2014 Positional Power Rankings: Relief Pitchers (#16-30)

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.

#16 White Sox


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Nate Jones 65.0 9.7 3.5 0.8 .309 75.1 % 3.44 3.38 1.2
Matt Lindstrom 65.0 7.2 3.0 0.8 .309 71.3 % 3.89 3.73 0.7
Ronald Belisario 55.0 7.1 3.9 0.8 .308 70.6 % 4.20 4.05 0.2
Scott Downs 55.0 7.1 3.6 0.7 .307 72.4 % 3.85 3.80 0.3
Daniel Webb 45.0 8.0 4.9 0.9 .306 71.6 % 4.43 4.40 0.0
Donnie Veal 40.0 8.6 5.1 1.0 .305 72.7 % 4.35 4.42 0.0
Deunte Heath 35.0 7.0 5.0 1.3 .305 70.2 % 5.16 5.18 -0.1
David Purcey 30.0 7.6 5.4 1.1 .302 72.0 % 4.76 4.98 -0.1
Santos Rodriguez 25.0 8.9 6.0 1.1 .300 72.2 % 4.64 4.71 0.0
Jake Petricka 20.0 7.2 5.2 0.9 .308 71.6 % 4.60 4.61 0.0
Frank De Los Santos 15.0 4.8 4.2 1.3 .304 68.7 % 5.36 5.40 -0.1
The Others 55.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 505.0 7.8 4.3 0.9 .308 71.8 % 4.26 4.22 2.0

The Chicago bullpen finished third among all major-league relief corps by WAR in 2013. Their forecast for 2014, however, skews decidedly more average. One is tempted to note that the difference between last year’s figure (5.8) and this season’s projection (2.0) is roughly equivalent to the collective WAR produced by the now departed tandem of Jesse Crain (1.9) and Addison Reed (1.7). While merely subtracting the WAR figures of two pitchers from last year’s totals isn’t methodologically sound, it is spiritually accurate in this case, as the Sox’ only notable bullpen addition (Scott Downs) is unlikely to compensate for the absence of Crain and Reed in high-leverage innings. As a result, the club more or less features just one high-end relief arm (Nate Jones) and then a collection of his merely serviceable colleagues.

One pitcher seemingly poised to outperform his projection is young right-hander Daniel Webb. Following a September promotion last year, he produced a 14.8% swinging-strike rate and 80 xFIP- in a handful of innings — largely on the strength, that, of a fastball that sat at ca. 96 mph and at least one serviceable breaking ball.

#17 Indians


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
John Axford 65.0 9.4 3.4 1.0 .313 74.1 % 3.74 3.59 0.5
Cody Allen 65.0 10.3 3.3 0.9 .312 77.3 % 3.26 3.27 0.9
Vinnie Pestano 55.0 9.5 3.6 1.0 .306 75.0 % 3.62 3.70 0.2
Bryan Shaw 55.0 8.4 3.2 0.8 .306 73.1 % 3.61 3.55 0.3
Marc Rzepczynski 45.0 7.1 3.5 0.8 .308 71.4 % 4.02 3.95 0.0
Josh Outman 40.0 8.9 3.5 0.9 .314 73.3 % 3.74 3.61 0.1
Blake Wood 35.0 8.7 4.4 0.8 .310 73.6 % 3.91 3.88 0.0
Nick Hagadone 30.0 9.1 4.6 1.0 .307 73.9 % 4.02 4.04 0.0
Josh Tomlin 25.0 5.4 1.6 1.3 .303 68.4 % 4.56 4.33 0.0
Matt Capps   20.0 6.1 2.1 1.3 .305 70.3 % 4.42 4.33 0.0
Frank Herrmann 15.0 6.9 2.9 1.3 .309 71.8 % 4.45 4.40 0.0
Scott Atchison 10.0 6.4 2.1 0.9 .306 70.4 % 3.99 3.69 0.0
The Others 40.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 -0.1
Total 500.0 8.5 3.4 1.0 .310 73.3 % 3.86 3.79 1.9

It’s not ideal for a club when the pitcher to whom they’ve decided to allocate the highest-leverage innings proceeds then to prevent runs at merely an average rate or worse. Unfortunately for Cleveland, this was the case with Chris Perez for much of the recent past. Between 2011 and -13, major-league relievers as a whole recorded a collective 93 ERA-*. Over that same three-year interval, Perez produced a 96 ERA- — which is to say, slightly worse than his peers. Nor is this merely a product of luck or sequencing: Perez’s FIP and xFIP- were 108 and 103, respectively, in the relevant timeframe.

*The better-than-average figure a result of operating more frequently with the platoon advantage and having the opportunity to throw with greater effort in shorter appearances.

With Perez having departed, however, there’s little in the way of manifestly high-end talent to fill the void. Cody Allen certainly belongs at the back-end of a major-league bullpen. After that, however, there are uncertainties. John Axford, who has been excellent before, is a candidate to be excellent again. Much the same can be said of Vinnie Pestano. Young Blake Wood, who sat at 97 mph in brief exposure to major-league batters last year, is the sort of pitcher for whom one minor alteration can produce large effects.

Ultimately for Cleveland, there are a number of potential, if not necessarily likely, positive outcomes — which, that’s probably the correct way to assemble a competent bullpen at a discount. It’s just not the sort of virtue that a projection system is likely to detect.

