Welcome to the 2019 RotoGraphs Bullpen Report!
As in past seasons, we will update and publish our team-by-team bullpen grid on a daily basis and provide analysis on relievers to pick up, drop or monitor. I’m unveiling the first iteration of the grid just below, and then we will begin our daily updates beginning next Friday.
With a week to go until Opening Day, Part 2, one-third of the closer situations are still very much in flux. For each of those 10 teams, I have denoted the relievers in the grid as being part of a committee. With the possible exception of the Giants, Diamondbacks and White Sox, a committee is a probable outcome for these teams once the season gets under way.
As for those three teams, anything can happen in the next week, but clear frontrunners have emerged for two of them. Will Smith appears to have the upper hand with the Giants, while Alex Colome has the best chance of starting the season as the White Sox’s closer. The Diamondbacks’ situation remains fluid, and Yoshihisa Hirano has kept himself in a three-way race with Archie Bradley and Greg Holland, having yet to yield a hit or a run over three innings.
Another situation that bears watching is the Brewers. First there were reports of the team having talks with free agent Craig Kimbrel, which likely has had a chilling effect on owners’ rankings of Corey Knebel. Then on Wednesday night, beat writer Robert Murray of The Athletic reported that Knebel had stopped throwing due to arm fatigue, and on Thursday, he noted that the righty was going to have his elbow examined.
For now, I am leaving Knebel in the closer’s column of the grid, but it looks increasingly unlikely that he will be ready for opening day. Should the Brewers sign Kimbrel, we can only assume that Knebel won’t be closing, even when healthy. If the Brewers don’t sign Kimbrel, Josh Hader would likely be in play for some saves, but it’s hard to imagine that Craig Counsell would go to him as a full-time closer.
Jeremy Jeffress would normally be an option, but he will begin the season on the IL with a weak right shoulder. One name to tuck away is Junior Guerra. The former starter pitched in relief down the stretch last season, though he only amassed a total of six innings. He was nearly spotless in that limited stint, allowing just three singles with eight strikeouts. Incredibly, one quarter of his pitches (18 of 72) were called strikes. If Guerra picks up where he left off and the Brewers remain short-handed in the bullpen, he could rise to a prominent role in the early weeks of the season.
Meanwhile, we have already seen our first bullpen action of the regular season during the two-game series between the Mariners and Athletics in Tokyo. Hunter Strickland has jumped out to a lead in the saves rankings, notching one in each of the two games. That will almost certainly increase interest in him for this weekend’s drafts, but I am still avoiding him if at all possible. Strickland did look like a potential closer-in-waiting in his 2015 rookie season, but since then, he has posted mediocre strikeout (21.3 percent) and walk (9.6 percent) rates. If he does succeed as a closer, it could be due to his ability to keep the ball in the park. While Strickland was aided by pitching home games at the former AT&T Park, he also sported an 0.5 HR/9 ratio on the road over the last three seasons. It has helped that he has been better than average at avoiding pulled flyballs (19.9 percent pulled fly rate since 2016).
Blake Treinen, last season’s top reliever in standard Roto value, made his 2019 debut in the second game of the Tokyo series. He kept the A’s tied with the Mariners, 4-4, pitching perfect ninth and 10th innings. Treinen finished with four strikeouts and six swinging strikes in his 22-pitch performance.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.