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

For an explanation of this series, please read the introductory post. 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.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been going position by position around the sport. We finish up the series with bullpens today, but it’s worth noting that these projections follow a slightly different structure than the rest.

For one, projecting specific innings totals for relievers is a taller task than projecting playing time for position players or even innings totals for starters. There are numerous outside factors impacting bullpen usage, including things that we can’t really predict like the distribution of runs scored and allowed by each team. One team might play in a bunch of blowouts and rarely need their closer, while another could end up in a continuous stream of one run games and ask their best few arms to carry a lion’s share of the workload. Beyond that, the health of a team’s rotation is going to be a factor, as some relievers are also reserve starters who might be pressed into duty mid-season. And the depth charts are continually evolving, as injuries and acquisitions move guys into differing roles that come with different usage patterns.

So, for the relievers, we’ve simply assigned IP totals to each slot on a depth chart. Closers and primary setup men get 65 innings each, with the 3rd/4th relievers getting 55 innings each, and then the rest have their innings allocated in descending order according to their placement on the depth chart. And, in order to make each team’s total number of innings pitched (both starters and relievers) equal out to 1,458, we’ve added in a set for each team that makes up the missing innings in the projections. The performance projection is the same for each team, and is set to be around -0.1 WAR per 100 innings, on the assumption that the 10th or 11th reliever a team uses throughout the season is probably a little bit below replacement level. The statline in the table is just there as a placeholder – those numbers aren’t actually affecting the calculation beyond just setting innings equal and being included in the WAR sum.

Also, since we don’t have separate ZIPS/Steamer projections for guys as starters and relievers, guys who were projected as starters but are going to pitch in relief will likely be under-forecast. Aroldis Chapman, for instance, is getting his starter projections prorated to reliever innings totals, and he’ll almost certainly pitch better in relief than he was projected to do as a starter. There aren’t a lot of those types, but for guys like that, adjust their numbers upwards accordingly.

Oh, and we’ve mentioned this on the other lists, but it is worth emphasizing here – the gap between many teams is so slim that you shouldn’t read too much into a team’s placement in the ordinal rank. The gap between #12 and #22 is +0.7 WAR. That’s no difference at all, really. There are good bullpens, okay bullpens, and a couple of bad bullpens, but don’t get too caught up in whether one team is a few spots ahead of another team. With margins this small, the specific placement on the list is mostly irrelevant.

On to the list.

#16 Dodgers


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Brandon League 65.0 7.4 3.2 0.6 .300 72.9 % 3.42 3.37 0.7
Kenley Jansen 65.0 13.4 3.8 0.8 .301 84.8 % 2.23 2.58 1.6
Ronald Belisario 55.0 8.1 3.7 0.7 .299 73.9 % 3.35 3.55 0.4
J.P. Howell 55.0 8.1 4.0 0.9 .298 74.1 % 3.87 4.05 0.0
Matt Guerrier 45.0 7.0 3.3 0.9 .294 73.4 % 3.82 3.97 0.0
Chris Capuano 40.0 7.3 2.6 1.1 .299 71.7 % 4.01 3.92 0.0
Scott Elbert 35.0 9.2 4.1 0.9 .296 76.3 % 3.49 3.73 0.0
Josh Wall 30.0 7.4 4.2 1.0 .297 72.7 % 4.24 4.40 -0.1
Javy Guerra 25.0 7.5 4.3 0.8 .299 73.4 % 3.89 4.06 0.0
Shawn Tolleson 20.0 10.0 3.7 1.0 .299 75.9 % 3.44 3.56 0.0
Paco Rodriguez 15.0 9.6 4.2 0.6 .300 75.4 % 3.21 3.32 0.0
The Others 31.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 0.0
Total 481.0 8.5 3.7 0.8 .299 74.8 % 3.53 3.69 2.7

Will Kenley Jansen stay healthy? He is one of the best relievers in the game — in a league with Craig Kimbrel, even — when healthy, but a heart condition has kept him out of action for parts of the last two seasons. One has to imagine the Dodgers would not have invested so heavily in Brandon League if not for the concerns surrounding Jansen.

For now, though, Jansen is healthy, and the League-Jansen tandem — in whatever order — should be one of the most imposing combinations to face in the final two innings. Can the rest of the bullpen get leads to them? Ronald Belisario was sharp in 2012 but horrible in 2011. J.P. Howell was great in 2009 and 2010 but has struggled since. Matt Guerrier only pitched 14 innings last year and was mediocre the two seasons prior. Beyond that, depth is cobbled together from former starters and journeymen.