#18 Cardinals


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Trevor Rosenthal 65.0 11.2 2.8 0.6 .307 79.5 % 2.46 2.52 1.6
Carlos Martinez 65.0 7.5 3.3 0.7 .306 72.0 % 3.79 3.77 0.0
Kevin Siegrist 55.0 9.8 4.0 0.7 .298 76.7 % 3.15 3.34 0.3
Randy Choate 55.0 7.5 3.1 0.6 .302 72.2 % 3.44 3.48 0.1
Seth Maness 45.0 5.6 1.5 0.8 .305 71.8 % 3.55 3.54 0.0
Sam Freeman 40.0 7.1 4.1 0.8 .302 72.6 % 4.05 4.15 -0.2
Jason Motte   35.0 9.4 2.4 0.8 .296 78.1 % 2.87 3.13 0.1
Tyler Lyons 30.0 6.9 2.6 0.9 .304 71.4 % 3.94 3.88 -0.1
Joe Kelly 25.0 6.2 3.2 0.8 .306 71.2 % 4.03 3.97 0.0
Keith Butler 20.0 7.9 4.2 1.0 .299 73.2 % 4.10 4.29 0.0
Eric Fornataro 15.0 5.3 3.7 0.9 .303 70.1 % 4.60 4.65 -0.1
Angel Castro 10.0 6.0 3.5 0.9 .304 69.6 % 4.44 4.33 0.0
Pat Neshek 10.0 7.0 2.9 1.0 .299 74.0 % 3.89 4.05 0.0
The Others 18.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 -0.1
Total 488.0 8.0 3.2 0.8 .304 73.6 % 3.54 3.59 1.6

For how menacing they seemed, with a seemingly unlimited supply of hard-throwers, the Cards’ bullpen was actually merely average on the whole in 2013, finishing just 18th in the majors by park-adjusted ERA — and not improving on that mark significantly in September. Part of the gap between perception and reality probably lies in the person of Trevor Rosenthal, who parlayed a 97 mph fastball and improving changeup into one of the great relief seasons of 2013, despite not actually recording a save until September 23rd. Regardless of Rosenthal’s precise role, manager Mike Matheny managed to utilize him in high-leverage situations, thus extracting reasonable value from his skills.

Based on his success in 2013, Rosenthal will resume where he left off in the World Series, as a menacing figure at the end of the Cardinals’ bullpen. Joining him, right before the end of that same bullpen, will be Carlos Martinez and Kevin Siegrist. Having progressed through the Cardinal system almost exclusively in a starting capacity, Martinez and Siegrist have not recorded a total of 66 major-league appearances — only one of them (Martinez, on August 8th of last year) a start. While Martinez is the more celebrated talent, he hasn’t produced the sort of strikeout rates one is accustomed to seeing from a pitcher with his armspeed.

#19 Phillies


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jonathan Papelbon 65.0 9.5 2.0 1.0 .304 77.3 % 3.09 3.13 1.1
Antonio Bastardo 65.0 10.8 3.9 1.0 .295 79.6 % 3.18 3.51 0.5
Mike Adams   55.0 8.1 2.8 0.9 .301 73.6 % 3.61 3.59 0.4
Brad Lincoln 55.0 8.2 3.1 1.1 .301 74.4 % 3.77 3.95 0.1
Justin De Fratus 45.0 8.0 3.6 0.8 .303 72.3 % 3.85 3.88 0.0
Jake Diekman 40.0 9.5 5.5 0.7 .309 73.5 % 3.93 3.93 0.0
B.J. Rosenberg 35.0 7.3 4.0 1.1 .304 71.7 % 4.49 4.54 -0.1
Ethan Martin   30.0 8.0 5.9 1.2 .305 70.9 % 5.13 5.15 -0.2
Phillippe Aumont 25.0 8.9 6.6 0.7 .309 71.5 % 4.55 4.53 -0.1
Mario Hollands 20.0 6.5 3.5 1.1 .301 70.1 % 4.56 4.50 -0.1
The Others 27.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 -0.1
Total 462.0 8.7 3.8 1.0 .304 73.9 % 3.86 3.92 1.6

It is sometimes the case that two consenting heterosexual adults, upon finding that the lady one of them is accidentally “with child,” will decide at that point also to enter into holy matrimony, with the belief (it would seem) that two poor life choices, if made within close proximity, have the capability of negating each other. This is more or less the guiding philosophy behind many of the Phillies’ roster decisions in recent years. Among those decisions was the four-year, $50 million contract given to Jonathan Papelbon in November of 2011. This isn’t say that Papelbon wasn’t then or isn’t now a talented pitcher. He is. Nor is it to suggest that a club, considered a probable contender, oughtn’t pay considerable money for a marginal win. They probably should. The problem with the Papelbon deal was its sheer mass.

FanGraphs’ Jason Collette addressed said contract in late December:

The problem [is] Amaro gave a very large contract to a closer and has been the last GM to guarantee four years and that amount of money to a closer. Since Papelbon inked his deal, Rafael Soriano, Jason Grilli, Koji Uehara, Jose Veras (twice), Joe Nathan, Joaquin Benoit, Chad Qualls, and Jon Axford each has signed a free agent deal for two years or fewer and only Nathan and Soriano’s deals had an AAV of at least $10M. The only other reliever to receive three or more guaranteed years from a team to be the team’s closer is Brandon League. League’s deal over three years guarantees him less than Papelbon’s does over the next two.

