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2014 Positional Power Rankings: Relief Pitchers (#1-#15)

Posted By Eno Sarris On March 27, 2014 @ 11:17 am In 2014 Positional Power Rankings | 41 Comments

What do we have here? For an explanation of this series, please read this introductory post. As noted in that introduction, the data is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position. The author writing this post did not move your team down ten spots in order to make you angry. We don’t hate your team. I promise.

Also, keep in mind that these lists are based on rosters as of last week, so weekend transactions are not reflected in the rosters below. In some cases, teams have allocated playing time to different reserves than these depth charts show, but because they’re almost always choosing between near-replacement level players, the differences won’t move the needle much if at all.

And now, for our final act:

PPRRP

Your best bullpens in the league, separated by millimeters and likely to look completely different by the end of the year. In reality, this is the hardest group to project, because bullpens are more fungible than any other position on a roster. Starters who fail to pitch well in the rotation will get moved to the bullpen unexpectedly. Guys who look like fringe prospects will start throwing sidearm, destroy the world, and come up in a few months to dominate. The guys who were great last year will be less great this year, and new great guys will come out of nowhere.

Don’t yell at the projections, they’re doing the best they can with 60-inning samples. And we did the best we could to get the forecasted roles correct, but then Neftali Feliz gets optioned to Triple-A and who knows how long he’ll be there? So, yeah, imperfect exercise. Interpret accordingly.

#1 Red Sox


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Koji Uehara 65.0 11.3 1.4 0.9 .289 84.3 % 2.12 2.36 2.5
Junichi Tazawa 65.0 9.0 2.3 1.0 .307 75.7 % 3.32 3.34 1.2
Edward Mujica 55.0 6.6 1.6 1.2 .299 72.4 % 3.90 3.93 0.3
Andrew Miller 55.0 11.3 4.5 0.8 .310 76.0 % 3.40 3.36 0.6
Burke Badenhop 45.0 6.0 2.3 0.9 .309 70.7 % 4.00 3.81 0.2
Craig Breslow 40.0 6.7 3.3 0.9 .301 73.1 % 3.92 4.11 0.1
Chris Capuano 35.0 7.0 2.4 1.2 .304 72.1 % 4.09 4.00 0.0
Brandon Workman 30.0 7.7 2.9 1.1 .308 72.0 % 4.17 4.06 0.0
Rubby de la Rosa 25.0 7.8 5.0 1.1 .309 70.8 % 4.83 4.76 0.0
Drake Britton 20.0 6.9 4.0 1.1 .308 71.6 % 4.50 4.50 0.0
Rich Hill 15.0 9.8 4.5 0.9 .310 73.7 % 3.86 3.75 0.0
Alex Wilson 10.0 6.8 3.9 1.0 .310 71.2 % 4.49 4.44 0.0
The Others 26.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 486.0 8.4 2.9 1.0 .305 74.0 % 3.69 3.69 4.9

All of the split fingers. If you thought it was ridiculous how many splitters Koji Uehara dropped on baseball last year, then you’ll love the addition of Edward Mujica. He threw more splitters than fastballs. Now the Red Sox have three of the five relievers that threw the most split fingers, it is worth wondering if there’s a chance they’re getting diminishing returns on their investments in the pitch. I mean, we know it has the best whiff rates in baseball, and the team probably isn’t too concerned if a reliever or two is injured by his best pitch, but will teams gain any advantage at all from the sheer fact of seeing so many splitters every time Boston comes to town?

It’s probably worth tracking this year, and it might even be historic, but it isn’t like the rest of this bullpen is all split fingers. Even Junichi Tazawa has a more balanced arsenal and a little more gas than the other two splitter champs. Andrew Miller has been a find over the past two years, maybe mostly because his fastball now sits 95. Against lefties, Miller has good control, excellent strikeout stuff, and gets grounders. That control dissipates against righties, but he’s still good enough to avoid being a LOOGY for now. With Craig Breslow and Chris Capuano in reserve, this team has enough lefties to go around. And with Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa in reserve, they have upside, too. It’s a great pen that could remain great, considering the depth of their starting pitching prospects. They can’t all be starters long term.

#2 Royals


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Greg Holland 65.0 12.3 3.2 0.7 .307 81.0 % 2.36 2.35 2.2
Aaron Crow 65.0 8.8 3.5 0.8 .308 73.8 % 3.61 3.55 0.7
Kelvin Herrera 55.0 10.3 2.8 0.8 .306 76.8 % 2.92 2.90 1.2
Wade Davis 55.0 7.7 3.1 1.0 .312 73.2 % 3.98 3.96 0.3
Tim Collins 45.0 10.1 4.2 0.8 .306 75.5 % 3.47 3.49 0.4
Louis Coleman 40.0 9.2 3.7 1.0 .294 77.8 % 3.37 3.81 0.1
Donnie Joseph 35.0 8.9 5.8 1.0 .307 72.9 % 4.50 4.58 -0.1
Francisley Bueno 30.0 5.8 3.5 1.0 .300 70.8 % 4.42 4.50 0.0
Danny Duffy 25.0 8.7 4.2 1.0 .303 74.4 % 3.87 4.02 0.0
Everett Teaford 20.0 6.7 3.6 1.1 .302 72.0 % 4.32 4.45 0.0
Maikel Cleto 15.0 7.9 5.9 1.0 .307 71.7 % 4.84 4.94 0.0
Michael Mariot 10.0 6.0 3.5 1.1 .306 69.5 % 4.74 4.68 0.0
The Others 21.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 481.0 9.1 3.7 0.9 .306 74.7 % 3.63 3.68 4.7

