumphant fashion than he left it, struggling in two seasons with the Rockies and barely lasting a week with the Mariners in 2020. He was sharper this spring, and the team announced a few days ago that he made the Opening Day roster. This might be his last chance in the majors.

11. Cardinals
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Giovanny Gallegos 63 10.9 2.8 1.2 .301 76.0% 3.48 3.53 1.1
Andrew Miller 63 9.6 4.0 1.1 .304 73.4% 4.02 4.24 0.3
Alex Reyes 62 11.1 4.8 1.0 .308 74.7% 3.84 3.95 0.7
Tyler Webb 59 8.5 3.6 1.2 .297 72.7% 4.19 4.41 0.2
Ryan Helsley 58 9.4 4.3 1.2 .301 73.0% 4.27 4.46 0.2
Jordan Hicks 56 10.7 4.2 0.8 .311 75.0% 3.44 3.60 0.5
Génesis Cabrera 50 10.3 4.2 1.3 .303 74.2% 4.22 4.48 0.0
Kodi Whitley 44 8.5 3.8 1.3 .304 72.2% 4.40 4.57 -0.0
John Gant 35 8.3 4.1 1.1 .300 72.4% 4.27 4.45 0.0
Daniel Ponce de Leon 24 9.8 4.6 1.4 .297 72.7% 4.48 4.68 -0.0
Junior Fernández 18 8.6 4.9 1.0 .303 71.5% 4.46 4.66 0.0
Seth Elledge 15 9.5 4.8 1.2 .306 73.7% 4.39 4.67 -0.0
Johan Quezada 12 7.4 5.6 1.2 .307 70.4% 5.10 5.31 -0.0
Jake Woodford 8 7.5 4.3 1.6 .300 70.4% 5.22 5.42 -0.0
Johan Oviedo 6 7.9 5.5 1.3 .306 70.6% 5.18 5.38 -0.0
Evan Kruczynski 4 7.7 4.0 1.3 .305 71.3% 4.73 4.92 -0.0
Thomas Parsons 4 7.3 2.5 1.6 .304 71.0% 4.69 4.83 -0.0
Other RP 3 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.0
Total 584 9.6 4.1 1.2 .303 73.4% 4.09 4.27 2.9

The Luke Voit-Giovanny Gallegos trade was deemed a loser for the Cardinals by St. Louis fans after Voit’s initial power explosion with the Yankees, but Gallegos has spent two seasons doing his darndest to alter that particular storyline. Now, if Voit continues to hit like he did in 2020, it’ll be hard to say Gallegos is as valuable, but it’s not for lack of performance. Gallegos struck out nearly 13 batters per nine innings last season and, with a FIP of 2.88 in 2019-20, has more than earned his spot in the late innings.

Andrew Miller looked to arrest some of his decline last year, taking a little speed off his slider, exchanging velocity for movement. He was rewarded by the pitch being the most effective it’s been in years, holding batters to a .133 batting average that was somehow actually worse than his .105 xBA. The average launch angle for Miller’s slider dropped by nine degrees, putting it down in 2016-17 territory it occupied when he was at his best.

The Cardinals still haven’t given up on the idea of using Alex Reyes as a starter down the road, but the rotation’s loss in 2021 is the bullpen’s gain. Health and sometimes command have been problems for Reyes, but if he can successfully meld his high-90s fastball to his extremely missable 12-6 curve, he has star potential.

Oh yeah, and Jordan Hicks is back. He hasn’t hit 104 mph on the radar gun yet, but he hit the century mark this spring, an encouraging sign after Tommy John surgery. Hicks is a fun pitcher to watch, even though a pitcher who can throw a sinker 104 mph makes you to wonder if this is proof that we’re living in a computer simulation that has an occasional bug.

12. Phillies
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Archie Bradley 67 10.1 3.4 1.2 .311 75.0% 3.89 4.04 0.9
Héctor Neris 65 11.0 3.6 1.4 .306 75.0% 4.02 4.18 0.6
Brandon Kintzler 62 7.0 3.1 1.3 .306 70.8% 4.50 4.64 0.1
José Alvarado 58 11.5 5.0 0.9 .313 75.4% 3.65 3.70 0.7
Connor Brogdon 56 11.2 4.0 1.5 .305 74.5% 4.24 4.34 0.2
David Hale 53 7.2 2.8 1.3 .308 71.7% 4.47 4.62 0.1
Vince Velasquez 50 10.5 3.4 1.6 .311 73.7% 4.39 4.42 0.1
Sam Coonrod 42 9.6 4.6 1.1 .304 72.7% 4.23 4.39 0.1
JoJo Romero 40 8.5 4.0 1.4 .311 71.5% 4.69 4.81 0.0
Ranger Suárez 33 7.5 3.1 1.2 .310 71.4% 4.43 4.48 0.1
Spencer Howard 25 9.6 3.5 1.5 .308 72.0% 4.57 4.59 0.0
Chase Anderson 18 8.3 3.2 1.9 .295 71.6% 5.09 5.37 -0.0
Neftalí Feliz 14 8.8 5.3 1.6 .303 70.9% 5.36 5.45 -0.0
Ramón Rosso 10 9.1 4.1 1.6 .305 71.5% 4.94 5.07 -0.0
Kyle Dohy 8 12.1 7.5 1.3 .307 74.2% 4.74 5.02 -0.0
Damon Jones 5 9.8 5.8 1.1 .309 72.9% 4.51 4.73 0.0
Other RP 2 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.0
Total 608 9.5 3.8 1.3 .308 73.1% 4.31 4.42 2.8