After finishing third in the NL East in 2012, at 81-81, turned once again to free agency with a view to procuring a reliever — in this case, in the person of Mike Adams, to whom Philadelphia signed a two-year, $12 million contract. At his best, Adams has been excellent, producing an 80 xFIP- or lower in four different seasons. Unfortunately, Adams hasn’t been at his best since 2011 — and, in fact, only just recorded his first inning of the spring on Tuesday.

#20 Orioles


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Tommy Hunter 65.0 7.4 1.7 1.3 .298 73.7 % 3.80 3.92 0.5
Darren O’Day 65.0 8.7 2.3 1.2 .295 75.9 % 3.46 3.75 0.7
Brian Matusz 55.0 8.4 3.0 1.1 .301 74.9 % 3.69 3.83 0.5
Suk-Min Yoon 55.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Ryan Webb 45.0 6.0 3.0 0.9 .302 70.8 % 4.22 4.21 0.1
T.J. McFarland 40.0 6.0 3.3 1.0 .308 70.1 % 4.46 4.34 0.0
Jairo Asencio 35.0 7.9 3.9 1.3 .307 71.7 % 4.64 4.62 -0.1
Troy Patton   30.0 7.1 2.5 1.1 .299 73.1 % 3.86 3.98 0.1
Steve Johnson 25.0 8.1 4.3 1.4 .300 73.0 % 4.65 4.84 0.0
Brad Brach 20.0 8.2 3.6 1.4 .301 73.4 % 4.42 4.59 0.0
Alfredo Aceves 15.0 6.9 3.7 1.5 .296 71.2 % 4.85 5.11 0.0
Michael Belfiore 10.0 7.4 4.4 1.3 .303 71.7 % 4.82 4.96 0.0
The Others 40.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 500.0 7.6 3.2 1.2 .304 72.6 % 4.15 4.22 1.6

The 2012 edition of the Orioles bullpen recorded a 13.86 WPA — a figure that was not only five wins better than that season’s second-place club (Texas) but which currently stands as the highest collective mark produced by single team’s relief corps since 1974, the earliest year for which the relevant data is available. Owing to the success of their predecessors, the members of Baltimore’s 2013 bullpen were always going to be relatively disappointing. While not poor, per se, Orioles relievers managed only average-ish figures in 2013 — by FIP, WAR, WPA, and whatever other measure.

Entering 2014, Baltimore must contend with the departure of closer Jim Johnson, sent to Oakland in a trade that was designed less to acquire Jemile Weeks and more to avoid paying Johnson the ca. $10 million he’d make via arbitration. Indeed, avoiding large commitments to relief arms is generally sound practice. The question remains, however, who will replace Johnson’s contributions from recent years — even if his defense-independent numbers were unremarkable relative to his late-inning peers

Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz, and Tommy Hunter all return and all are likely to assume high. After that triumvirate, however, there are only two pitchers, Troy Patton and Ryan Webb, projected to produce above and beyond replacement level — and the former of that pair (Patton) begins the season with a 25-game suspension for amphetamine use.

#21 Marlins


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Steve Cishek 65.0 9.1 3.2 0.6 .306 75.5 % 3.07 3.08 0.9
Mike Dunn 65.0 9.4 4.0 0.8 .306 76.0 % 3.38 3.48 0.6
A.J. Ramos 55.0 9.4 4.1 0.8 .302 74.8 % 3.53 3.59 0.2
Carlos Marmol 55.0 10.3 5.6 0.9 .301 74.9 % 3.84 4.06 0.0
Arquimedes Caminero 45.0 8.7 3.8 0.9 .306 73.4 % 3.75 3.81 0.1
Dan Jennings 40.0 7.6 4.0 0.7 .305 72.5 % 3.89 3.88 0.0
Brad Hand 35.0 7.7 4.9 1.1 .300 72.8 % 4.43 4.61 -0.1
Carter Capps 30.0 9.5 3.2 0.8 .313 74.6 % 3.45 3.32 0.1
Sam Dyson 25.0 4.8 3.3 0.7 .308 68.3 % 4.47 4.28 -0.1
Edgar Olmos 20.0 6.4 5.9 0.8 .305 70.9 % 4.85 4.97 -0.1
Grant Dayton 15.0 8.8 3.8 0.9 .308 74.1 % 3.71 3.79 0.0
Michael Brady 10.0 7.4 2.4 0.8 .309 71.8 % 3.68 3.57 0.0
Tom Koehler 10.0 6.4 4.1 1.0 .305 69.8 % 4.69 4.56 0.0
Kevin Slowey 10.0 6.6 1.9 1.2 .309 71.4 % 4.17 4.09 0.0
Chaz Roe 10.0 8.0 3.3 0.8 .299 75.0 % 3.47 3.63 0.0
The Others 17.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 507.0 8.5 4.0 0.8 .306 73.7 % 3.76 3.81 1.6

The Marlins are not unlike a Lars Von Trier film, insofar as after watching either (i.e. a Marlins game or Von Trier film) one is generally unable to avoid the feeling that life is little else but a carnival of miseries. Of course, it’s entirely possible that life is a carnival of miseries. Still, one needn’t be reminded of it all the time.