If variety is more your thing, maybe you prefer the Royals’ pen. Well, there is one thing that brings these guys together: gas (which is weird because gas often breaks up crowds). The Royals had the best bullpen velocity in baseball last year and had two in the top 11 in Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera. The gun is a bit hot in Kansas City, yes, but their pen has legitimate velocity. Greg Holland finally found his command and was second in baseball in strikeout minus walk percentage. Even a little regression there wouldn’t kill his value — he was second in strikeout percentage, too. An elite young closer atop a great pen.

What’s even better about it is that there are reasons to think that it could improve this season. Kelvin Herrera needed some time in the minors to figure it out last year, and if he spends a full year in the bigs, he’ll provide more value. Wade Davis should join the back end of this pen, too, and if his previous numbers in relief are a good guide, he’ll be better than these projections. Aaron Crow made that jump a few years back and has been great since, all he needs is 2012′s control to have 2012′s numbers. Louis Coleman found the plate last year and broke out — his four-seamer has a ton of movement and gets whiffs like a cutter.

If there is a weakness on this pen, it might be against left-handers. The diminutive Tim Collins has been great, but he’s shown a reverse split so far. That’s why Donnie Joseph will probably make the team even though he walked more than two batters every three innings last season. And it might tempt the team to try Danny Duffy in the pen. Their team FIP against lefties *was* a half run higher last year, so it might be something for their brass to consider.

#3 Rockies


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
LaTroy Hawkins 65.0 6.4 1.9 1.0 .316 71.2 % 3.96 3.73 1.0
Rex Brothers 65.0 10.7 4.3 0.8 .316 76.1 % 3.38 3.28 1.2
Matt Belisle 55.0 7.2 2.1 0.8 .320 70.9 % 3.86 3.44 0.7
Adam Ottavino 55.0 8.5 3.5 0.9 .315 72.1 % 3.99 3.73 0.5
Boone Logan 45.0 10.3 3.2 1.0 .317 74.9 % 3.55 3.32 0.4
Franklin Morales 40.0 8.2 3.9 1.2 .308 73.0 % 4.39 4.49 0.0
Wilton Lopez 35.0 6.3 2.0 0.9 .317 70.9 % 3.98 3.69 0.1
Chad Bettis 30.0 7.5 2.8 1.2 .317 71.0 % 4.38 4.16 0.0
Rob Scahill 25.0 7.1 3.4 1.1 .313 71.0 % 4.52 4.42 0.0
Greg Burke 20.0 6.4 3.5 1.0 .318 69.0 % 4.74 4.39 0.0
Nick Masset 15.0 7.6 3.4 1.0 .318 71.7 % 4.26 4.04 0.0
The Others 49.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 499.0 8.1 3.2 1.0 .316 72.2 % 4.03 3.82 4.0

Bet you didn’t expect this. Or maybe you did if you looked at last year’s bullpens and noticed that the Rox had the best bullpen in the National League. Then they added LaTroy Hawkins, who is 85 but also a pretty good reliever slated to put up a win above replacement in 2014. Is Hawkins or the superior Rex Brothers the closer? Let the fantasy crowd figure that out, it’s nice to know they have two good arms at the back end of their pen, even if almost twenty years of age separate them.

Three good arms! Matt Belisle! He’s a top-ten reliever over the last three years. All this with a 91-mph fastball and slider combination — backed by great control. Really, you could describe Hawkins that way. Maybe there’s something to that. We know that pitchers don’t like throwing curveballs in Denver.

This pen didn’t sit on its laurels, at least when it came to lefties. Out went the surprising Josh Outman and the resurgent Drew Pomeranz, and in came old friend Franklin Morales and excellent LOOGY Boone Logan. Giving over five million a year for three years in order to make a LOOGY your eighth-highest paid player seems a bit foolish, but maybe the Rockies see more in Logan. Though his results have been no good — an FIP over five against righties for his career — Logan’s rarely-used change actually has an above-average whiff rate. Maybe he’ll throw it more and evolve. Even if he doesn’t, he joins a solid core at the end of that bullpen.

#4 Braves


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Craig Kimbrel 65.0 13.8 2.7 0.5 .306 85.7 % 1.61 1.71 2.7
Jordan Walden   65.0 10.5 3.1 0.8 .304 77.8 % 2.91 2.93 1.2
Luis Avilan 55.0 7.1 3.4 0.8 .293 74.0 % 3.54 3.90 -0.1
David Carpenter 55.0 9.0 3.0 0.9 .301 75.5 % 3.32 3.47 0.3
Jonny Venters   45.0 9.4 3.8 0.6 .306 75.9 % 3.08 3.20 0.3
Anthony Varvaro 40.0 7.2 4.0 0.8 .299 73.0 % 3.89 4.05 -0.1
Cory Gearrin 35.0 8.1 3.9 0.6 .307 73.2 % 3.64 3.67 0.0
Gus Schlosser 30.0 5.8 3.3 1.2 .304 68.6 % 4.81 4.63 -0.2
David Hale 25.0 6.1 3.9 1.1 .304 69.8 % 4.74 4.72 -0.1
Luis Vasquez 20.0 6.9 7.0 0.9 .303 70.1 % 5.16 5.32 -0.1
Alex Wood 15.0 8.2 3.1 0.7 .305 73.6 % 3.39 3.36 0.0
Ryan Buchter 10.0 9.8 7.4 0.9 .304 73.8 % 4.53 4.80 0.0
Juan Jaime 10.0 9.4 6.0 0.9 .301 73.7 % 4.19 4.44 0.0
Aaron Northcraft 10.0 7.0 3.9 0.9 .305 72.0 % 4.17 4.26 0.0
The Others 18.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 498.0 8.9 3.7 0.8 .303 74.7 % 3.45 3.55 3.8