One of the common ties that seems to bind all losing 21st-century teams together is their fans’ belief that their favorite team’s bullpen is the worst ever, and that it’s the primary reason for the team’s losing ways. While in most cases that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it’s not that far off for the 2020 Phillies, who finished at the bottom of baseball with a 7.06 ERA.

Their FIP was “merely” an execrable 5.56, but the situational performances made the ‘pen a special sort of wrecking ball. In 205 high-leverage situations, hitters put up a .322/.404/.525 line with a .390 wOBA against Phillies relievers. To put that last figure to scale, Mookie Betts had a .390 wOBA for the 2020 season.

All told, Philadelphia’s bullpen combined for -7.35 wins in WPA, enough to make them historically significant.

Worst Bullpens by WPA, 1974-2020
Team WPA
1999 Royals -10.94
1990 Braves -10.25
1979 Padres -8.83
2007 Devil Rays -8.61
1978 Mets -8.55
2013 Astros -8.50
2019 Nationals -8.49
2010 Diamondbacks -8.49
1993 Mets -8.26
2015 Athletics -8.14
2006 Royals -7.73
2002 Rangers -7.53
1991 Astros -7.52
1991 Indians -7.42
1986 Dodgers -7.40
2020 Phillies -7.35
2014 Rockies -7.20
2006 Indians -7.17
2002 Cubs -7.17
2007 Orioles -7.14

Remember, this is a counting stat, so the fact that the Phillies ranked so highly in a 60-game season is a depressingly impressive (dimpressive?) feat.

The good news, of course, is that they have found their way back to 12th in our positional rankings, so a better season looks to be in the works. Part of that is simply the magic of regression; it takes a special knack for futility to continue to pitch that poorly. The additions of Archie Bradley and Brandon Kintzler also help stop the bleeding and even if Héctor Neris’ new slider doesn’t work out, he’ll be hard-pressed to allow a .381 BABIP again. If Vince Velasquez isn’t traded, he could also be an asset for the bullpen; he has 131 career strikeouts in 106 first innings. The ‘pen simply returning to the realm of “okay” should give the Phillies a significant boost in the standings.

13. Red Sox
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Matt Barnes 65 11.7 4.8 1.0 .319 73.6% 3.91 3.73 1.1
Adam Ottavino 66 11.4 5.1 1.0 .315 74.7% 4.02 4.02 0.8
Matt Andriese 67 9.0 3.2 1.4 .317 70.8% 4.64 4.46 0.3
Darwinzon Hernandez 58 11.6 6.1 1.1 .306 73.9% 4.26 4.47 0.1
Josh Taylor 54 9.9 4.2 1.2 .313 72.9% 4.22 4.25 0.3
Hirokazu Sawamura 53 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.1
Ryan Brasier 46 9.3 3.1 1.2 .308 72.1% 4.15 4.09 0.1
Austin Brice 42 9.2 3.7 1.4 .311 70.5% 4.70 4.65 -0.0
Garrett Whitlock 40 7.4 3.7 1.1 .319 70.1% 4.71 4.59 0.0
Phillips Valdez 35 7.7 4.0 1.3 .324 69.9% 5.00 4.87 -0.0
Colten Brewer 28 8.7 4.4 1.2 .316 70.3% 4.74 4.62 -0.0
Kevin McCarthy 22 5.9 3.3 1.0 .317 70.0% 4.67 4.61 0.0
Nick Pivetta 16 8.2 3.6 1.5 .315 68.6% 5.18 4.89 -0.0
John Schreiber 12 8.7 3.4 1.4 .316 70.9% 4.72 4.60 0.0
Durbin Feltman 8 8.6 5.5 1.2 .313 69.7% 5.19 5.05 -0.0
Marcus Walden 6 7.8 4.0 1.1 .316 69.9% 4.76 4.60 0.0
Eduard Bazardo 3 8.2 3.0 1.5 .313 70.9% 4.68 4.67 0.0
Total 621 9.6 4.2 1.2 .315 71.8% 4.44 4.38 2.7

There’s not a lot of razzle-dazzle in the Red Sox bullpen, but it looks like it’ll at least be an adequate assemblage of arms should the team stay healthy.