If one or two of the depth pitchers can step up and give Don Mattingly a reliable option, this bullpen can look very good. If not, and if Kenley Jansen or Brandon League gets hurt, the floor is precipitously low.

#17 Angels


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Ryan Madson 65.0 8.5 2.8 0.8 .301 76.2 % 3.23 3.37 1.0
Sean Burnett 65.0 7.4 2.9 0.8 .301 73.1 % 3.48 3.61 0.7
Ernesto Frieri 55.0 11.3 4.3 1.0 .294 80.4 % 3.12 3.69 0.4
Scott Downs 55.0 6.6 3.1 0.7 .299 73.4 % 3.60 3.67 0.4
Kevin Jepsen 45.0 8.2 3.6 0.8 .307 73.4 % 3.71 3.66 0.2
Jerome Williams 40.0 6.2 2.4 1.0 .304 69.5 % 4.19 4.00 0.1
Garrett Richards 35.0 6.0 4.0 1.0 .310 68.9 % 4.83 4.61 0.0
David Carpenter 30.0 6.6 3.9 0.9 .301 72.2 % 4.20 4.26 0.0
Mitch Stetter 25.0 7.7 4.5 1.1 .304 72.3 % 4.55 4.65 0.0
Michael Kohn 20.0 8.2 4.9 1.3 .296 74.4 % 4.39 4.75 0.0
Chad Cordero 15.0 6.3 3.6 1.2 .306 72.9 % 4.50 4.66 0.0
Nick Maronde 10.0 6.8 3.2 0.9 .299 71.0 % 4.07 4.03 0.0
Fernando Cabrera 10.0 7.1 4.7 1.1 .306 70.5 % 4.83 4.80 0.0
The Others 38.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 0.0
Total 508.0 7.6 3.6 0.9 .302 73.4 % 3.87 3.99 2.6

Here we go again with Madson. Thought to be completely healthy over the winter, Madson is now expected to miss at least the first month of the season. He is throwing off a mound, but there is no definitive timetable for his return. And the Angels do need him to return as quickly as possible, for while they have capable pitchers in Burnett, Frieri and Downs, the herd thins quickly, and this trio isn’t exactly the most durable. Burnett has only tossed 60 innings once in the past five seasons; Downs twice. But that may be giving Downs a bit too much credit — in three of the past four seasons, he has failed to reach 55 innings pitched. Furthermore, both Burnett and Downs have fairly large platoon splits, and are not the pitchers you want on the mound in a high-leverage situation against a right-handed hitter.

Frieri is better suited for that work, but then, he’s no sure thing either. His walk rate was in the bottom 25 among qualified relievers last season, and while he strikes out plenty of hitters as well, he leaves himself less margin for error with all the free passes. Aside from them, there is the usual parade of failed starters and organizational soldiers, although Cordero’s comeback could prove mildly entertaining for a couple of weeks. Hurry back, Ryan.

#18 Nationals


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Rafael Soriano 65.0 9.0 3.1 0.9 .297 77.0 % 3.28 3.50 0.8
Drew Storen 65.0 8.7 2.9 0.8 .298 75.8 % 3.16 3.30 1.0
Tyler Clippard 55.0 10.4 3.4 1.1 .292 80.7 % 3.05 3.51 0.5
Craig Stammen 55.0 8.4 3.3 0.8 .297 76.3 % 3.28 3.58 0.4
Henry Rodriguez 45.0 10.2 5.3 0.8 .290 76.4 % 3.46 3.86 0.1
Ryan Mattheus 40.0 6.7 3.4 1.0 .296 72.7 % 4.03 4.28 0.0
Zach Duke 35.0 4.9 2.5 1.0 .317 67.8 % 4.79 4.40 0.0
The Others 188.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 548.0 7.7 3.8 1.0 .300 74.1 % 3.83 4.10 2.6

This bullpen will be a good deal better in practice than this ranking gives them credit for, in large part because their starting pitching will make their lack of depth a non-factor. The back-end of Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen and Tyler Cippard is beyond reproach and that trio will handle the bulk of the important situations in Washington this year.

Soriano, the new addition, was largely excellent in replacing Mariano Rivera last year, and moving out of Yankee Stadium and into the National League and pitcher-friendly Nationals Park should help him. He allowed more home runs per nine innings as a Yankee than he did anywhere else. Outside of a rough 2011 (98 ERA-), Soriano hasn’t allowed an ERA- above 75 in a full season since 2002, his rookie year.

Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard both have proven they have closer stuff over the past few years as well. All three are top-tier relievers, and the Nationals will be handing leads — and therefore important situations — to them, not to the depth guys this system punishes them for lacking. Expect this bullpen to be better than 18th overall.

#19 Orioles


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jim Johnson 65.0 6.2 2.5 0.8 .301 71.9 % 3.70 3.69 0.9
Pedro Strop 65.0 8.5 4.7 0.7 .311 72.7 % 3.88 3.82 0.7
Darren O’Day 55.0 8.5 2.4 1.2 .297 77.1 % 3.50 3.81 0.5
Luis Ayala 55.0 6.2 2.5 1.0 .303 72.1 % 3.98 4.10 0.3
Troy Patton 45.0 7.7 2.6 1.0 .300 73.0 % 3.69 3.79 0.3
Brian Matusz 40.0 7.1 3.5 1.4 .309 71.1 % 4.74 4.66 0.0
Steve Johnson 35.0 7.1 4.4 1.3 .301 70.8 % 4.93 4.98 -0.1
Tommy Hunter 30.0 5.5 2.1 1.4 .303 69.1 % 4.74 4.62 0.0
Mike Belfiore 25.0 7.7 4.6 1.0 .303 72.8 % 4.37 4.44 0.0
Todd Redmond 20.0 6.4 3.2 1.6 .307 68.4 % 5.34 5.18 0.0
T.J. Mcfarland 15.0 4.5 3.7 1.1 .304 65.7 % 5.46 5.05 0.0
The Others 125.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 575.0 6.9 3.5 1.1 .304 72.0 % 4.23 4.34 2.6

Baltimore’s tremendous success last season can be credited in large part to their bullpen. The trio of Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop and Darren O’Day was tremendous all season and particularly in clutch situations. As explained here, I don’t think they will repeat, if only because such greatness is impossible for anybody to attain twice.

Can Jim Johnson succeed despite allowing constant contact? Danny Kolb is the only other pitcher to record 10 more saves than strikeouts in a season, as Johnson did last year. Can Pedro Strop succeed despite poor strikeout and walk numbers? Can Darren O’Day keep getting left-handers out? If even the answer to one or two of these questions is no, the Orioles bullpen is more of a league-average unit than the league-leading one it was last season.

Troy Patton has shown to be an elite control reliever over the past two seasons, but the rest of the bullpen is iffy. Ayala, Matusz, Johnson, and Hunter were all palatable last year but have limited track records of success. There’s enough to like to keep this unit around the league average, but the floor is low enough to limit the ranking to No. 19.

#20 Cubs


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Carlos Marmol 65.0 11.9 5.9 0.7 .306 77.0 % 3.48 3.67 0.7
Kyuji Fujikawa 65.0 9.6 3.3 0.8 .310 76.1 % 3.34 3.34 1.0
Shawn Camp 55.0 6.0 2.8 0.8 .304 71.6 % 3.85 3.89 0.3
James Russell 55.0 7.3 3.1 1.0 .305 74.1 % 3.84 3.91 0.3
Hisanori Takahashi 45.0 8.1 3.3 1.0 .303 72.4 % 3.98 3.85 0.2
Cory Wade 40.0 6.7 2.7 1.2 .301 72.7 % 4.19 4.28 0.0
Michael Bowden 35.0 8.0 4.3 1.1 .296 74.5 % 4.11 4.32 0.0
Rafael Dolis 30.0 6.7 4.7 0.9 .302 70.9 % 4.55 4.51 0.0
Hector Rondon 25.0 7.4 3.4 1.4 .312 74.1 % 4.74 4.68 0.0
Casey Coleman 20.0 6.5 3.8 1.1 .304 70.7 % 4.60 4.54 0.0
Blake Parker 15.0 7.8 4.8 1.1 .305 71.5 % 4.60 4.57 0.0
Jaye Chapman 10.0 8.3 5.6 1.0 .304 73.1 % 4.47 4.61 0.0
The Others 115.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 575.0 7.7 4.0 1.0 .304 73.3 % 4.06 4.17 2.4

Carlos Marmol is far more infuriating and frustrating than bad. Even last year, when his walk rate ballooned to 7.32, he managed a 3.42 ERA and 3.98 FIP — not great by any means, but competent. His slider is still nearly impossible to make contact with, and his strikeouts will keep him viable as a reliever.