Everyone’s favorite closer has been the best closer in baseball over the past two years but they were second best in the National League, perhaps because of depth issues. It’s not that Jordan Walden is mincemeat — despite the jump step delivery, he’s improved his control and has former closer stuff. And though Luis Avilan shows up here as below replacement, that might be because projections are regressing his homer rate closer to league average — and that might not look great if Avilan faces primarily lefties this year. Given his sweeping slider and good gas, he *looks* like an above-replacement-level reliever at least. David Carpenter throws 95 and has a great slider and improved his control, so he’s going to help too.

But beyond that group there are some questions. Many of the names listed below Carpenter have bad walk rates or iffy strikeout rates, or will actually be needed in the starting rotation. So maybe Jonny Venters’ health matters. A second lefty with gas, a ground-ball wizard no less, that would push everyone down the list and make this pen look like a monster again. Maybe even first best in the NL.

#5 Blue Jays


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Casey Janssen   65.0 8.7 2.2 0.9 .301 75.7 % 3.21 3.27 1.1
Sergio Santos 65.0 10.1 2.9 0.9 .303 75.0 % 3.22 3.12 1.3
Steve Delabar 55.0 10.8 4.5 1.1 .305 77.2 % 3.63 3.89 0.4
Brett Cecil 55.0 9.2 2.9 0.9 .305 75.8 % 3.35 3.48 0.5
Aaron Loup 45.0 7.2 2.3 0.8 .307 72.4 % 3.62 3.61 0.3
Dustin McGowan 40.0 8.9 4.1 1.0 .307 73.8 % 3.99 4.07 0.1
Jeremy Jeffress 35.0 8.3 4.7 0.8 .307 72.1 % 4.18 4.13 0.0
Luis Perez   30.0 8.1 3.5 1.0 .304 73.2 % 3.86 3.96 0.0
Kyle Drabek 25.0 6.6 4.2 1.3 .306 69.8 % 4.99 4.92 -0.1
Liam Hendriks 20.0 5.9 2.1 1.3 .313 69.0 % 4.72 4.45 0.0
Neil Wagner 15.0 8.6 3.5 1.0 .306 73.7 % 3.85 3.85 0.0
The Others 44.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 494.0 8.7 3.4 1.0 .306 73.8 % 3.77 3.79 3.5

It may only seem like Casey Janssen has out-produced his stuff for three years now — 90 mph with a good curveball and okay cutter doesn’t normally produce a closer with a strikeout per inning, after all — but after three years, maybe that concern is slightly irrelevant. And we know how he does it, after all. He’s a strike thrower. But if you remained a bit nervous despite the track record (and now the sore shoulder), it’s good that Sergio Santos finally got healthy in the meantime. He’s the guy with closer stuff, all gas and bluster coming at you.

Down past the final two, this pen has depth, made mostly of surprising stuff. Well, maybe with a 95-mph fastball, a strong slider and a wicked splitter, Steve Delabar’s stuff always made him a good late-game reliever. The surprise might be that his elbow has held together with the metal and super glue that’s in there now. The former substitute teacher has at least substitute closer stuff now though. More surprising might be Brett Cecil, the college closer turned mediocre starter turned mediocre reliever that found his niche last year. A second year in the pen finally gave the goggled wonder more of a velocity boost and allowed him to lose the mediocre slider and concentrate on the good cutter/curve combo. Aaron Loup might be the definition of a find — great ground-ball rate, great control, and a usable part, all for a ninth-round pick five years ago.

And if you go five deep in the pen, you can afford to wait on the rest. Will Dustin McGowan be healthy enough to help out? Will Jeremy Jeffress finally harness his good velocity? Will Neil Wagner turn whiffs into strikeouts? Maybe. The pen won’t depend on them either way, most likely.