How the Miami front office dealt with entirely adequate reliever Ryan Webb is illustrative of their methods. Projected by Matt Swartz to earn just $1.5 million through arbitration, Webb was non-tendered by the club — this, despite having produced average numbers in relief and demonstrating no signs of injury, etc. Ultimately, the maneuver worked well for Webb, who signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with Baltimore just days after his departure. The point remains regarding Miami, however: they will cut costs anywhere that’s possible.

Despite their parsimony, the Marlins bullpen is considerably more well-off than other areas of the club (in that it’s nearly average, that is). Closer Steve Cishek (owed $3.8 million in 2014) recorded strikeouts, walks, and ground balls all at a better-than-average rate last year, and projections suggest he should repeat that accomplishment this next one. Mike Dunn and A.J. Ramos, who both produced strikeout rates north of 25%, also return. Finally, there’s very hard-throwing Carter Capps, acquired from Seattle for Logan Morrison. He’ll begin the season at Triple-A, but will probably be a part of the big-league club before too long.

#22 Cubs


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jose Veras 65.0 9.4 3.8 0.8 .297 75.1 % 3.41 3.56 0.7
James Russell 65.0 6.8 2.7 1.2 .294 74.5 % 3.88 4.20 0.1
Kyuji Fujikawa   55.0 9.6 2.9 0.9 .301 75.0 % 3.25 3.32 0.6
Blake Parker 55.0 9.1 3.8 1.0 .300 75.1 % 3.71 3.92 0.1
Pedro Strop 45.0 9.2 3.9 0.6 .302 74.6 % 3.28 3.43 0.2
Hector Rondon 40.0 7.6 3.4 0.9 .298 72.0 % 3.93 3.97 0.0
Carlos Villanueva 35.0 7.5 3.0 1.1 .294 72.9 % 3.99 4.09 0.0
Justin Grimm 30.0 7.1 2.8 0.9 .308 72.1 % 3.84 3.74 0.0
Alberto Cabrera 25.0 7.7 3.8 1.1 .302 71.8 % 4.35 4.38 0.0
Arodys Vizcaino 20.0 7.9 3.6 1.1 .307 72.8 % 4.14 4.15 0.0
Brooks Raley 15.0 5.7 3.1 1.2 .306 69.7 % 4.75 4.73 0.0
Zac Rosscup 10.0 10.3 5.0 0.9 .301 76.9 % 3.53 3.86 0.0
Casey Coleman 10.0 6.3 4.0 1.2 .301 69.7 % 4.85 4.82 0.0
The Others 20.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 490.0 8.2 3.4 1.0 .300 73.6 % 3.78 3.90 1.5

There’s a certain level of mediocrity below which not only is it basically pointless for a club to assemble a mighty bullpen (because the marginal wins aren’t particularly important), but it’s also an offense to good taste. “Why are we wasting these resources on short relief when people are starving in Abyssinia?” one, having a poor knowledge of contemporary geography, might ask. The Cubs are more or less doing their part in this regard, insofar as (a) they’re unlikely to contend this season, but (b) have had the good sense not to allocate too much in the way of liquid funds to the relief corps. Were he not recovering from elbow reconstruction, foreign import Kyuji Fujikawa (owed $4.5 million in 2014) might be capable of providing some value for the club both as an actual pitcher and then, at midseason, possible trade candidate. Beyond him, only offseason signing/presumptive closer Jose Veras ($3.9 million) is scheduled to earn more than $2 million.

Of some note: while attending a Cubs spring-training contest in Mesa, AZ, a number of contributors to the present site witnessed injured-forever right-hander Arodys Vizcaino record actual innings in a game. He has excellent pedigree and apparently has touched 98 mph in camp. Expecting anything of substance from him, however, is probably a mistake.

#23 Nationals


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Rafael Soriano 65.0 7.5 2.7 1.1 .296 74.7 % 3.62 3.82 0.3
Tyler Clippard 65.0 9.8 3.0 1.2 .280 81.4 % 2.97 3.65 0.5
Drew Storen 55.0 8.5 2.5 1.0 .300 74.7 % 3.40 3.45 0.3
Craig Stammen 55.0 8.3 3.0 0.7 .304 74.0 % 3.36 3.32 0.3
Ross Detwiler 45.0 6.1 2.3 0.8 .304 71.8 % 3.77 3.79 0.0
Christian Garcia 40.0 8.6 3.3 0.8 .300 75.0 % 3.42 3.56 0.1
Ryan Mattheus 35.0 5.8 3.0 0.8 .305 69.8 % 4.25 4.10 -0.1
Jerry Blevins 30.0 8.0 2.8 1.0 .292 75.8 % 3.43 3.84 0.0
Michael Gonzalez 25.0 9.2 3.5 1.1 .311 75.2 % 3.89 3.89 0.0
Ross Ohlendorf   20.0 6.3 3.1 1.3 .301 71.3 % 4.58 4.71 -0.1
Xavier Cedeno 15.0 8.0 3.7 0.8 .304 73.1 % 3.75 3.87 0.0
Tanner Roark 10.0 6.1 2.8 1.0 .302 70.5 % 4.19 4.15 0.0
Erik Davis   10.0 7.5 3.1 0.9 .303 72.5 % 3.87 3.88 0.0
The Others 20.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 490.0 7.9 2.9 1.0 .299 74.3 % 3.62 3.77 1.4

Like a father constantly reminding his son that he could have been something a lot more important than an internet baseball weblogger “if he’d just applied himself a little,” the refrain from the sabermetric community that it’s foolish to commit large amounts of money to relief pitchers can begin to pall after a while — not from lack of accuracy, mind you, but just from sheer repetition. And yet, it’s deals like the two-year, $28 million one Washington gave to Rafael Soriano last offseason that continue to create a ready platform for such criticisms. Soriano wasn’t maddeningly terrible; he did, however, produce numbers that myriad other relievers could replicate — and which four or five of his more modestly compensated teammates actually did replicate in 2013.

