Positional Power Rankings: Relief Pitchers

For an explanation of this series, please read the introduction from Monday. All the posts in the series can be found here.

This post represents the final installment of our 2012 positional power rankings. This edition looks at bullpens.

A couple notes on these rankings. Because, over the course of a season, any number of pitchers will appear in relief for a given team, I’ve decided to concentrate on those pitchers who are most likely to receive high-leverage innings during the season. Additionally, note that a number of relief pitchers are also projected for starter’s innings. In those instances where this is the case, I’ve preserved the raw ZiPS rate projections (i.e. K/9, BB/9, HR/9), but adjusted both the innings and WAR projections, while attempting to represent the bump in performance that starters receive when moving to the bullpen.

In terms of criteria, these rankings are based both on the projected WAR of the relevant relievers and also each club’s relief depth. While the Rays, for example, don’t necessarily have the highest-end arms at the back of their bullpen, they have a wealth of slightly above-average ones.

Finally, please note that absolute precision is not the objective here — nor a possibility, really. Indeed, a reasonable argument could be made for moving most teams up or down a couple spots. Rather, the idea is to get a general sense of where each team is situated relative to the rest of the league.

30. Chicago Cubs

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Carlos Marmol R 12.4 6.0 0.62 73.1 1.0
Setup Kerry Wood R 10.0 4.2 0.97 46.2 0.5
Setup Jeff Samardzija R 7.8 5.3 0.92 78.2 0.0
Middle Marcos Mateo R 8.6 3.5 1.17 46.1 0.0

A brief tour of Carlos Marmol’s player page reveals that, in two of his past three years, he’s posted a WAR of less than 1.0 (while the third was his 3.0 WAR season in 2010). If healthy, Kerry Wood should provide decent setup innings; after that, however, there’s not a lot with which rookie manager Dale Sveum can work. Here, for example, is left-hander James Russell‘s ZiPS projection: 56 G (5 GS), 73.0 IP, 49 K, 20 BB, 13 HR, 4.82 FIP. He appears to be the only other real candidate for high-leverage innings entering the season.

29. Baltimore Orioles

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Jim Johnson R 6.1 2.4 0.84 64.2 1.0
Setup Matt Lindstrom R 6.3 3.0 1.05 51.2 0.5
Setup Kevin Gregg R 8.2 4.8 1.13 56.0 0.0
Middle Pedro Strop R 7.9 4.7 0.71 63.0 0.5

Darren O’Day was claimed off waivers by Baltimore this offseason, and, if he lives up to this ZiPS projections (8.6 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 1.15 HR/9, 3.60 FIP) could very end up being one of the most important members of Baltimore’s bullpen. Troy Patton and Zach Phillips appear to be the only left-handed relievers on the 40-man roster, so one or the other (likely Patton) will be given the LOOGY role, although neither are likely to be worth considerably more than replacement level.

28. Minnesota Twins

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Matt Capps R 5.9 2.4 1.12 64.1 0.5
Setup Glen Perkins L 7.5 3.2 0.84 64.0 1.0
Setup Alex Burnett R 5.8 3.7 0.89 61.0 0.0
Middle Brian Duensing L 5.7 2.9 0.98 65.0 0.5

Shambles might be a strong word for what the Minnesota bullpen is in, but it’s not a dramatic overstatement, either. Perkins is an above-average reliever, probably; after that, it’s hard to see the group improving considerably upon the league-worst 115 xFIP- it posted in 2011. One positive: the Twins have a number of players — i.e. Jared Burton, Deolis Guerra, and Daryl Thompson — who have demonstrated promise of some kind.

27. Cleveland Indians

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Chris Perez R 8.2 4.1 0.88 61.2 0.5
Setup Vinnie Pestano R 10.0 3.7 0.85 53.1 1.0
Setup Joe Smith R 6.8 4.1 0.63 57.0 0.5
Setup Tony Sipp L 9.5 4.5 1.24 58.2 0.0

Closer Perez hurt his oblique at the end of February and, despite an original projected recovery time of four-to-six weeks, recently told Nick Camino of WTAM 1100 that he would return by March 15th. ZiPS thinks that either left-hander Nick Hagadone (4.04 FIP) or Rafael Perez (4.13) would both represent an improvement over Sipp, although Manny Acta is most likely to favor Sipp to begin the season.

26. Miami Marlins

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Heath Bell R 9.4 3.5 0.61 59.2 1.0
Setup Juan Oviedo R 8.4 3.2 1.12 64.2 0.5
Setup Mike Dunn L 10.3 6.2 0.85 63.2 0.0
Setup Ryan Webb R 6.3 3.4 0.68 66.2 0.5

Even including the newly acquired Bell, the Marlins don’t have any particularly high-end bullpen arms. What they do seem to have is a pretty decent amount of average relievers. Even if, as expected, Juan Oviedo (ne Leo Nunez) isn’t able to rejoin the team before Opening Day, one or more of Jose Ceda (3.52 projected), Steve Cishek (3.69), and Edward Mujica (3.55) should serve as a reasonably effective replacement for the innings that would’ve been Oviedo’s.