#6 Twins


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Glen Perkins 65.0 10.5 2.5 0.8 .309 79.5 % 2.77 2.87 1.6
Jared Burton 65.0 8.1 2.8 0.9 .304 73.4 % 3.64 3.74 0.8
Brian Duensing 55.0 7.5 2.7 0.9 .317 72.0 % 3.91 3.64 0.5
Anthony Swarzak 55.0 6.7 2.3 1.0 .308 71.8 % 3.95 3.83 0.2
Casey Fien 45.0 9.0 2.6 1.2 .307 74.9 % 3.71 3.69 0.3
Caleb Thielbar 40.0 7.8 3.3 1.1 .302 74.2 % 3.98 4.15 0.1
Michael Tonkin 35.0 8.3 3.3 0.9 .314 72.4 % 3.89 3.68 0.1
Samuel Deduno 30.0 6.3 4.6 0.8 .310 68.5 % 4.86 4.61 -0.1
Scott Diamond 25.0 4.7 2.1 1.1 .315 67.5 % 4.77 4.35 0.0
P.J. Walters 20.0 6.0 3.8 1.2 .315 69.0 % 5.07 4.83 -0.1
Matt Guerrier 15.0 6.4 3.3 1.1 .306 70.9 % 4.52 4.41 0.0
Ryan Pressly 10.0 6.4 3.4 1.0 .308 70.4 % 4.44 4.29 0.0
Kris Johnson 10.0 5.9 3.8 1.1 .311 69.2 % 4.91 4.76 0.0
The Others 31.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 501.0 7.8 3.0 1.0 .310 72.6 % 3.95 3.87 3.2

It’s easy to focus at the top of this excellent bullpen. Glen Perkins at 95 mph has been a lot more exciting than Perkins at 91 mph (imagine that), and losing the change-up has worked because he has excellent command. He is 30, but there’s no real reason to doubt his production this year.

But this pen is also good because it’s deep. Enjoy Jared Burton’s splangeup, for example. That pitch has allowed for a post-peak resurgence from the former Red reliever. If the team limits Brian Duensing to lefties (he faced more righties last year despite an FIP that was a run higher than his work against lefties) and keeps him out of the rotation (last year was the first year he didn’t start a game in his career), Duensing might even beat his projections. Casey Fien is now throwing his cutter as much as his four-seamer, and those pitches have the same whiff rates as his more occasional curve. It’s working.

For this pen to be this good, they really only need to find the next reclaimed starter turned reliever. Between Anthony Swarzak’s decent sinker/slider combo, Samuel Deduno’s decent curve with a fastball that might play up in shorter stints, and, well, the field, they should be fine.

#7 Mariners


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Fernando Rodney 65.0 10.1 3.8 0.6 .303 76.2 % 3.07 3.10 1.3
Danny Farquhar 65.0 10.1 3.2 0.7 .308 75.4 % 3.11 3.00 1.3
Tom Wilhelmsen 55.0 8.5 3.9 0.9 .299 72.8 % 3.90 3.88 0.2
Yoervis Medina 55.0 8.8 4.8 0.9 .300 73.9 % 3.95 4.13 0.1
Charlie Furbush 45.0 10.4 3.4 0.9 .301 77.8 % 3.14 3.30 0.4
Lucas Luetge 40.0 8.0 4.1 0.9 .307 72.1 % 4.08 4.02 0.1
Stephen Pryor   35.0 9.3 4.4 0.9 .304 74.1 % 3.84 3.85 0.0
Ramon Ramirez 30.0 7.2 4.2 1.0 .303 71.0 % 4.43 4.37 -0.1
Blake Beavan 25.0 4.4 2.1 1.5 .301 67.4 % 5.18 5.06 -0.1
Carson Smith 20.0 9.0 3.7 0.8 .304 73.7 % 3.56 3.60 0.0
Dominic Leone 15.0 6.3 3.5 1.1 .300 71.2 % 4.46 4.55 0.0
Brandon Maurer   10.0 6.8 3.8 1.1 .309 69.4 % 4.73 4.53 0.0
Bobby LaFromboise 10.0 7.0 3.6 0.9 .307 71.7 % 4.23 4.19 0.0
Joe Beimel 10.0 6.1 3.8 1.4 .301 70.9 % 4.93 5.02 0.0
Hector Noesi 10.0 6.3 3.0 1.4 .304 70.2 % 4.74 4.70 0.0
Logan Bawcom 10.0 7.7 4.8 1.0 .304 71.9 % 4.52 4.57 0.0
Randy Wolf 10.0 5.6 2.7 1.3 .297 70.8 % 4.57 4.74 0.0
Total 482.0 8.6 3.7 0.9 .302 73.6 % 3.78 3.80 3.1

Let’s say you don’t believe in that projected walk rate for Fernando Rodney. That’s fine, his career walk rate is more than a half a walk per nine higher and he’s only bettered that projection three times in his 11-year career. There’s some possibility of implosion for a guy that has worn out his welcome on two of the three teams that have given him paychecks. All of that is true. This pen is also deep (and good) enough to be good without Fernando Rodney.

It’s good enough to make you wonder why they signed the free agent reliever in the first place. Once Danny Farquhar went over the top and started throwing 95, he was immediately interesting as a late-game reliever. The curve is one of the best in the game now at getting whiffs, and even if his true-talent walk rate is hard to divine with his new mechanics, it doesn’t look like it’ll be a problem.

Behind those two you have a virtual cavalcade of stuff. It’s no surprise the Mariners’ pen was top-five in bullpen velocity last season when you see Tom Wilhelmsen (96.2), Stephen Pryor (95.8), and Yoervis Medina (94.1) pitching in the seventh and eighth innings. And it’s not like they don’t have good offspeed stuff, with Wilhelmsen’s big curve and the breakers from Medina and Pryor. They might not have great command (third-worst walk rate in the bigs *before* adding Rodney), but they don’t lack stuff. And though Charlie Furbush might be hurt, Lucas Luetge’s slider, curve and sinker are all above average when it comes to pitch peripherals.