Barnes, new addition Adam Ottavino, and, well, most of the bullpen have something in common: they’re all interesting pitchers who walk too many batters. The free passes have kept Barnes from advancing into the solid closer tier, and has been Ottavino’s weak spot, as well. Darwinzon Hernandez managed a 3.31 FIP in 2020 while walking eight batters a game, an inconsistency I wouldn’t have faith in him maintaining over the long haul. Boston will likely need many innings from their relievers; Martín Pérez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Garrett Richards all have thick injury records, and Eduardo Rodriguez is currently suffering arm fatigue after losing his 2020 to a nasty battle with COVID-19.

There’s no workhorse in the rotation, and with a lot of four-and-five inning specials likely in 2021, the bullpen will have to soak up innings. I’m not overly enthused by the chances the Red Sox will have enough healthy arms to make a serious run, even though our playoff odds are more optimistic.

14. Blue Jays
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jordan Romano 60 10.2 3.4 1.4 .302 74.1% 4.02 4.22 0.6
Rafael Dolis 62 9.8 4.0 1.0 .308 74.9% 3.82 3.99 0.8
Tyler Chatwood 65 9.1 5.2 1.1 .308 71.8% 4.58 4.66 0.1
David Phelps 64 10.1 3.6 1.2 .309 74.8% 3.98 4.05 0.5
Ryan Borucki 58 8.4 3.7 1.2 .308 71.8% 4.44 4.49 0.2
Ross Stripling 56 8.6 2.5 1.5 .313 72.9% 4.34 4.32 0.2
Julian Merryweather 53 8.9 3.5 1.4 .311 71.8% 4.48 4.49 0.1
Tim Mayza 42 9.8 4.2 1.1 .308 74.8% 3.89 4.14 0.2
Anthony Kay 40 8.6 4.5 1.4 .306 71.2% 4.81 4.91 -0.0
Trent Thornton 28 8.3 3.0 1.5 .310 70.9% 4.66 4.59 0.0
A.J. Cole 24 8.9 3.7 1.6 .309 72.1% 4.81 4.85 0.0
Ty Tice 20 8.7 4.9 1.2 .307 72.6% 4.54 4.73 0.0
Thomas Hatch 15 8.2 3.9 1.4 .308 70.7% 4.83 4.85 0.0
Anthony Castro 14 7.9 5.3 1.3 .308 70.1% 5.14 5.23 -0.0
Travis Bergen 12 9.2 5.1 1.5 .306 73.6% 4.87 5.20 -0.0
Patrick Murphy 10 7.7 3.7 1.1 .309 70.8% 4.48 4.49 0.0
Kirby Snead 7 8.2 4.4 1.0 .308 71.9% 4.36 4.47 0.0
Joel Payamps 3 8.1 2.8 1.5 .307 71.9% 4.54 4.65 0.0
Total 626 9.1 3.9 1.3 .308 72.8% 4.35 4.44 2.7

The Blue Jays were dealt a blow when Kirby Yates‘ forearm strain led to Tommy John surgery, ending his 2021 before it officially began. Toronto, a serious Wild Card contender, took a one-year gamble on Yates, allowing him to rebuild his value after a 2020 he mostly missed due to an unrelated procedure to remove bone chips from his elbow. There was always some risk, but the Jays had hoped to at least get something out of Yates in 2021. It’s also the second straight season Toronto has been down a closer early after losing Ken Giles four innings into 2020.

Jordan Romano is the likely beneficiary of saves, as he was widely seen as the presumptive heir to the closer job. 2020 was a huge breakout for Romano, and even if the 1.23 ERA is misleading, his 3.12 FIP put him in the elite tier of relievers. Romano’s had the booming fastball before, but what was different in 2020 was his improved command, enabling him to cross batters up with the follow-up sliders. Going from a contact rate of 74% to 58% is a dramatic improvement, and hitter successes against his out-of-zone pitches — mostly the slider — dropped almost in half.

Tyler Chatwood is an interesting addition for the bullpen as well. A huge bump in his swinging-strike rate led to a large strikeout improvement in his five starts before a forearm strain sent him to the Injured List. As long as we don’t see a repeat of 2018’s control issues, Chatwood could play a big role in the late innings. Rafael Dolis figures in that mix as well after coming back from Japan with a forkball in his repertoire, seven years after his last major league appearance.