The question, then, is the quality of Japanese import Kyuji Fujikawa. His numbers in the Japanese league are ineffable. Not only did he strike out 10 more batters per nine innings than he walked, but he also allowed a paltry 5.4 hits per nine innings over his six seasons. His stuff can come down a long way in the majors and he can still be a capable reliever.

Depth is lacking, as the Cubs are loaded with mediocrity in the bullpen beyond Marmol and Fujikawa. There will be issues keeping leads in the sixth and seventh innings if the starters can’t go deep into games.

#21 Cardinals


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Mitchell Boggs 65.0 7.6 3.1 0.7 .303 73.8 % 3.47 3.56 0.6
Trevor Rosenthal 65.0 8.5 3.8 0.8 .298 73.0 % 3.69 3.77 0.3
Jason Motte 55.0 10.0 2.7 0.9 .299 78.9 % 2.87 3.10 0.8
Marc Rzepczynski 55.0 7.9 3.6 0.8 .307 73.4 % 3.81 3.81 0.2
Fernando Salas 45.0 8.9 3.3 0.9 .301 74.9 % 3.39 3.53 0.2
Randy Choate 40.0 8.3 3.6 0.7 .304 74.3 % 3.50 3.69 0.1
Joe Kelly 35.0 6.1 3.4 0.7 .306 69.9 % 4.16 3.97 0.0
Edward Mujica 30.0 7.3 2.0 1.0 .298 74.2 % 3.44 3.52 0.1
Victor Marte 25.0 7.0 3.8 0.9 .308 71.4 % 4.32 4.24 0.0
Sam Freeman 20.0 7.1 4.7 0.9 .303 72.2 % 4.35 4.42 0.0
Jorge Rondon 15.0 6.6 6.2 0.9 .305 70.4 % 5.08 5.11 -0.1
The Others 137.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 587.0 7.6 3.7 0.9 .303 73.2 % 3.85 4.00 2.2

Jason Motte is doubtful to start the season with a mild elbow strain, hence his placement third in the table. When healthy, Motte is one of the best relievers in the game. His rise is doubly remarkable, partly because he’s only a few years removed from a switch from catching and because he really doesn’t have much of a repertoire outside of his fastball. It makes him a little bit susceptible to good left-handed hitting, but for the most part, his upper-90s fastball is powerful enough and has enough movement to lock hitters down.

But, on the whole, the bullpen was one of the Cardinals’ few weaknesses last year, and it appears that might carry through to 2013. Trevor Rosenthal is an incredibly exciting prospect (and a potential rookie of the year if Motte’s injury lingers and Rosenthal inherits the closer role). But Marc Rzepczynski and Fernando Salas were mediocre last year, and Randy Choate and Edward Mujica shouldn’t excite anybody.

If Motte comes back quickly, this unit looks a good deal better, and Rosenthal could blow this forecast out of the water. Don’t let the ordinal rank here fool you – this bullpen could be quite good. It’s just got some question marks at the moment.

#22 Mariners


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Tom Wilhelmsen 65.0 9.5 3.6 0.8 .299 76.1 % 3.19 3.31 1.0
Carter Capps 65.0 10.3 3.8 1.0 .311 75.1 % 3.70 3.61 0.6
Charlie Furbush 55.0 9.6 3.3 0.9 .298 77.0 % 3.17 3.40 0.6
Kameron Loe 55.0 6.6 2.6 0.7 .305 71.2 % 3.64 3.54 0.4
Oliver Perez 45.0 8.0 5.1 1.0 .299 73.7 % 4.37 4.58 -0.2
Stephen Pryor 40.0 9.7 5.8 1.0 .296 74.9 % 4.20 4.42 -0.1
Lucas Luetge 35.0 7.5 4.2 0.8 .304 71.0 % 4.26 4.10 0.0
Josh Kinney 30.0 7.6 3.6 0.8 .298 72.3 % 3.86 3.94 0.0
The Others 108.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 498.0 8.2 4.0 0.9 .302 73.6 % 3.89 4.02 2.2

This is a bullpen worth watching, even if it might not be that great. Between closer Tom Wilhelmsen and the youth duo of Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor, this bullpen brings serious heat. All three can touch the upper 90s with the fastball. As such, it’s probably unsurprising that all three have some control issues, specifically Pryor. But that just means more exciting situations with runners on. Great for the viewer!