Entering 2014, the Nationals are in an awkward situation with Soriano: the right-hander’s 2015 option for $14 million more is guaranteed should he record 120 games finished between 2013 and -14. Soriano finished 58 games in 2013, meaning he’s at the halfway point of that total, more or less. It would be best for the club not to further their commitment to Soriano. Ineffectiveness and/or injury for Soriano would have the ancillary benefit of giving manager Matt Williams the opportunity to install the club’s actual best reliever, Tyler Clippard, into the closer’s role.

#24 Angels


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Ernesto Frieri 65.0 11.8 3.7 1.1 .295 82.0 % 2.86 3.42 1.0
Joe Smith 65.0 7.4 3.1 0.7 .298 73.6 % 3.47 3.63 0.4
Kevin Jepsen 55.0 8.1 3.2 1.0 .307 73.3 % 3.91 3.94 0.1
Michael Kohn 55.0 9.1 3.7 1.2 .295 76.5 % 3.80 4.20 0.0
Fernando Salas 45.0 7.8 2.7 1.1 .299 73.3 % 3.85 3.92 0.0
Sean Burnett   40.0 7.2 2.8 0.9 .303 72.4 % 3.85 3.86 0.0
Dane de la Rosa   35.0 8.3 3.7 0.8 .300 73.4 % 3.63 3.66 0.0
Hector Santiago 30.0 8.2 3.9 1.0 .296 74.5 % 3.87 4.25 0.0
Joe Blanton 25.0 6.9 1.9 1.3 .314 68.8 % 4.54 4.11 0.0
Brian Moran   20.0 8.0 3.0 1.0 .306 73.2 % 3.89 3.89 0.0
Nick Maronde 15.0 7.4 4.1 1.0 .302 71.6 % 4.37 4.42 0.0
Buddy Boshers 10.0 7.7 4.9 1.0 .303 71.5 % 4.52 4.58 0.0
Michael Roth 10.0 6.3 4.3 1.2 .308 68.7 % 5.09 4.95 0.0
Jose Alvarez 10.0 5.7 2.8 1.4 .307 68.2 % 5.12 4.95 0.0
Ryan Brasier   10.0 7.0 3.6 1.0 .302 72.0 % 4.24 4.31 0.0
Cory Rasmus 10.0 8.1 5.2 1.1 .302 72.8 % 4.62 4.79 0.0
Brandon Lyon 10.0 6.6 2.8 1.1 .304 71.1 % 4.26 4.13 0.0
Total 482.0 8.3 3.3 1.0 .300 74.2 % 3.76 3.93 1.4

At the end of his song “99 Problems”, very famous rapper Jay-Z announces “You crazy for this one, Rick” — a comment directed presumably towards Rick Rubin, who produced the track. Were Jay-Z for some reason to announce “You crazy for this one, Ernesto,” the one in question probably wouldn’t refer to the relevant song, but rather to how Frieri has attempted to construct a major-league career on the strength almost exclusively of one pitch, his fastball. While baseball orthodoxy suggests that even a reliever should possess two useful offerings, the Angels closer threw a fastball of some sort (four- or two-seam) just under 90% of the time in 2013. Nor did it appear to hinder him: Frieri’s 15.8% swinging-strike rate was tied for fourth last year among all pitchers with 50-plus innings.

While the projections for Frieri’s 2014 season are generally encouraging, there aren’t a surfeit of reliably effective options after him. Dane de la Rosa returns, and he’s posted remarkably similar (and above-average) numbers each of the last three seasons. So that’s good. Mike Scioscia will also be glad to have use of Joe Smith, even if the latter’s three-year, $15.75 million deal seems curiously robust relative to Smith’s resume.

Following that triumvirate, however, there’s almost literally no projected value. A seemingly legitimate high-leverage reliever at one point, Kevin Jepsen is forecast to produce a tenth of a win in 55 innings. The remainder of the club’s relief unit, as it stands, appears unlikely to produce anything better than replacement level collectively — an observation anyone can make by means of the depth chart embedded above.

#25 Padres


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Huston Street 65.0 8.4 2.3 1.1 .291 77.1 % 3.36 3.62 0.3
Joaquin Benoit 65.0 10.7 2.8 0.8 .295 79.8 % 2.63 2.81 1.2
Alex Torres 55.0 10.1 5.1 0.6 .297 75.4 % 3.38 3.62 0.1
Nick Vincent 55.0 8.5 3.0 0.9 .298 75.1 % 3.37 3.58 0.1
Dale Thayer 45.0 7.8 2.5 0.9 .301 72.7 % 3.64 3.57 0.0
Tim Stauffer 40.0 7.1 2.6 0.8 .300 73.4 % 3.52 3.64 0.0
Tom Layne 35.0 6.8 4.7 0.9 .305 70.7 % 4.63 4.70 -0.2
Burch Smith 30.0 8.9 2.9 1.1 .300 74.9 % 3.62 3.71 0.0
Donn Roach 25.0 5.0 3.2 0.9 .301 68.8 % 4.59 4.52 -0.1
Patrick Schuster 20.0 6.9 4.1 1.0 .300 71.7 % 4.28 4.42 -0.1
The Others 48.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 -0.2
Total 483.0 8.4 3.3 0.9 .300 74.2 % 3.63 3.74 1.1