#8 Rangers


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Joakim Soria 65.0 9.0 3.1 1.1 .303 74.8 % 3.69 3.70 1.0
Neftali Feliz 65.0 8.6 3.9 1.1 .293 77.0 % 3.64 4.10 0.6
Alexi Ogando 55.0 6.8 3.0 1.3 .294 71.8 % 4.42 4.60 0.0
Neal Cotts 55.0 10.1 3.3 0.9 .304 77.8 % 3.12 3.23 0.8
Robbie Ross 45.0 7.9 2.8 0.8 .308 74.0 % 3.48 3.54 0.4
Jason Frasor 40.0 8.9 3.6 1.0 .305 74.6 % 3.84 3.86 0.2
Shawn Tolleson 35.0 9.0 3.7 1.2 .307 73.4 % 4.16 4.12 0.0
Michael Kirkman 30.0 7.8 5.4 1.2 .308 71.0 % 5.05 5.03 -0.1
Cory Burns 25.0 7.6 3.6 0.9 .309 72.5 % 4.06 4.06 0.0
Lisalverto Bonilla 20.0 9.2 4.3 1.1 .307 73.3 % 4.16 4.15 0.0
Joe Ortiz   15.0 6.5 2.6 1.2 .303 71.6 % 4.33 4.34 0.0
Wilmer Font 10.0 9.7 5.2 1.0 .305 74.0 % 4.15 4.33 0.0
Miles Mikolas 10.0 6.0 3.3 1.2 .303 70.6 % 4.70 4.75 0.0
The Others 27.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 497.0 8.4 3.6 1.1 .303 74.0 % 3.94 4.03 3.0

This bullpen has been altered a bit by circumstance in just the last few days, mostly because the starting rotation needed help. And so the setup man is the opening day starter and the other setup man is in the minor leagues and the top lefty is also in the rotation and maybe this depth chart will look a little different in a few days. It’s all happening around us.

Apropos to their ranking, the bullpen is still filled with good enough arms to survive the Great Decimation. Joakim Soria isn’t quite an elite closer any more, not post-peak and post-second-elbow-surgery, but he’s good. He’ll take his starter’s arsenal to the closer’s job. And though the rotation needs help, Alexi Ogando will take his reliever’s arsenal to the setup job now. Neal Cotts found a tick on the gun and it all came together. Jason Frasor just keeps on being solid.

That’s only four deep now. But one of the part-time starters right now could easily return to the pen, and Feliz could still find his lost velocity, so there are some decent backup plans. But this pen is a little rougher around the edges than the ones above.

#9 Diamondbacks


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Addison Reed 65.0 9.4 2.5 0.9 .302 76.3 % 3.14 3.22 1.3
Brad Ziegler 65.0 5.9 2.8 0.5 .296 73.9 % 3.17 3.51 0.5
Oliver Perez 55.0 10.1 4.0 1.0 .304 76.3 % 3.54 3.69 0.3
J.J. Putz 55.0 9.3 2.7 0.9 .297 75.9 % 3.16 3.24 0.5
David Hernandez 45.0 10.1 3.3 1.0 .295 77.9 % 3.20 3.51 0.2
Josh Collmenter 40.0 8.0 2.4 1.1 .292 77.6 % 3.34 3.74 0.2
Joe Thatcher 35.0 8.1 2.8 1.0 .304 73.2 % 3.73 3.69 0.0
Matt Langwell 30.0 7.0 3.9 0.9 .303 72.3 % 4.09 4.22 0.0
Chaz Roe 25.0 8.0 3.3 0.8 .299 75.0 % 3.47 3.63 0.0
Will Harris 20.0 8.8 3.1 0.9 .304 74.6 % 3.46 3.51 0.0
Joe Paterson 15.0 7.3 3.2 1.0 .302 72.4 % 3.92 4.13 0.0
The Others 50.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 -0.1
Total 500.0 8.4 3.2 0.9 .301 74.8 % 3.50 3.65 3.0

The average closer last year (top thirty in saves) struck out just under ten men per nine and walked around 2.9 per nine. Looks like Addison Reed can be an average closer. Despite having an excellent three-pitch mix headed by a 95 mph fastball and good control, despite being an excellent reliever, he’s probably just an average or above-average closer. That’s the life of a reliever.

What brings this pen up in the rankings is the depth behind him. Brad Ziegler is an excellent submariner who made some strides with his change-up last season and may avoid ROOGY status. J.J. Putz is a former closer that can fill in with little drop off if he’s healthy. Former starter, former Closer of the Future David Hernandez has seen some regression in his results but not in his stuff. Oliver Perez has recast himself as an excellent LOOGY, and even former starter Josh Collmenter has the stuff to succeed in the pen. That’s a really solid pen, and if Reed can take a step forward, there’s some upside here. Say what you want about Kevin Towers, he can build a pen.