Wilhelmsen’s fastball is one of the best pitches in the game, so as long as he doesn’t come out of the gate with lower velocity, it wouldn’t surprise for him to have another excellent season. The question is whether or not the youngsters behind him can do enough to get outs. There’s a lot of upside, here, though. If guys like Charlie Furbush (2.72 ERA, 2.81 FIP) and Oliver Perez (2.12 ERA, 2.93 FIP) can keep thriving in their conversions from starter to reliever, the quality of Seattle’s bullpen could even match the spectacle.

#23 Marlins


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Steve Cishek 65.0 8.8 3.9 0.6 .313 74.3 % 3.42 3.46 0.9
Ryan Webb 65.0 6.7 3.2 0.5 .316 70.9 % 3.73 3.46 0.8
Mike Dunn 55.0 9.6 5.0 0.9 .313 75.0 % 3.90 3.90 0.2
A.J. Ramos 55.0 9.3 4.3 0.9 .308 74.8 % 3.77 3.80 0.3
Sam Dyson 45.0 4.8 3.5 0.8 .309 67.6 % 4.58 4.34 -0.1
Jon Rauch 40.0 7.0 2.5 1.1 .298 73.3 % 3.89 3.98 0.1
Chris Hatcher 35.0 7.8 4.0 0.9 .308 73.3 % 4.04 4.11 0.0
Dan Jennings 30.0 6.7 4.6 0.8 .312 71.3 % 4.50 4.41 0.0
Scott Maine 25.0 8.3 4.6 0.9 .309 72.1 % 4.28 4.25 0.0
The Others 151.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 566.0 7.3 4.1 0.9 .308 72.4 % 4.08 4.15 2.0

The Marlins bullpen is loaded with serviceable pitchers, but lacks top-end talent. Steve Cishek was sharp last year and eventually earned the closer role, as he posted a 2.69 ERA and 3.22 FIP. His success will depend on how he handles left-handed batters. Southpaws hit .277/.391/.396 off him last year, but Cishek only served up one home run to a left-handed batter out of 133 faced. He was able to work around eight doubles and a triple. Cishek will likely see a bevy of pinch-hit lefties this season, and he’ll have to keep the ball in the yard. If he can, he’ll be fine — righties hit a putrid .180/.266/.282 off him and his sharp slider and arm angle should sustain the success.

Behind Cishek, they have a load of quality but not front-line relievers. Ryan Webb has been an elite ground ball reliever over the last few years. Mike Dunn brings a blazing left-handed fastball but without much control. A.J. Ramos is similar but from the right side. A collection of decent arms should keep the team from being awful late in games, but they’re not a shut down group either.

#24 Pirates


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jason Grilli 65.0 11.0 3.5 0.9 .309 78.6 % 3.00 3.15 1.1
Mark Melancon 65.0 8.1 2.9 0.7 .304 74.1 % 3.32 3.39 0.8
Tony Watson 55.0 8.8 3.9 0.9 .298 75.6 % 3.60 3.79 0.2
Jared Hughes 55.0 6.3 2.9 0.7 .297 71.8 % 3.70 3.85 0.1
Justin Wilson 45.0 7.6 5.3 0.9 .300 71.0 % 4.48 4.58 -0.2
Chris Leroux 40.0 6.9 3.0 0.8 .308 71.2 % 4.01 3.87 0.1
Kyle McPherson 35.0 6.8 2.4 1.0 .303 69.8 % 4.16 3.99 0.0
Bryan Morris 30.0 7.1 3.1 1.0 .309 71.2 % 4.11 4.03 0.0
The Others 135.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 525.0 7.5 3.7 0.9 .303 72.9 % 3.91 4.05 2.0

Jason Grilli has always had a major-league fastball, he just didn’t turn it into results until 2011. He added velocity, and more importantly, he throws strikes with it consistently now. He should thrive as Pittsburgh’s closer in 2013.

For a team unwilling to spend big bucks on Joel Hanrahan (and understandably so), plucking Mark Melancon out of Boston’s bullpen was a sharp move. He collapsed early in 2012 with the Red Sox, but he built himself up in the minors and looked like the Melancon the Red Sox wanted when they acquired him from Houston. After his return to the majors, Melancon struck out 40 against 10 walks with three home runs allowed in 43 innings and allowed just a .597 OPS against; he should be fine in the setup role.