Under Kevin Towers, the Padres seemed capable — if not of assembling the best overall bullpens — then at least of assembling the best bullpens relative to the name recognition of the pitchers who populated them. Scott Linebrink, for example, only began providing returns once he arrived in San Diego from Houston. Side-arming Cla Meredith produced a cumulative 77 ERA- somehow over 130-plus inning between 2006 and -08. Mike Adams, meanwhile, recorded three consecutive excellent seasons with the Padres after belonging to no fewer than three other organizations before that.

While the spirit of those Towers Era bullpens lives on both in the person and in the splendid handlebar mustache of Dale Thayer, the surprising effectiveness doesn’t, really. San Diego relievers produced a -0.2 WAR collectively in 2013 and 3.1 wins using runs-allowed instead of FIP — figures that were 28th- and 18th-best in the majors, respectively. Perhaps somewhat encouragingly, the fielding-indepedent projections for the 2014 bullpen actually represent an improvement over last year — a product of regression, on the one hand, and the acquisition of Joaquin Benoit, probably, on the other. Following his return from surgery on a torn rotator cuff that forced him to miss all of 2009, Benoit has been wonderful, recording a 29.2% strikeout rate and 61 ERA- in about 260 innings over four seasons. He’ll work in setup of Huston Street, but will likely outperform the Padres closer on a per-inning basis.

#26 Astros


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Josh Fields 65.0 9.0 4.0 1.2 .307 74.0 % 4.13 4.21 0.3
Jesse Crain   65.0 10.1 3.2 1.0 .305 78.5 % 3.22 3.40 1.1
Chad Qualls 55.0 6.4 2.7 0.9 .310 69.7 % 4.24 3.92 0.1
Matt Albers 55.0 7.0 3.5 0.9 .306 70.6 % 4.16 4.00 0.1
Kevin Chapman 45.0 8.3 5.7 1.0 .307 72.4 % 4.69 4.75 -0.2
Chia-Jen Lo 40.0 8.1 3.5 1.1 .309 72.4 % 4.21 4.10 0.1
Josh Zeid 35.0 8.3 4.6 1.1 .310 70.9 % 4.61 4.49 -0.1
Raul Valdes   30.0 7.6 2.5 1.4 .307 73.2 % 4.20 4.28 0.0
Paul Clemens 25.0 6.0 3.5 1.6 .308 68.2 % 5.53 5.31 -0.1
Jose Cisnero 20.0 8.7 4.5 1.2 .314 71.4 % 4.58 4.40 0.0
Anthony Bass 15.0 6.3 3.3 1.2 .311 68.7 % 4.95 4.62 0.0
Darin Downs 10.0 8.1 3.3 0.9 .312 72.3 % 3.97 3.85 0.0
David Martinez 10.0 5.5 2.6 1.3 .310 68.5 % 4.90 4.68 0.0
Collin McHugh 10.0 6.8 2.9 1.2 .312 70.1 % 4.60 4.40 0.0
Brett Oberholtzer 10.0 6.4 2.9 1.5 .304 69.4 % 5.02 4.92 0.0
Lucas Harrell 10.0 6.0 4.1 1.0 .310 67.9 % 4.96 4.59 0.0
Dallas Keuchel 10.0 6.0 3.0 1.0 .314 68.0 % 4.67 4.22 0.0
Rudy Owens 10.0 5.6 3.1 1.4 .309 68.7 % 5.19 5.09 0.0
Asher Wojciechowski   10.0 6.1 3.4 1.3 .310 68.3 % 5.10 4.83 0.0
Total 506.0 7.8 3.6 1.1 .308 71.9 % 4.32 4.24 1.0

What’s disconcerting about the 2014 edition of the Houston bullpen is that the pitcher projected to produce literally 110% of the said bullpen’s value (i.e. Jesse Crain) appears likely to begin the season on the DL as he continues to rehab from offseason biceps surgery. What’s less disconcerting about that, however, is that, even were the Astros to finish atop the relief-pitching charts this season, they’d still almost certainly finish at the bottom of the more important “games won” charts.

Crain, for his part, really has become one of the majors’ better relievers when healthy — a product, that, of having progressively increased his strikeout-walk differential over each of the last four seasons. It will be interesting to monitor his performance upon his return, to see if he can continue that trend of improvement. Beyond that, however, one finds little else upon which to produce much electronic ink — except perhaps to note the reunion of Matt Albers and Chad Qualls in Houston, who both pitched for the club in 2006 and -07. Lots of tears and embracing and all that, one imagines.