25. Houston Astros

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Brett Myers R 6.8 2.6 1.17 65.0 1.0
Setup Wilton Lopez R 6.9 2.0 0.92 68.2 1.0
Setup Brandon Lyon R 6.4 3.4 0.94 48.0 0.0
Setup David Carpenter R 7.3 4.6 1.00 45.0 0.0

While moving Brett Myers to the bullpen makes less sense in a vacuum (which is to say, if a pitcher can be somewhat effective as a starter, it’s generally best to use him as one), one will note that the Astros relief corps is rather thin otherwise. Right-hander Fernando Rodriguez (3.88 projected FIP) is a possibile alternative to the above-listed group, while some combination of the very hard-throwing Juan Abreu (he averaged 95.5 mph on his fastball in limited major-league time) and Wesley Wright could also make their respsective ways to higher-leverage innings.

24. Oakland A’s

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer? Grant Balfour R 8.8 3.4 0.98 55.0 0.5
Closer? Brian Fuentes L 7.5 3.5 0.94 48.1 0.5
Closer? Fautino De Los Santos R 9.4 4.5 0.94 57.2 0.5
Setup Joey Devine R 8.9 4.0 0.60 45.1 0.5
Setup Jerry Blevins L 7.9 3.3 1.05 60.2 0.5

With the departure of Andrew Bailey to Boston, the closer role is uncertain at the moment. Grant Balfour, who posted an 88 xFIP- in 62.0 innings with the A’s last season, would seem to have some sort of claim on it, except (a) he’s never recorded more than four saves in a major-league season and (b) he’s having a poor spring so far.

23. Seattle Mariners

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Brandon League R 7.4 2.4 0.80 67.1 1.0
Setup Shawn Kelley R 8.3 3.2 1.08 33.2 0.5
Setup Tom Wilhelmsen R 5.3 4.5 1.04 65.0 0.5
Setup George Sherrill L 8.9 3.8 0.90 40.1 0.5

After the closer League, the exact bullpen roles for the Mariners are a bit unclear at the moment. Kelley pitched last September after undergoing Tommy John surgery in late 2010. Provided he resembles his former self, he’s probably the best candidate for the high-leverage innings League doesn’t pitch. Wilhelmsen’s projection includes a number of innings as a starter, but he should be more effective than that in relief — and, notably, he was excellent last September. Chance Ruffin and Hong-Chih Kuo are also around.

22. Washington Nationals

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Drew Storen R 8.8 2.8 0.76 71.2 1.0
Setup Tyler Clippard R 10.9 3.6 0.92 88.1 1.0
Setup Sean Burnett R 7.0 3.5 0.79 57.0 0.5
Setup Brad Lidge R 8.8 4.3 0.87 31.2 0.0

The above coterie of relievers is joined by right-handers Henry Rodriguez, whose fastball averaged 98.0 mph in 2011, and Ryan Perry, who (you mayn’t remember) was traded by Detroit to the Nationals this offseason for Collin Balester. One or the other will take on the high-leverage innings that Brad Lidge, if and when he gets injured, will forego.

21. New York Mets

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Frank Francisco R 10.4 3.1 0.92 49.1 1.0
Setup Ramon Ramirez R 8.1 3.9 0.70 64.1 0.5
Setup Jon Rauch R 7.0 2.6 0.98 55.0 0.5
Middle Bobby Parnell R 8.8 3.8 0.75 35.0 0.5

ZiPS is more enthusiastic about Parnell (3.42 FIP) than any Mets reliever except for Francisco; however, with an option remaining, there are questions about whether he’ll even make the Opening Day roster. Tim Byrdak, in addition to entertaining the masses with his Hulk Hogan impersonation, will handle LOOGY duties*.

*Note: according to Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger, it appears as though Byrdak will be undergoing surgery soon for a torn meniscus.

20. Detroit Tigers

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Jose Valverde R 8.6 4.5 0.77 58.1 0.5
Setup Joaquin Benoit R 9.7 2.7 1.00 54.0 1.0
Setup Octavio Dotel R 9.4 3.5 1.10 49.0 0.5
Setup Al Alburquerque R 10.2 5.6 0.77 25.0 0.0
Swing Phil Coke L 6.5 3.5 0.65 65.0 0.5

Phil Coke is not-horrible enough against right-handed batters that he was given 14 starts last season. While they weren’t particularly successful appearances, he’s likely to be quite effective in his relief appearances. In his attempt last season to strike out every batter, Al Alburquerque suffered a stress fracture in his right elbow, undergoing surgery for same in December. He’s currently expected to return around the All-Star break.