#10 Athletics


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jim Johnson 65.0 6.7 2.3 0.6 .300 72.5 % 3.32 3.39 0.8
Luke Gregerson 65.0 7.4 2.7 0.8 .296 73.3 % 3.49 3.63 0.5
Ryan Cook   55.0 9.2 3.4 0.7 .300 75.9 % 3.16 3.36 0.7
Sean Doolittle 55.0 9.5 2.4 0.8 .297 77.8 % 2.87 3.05 0.8
Dan Otero 45.0 5.9 1.7 0.7 .304 71.5 % 3.55 3.50 0.2
Evan Scribner 40.0 7.3 2.9 1.0 .301 72.8 % 3.85 3.87 0.1
Jesse Chavez 35.0 7.0 2.9 1.0 .302 70.7 % 4.20 4.13 0.0
Drew Pomeranz 30.0 7.8 4.2 1.0 .299 72.2 % 4.21 4.28 -0.1
Eric O’Flaherty   25.0 7.0 2.9 0.8 .295 74.4 % 3.45 3.69 0.0
Fernando Rodriguez   20.0 8.9 4.0 1.0 .300 74.4 % 3.85 4.00 0.0
Josh Lindblom 15.0 6.6 3.5 1.2 .293 73.0 % 4.36 4.71 0.0
Tommy Milone 10.0 7.2 1.9 1.2 .301 73.8 % 3.80 3.86 0.0
Arnold Leon 10.0 5.7 2.4 1.2 .301 70.4 % 4.38 4.40 0.0
Fernando Abad 10.0 7.2 2.7 1.0 .301 73.4 % 3.83 3.97 0.0
Joe Savery 10.0 7.0 3.5 1.0 .296 72.4 % 4.08 4.18 0.0
The Others 19.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 509.0 7.6 2.9 0.9 .300 73.4 % 3.61 3.70 2.9

The bullpen is the cheapest place to improve a team whether by trade or signing, especially when it comes to years. Obviously trading a (non) prospect for a closer that costs $10 million a year is not cheap in the relief world, but it’s cheaper than trying to go get a better first baseman. And so you have the Athletics, trying to improve their team on the margins by going to get Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson, now suddenly two of their four best relievers. The sinkerballing closer and the sliderballing setup man don’t have the strikeout rates of elite relievers, but they have proven they can get outs and avoid the home run.

If Ryan Cook were healthy and his projection pushed 70 innings, you might see this team ranked as many as three spots higher — that’s how close it is here in the middle. With Sean Doolittle making the most of one pitch, you’ve got a core four that can hang with most.

Later on down the line, it gets a little dicey. Dan Otero the reliever just breaks 91 and throws mostly (82+%) fastballs and sinkers. The change is okay, but he doesn’t really have late-inning stuff. Jesse Chavez has a four-pitch mix, but he’ll be needed in the rotation. Evan Scribner has no standout tool — his best pitch for whiffs is an average curve ball, just about the worst pitch to use for whiffs. If Eric O’Flaherty can get healthy and Drew Pomeranz is not needed in the rotation, they might outproduce their projections and improve the bottom of this pen. There are a couple potential holes in the boat.

#11 Yankees


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
David Robertson 65.0 11.0 3.0 0.8 .306 78.5 % 2.88 2.89 1.6
Shawn Kelley 65.0 9.9 3.3 1.2 .307 77.1 % 3.63 3.71 0.8
Matt Thornton 55.0 7.5 2.7 0.9 .306 73.3 % 3.73 3.70 0.5
Preston Claiborne 55.0 7.4 3.0 1.2 .303 72.2 % 4.18 4.20 0.2
Adam Warren 45.0 6.9 3.4 1.2 .303 71.6 % 4.48 4.53 -0.1
Cesar Cabral 40.0 8.1 4.7 1.0 .308 71.4 % 4.52 4.50 -0.1
Dellin Betances 35.0 8.7 6.5 1.2 .309 70.9 % 5.20 5.22 -0.1
Jim Miller 30.0 8.2 4.0 1.5 .304 72.4 % 4.74 4.89 -0.1
Manny Banuelos 25.0 7.2 4.2 1.4 .308 70.5 % 5.06 5.01 -0.1
Matt Daley 20.0 8.1 2.4 1.1 .298 75.5 % 3.52 3.77 0.0
Andrew Bailey   15.0 9.8 3.1 1.2 .300 77.0 % 3.51 3.66 0.0
The Others 16.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 466.0 8.5 3.6 1.1 .306 73.6 % 4.05 4.08 2.7

David Robertson was one of two relief pitchers last year to strike out double-digit batters per nine, walk fewer than three per nine, and get more than half his contact on the ground (Nate Jones was the other). That’s what a 93 mph cutter and plus curve and change combo will do for a reliever, especially when it comes with great command as it has over the past two years. At this point, it seems he can survive some regression in that department, he’s gotten that good.

This group is not without depth, however. At one point last year, Shawn Kelley was leading the league in strikeout percentage. When I asked him how a fastball/slider guy avoided platoon splits, he said he really had two sliders — so you can think of Kelley as a younger Luke Gregerson with more velocity. Matt Thornton’s velocity is down, but he’s still 95+ from the left side. Preston Claiborne was throwing 94 with an above-average change and slider. Adam Warren may seem nondescript by results, but his four-seam, change and slider were all above-average by whiff rates last year. His knuckle curve got a ton of grounders.

Even the very bottom of the depth chart has upside. Dellin Betances is a former top prospect with a 96+mph fastball — if he can refine the curve or his command, he’ll make some noise. Andrew Bailey is great for the ten healthy innings you can get from him every year. For a team that lost the best reliever ever, this bullpen looks strong.