Tony Watson gives Pittsburgh a hard-throwing lefty, but control problems limit him. Jared Hughes throws ground balls better than most relievers, but outside of those two, there isn’t much depth in the Pirates’ bullpen. They’ll need development out of somebody like Kyle McPherson to have much upside as a unit.

#25 Indians


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Chris Perez 65.0 8.5 3.5 1.1 .298 74.8 % 3.71 3.98 0.3
Vinnie Pestano 65.0 10.0 3.4 0.9 .308 76.4 % 3.28 3.35 1.0
Frank Herrmann 55.0 6.6 3.1 1.2 .304 71.6 % 4.42 4.46 -0.1
Cody Allen 55.0 8.7 4.0 0.9 .310 73.7 % 3.96 3.90 0.2
Nick Hagadone 45.0 8.4 4.2 1.0 .305 72.6 % 4.23 4.17 0.0
Joe Smith 40.0 7.0 3.7 0.7 .304 71.3 % 3.86 3.80 0.2
Bryan Shaw 35.0 6.7 3.5 0.9 .308 71.9 % 4.11 4.13 0.0
Scott Barnes 30.0 8.1 4.3 1.0 .308 71.0 % 4.46 4.27 0.0
Matt Albers 25.0 7.6 3.8 0.9 .304 72.0 % 4.04 4.03 0.0
The Others 135.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 550.0 7.6 3.9 1.0 .305 72.8 % 4.08 4.20 1.6

Chris Perez took a pretty big step forward in 2012, as his strikeout rate and walk rates both improved dramatically from 2012. But he still posted just a 3.59 ERA (91 ERA-) and 3.34 FIP (83 FIP-), merely adequate numbers for a closer. Perez still gives up too many fly balls — he was over 40 percent for the fifth of his five major league seasons in 2012 — and he hasn’t shown, as many elite relievers do — the ability to keep fly balls in the ballpark.

Vinnie Pestano has seemed like the best pitcher in Cleveland’s bullpen for a few years now, and 2013 is no different. He offers an excellent combination of stuff and results, and if given a chance there’s reason to believe he could be an elite closer. Cleveland just doesn’t have much behind the Perez-Pestano duo. Veteran righty Joe Smith might be the third best reliever in the bullpen, and his career has been about as exciting as his name.

#26 Padres


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Huston Street 65.0 9.7 2.6 0.9 .293 79.4 % 2.89 3.15 0.9
Luke Gregerson 65.0 8.4 2.9 0.8 .299 75.4 % 3.22 3.34 0.6
Brad Boxberger 55.0 10.7 4.8 0.8 .301 77.0 % 3.38 3.62 0.2
Dale Thayer 55.0 7.3 2.7 0.9 .300 73.7 % 3.64 3.67 0.1
Tom Layne 45.0 6.4 4.5 0.9 .303 71.8 % 4.49 4.63 -0.4
Tyson Ross 40.0 7.2 4.0 0.7 .309 71.7 % 3.99 3.89 0.0
Brad Brach 35.0 9.3 3.4 0.9 .303 76.4 % 3.40 3.51 0.0
Joe Thatcher 30.0 9.7 3.5 0.8 .303 75.3 % 3.24 3.31 0.1
The Others 167.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 557.0 7.8 3.8 0.9 .302 74.0 % 3.79 3.99 1.4

Park factors, park factors, park factors. San Diego’s bullpen looks pretty good if you just gaze at the raw numbers, with an especially solid high leverage group in Huston Street, Luke Gregerson and Brad Boxberger. However, it’s telling that even Dale Thayer — a minor-league journeyman — was able to have some success in San Diego’s closer role last year, and the park’s ability to hide pitcher’s weaknesses can’t be forgotten.

The back-end trio, particularly Street, still looks pretty solid on a neutral field. Street hasn’t posted an ERA- nor a FIP- above 90 in his entire eight-year career. But pitchers like Thayer, Tom Layne and Tyson Ross don’t project as much better than replacement without the help of San Diego’s spacious park (and, of course, we’ll have to see what happens with the fences moving in, but I’d be surprised to see a terribly significant difference).

Luckily for San Diego, they still get 81 games at PETCO Park. If they can just get some leads to the seventh inning there, they’ll be in good shape.