19. Philadelphia Phillies

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Jonathan Papelbon R 11.9 2.7 0.71 63.2 2.0
Setup Antonio Bastardo L 11.0 3.9 0.94 48.1 0.5
Setup Jose Contreras R 7.7 3.2 0.96 28.0 0.0
Setup Michael Stutes R 8.5 5.0 1.00 72.0 0.0

The success of the Phillies bullpen rests pretty considerably on the health and effectiveness of free-agent signing Papelbon. With him, the team will be assigning many of its highest-leverage innings to an excellent reliever. Should he get injured, however, there will be a huge hole in the team’s later innings. After he and Bastardo, there’s little about which to be terribly optimistic. Elbow trouble limited Jose Contreras to 14.0 innings in 2011 and have made his status for Opening Day uncertain. Michael Stutes is there, but a bit vanilla. Minor leaguers Justin De Fratus (projected FIP of 3.56) and Michael Schwimer (3.55) are potential reinforcements (and perhaps improvements), although the former has been dealing with elbow soreness since mid-February.

18. San Diego Padres

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Huston Street R 9.9 2.2 0.93 58.1 1.0
Setup Luke Gregerson R 8.7 3.1 0.68 66.1 1.0
Setup Andrew Cashner R 7.4 4.5 0.56 64.2 0.5
Setup Joe Thatcher L 10.4 3.7 0.54 33.2 0.5

The Padres’ trademark over the last several seasons has been their ability to cobble together bullpens out of seemingly spare parts — although, one could make the case that that’s the trademark of now-Arizona GM Kevin Towers. Offseason acquisition Huston Street is a known quantity, and Gregerson has been notable for three years now (although his 2011 wasn’t anything compared to the previous two seasons). Here’s a notable name: Brad Brach. ZiPS has him projected for a 3.04 FIP. Even after accounting for Petco’s spacious dimensions, that’s pretty excellent.

17. Tampa Bay Rays

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Kyle Farnsworth R 8.5 2.5 0.91 49.2 1.0
Setup Joel Peralta R 7.9 2.8 0.93 58.1 0.5
Setup Jake McGee L 8.1 3.6 1.05 60.1 0.5
Setup Fernando Rodney R 7.2 5.0 0.72 50.0 0.0
Swing Jeff Niemann R 6.6 2.8 1.09 65.0 1.0

Matt Bush (4.09 projected FIP), Brandon Gomes (3.65), and especially Josh Lueke (3.41 FIP) are all candidates to provide better than replacement-level innings, in the event that any of the above prove to be ineffective. Fernando Rodney appears to be in a position to receive innings — nor is either ZiPS (4.15) or Steamer (3.97) as pessimistic as you might expect. Generally speaking, while this group lacks a totally dominant arm, it has a number of useful ones.

16. Los Angeles Dodgers

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Javy Guerra R 7.6 3.4 0.86 63.0 0.5
Setup Kenley Jansen R 14.0 4.4 0.71 63.0 1.5
Setup Matt Guerrier R 6.6 3.0 0.84 64.0 0.5
Setup Scott Elbert R 9.6 4.7 0.76 47.2 0.5

Manager Don Mattingly recently announced that Guerra will open the season as the Dodgers’ closer. That’s fine. Regardless of how it works out, Jansen is the relief ace on this team. His combination of velocity and the movement on his excellent cutter led to a 16.1 K/9 last season, the highest mark ever in modern baseball. After that pair, ZiPS is probably most enthusiastic about prospect Josh Lindblom (3.45 projected FIP). Whether he gets enough innings remains to be seen.

15. Arizona Diamondbacks

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer J.J. Putz R 9.6 2.7 0.78 46.0 1.0
Setup David Hernandez R 9.9 4.1 0.83 65.1 1.0
Setup Takashi Saito R 9.0 2.7 0.82 33.0 0.5
Setup Craig Breslow L 7.9 3.3 1.01 62.2 0.5

It’s been noted in volume, but deserves repeating: Arizona’s bullpen was very, very poor in 2010 and much, much improved. In that 2010 season, the D-backs’ bullpen posted a collective (and league-worst) -2.1 WAR. In 2011 — with the additions of Putz and Hernandez, specifically — that number rose to +3.4 WAR, the ninth-best figure in the majors. The projections here for both Putz and Saito are rather conservative, owing to injury problems both have had in recent years, but both are very likely to be effective on a per-inning basis, while Joe Paterson (3.81 projected FIP) Brad Ziegler (3.47) provide for some cushion.