#12 Dodgers


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Kenley Jansen 65.0 12.9 2.7 0.8 .296 85.1 % 2.04 2.31 1.7
Brian Wilson 65.0 8.8 3.0 0.8 .299 75.6 % 3.16 3.28 0.8
Jamey Wright 55.0 7.7 3.1 0.6 .307 72.5 % 3.46 3.44 0.1
J.P. Howell 55.0 7.9 3.5 0.8 .294 75.4 % 3.44 3.74 0.0
Paco Rodriguez 45.0 10.0 3.3 0.8 .294 78.1 % 2.93 3.23 0.3
Chris Perez 40.0 8.5 2.9 1.1 .297 74.2 % 3.70 3.84 -0.1
Brandon League 35.0 6.2 2.7 0.7 .305 70.2 % 3.92 3.73 0.0
Chris Withrow 30.0 9.7 4.1 0.8 .297 76.6 % 3.38 3.62 0.0
Seth Rosin 25.0 6.6 2.8 1.1 .298 71.5 % 4.16 4.21 -0.1
Jose Dominguez 20.0 9.3 4.8 0.8 .300 75.2 % 3.68 3.87 0.0
Yimi Garcia 15.0 9.0 3.4 1.2 .299 74.0 % 3.88 4.01 0.0
Chris Reed 10.0 6.7 4.6 1.0 .297 71.2 % 4.54 4.72 0.0
Onelki Garcia   10.0 8.3 5.3 0.9 .298 73.2 % 4.25 4.50 0.0
Total 448.0 9.0 3.2 0.8 .298 75.7 % 3.26 3.43 2.6

How does the team with a top-three closer and four former closers end up with a middle-of-the-pack bullpen? Well, it makes it easier if two of those former closers weren’t great closers. Neither Chris Perez nor Brandon League are projected for numbers that would look at home in the ninth inning, and even Brian Wilson’s strikeout rate is a bit light for that job. (He at least makes up for it in bravado and confidence and a new knuckler.)

Obviously, there are things to like about this bullpen. Since Jamey Wright quit starting in 2008, he’s had good ground-ball rates, decent command, and has been a couple wins above replacement. J.P. Howell only throws 87 with the fastball, but that pitch gets grounders and his change and curve are both above-average by whiff rate. Paco Rodriguez has a breaker and if you call that breaker a curve ball, it got the best whiff rate among all the curves in baseball last year. (He also admits to having a few different speeds on the curve.) Having a a 97-mph Chris Withrow that far down in the pecking order is a luxury.

But just saying that this pen has four former closers in it probably gives it a bit too much credit based on poor decisions made in the past.

#13 Pirates


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jason Grilli 65.0 11.0 2.7 0.8 .303 80.4 % 2.54 2.72 1.5
Mark Melancon 65.0 8.3 1.9 0.5 .305 75.6 % 2.73 2.69 1.2
Tony Watson 55.0 7.8 2.7 0.8 .292 74.4 % 3.29 3.53 0.2
Justin Wilson 55.0 8.1 3.9 0.7 .291 75.3 % 3.36 3.74 0.1
Vin Mazzaro 45.0 6.5 2.8 0.7 .301 71.9 % 3.66 3.67 0.0
Jeanmar Gomez 40.0 5.8 2.9 0.8 .297 70.5 % 3.94 3.95 -0.1
Stolmy Pimentel 35.0 6.3 2.9 0.9 .297 71.5 % 3.99 4.10 -0.1
Bryan Morris 30.0 6.3 3.1 0.9 .299 71.2 % 4.03 4.05 -0.1
Jared Hughes 25.0 6.4 3.1 0.7 .300 71.1 % 3.82 3.85 0.0
Brandon Cumpton 20.0 5.6 3.1 0.8 .301 69.4 % 4.29 4.24 -0.1
Daniel Schlereth 15.0 7.6 4.9 0.8 .301 72.2 % 4.17 4.34 0.0
Kyle McPherson   10.0 6.6 2.2 1.0 .304 70.8 % 4.00 3.92 0.0
A.J. Morris 10.0 5.9 3.5 1.0 .302 70.4 % 4.45 4.46 0.0
Cody Eppley 10.0 6.4 4.3 0.6 .303 70.1 % 4.16 4.06 0.0
The Others 28.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 -0.1
Total 508.0 7.6 3.0 0.8 .300 73.4 % 3.52 3.61 2.4

In some ways, this is a great pen. Jason Grilli found some late-career velocity and turned that into closer stuff — and not just average closer stuff. He’s struck out over a third of the batters he’s seen since the beginning of 2012. Mark Melancon was a find, coming over from Boston and showing he was capable of late-inning work. But it wasn’t like he was exactly the same guy after he came to Pittsburgh. He basically scrapped two pitches and went with the cutter over the four-seam, and those changes made his curve into more of an effective strikeout pitch. So kudos to the Pirates for figuring out what ailed their two best relievers.

Behind their two righties are two excellent lefties, too. Tony Watson throws 94 with four plus pitches and good command — he could see his strikeout rate rise in 2014. Justin Wilson throws 95 with a meh slider but a plus curve, and his sinker gets more ground balls than Watson. Watson and Wilson provide a lefty tandem with gas that no other team can really match.