#27 Twins


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Glen Perkins 65.0 9.0 2.8 0.9 .310 75.7 % 3.34 3.39 1.1
Jared Burton 65.0 7.7 3.3 1.0 .303 73.7 % 3.84 4.03 0.4
Anthony Swarzak 55.0 5.6 2.8 1.2 .309 68.6 % 4.76 4.61 -0.2
Brian Duensing 55.0 6.1 2.6 1.0 .310 69.5 % 4.40 4.02 0.2
Casey Fien 45.0 7.1 3.3 1.3 .305 71.5 % 4.58 4.61 -0.1
Alex Burnett 40.0 5.8 3.6 0.8 .310 70.4 % 4.48 4.30 0.0
Rich Harden 35.0 8.6 3.7 1.3 .309 71.3 % 4.56 4.40 0.0
Tim Wood 30.0 6.3 4.2 1.0 .305 70.6 % 4.62 4.56 0.0
Josh Roenicke 25.0 6.2 4.4 0.9 .302 70.8 % 4.54 4.58 0.0
Caleb Thielbar 20.0 6.7 4.0 1.2 .311 70.3 % 4.76 4.74 0.0
Tyler Robertson 15.0 7.3 4.4 1.0 .309 70.1 % 4.65 4.46 0.0
Ryan Pressly 10.0 4.7 4.7 1.3 .304 68.2 % 5.66 5.59 0.0
Pedro Hernandez 10.0 5.1 2.8 1.3 .311 66.2 % 5.27 4.84 0.0
The Others 97.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 567.0 6.8 3.5 1.1 .307 71.3 % 4.37 4.38 1.3

Closer should not be a problem for the Twins. Once the Twins dedicated Perkins to relieving full-time, he found a groove. The lefty owns a 2.52 ERA and 2.81 FIP in 132 innings over the past two seasons. At 94.4 MPH on average, his fastball is one of the most powerful from a left-hander in the league, and his sharp slider induces whiffs on nearly one of every three swings.

But the Twins lack depth. Nobody else in the entire bullpen is projected for a FIP below 4.00, and only Jared Burton lands an ERA below 4.00. There is a disturbing lack of power arms for Minnesota. Outside of Perkins, only Rich Harden is projected to strike out more than 8.0 batters per nine innings, and Harden is a complete question mark out of the bullpen. Expect loads of contact off this Twins’ bullpen, and loads of contact usually means loads of runs.

#28 Mets


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Bobby Parnell 65.0 8.5 3.3 0.7 .311 74.0 % 3.30 3.26 0.9
Brandon Lyon 65.0 7.9 3.2 0.8 .305 74.5 % 3.65 3.64 0.4
Frank Francisco 55.0 9.5 3.5 1.0 .309 75.6 % 3.64 3.54 0.4
Josh Edgin 55.0 8.9 4.6 1.1 .305 74.7 % 4.13 4.33 -0.2
Jeremy Hefner 45.0 5.9 2.7 1.0 .308 68.5 % 4.42 4.13 0.0
Pedro Feliciano 40.0 7.2 3.6 1.0 .307 71.7 % 4.10 4.12 0.0
Jeurys Familia 35.0 8.3 5.1 0.9 .312 72.7 % 4.36 4.35 0.0
Greg Burke 30.0 6.6 3.8 0.9 .301 72.3 % 4.21 4.30 0.0
The Others 172.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 562.0 7.4 3.9 0.9 .306 72.8 % 4.08 4.19 1.3

After last season, the Mets should be happy just not to be ranked last. Bobby Parnell turned his stuff into results for the first time over a full season in 2012, and the 28-year-old looks primed to take over the closer’s role. He should handle it well — his mid-to-upper 90s fastball was an excellent pitch last year and worked well in tandem with a rediscovered curveball.

Brandon Lyon was an Ed Wade special overpay in Houston, which disguised the fact that he was actually pretty good in the two years he was healthy (2010 and 2012). Lyon has had an ERA- under 78 in three of the past four years, and he should serve as a capable setup man.

The depth, however, lacks. If Frank Francisco can stay healthy his strikeout abilities provide value, but the rest of the bullpen is largely replacement level — either guys who just aren’t ready yet or who have already proven they don’t have much to offer. As such it looks like another year for the Mets with a bullpen ERA over 4.00, a frankly unacceptable mark given the decline in offense over the last few years.