14. Pittsburgh Pirates

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Joel Hanrahan R 9.8 3.0 0.55 65.1 1.5
Setup Chris Resop R 9.9 4.0 0.87 52.0 0.5
Setup Jason Grilli R 9.5 3.8 0.86 52.1 0.5
Setup Evan Meek R 7.9 4.2 0.73 49.1 0.5

Hanrahan is a legitimately excellent reliever at this point, having posted xFIP-s of 66 and 77, respectively, over the last two seasons. Though his strikeout rate dropped from 2010 to 2011 (34.0% to 22.3%), so did his walk rate (8.8% to 5.8%), while his ground-ball rate increased over that span (42.0% to 52.4%). A lot of that change was due to a dramatic increase in fastball usage, which rose from 60.8% in 2010 to 82.5% in 2011, as Hanrahan also threw the pitch harder (95.9 mph in 2010 to 97.0 in 2011). One pitcher to watch this season is Jared Hughes, who saw a jump in velocity when moved to the bullpen at Triple-A Indianapolis and induced grounders on 65.5% of balls in play in 11.0 innings with Pittsburgh.

13. San Francisco Giants

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Brian Wilson R 9.9 4.0 0.58 62.2 1.0
Setup Sergio Romo R 11.4 2.0 0.73 49.0 1.5
Setup Santiago Casilla R 8.2 4.4 0.68 53.0 0.5
Setup Jeremy Affeldt L 7.9 3.9 0.85 53.2 0.0

Sergio Romo is pretty amazing. His 2.23 FIP is the lowest projected by ZiPS. He posted a 40.0% strikeout rate last season versus only a 2.9% walk rate — all of which led to a 38 xFIP-. His slider is literally covered with butter. Or, at least, figuratively covered with butter. In any case, it has a buttery quality to it. Unfortunately, it’s also the case that pitchers who throw a slider with Romo’s frequency are more susceptible to injury. One player to watch is Dan Runzler. He’s a hard-throwing left-hander whose 3.66 projected FIP actually places him third among Giants relievers.

12. Boston Red Sox

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Andrew Bailey R 9.0 2.7 0.68 53.1 1.0
Setup Mark Melancon R 7.5 3.1 0.79 57.2 1.0
Setup Matt Albers R 7.7 4.2 0.91 69.1 0.5
Swing Alfredo Aceves R 5.9 3.5 0.80 65.0 1.0

Right-hander Bobby Jenks had multiple procedures on his back this offseason, leaving his return to action in some doubt. Alfredo Aceves’ role remains somewhat undefined. Like last year, he could get some high-ish-leverage innings. Also like last year, he might make some sport starts. Remember that his ZiPS projections includes five games started; his rates are likely to improve in relief.

11. Chicago White Sox

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer? Matt Thornton L 10.5 3.1 0.80 56.0 1.5
Closer? Addison Reed R 9.6 3.3 0.95 76.0 1.0
Setup Jesse Crain R 9.2 4.5 1.02 62.0 0.5
Long Dylan Axelrod R 5.8 2.9 0.77 75.0 0.5

As of February 23rd, the competition for the White Sox’ closing role was/is wide open, according to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Dary Van Schouwen. Thornton was originally believed to be the favorite, but new manager Robin Ventura was still considering both Crain and Reed for the role. Depite the presence of Jhan Marinez (5.95 projected FIP) and Will Ohman (4.43), probably the most interesting relief option after Crain is Axelrod, who likely won’t be given high-leverage innings at the beginning of the season.

10. Kansas City Royals

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Joakim Soria R 9.7 2.6 0.91 59.2 1.0
Setup Greg Holland R 9.0 4.2 0.77 70.0 1.0
Setup Jonathan Broxton R 10.3 4.1 0.83 43.2 0.5
Middle Tim Collins L 9.0 5.7 0.82 66.2 0.5
Middle Louis Coleman R 9.0 3.7 1.03 61.1 0.5

If his 2011 is any indication, Greg Holland has probably surpassed His Mexellency as the ace of this bullpen, after having posted a 66 xFIP- last season, largely on the strength of a slider that was worth 2.95 runs above average for every hundred thrown, per PITCHf/x. Given the frequency with which he throws said pitch (43.7% of the time in 2011), injury is a concern. Kansas City has above-average depth that should help them deal with injury if and when it occurs.

9. Toronto Blue Jays

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Sergio Santos R 10.9 3.8 0.91 59.1 1.0
Setup Darren Oliver L 8.6 2.4 0.78 46.0 1.0
Setup Casey Janssen R 8.4 2.6 0.87 62.0 1.0
Setup Francisco Cordero R 6.3 3.5 0.93 58.2 0.0
Setup Jason Frasor R 8.6 3.6 0.98 55.2 0.5

It’s not entirely clear at the moment what sort of innings left-hander Darren Oliver will be given, but the projections suggest that they should probably be of the high-leverage sort: Oliver actually has the lowest projected ERA and FIP, per ZiPS, of any Blue Jay pitcher. Of course, that probably accounts for some platoon-leveraging (only 56% of the batters he faced last season were right-hander), but his role in Toronto should be similar to the one he filled in Texas last season.