Behind these three pitchers are several solid-but-not-spectacular arms to eat up middle innings: Ross Stripling, David Phelps, Julian Merryweather, and Tim Mayza.

15. Angels
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Raisel Iglesias 64 10.9 3.1 1.2 .301 76.4% 3.55 3.73 1.2
Mike Mayers 63 9.9 3.4 1.4 .307 73.4% 4.16 4.19 0.7
Felix Peña 58 9.6 3.2 1.4 .307 73.4% 4.24 4.34 0.4
Alex Claudio 60 6.1 2.9 0.9 .307 71.3% 4.10 4.30 0.3
Junior Guerra 56 8.7 4.2 1.5 .300 72.6% 4.63 4.90 -0.1
Steve Cishek 48 8.8 4.0 1.2 .299 73.4% 4.30 4.65 0.0
Tony Watson 44 7.2 2.9 1.5 .302 71.1% 4.68 4.92 -0.0
Aaron Slegers 36 6.3 2.3 1.6 .301 69.6% 4.94 5.09 -0.1
James Hoyt 34 9.2 3.9 1.1 .307 74.2% 3.96 4.15 0.1
Ty Buttrey 30 9.4 3.3 1.1 .308 74.2% 3.87 4.03 0.1
Chris Rodriguez 26 9.8 4.3 1.3 .312 69.8% 4.54 4.51 0.0
Noé Ramirez 20 9.4 3.4 1.6 .301 73.3% 4.58 4.81 0.0
Jaime Barria 18 8.1 2.6 1.9 .300 70.6% 5.05 5.14 -0.0
Patrick Sandoval 14 9.2 3.6 1.3 .304 73.4% 4.17 4.31 0.0
AJ Ramos 10 8.9 5.6 1.7 .313 70.0% 5.77 5.68 -0.0
Kyle Keller 4 10.1 4.3 1.3 .300 73.4% 4.20 4.39 0.0
José Quijada 4 10.5 5.2 1.3 .301 73.7% 4.46 4.74 -0.0
Luke Bard 3 8.9 3.4 1.7 .300 72.5% 4.79 5.06 -0.0
Total 585 8.8 3.4 1.3 .304 72.8% 4.30 4.47 2.6

The Angels made a significant upgrade at closer this winter, picking up Raisel Iglesias from Cincy for Noé Ramirez and light-hitting speedster Leonardo Rivas. After some issues with dingers the last couple of seasons, Iglesias was able to induce more grounders, bumping his GB% back to 42% from his career-low 30% in 2019. That dearth of grounders wouldn’t be as dangerous now as it was in the homer-friendly Great American Ballpark, but keeping the ball in the park is still good! Iglesias also trimmed a walk per nine innings, and while the projections are skeptical about whether he can sustain that improvement, it’s a nice mid-career boost. Ramirez actually agreed to return to LA after being cut lose by Cincy earlier this week, and if there’s one thing better than making a good trade, it’s making a good trade and keeping both sides of the transaction!

For a while, Ty Buttrey looked like he’d eventually take over the closer role thanks to his hard, heavy fastball and solid control, but he took a huge step backward in 2020. His strikeout rate collapsed by 40%, and this wasn’t an illusion: contact numbers against Buttrey soared, supporting the drop in whiffs. Buttrey was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake, but should come back fairly quickly if he rights the ship.

Despite the myriad resources teams throw at working with players, sometimes improvement comes from the oddest of sources. In this case, Mike Mayers picked up a cutter based on seeing a Mariano Rivera baseball marked with lines to show how he gripped it. The light bulb went on over Mayers’ head, he tried out the pitch, and batters hit .156 against it in 2020.

The consistently average Felix Peña will take the middle innings, along with Junior Guerra. The back of the bullpen features slow ball/slower ball Alex Claudio, the recently signed Steve Cishek and Tony Watson, and Chris Rodriguez, who was told that he officially made the roster yesterday. My colleague Eric Longenhagen is intrigued by Rodriguez’s “very nasty” stuff. Rodriguez is still very raw, but the Angels are keen to get him going after he first lost a season with a spinal fracture, then lost a second one due to the pandemic. By promoting Cishek to a major league deal and bringing in Watson, the Angels improved their depth. That leaves one spot for Jaime Barria, Patrick Sandoval, Aaron Slegers, and James Hoyt by my accounting, the last pitcher having just been acquired from the Marlins. The Angels were given a fourth option year for Barria, so they do have the ability to send him down to Triple-A to start full-time. That’s probably the best way to utilize Patrick Sandoval as well. If history repeats itself, the Angels will have plenty of use for the injury reinforcements.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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Original Greaser Bob
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Original Greaser Bob

Will take the under on St. Louis.