#27 Giants


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Sergio Romo 65.0 9.1 1.9 0.8 .298 77.8 % 2.71 2.84 1.2
Santiago Casilla 65.0 7.4 3.8 0.7 .297 73.5 % 3.67 3.82 -0.3
Jeremy Affeldt   55.0 7.2 3.5 0.6 .300 73.2 % 3.51 3.66 -0.1
Javier Lopez 55.0 7.4 3.2 0.5 .301 74.0 % 3.22 3.33 0.2
Heath Hembree 45.0 8.5 3.6 0.8 .301 74.3 % 3.48 3.61 0.0
Jean Machi 40.0 7.2 2.5 0.7 .302 72.3 % 3.39 3.32 0.1
George Kontos 35.0 7.5 2.5 0.9 .302 73.6 % 3.56 3.60 0.0
Yusmeiro Petit 30.0 7.4 2.0 1.0 .304 72.6 % 3.71 3.63 0.0
Erik Cordier 18.0 7.7 5.3 0.8 .304 72.2 % 4.33 4.46 -0.1
David Huff 20.0 6.1 2.7 1.0 .299 71.0 % 4.17 4.22 0.0
Jake Dunning 15.0 6.4 3.1 0.7 .300 71.3 % 3.80 3.83 0.0
The Others 5.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 0.0
Total 448.0 7.7 3.0 0.7 .301 73.7 % 3.47 3.55 0.9

Because the Giants have won not just one, but two, World Series in recent years, one finds that any criticism of Brian Sabean’s roster-construction decisions naturally has a hollow ring to it. “The club is too old,” says one. “Maybe Brandon Belt should play first base instead of Aubrey Huff’s dead body,” intones another. Replies the Giants’ front office collectively: “Would you care to inspect our trophy case?” Assessing the quality of decisions merely on results — as opposed to the process by which those decisions were made — is generally unwise. That said, producing championship seasons is sort of the ultimate checkmate in any such analysis.

That point having been made, it’s difficult to find much about which to be optimistic with regard to the current iteration of the Giants’ bullpen. Sergio Romo is pretty excellent, yes — although the Giants were perhaps slow to acknowledge how excellent when it came time to find a replacement for Brian Wilson at the end of games. Otherwise, the club features a curiously high number of marginally productive pitchers with three-year commitments. To wit: Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, and Javier Lopez — the former two of whom produced peripherals last year, and the last of whom is compelled to intentionally walk nearly every right-handed batter he faces.

Of some interest is Yusmeiro Petit, who, after years of dominating minor-leaguer hitters and being dominated by major-league ones, recorded a 92 xFIP- over 48 innings last season — almost all of them as a starter. With Ryan Vogelsong appearing to have secured the fifth spot in the rotation, Petit might become a reliable font of outs from the bullpen.

#28 Reds


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
J.J. Hoover 65.0 9.6 3.5 1.1 .289 78.2 % 3.32 3.76 0.4
Manny Parra 65.0 9.4 3.3 0.8 .302 75.3 % 3.37 3.41 0.5
Sam LeCure 55.0 9.0 3.1 0.9 .295 76.7 % 3.31 3.52 0.3
Logan Ondrusek 55.0 7.6 3.4 1.1 .295 73.8 % 4.00 4.25 -0.3
Nick Christiani 45.0 5.9 3.7 1.3 .294 70.2 % 4.82 5.05 -0.4
Alfredo Simon 40.0 6.9 2.9 1.0 .295 72.8 % 3.87 4.14 -0.1
Brett Marshall 35.0 6.7 4.4 1.6 .297 69.7 % 5.34 5.46 -0.2
Aroldis Chapman   30.0 14.5 3.8 0.8 .297 85.4 % 2.07 2.33 0.3
Jonathan Broxton   25.0 7.8 3.0 0.9 .296 74.1 % 3.62 3.86 0.0
Sean Marshall   20.0 9.3 2.4 0.7 .301 77.2 % 2.77 2.93 0.1
Curtis Partch 15.0 7.6 4.3 1.4 .288 72.7 % 4.61 5.06 -0.1
Pedro Beato 10.0 6.6 4.1 1.4 .295 70.7 % 4.91 5.17 -0.1
The Others 38.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 -0.1
Total 498.0 8.5 3.5 1.1 .297 74.4 % 3.80 4.01 0.3

The author didn’t have the foresight to do it, but one images that if he had taken a screenshot of all the relief-pitching depth charts here before Aroldis Chapman’s very frightening injury, that Cincinnati wouldn’t be ranked 28th on it. Insofar as he’s likely to record higher strikeout and strand rates than basically every other pitchers in the majors, he is by definition irreplaceable.

Indeed, unlike many clubs considered above, the Reds’ problem doesn’t appear to be a lack of high-end relief talent — they have that — but rather of depth. Like Chapman, all five of Jonathan Broxton, J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Sean Marshall, and Manny Parra are capable of producing above-average per-inning numbers. One is compelled to note, however, that three of those guys (Broxton, Chapman, and Marshall) are expected to begin the season on the DL. One is compelled to note, moreover, that literally every other pitcher included on the Reds relief depth chart is projected to produce a negative WAR figure.

Even when Chapman does return, Cincinnati must contend with the reality that the futures of Broxton and Marshall — to which pair the Reds still owe a combined $28 million — remain opaque. Not ideal, that.