8. St. Louis Cardinals

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Jason Motte R 8.7 2.8 0.79 57.2 1.0
Setup Lance Lynn R 6.6 3.9 0.57 65.0 1.0
Setup Marc Rzepczynski L 8.9 4.5 0.70 64.2 0.5
Setup Fernando Salas R 8.8 3.1 0.88 61.2 1.0
Setup Eduardo Sanchez R 9.3 4.8 0.66 41.2 0.5

The Cardinals, owners of baseball’s belt and title, see the return to their bullpen of most of 2011’s principals — or, the principals from the second half of the season, at least. While Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes have departed, this season will likely see the return of Eduardo Sanchez, whose 2011 was limited to 30 innings with shoulder trouble. Not listed here is Maikel Cleto, owner of a fastball that averaged 97.9 mph during the right-hander’s 4.1 major-league innings last season. Despite control problems at Triple-A (13.8% in 71.1 IP), Cleto’s numbers were considerably better in that regard in the lower minors last season.

7. Milwaukee Brewers

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer John Axford R 10.3 4.4 0.67 67.1 1.5
Setup Francisco Rodriguez R 10.1 3.8 0.84 64.0 1.0
Setup Kameron Loe R 7.1 2.7 0.87 72.1 1.0
Middle Jose Veras R 9.9 4.9 1.00 63.0 0.5

The Brewers were perhaps surprised a bit when right-hander Francisco Rodriguez accepted arbitration this offseason, although the move might actually work out for the Brewers, as (a) the departures of LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito left the bullpen a little thin, and (b) the $8 million for which K-Rod ended up signing represents a significant discount over the $11.5 million he received last season. Not listed above are two potentially effective left-handers in Zach Braddock (3.49 projected FIP) and Manny Parra (4.41 FIP, mostly as a starter) who pitched only 17.1 innings between them due to injury.

6. Los Angeles Angels

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Jordan Walden R 9.7 3.8 0.74 61.0 1.0
Setup Scott Downs L 6.8 2.6 0.75 48.0 1.0
Setup Hisanori Takahashi L 8.7 3.1 0.96 75.2 1.0
Setup Rich Thompson R 8.7 3.2 1.02 53.0 0.5
Setup LaTroy Hawkins R 5.6 2.3 0.77 35.1 0.5

However many setup men a team can reasonably possess, that’s how many the Angels appear to have. While Downs is the best of the group, the remainder are all fairly interchangeable. Not listed here is Jason Isringhausen, who signed a minor league deal with the Angels in February.

5. Colorado Rockies

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Rafael Betancourt R 10.7 1.9 1.04 52.0 1.5
Setup Matt Belisle R 7.3 2.0 0.86 73.0 1.5
Setup Rex Brothers L 10.9 5.4 0.83 65.0 1.0
Setup Matt Reynolds L 8.5 3.2 1.22 59.1 0.5

For the first time in four years, Colorado will enter a season without Huston Street as their closer. Notably, by virtue of health and effectiveness, Betancourt’s WAR over the last three seasons surpasses Street’s considerably (5.0 vs. 3.1). Betancourt will take over Street’s role, with the effective Belisle and Brothers getting the majority of innings in setup. ZiPS is also optimistic about Zach Putnam (3.76 projected FIP), the pitcher acquired from Cleveland in the Kevin Slowey trade.

4. Texas Rangers

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Joe Nathan R 9.5 3.0 1.34 47.1 0.5
Setup Alexi Ogando R 7.3 3.0 0.84 65.0 1.5
Setup Mike Adams R 8.4 2.4 0.98 55.2 1.0
Setup Koji Uehara R 10.3 1.7 1.26 43.0 1.0
Middle Yoshinori Tateyama R 8.4 2.4 1.13 56.0 0.5

The Rangers have considerable depth in the bullpen. Even with Neftali Feliz making his much anticipated move to the rotation, the relief corps still features considerably above-average arms in Adams, Ogando, and Uehara — nor are Nathan or Tateyama the proverbial chopped liver, either. Another pitcher who might force his way into the bullpen conversation is right-hander Neil Ramirez, who struck out 28.9% of the batters he faced in 98.0 minor-league innings last year as a starter in his age-22 season.

3. Cincinnati Reds

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Ryan Madson R 9.5 2.6 0.75 60.0 1.5
Setup Sean Marshall L 10.0 2.6 0.62 72.1 2.0
Setup Nick Masset R 8.7 3.7 0.77 70.0 1.0
Middle Bill Bray L 9.1 3.5 0.87 41.2 0.5

Following the offseason acquisitions of both Madson and Marshall, the top end of the Reds bullpen is probably among the best in the league. Few, if any, teams will have a pair of relievers who combine for 3.5 WAR.