#29 Brewers


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
John Axford 65.0 10.9 4.2 0.9 .310 77.2 % 3.29 3.35 1.0
Jim Henderson 65.0 9.4 5.1 1.0 .310 73.6 % 4.27 4.26 -0.1
Brandon Kintzler 55.0 7.2 3.5 1.0 .315 70.7 % 4.48 4.23 0.0
Michael Gonzalez 55.0 9.7 4.0 1.1 .311 74.6 % 3.93 3.85 0.2
Tom Gorzelanny 45.0 8.6 3.9 1.1 .307 73.7 % 4.07 4.12 0.0
Burke Badenhop 40.0 6.5 2.9 0.8 .310 71.0 % 3.98 3.86 0.1
Michael Olmsted 35.0 9.9 3.6 0.9 .310 76.4 % 3.46 3.52 0.1
Mark Rogers 30.0 7.0 6.0 0.8 .300 70.4 % 4.75 4.74 -0.1
The Others 184.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 574.0 7.9 4.2 1.0 .308 73.0 % 4.16 4.25 1.1

To understand how truly bad this Brewers bullpen last year, just note that this +3.8 WAR projection would be just under a two win increase; Milwaukee’s bullpen posted a brutal -4.45 WPA on the season despite a solid +0.86 WPA in September. There is room for improvement even if the Brewers’ bullpen doesn’t become good.

The spotlight will be on John Axford after a rough season (4.67 ERA, 4.06 FIP). The stuff wasn’t a problem, as he threw as hard as ever and set a career high with a 12.1 K/9. He issued 5.1 BB/9, an uptick, but not alarmingly higher than his successful 2010 season (4.2 BB/9). The real problem was the home run. After giving up just five in his first 139.1 innings, hitters put 10 Axford pitches over the fence in 69.1 innings in 2012 (1.3 HR/9). A 19.2 HR/FB% seems unsustainably high, so we’ll have to see if Axford can make the necessary adjustment.

The depth is still somewhat lacking; the Brewers will rely on a similar pitcher to Axford in Jim Henderson, who shot through the minor leagues with a blazing fastball to reach Milwaukee at the end of the season. The club added a few veterans in Michael Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny and Burke Badenhop. Neither is impressive, but all are major league talents. Michael Olmsted will be the most interesting reliever to watch if he can earn a promotion to Milwaukee; the hulking 25-year-old has a tremendous minor league track record (1.96 ERA, 11.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 in 161 innings) but has battled injuries throughout his career.

#30 Astros


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Jose Veras 65.0 9.2 4.7 1.0 .307 74.5 % 3.99 4.09 0.1
Wesley Wright 65.0 8.1 3.6 0.9 .307 72.6 % 3.94 3.96 0.2
Hector Ambriz 55.0 7.2 4.6 1.0 .320 69.4 % 4.94 4.57 -0.3
Xavier Cedeno 55.0 8.1 3.8 0.9 .318 71.6 % 4.23 3.93 0.1
Rhiner Cruz 45.0 7.5 5.5 1.3 .306 71.2 % 5.09 5.18 -0.4
Josh Fields 40.0 8.7 5.7 1.1 .317 71.4 % 4.91 4.81 -0.2
Jose Valdez 35.0 8.2 3.7 1.1 .317 69.8 % 4.37 4.09 0.0
Chia-Jen Lo 30.0 6.9 4.0 1.1 .308 68.9 % 4.83 4.60 -0.1
Sam Demel 25.0 7.7 3.8 1.1 .313 70.6 % 4.49 4.33 0.0
Kevin Chapman 20.0 8.4 4.8 0.9 .306 72.9 % 4.20 4.16 0.0
The Others 156.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 591.0 7.5 4.4 1.0 .310 71.6 % 4.47 4.48 -0.8

The Astros, unsurprisingly, understand there is no need to worry about building a bullpen before the roster’s foundation is in place. They plucked a cheap reliever with closer stuff but questionable control and command off the free agent market in Jose Veras, and the rest will be cobbled together from within the organization. Veras’s ceiling is truly elite given his upper-90s fastball and exceptionally sharp curveball, but his propensity for wildness leads to rough stretches. If the Astros can clean it up, he may be an asset, and if so, don’t expect him to stick around for the whole season.

Wesley Wright gives Houston a solid lefty who can get outs from both sides. Xavier Cedeno racked up strikeouts (10.45 per nine innings) in 2012 despite just an 89 MPH average fastball; he relies on curveball (41.6 percent of pitches) to get his outs, and he’ll be worth watching. The rest of the crew essentially defines replacement level, though, and so there will be some desolate stretches for this unit.