It’s just that, well, things fall apart a bit after those four. Vin Mazzaro is better in short stints where he can focus on his good slider and his fastball averages close to 94, but his fastball still doesn’t get great results, at least not when it comes to whiffs. Jeanmar Gomez is more of a swing man, eating innings wherever he is needed. Neither of his offspeed pitches rate as average, but at least his sinker is good enough to get grounders. Perhaps it’s Bryan Morris that will step forward this year and give the team their sixth and seventh inning righty. His sinker is decent (most Pirates have good sinkers), his slider is good not great, and his curve could firm up and be a weapon with more use.

#14 Rays


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Grant Balfour 65.0 9.5 3.3 1.0 .285 79.0 % 3.05 3.45 0.7
Jake McGee 65.0 10.7 2.8 0.9 .295 79.7 % 2.82 3.01 1.2
Joel Peralta 55.0 9.5 3.3 1.2 .284 79.8 % 3.26 3.73 0.4
Heath Bell 55.0 8.2 2.8 1.0 .301 74.6 % 3.60 3.73 0.2
Juan Oviedo 45.0 7.7 2.9 1.1 .295 71.9 % 3.93 3.99 0.0
Cesar Ramos 40.0 7.0 3.2 1.0 .295 72.3 % 4.02 4.16 -0.1
Josh Lueke 35.0 8.1 3.3 0.9 .302 74.1 % 3.68 3.77 0.0
Brandon Gomes 30.0 8.9 3.1 1.2 .295 75.8 % 3.63 3.94 0.0
Enny Romero 25.0 7.1 6.0 1.0 .297 70.9 % 4.94 5.11 -0.1
Alex Colome   20.0 7.0 4.9 1.0 .295 71.3 % 4.57 4.78 -0.1
Jeff Beliveau 15.0 8.9 4.4 1.0 .298 75.6 % 3.78 4.15 0.0
Brad Boxberger 10.0 10.2 4.2 0.9 .296 77.7 % 3.24 3.58 0.0
The Others 30.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 -0.1
Total 490.0 8.7 3.4 1.0 .296 75.3 % 3.62 3.83 2.2

The Rays have best bullpen FIP over the last two years, and they followed the script again this year by adding a few reclamation projects and youngsters with uneven performances so far in their careers. So perhaps this ranking will look bad by the end of the year, but the projections only know what these pitchers have done recently, not necessarily what these pitchers can be under the tutelage in Tampa.

The pixie dust that turned Joel Peralta from a ROOGY into setup man, Fernadno Rodney into an elite closer with elite control, Jamey Wright into a solid reliever, Kyle Farnsworth back into a closer, and Dane de La Rosa from a real estate agent into a setup man — that same pixie dust could easily work its magic this year on Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo. It’s not crazy — both of those guys were competent late-inning relievers recently, and if they recapture their health and stuff in Tampa, they could beat their projections.

If neither vet manages the feat, the team may find themselves reaching uncomfortably deep into their stable of arms. Josh Lueke has a 96 mph fastball, a meh curve and a good splitter (as well as a checkered past) and could help them. Cesar Ramos has proven his worth as a lefty at the very least. Alex Colome has some promise, but they may need him to start. Brad Boxberger was once touted as a Closer of the Future. These guys could be fine.

#15 Tigers


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Joe Nathan 65.0 9.7 2.6 0.9 .301 77.7 % 2.97 3.06 1.7
Al Alburquerque 65.0 11.9 5.3 0.9 .310 76.5 % 3.61 3.60 0.7
Joba Chamberlain 55.0 7.8 3.4 1.1 .309 71.1 % 4.35 4.10 0.1
Jose Ortega 55.0 8.6 5.6 1.1 .312 72.3 % 4.78 4.79 -0.3
Evan Reed 45.0 7.0 4.2 1.0 .312 70.2 % 4.63 4.44 -0.1
Phil Coke 40.0 7.5 3.3 1.0 .312 71.1 % 4.15 3.89 0.1
Luke Putkonen 35.0 7.2 3.5 0.9 .310 71.9 % 4.16 4.06 0.0
Ian Krol 30.0 8.0 2.8 1.1 .305 73.2 % 3.92 3.89 0.0
Melvin Mercedes 25.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Casey Crosby 20.0 7.0 6.2 1.1 .309 70.0 % 5.40 5.34 -0.1
The Others 39.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 474.0 8.6 4.1 1.0 .310 72.7 % 4.15 4.06 2.1

Sign a veteran closer, a former setup man and trade for a young lefty in the offseason to address your needs in the bullpen, and you might be upset to see your new squad defining the middle of the pack. But this pen just doesn’t have much depth behind their new 39-year-old closer. Al Albuquerque and Phil Coke — holdovers from a bullpen that was sixth in the American League in FIP last year (12th in ERA) — are established talents that will contribute despite their (prodigious?) flaws.

But what will happen behind them? Will Joba Chamberlain find the missing bite on this slider? He lost a quarter of the whiffs he used to get last year, and by whiff rate it was barely above average, and the four seam didn’t get any whiffs despite humming along at 95. Jose Ortega spent the last three years at Triple-A, walking 111 in 161 innings, and he might matter to this team. Evan Reed has an okay slider and a 96 mph fastball but is descript or nondescript. Ian Krol can probably be a LOOGY, but will his change-up improve enough to make him a weapon against batters of both hands?

Mike Petriello was right
. This will be a more expensive pen, but will it be better?


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