2. Atlanta Braves

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Craig Kimbrel R 14.2 4.8 0.62 73.1 2.0
Setup Jonny Venters L 10.0 4.4 0.54 84.1 1.5
Setup Eric O’Flaherty L 7.9 2.9 0.59 61.1 1.0
Setup Arodys Vizcaino R 6.8 2.8 0.86 75.0 0.5

Vizcaino’s rate stats are based on him being deployed exclusively as a starter, so it’s reasonable to expect that he’d be better in each category with a move to the bullpen — which, given the depth of the starting rotation, is a distinct possibility. The Braves, as you can see, are rather deep. Excluded from the above list are Jairo Asencio (3.53 projected FIP), Cristhian Martinez (3.42), and, returning from Tommy John surgery, Kris Medlen (3.61 FIP) — any of whom could become at least the second-best reliever for the Twins, probably.

1. New York Yankees

Role Pitcher Hand ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 ZiPS HR/9 IP WAR
Closer Mariano Rivera R 7.9 1.8 0.73 60.0 1.5
Setup David Robertson R 12.1 4.7 0.70 64.2 1.5
Setup Rafael Soriano R 10.6 3.0 0.86 63.0 1.5
Setup Joba Chamberlain R 8.8 2.7 0.98 25.0 0.5
Setup Boone Logan L 8.9 3.2 0.94 48.1 1.0

ZiPS has Mariano Rivera projected for only about 1.5 WAR, but hasn’t posted a figure that low since 2002, nor, given his accomplishments, is there any reason to doubt that he’ll reach that mark in 2012, too. He, Robertson, and Soriano could close for basically any team in the majors. Joba Chamberlain had Tommy John surgery in June of 2011, and likely won’t be returning until this June at the earliest.




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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.


60 Responses to “Positional Power Rankings: Relief Pitchers”

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  1. ELEVENMILLIONin2012? says:

    I don’t understand how zips is projecting Rafael Soriano for a 10.6 K/9. Only twice has he posted a rate higher than 10.5 and his career average is 9.5. Even if you look at his plate discipline stats, nothing he’s done over the past two years suggests a better than average year.

    Thoughts on how zips is arriving at this number?

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  2. Nadingo says:

    I’m confused — why do you have Webb ahead of Mujica and Cishek for the Marlins? Both have better recent performance and better projections, and both appear to be ahead of Webb on the Marlins’ depth chart.

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  3. Spike says:

    some of these seem pretty strange.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. will says:

    lol, this guy loves sh*tting on the nationals. 22nd? LMAO, easily top 10 if not top 5 BP. i mean storen, clippard, rodriguez, burnett, perry, lidge < motte, lynn and company? come on, what a joke

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    • Toby Flenderson says:

      Based on what?

      Storen and Clippard could have great seasons and each accumulate 1.5 WAR, but 1.0 each would be more realistic. Burnett is worth 0.5 best case scenerio, probably closer to 0. And Lidge hasn’t been worth anything in years. No clue how a “Top 5-10″ bullpen is going to develop.

      For a bullpen that may be overtaxed considering the inning limitations on Zimmerman and Strasburg, they are appropriately ranked.

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      • Aaron (UK) says:

        The problem, such as it is [I tend to agree with Baltar below], is that Washington may have lost out through players like Gorzelanny & Detwiler, and possibly Lannan, being included under Starters (where they had to go to make up the extra IP caused by projecting Strasburg & Zimmermann conservatively).

        It might be worth aggregating the WAR totals from both sets of pitching projections (and indeed the whole PPR exercise) and sense-checking that against team projections.

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      • Undocorkscrew says:

        I don’t think Zimmermann has an innings limit this year.

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    • Peter R says:

      Its the projection systems that is “sh*ting” on the Nats if you had read the introduction.

      Pretty sure the author just ranked them in order of the projection and after selecting the most likely bullpen candidates and then made some comments on them.

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    • Nats Fan says:

      I 100% agree. Most fantasy systems have Storen #3 among closers! If Clippard is not a top 5 setup man in the game, then someone cloned Rollie Fingers 29 times and gave one to every other team. Clippard’s ERA was 1.83. he strikes out 10.6 per 9. Clip lead baseball in wins while in relief, clutch %, and he was a top guy in holds. Meanwhile, Burnett was not given his fair share of clutch innings last season, so why would he get any today. So letting his dreadful year as a long reliever account for 25% of our innings is just down right wrong.

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  5. Baltar says:

    It’s a good thing that you have such a good sense of humor, Carson, since you got bagged with the worst assignment in this series–relief pitchers. This is tough not only because of the inherent volatility and the large number of players but also because you were saddled with the 0.5 WAR increments for a position where the typical player is worth about 0.5 WAR.
    Considering the handicaps, I think you did as well as anybody could do.

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  6. dustygator says:

    You left out Javier Lopez for Giants who has put up 0.6 and 0.7 WAR the past two years. That would vault the Giants up into the top 10 probably. He’s typecast as a LOOGY but he’s much more likely to get high-leverage innings than Affeldt or Casilla. Last year, he platooned set-up duties with Romo.

    Also I’m always hesitant to use WAR to valuate relievers but that was how the power rankings were done as a whole so whatever.