#29 Brewers


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jim Henderson 65.0 10.4 3.9 1.0 .301 76.9 % 3.44 3.64 0.3
Francisco Rodriguez 65.0 9.4 3.3 1.0 .306 74.6 % 3.62 3.58 0.4
Brandon Kintzler 55.0 6.9 2.7 0.8 .306 72.4 % 3.62 3.60 0.2
Rob Wooten 55.0 6.5 3.1 1.1 .304 71.1 % 4.37 4.35 -0.2
Will Smith 45.0 8.4 2.7 1.1 .306 73.2 % 3.81 3.76 0.1
Michael Blazek 40.0 8.3 5.6 1.1 .303 72.5 % 4.71 4.90 -0.3
Alfredo Figaro 35.0 7.0 2.2 1.2 .303 71.2 % 4.18 4.09 -0.1
Tom Gorzelanny   30.0 8.7 3.1 1.1 .302 75.0 % 3.73 3.89 0.0
Jimmy Nelson 25.0 7.6 4.9 1.1 .304 71.0 % 4.67 4.69 -0.1
Tyler Thornburg 20.0 7.8 3.9 1.3 .302 71.9 % 4.54 4.63 -0.1
Mike Fiers 15.0 7.8 3.0 1.4 .301 72.1 % 4.39 4.40 0.0
Hiram Burgos 10.0 6.5 3.3 1.4 .305 70.5 % 4.84 4.86 0.0
The Others 28.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 -0.1
Total 488.0 8.2 3.5 1.1 .305 73.0 % 4.03 4.06 0.1

“Two Canadians enter, only one Canadian leaves” is not a way in which anyone has chosen to characterize the back end of the Milwaukee ca. 2013 — and yet, one finds that it’s not entirely inaccurate, either. Regard: Canadian right-hander John Axford and other Canadian right-hander Jim Henderson both begin the season pitching in relief for the Brewers, the latter setting up the former. Continue to regard: after early season troubles, Axford is demoted from the closer’s role, replaced by the aforementioned Henderson. Regard one more time: sensing that there’s room for only one right-handed Canadian in the bullpen, Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin agrees to send Axford to St. Louis in exchange (eventually) for Michael Blazek, who’s from Las Vegas, which is totally in America.

That sequence of events brings us more or less to the present, a present in which Jim Henderson (a slightly above-average reliever) — along with Brandon Kintzler, Francisco Rodriguez, and Will Smith (all slightly above-average relievers, probably) — form the first line of Milwaukee’s bullpen defense. As is the case with Cincinnati (just above), it’s not a bad line of defense, at all. Not quite as good as Cincinnati’s, perhaps, but not bad. The problem, again, appears to concern the question of depth — and, specifically, the lack of it. One doesn’t mind asking Francisco Rodriguez to pitch the high-leverage inning. The difficulty is if and/or when Rodriguez finds his was to the DL and then Rob Wooten is compelled to pitch the high-leverage inning.

#30 Mets


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Bobby Parnell 65.0 8.2 2.6 0.7 .302 74.6 % 3.16 3.12 0.7
Jeurys Familia 65.0 8.1 4.2 1.0 .304 73.0 % 4.10 4.16 -0.6
Josh Edgin   55.0 8.0 3.9 1.0 .304 72.3 % 4.12 4.14 -0.4
Vic Black 55.0 10.0 4.4 0.8 .304 74.9 % 3.56 3.64 0.1
Gonzalez Germen 45.0 7.9 3.0 1.0 .300 73.5 % 3.79 3.88 0.0
Scott Rice 40.0 6.9 4.0 0.7 .298 72.2 % 3.87 4.07 -0.1
Carlos Torres 35.0 7.4 2.9 1.1 .298 72.0 % 4.03 4.09 -0.1
John Lannan 30.0 5.0 3.6 0.9 .305 68.1 % 4.80 4.64 -0.2
Jenrry Mejia 25.0 6.9 3.3 0.8 .308 70.8 % 4.15 3.94 0.0
Rafael Montero 20.0 7.9 2.1 0.9 .301 73.7 % 3.41 3.41 0.0
Jeff Walters 15.0 7.2 3.0 0.9 .300 72.7 % 3.81 3.96 0.0
Jacob Degrom 10.0 6.3 2.6 1.0 .303 70.8 % 4.09 4.03 0.0
Steven Matz 10.0 7.7 4.4 1.0 .301 72.6 % 4.24 4.44 0.0
The Others 26.0 8.0 4.3 1.0 .318 71.1 % 4.53 4.37 -0.1
Total 496.0 7.8 3.5 0.9 .303 72.6 % 3.90 3.92 -0.9

One can’t see it here, but navigating to the actual page from which these relief depth charts are taken reveals that a small collection of notable free-agent relievers, when their projected WAR figures are totaled, actually place higher than the Mets’ own relief depth chart — rendering the Mets, in effect, the 31st-best bullpen in the majors.

Actually, so long as we’re all just sitting around, here’s the relevant screencap (which one can click to embiggen):

FAs and Mets

How much would it cost just to sign the top-five pitchers on that free-agent list? Not very much, probably, but probably more than the Mets are currently spending on their own relief corps. There’s a logic to the Mets economical bullpen construction, of course: the rest of the club isn’t particularly great. Investing heavily in relief would be unwise at this point.

Were one in the mood to take the over on one of the WAR projections here, one might benefit from doing so on right-hander Gonzalez Germen. As noted by Eno Sarris at RotoGraphs just a week-plus ago, Germen recorded swinging-strike rates greater than 25% with both his changeup and his slider last year, which is promising even if his defense-independent figures weren’t dominant across the board.

Here’s an animated GIF of Germen’s changeup, if that’s a thing that interests people:

Germen Bianchi Slow



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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


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