Bullpen Sleepers of the East by Brad Johnson February 28, 2019 My colleague Al Melchoir has steadfastly examined the bullpens of non-contenders and examined the closer landscape at large. These are excellent places to look for bargain saves. On another website of some repute, I’m tasked with setting the closer rankings. Part of that involves an in-depth preseason examination of all bullpens. Today, I’d like to share what I’ve learned about the NL and AL East. The Best The Eastern divisions include two of my three favorite bullpens. The Yankees, of course, are one of them. I’m not going to waste any time talking about the primary backups to Aroldis Chapman (i.e. Zack Britton, Dellin Betances, and Adam Ottavino). Actually, I will waste a brief moment. Did you know Britton changed the spelling of his first name from Zach to Zack? Yep, earlier this month. I don’t think the Phillies get enough credit for a ludicrously deep relief corps. Assuming the club will lock down about 50 saves total, I expect a distribution of roughly 22 to David Robertson, 12 to Seranthony Dominguez, and 10 to Hector Neris with the rest scattered to the others. Those “others” – namely Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Juan Nicasio, Jose Alvarez, James Pazos, Edubray Ramos, and Victor Arano – would rate as the closer on about five teams. Hunter is currently suffering a flexor strain and will probably open the season on the disabled list. Ramos and Arano have options which might force the club to start the season without them. They both looked like strong eighth inning relievers last season. This is only the tip of the iceberg for Philadelphia. Another wave of potentially premium relievers is on the way. They’re operating perhaps the top reliever farm in the league. Before investing too heavily in this bullpen, remember that Citizen’s Bank Park is a bandbox and the NL East is one of the most competitive divisions in the league. The Next Best I keep saying the Rays will sign a veteran – Bud Norris and Ryan Madson are obvious candidates – to take the closer role. As we get farther into Spring Training, that becomes less and less likely. I’m beginning to think the Rays might prefer for ALL of their relievers to have options – the better to keep the Tampa-Durham Megabus in operation. Jose Alvarado is a southpaw who can handle lefties and righties. He’s going pretty early in drafts. I have him in a 60/40 split with Diego Castillo for ninth inning duties. Since Castillo is also quite good and going much later, he seems like a wise investment. A rough start from either reliever could put the other in the driver’s seat. Do keep an eye on Ryne Stanek and Colin Poche. Stanek was a favorite Opener last season which was the platform Sergio Romo used to become the closer. Poche was acquired in the Steven Souza trade. He carved through the upper minors after the Rays taught him to pound the upper edges of the strike zone. Over in the NL, the Mets feature the second-best bullpen in the division. There really isn’t much to discuss. If something happens to Edwin Diaz, then Jeurys Familia is perfectly positioned to step in. If both hit the shelf, then it’s back to the Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman show. The Mets are trying Walker Lockett and Rule 5 pick Kyle Dowdy in relief. In both cases, they’re hoping to see the former starters unlock another level in relief. The Next Next Best The Braves feature a solid bullpen with Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter at the pinnacle. Viz has pitched roughly zero complete seasons so we know Minter will get his shot at some point. It might be Opening Day. It might be mid-July. It’ll happen. When healthy, the two pitchers are probably of comparable quality. If the Braves are counting their beans, they’ll prefer to use Vizcaino to accumulate saves since they increase arbitration costs. Vizcaino will soon be a free agent while Minter is set to stick around for a long time. Darren O’Day is a passable third string option if he returns to health. One might look at Dan Winkler and see potential, but a quick peek at his platoon splits will dash that hope. The Blue Jays rate as third best in the AL East. Ken Giles, aka the only reliever to record 20 saves and zero blown saves, is the linchpin. He’s coming off a rather terrible season which included a decline in fastball and slider effectiveness. He really needs his bendy ball in top form to thrive. Ryan Tepera and David Paulino are bland but obvious backups. They aren’t rosterable without saves. Even as sources of holds, you can find much better ratios elsewhere. The one guy I’m excited to track is David Phelps. He was looking like an up-and-coming closer sleeper before injuries torpedoed his last two seasons. A full rebound could yield a useful relief asset. “Best” No Longer Applies The Nationals have a wonderful leading man in Sean Doolittle. It’s too bad he rarely throws more than 50 innings. Recurring shoulder issues are the main reason for his modest inning totals. Koda Glover is already on the shelf again which means Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough are tasked with backing up Doolittle. The club undoubtedly would like for Rosenthal to return to his prime effectiveness. He’s reportedly hitting 100 mph on the gun. My biggest concern is that prime Rosenthal was basically a fastball-only reliever. Hitters have come a long way with regards to handling elite velocity. While they improved, Rosenthal has sat on the sidelines. He might be in for an unpleasant surprise. Barraclough thrives when he’s effectively wild. Control isn’t his friend (command would be) because he becomes hittable when he’s in the strike zone. He can also err on the wild side and walk everybody. To me, without improvement, he’s maxed out as an angina-inducing setup man. Over in Boston, the club basically has two relievers – Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes. Brasier is battling a toe injury which has led to Barnes taking an early lead in the closer battle. I expect this to be another 60/40 split. The rest of the Red Sox bullpen is bordering on a disaster. They have a couple matchup guys and some long relievers. Seems like a natural landing place for Norris. The WORST The Marlins have some guys. To me, Drew Steckenrider is a serviceable middle reliever. And that can work as a closer when your team is expected to maybe scrape 68 wins. Adam Conley has some breakout potential in his second season as a reliever. His fastball velocity increased from 89 to 95 mph. The Marlins certainly have a type. Although they excised Barraclough, Tayron Guerrero, Tyler Kinley, and Riley Ferrell are all hard-throwers with little to no command. There’s always a chance one of them learns how to throw strikes in a way that isn’t overly hittable (see Jose Leclerc). UPDATE: Sergio Romo is probably neither good nor the worst. In any case, I accidentally left him out because he signed after I wrote my NL East notes. There’s a very good chance he closes for the Marlins. I was tempted to completely skip the Orioles bullpen. I suspect that eventually a reliever we sort of want to own will emerge. As of this moment, there isn’t one in evidence. As with Steckenrider, Mychal Givens is miscast as anything more than a middle reliever. That’s fine for now. Paul Fry might be a name to watch given the solid combination of strikeouts and ground balls he showed last year. Even so, I expect him to be worse this season, not better.