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  7. Brad says:

    I think the 3 best Setup/Closer combos are — Braves, Yankees, Brewers

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  8. Bronnt says:

    I’d really rather Vizcaino not play in the Majoyrs this yaer. Not only for the injury concerns, but also because of the other names mentioned-Medlen, Asencio, also Cory Gearrin, Adam Russell, Anthony Varvaro, J.J. Hoover, and Robert Fish. The Braves have a ton of other places to go to fill out their bullpen depth without needing to employ starting prospect. There’s a chance the guy is going to nee TJ surgery eventually, and if so, best to keep him off of a Major League roster until you’re sure he won’t become a starter.

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  9. Glomp says:

    I think that the Nationals bullpen will far outperform this projection.

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  10. Bubba says:

    The failure here is just adding up the projected WAR to make a ranking. For some teams (like my Dbacks) we’ve only got 4 relievers listed, 2 of which are projected for less than 50 Inn. The Yankees, on the other hand, have 5 relievers listed, adding up to 60 Innings more pitched. Of course their total WAR is going to be higher.

    Shouldn’t this be normalized to show the entire pen or attempt to make the IP come out about even? Otherwise we should be looking at a rate stat to compare teams, not an accumulated WAR.

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    • zenbitz says:

      Agreed, and actually since we already have projected starter IP, each team should have projections for relievers out to rIP = totIP – starterIP

      You would have to fudge the usage a bit, but it would be better than what’s used here (not even constant innings)

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  11. AL Eastbound says:

    You state Darren Oliver has heavy platoon splits but then say he actually faced more eighties overall in 2011. Seems odd for a loogy.

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  12. #24 A’s combine for 2.5 WAR.

    #9 Blue Jays combine for 3.5 WAR.

    Most people agree that WAR isn’t necessarily the best way to judge reliever performance. They also recognize that slight differences in reliever WAR (ESPECIALLY for the purpose of this project) are not really significant.

    Maybe it would have been better to just make three giant, unranked tiers. Bottom tier (30-25): these teams pens suck. Middle tier (24-5): should be good, but could be bad…relievers are volatile. Top tier (4-1): should be great.

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  13. L.UZR says:

    Good analysis on an impossible assignment. Do you think it would be more informative going forward for high leverage relievers be added to SPs .to come up with an overall pitching ranking?

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    • This first edition of the positional rankings has definitely been a learning experience — for more than just the relief pitchers, I mean. The project will look a little different next year, I’m sure.

      In terms RPs, specifically: you’re right, it’s not easy. MLB clubs themselves appear to possess wildly different philosophies on how to appropriately assess/spend on/deploy relievers. As someone above mentioned, a tiering system might be in order.

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  14. Dreamin says:

    WAR is such a difficult metric for relievers.

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  15. Psst says:

    This one is a really tough one as relievers are all perfect examples of SSS goodness every one of these guys is a walk, seeing eye single, HR sequence away from being moved from the ERA elite to a below average performer.

    Joakim Soria went from being considered the second coming of Mo(production wise) to a also ran despite the fact that from June 1st -> end of the season he had a 41K/7BB with a 2.58 ERA including a 14.4K/9 and 0.43FIP in September. Some reports said that Soria was trying to add a cutter to his already impressive resume of pitches. When a starter does something like that he will pitch as many innings in a 1 1/2 months as most closers will in a year.

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  16. Chris says:

    And silly me thought that the strength of the Indians was it’s bullpen. Toss out Perez and the rest of the pen is really solid.

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    • Bip says:

      They accidentally counted all of Cleveland’s good relievers as starters.

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      • Chris says:

        Oh, and the starters as relievers! See, this all makes sense now considering how they have the 5th best rotation in the game and the 3rd worst bullpen according to these rankings.

        The numbers must have gotten mixed up and assigned to the wrong parts of the pitching staff.

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  17. Greg says:

    Easily the worst of the rankings

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  18. stan says:

    I realize this is the hardest one to quantify because you have to pick 4 or 5 guys out of what is likely to be a 7 man bullpen but I find these rankings to be very curious. The Reds are 3rd, yet I have a hard time differentiating them from any of the teams ranked 22nd and up. Madson has never scared anyone as a closer and Marshall is a classic Loogy. Bray and Massett are no better than average, so how again are they elite? It seems that this has to be on the strength of the top two but neither guy put up better numbers than, say, the top two Cardinals, or Angels and both those teams have better guys behind the top 2.

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    • Scott says:

      What about Marshall makes him a LOOGY? He has thrown 74 and 75 innings the past two years after moving to the pen full-time. Stupid “facts” getting in the way of perception.

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  19. Joe says:

    “Juan Oviedo (ne Leo Nunez)”: that is an interesting usage. As a former French student, I read ‘ne’ as ‘born’ which would make that statement backwards; but, per the internet, ne can also mean ‘formerly known as’ which would be correct, from the standpoint of an MLB fan.

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  20. Tim says:

    horrifically craptastic job

    terrible metric to use as a basis….

    team whose closer went 49 for 49 last year, had one string setup guy and added Dotel is in the bottom 1/3?? white Sox and their bag of garbage is top 1/3? dodgers band of unproven do nothings is top 3rd? garbage.

    Tiger hate continues on every FG article….see you in October….

    -10 Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. Curtis says:

    Giants #13!!! LOL.

    Pretty strange how a team could lead the Majors in K/BB ratio, OPS against, BA against, HR/9 (2nd place team, not even close) and be second in ERA and WHiP, yet have the 5th best rotation and the 13th best bullpen according to Fangraph rankings. And this is by only losing their weakest link, Jonathan Sanchez, and getting back a healthy Brian Wilson and Barry Zito (granted he sucks) for 2012.

    Scary part, this staff might improve, at worst stay the same. Wilson is healthy and most likely won’t replicate his career worst year of 2011. Healthy Barry Zito won’t be as awful as unhealthy Barry Zito. MadBum, coming into his prime off a really unlucky BABIP should balance out the regression of Vogelsong… and the range in their outfield is better with Pagan, Schierholtz, Belt and Cabera, opposed to Beltran, Ross, Rowand, Torres, Burrell and the others they occasionally threw out there. Not to mention Crawford full time at ss instead of Miguel LOLjeda. And Posey with his 37% CS rate instead of Eli LOLside and his 37% chance of a passed ball happening rate.

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    • Andre says:

      It’s not Fangraphs, it’s ZiPS

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    • Gotta love when fans of a team put the rosiest outlook on their team, listing all the pros and ignoring all the cons.

      Look, I am a Tigers fan and could easily write a post explaining how the Tigers’ staff was equally disrespected. But, I would have to ignore a lot of potential downsides (as you have here).

      I get the feeling that fans of plenty of other teams could do the same as well…

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    • jim says:

      everyone knows the giants have good pitchers, nobody wants to hear about it any more

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    • Jason B says:

      “Healthy Barry Zito won’t be as awful as unhealthy Barry Zito. MadBum, coming into his prime off a really unlucky BABIP should balance out the regression of Vogelsong… and the range in their outfield is better with Pagan, Schierholtz, Belt and Cabera, opposed to Beltran, Ross, Rowand, Torres, Burrell and the others they occasionally threw out there.”

      This is all of utmost importance when considering their RP power rankings. Well said.

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  22. your mother says:

    how is a bullpen that doesn’t have a closer to start the year in the top 1/3? smh.

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  23. jim says:

    so, can someone at FG take down a memo to do these rankings based off something besides (or at least in addition to) ZIPS next year? i like the using of FSR of UZR for defense, but you could at least combine them. this series has really sucked.

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    • Franco says:

      I feel like most of the rankings are pretty accurate (CF not so much, Bullpen is near impossible to project). But the process of getting there leaves a lot to be desired. Fan defense projections led to some screwy high WAR for marginal players at premium positions. And ZiPs seems overly pessimistic on good to elite players/pitchers.

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  24. Cidron says:

    Didn’t I read somewhere that Jeff Samardzija (ChC) is being stretched out for a starter role? If such, should he not be included? Though, what if he wasn’t.. would that make the Cubs ranked worse than last? (it is the cubs, so anything is possible :p )

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  25. bleh says:

    The Phillies had the 8th best bullpen ERA in 2011 and they are at #19? How are they possibly worse than the Pirates? Did you consider that they have low WAR because they have so many complete games? Adding up WAR seems like a terrible way to evaluate bullpens.

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  26. Walter Guest says:

    Almost as important as the personnel is how the bullpens are managed. Bochy/Righetti of the Giants are as good at that as any I’ve ever seen. That should propel the rating of Giants up a couple of notches.

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  27. cwj says:

    Absolutely horrible rankings (and yes I read the intro).
    The teams should be rated based on their top 3 relievers: the very important setup man, the closer, and the 3rd guy. And even then, don’t rely on ZiPS.

    Awful, terrible, bad ratings in this category.
    Did I mention that these ratings are not very good?

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  28. Walter Guest says:

    And another thing…Now that I think about it.

    The Giant relief corps last season was 2nd in ERA, 4th in FIPx, 4th in WAR. They’re coming back with pretty much the same crew. How do they sink to 13th?

    I am not a gambling man but, I would bet a great deal they do better than that.

    There is something deeply flawed in the methodology.

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  29. Rich says:

    Nice to see the Reds ranked so high with Madson having not pitched at all so far

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  30. Antonio Bananas says:

    You’re forgetting that Atlanta has Freddi Gonzalez managing their pen, which means like -10 WAR at least. Otherwise I’d say they have the most talent.

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  31. Cooperstown2009 says:

    Well that Jays ranking was accurate.

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