Throughout the season, I’ll be looking at bullpens for all 30 major league teams. As closers fall off one by one (and they will), I’ll prepare you for who is next in line. For holds leagues, I’ll list the most likely arms on each team to come through for you. Finally, I’ll list a sleeper from each bullpen that may find themselves in a key role that you need to keep an eye on.
Through Sunday’s games the Oakland Athletics, despite recently demoting their closer, have the 2nd best bullpen in the American League with a 2.61 ERA. If you take Jim Johnson’s numbers out the bullpen looks like this:
In 2013, Oakland had the second best bullpen ERA in the AL after the Kansas City Royals. Grant Balfour left via free agency, but the team added Johnson, Luke Gregerson, and Fernando Abad. Eric O’Flaherty (signed from Atlanta) figures to return in the 2nd half of 2014 while Dan Otero and Drew Pomeranz are a couple of young supporting arms. This is a bullpen that can go head to head with any in baseball now that Johnson isn’t in the closer role and could very well successfully use a closer committee with the talent they have. For fantasy owners the question is: Will someone step up and become the favorite for saves?
1. Luke Gregerson: Right-handed pitcher has 5 seasons under his belt with a combined ERA of 2.85 with a strikeout per inning. During those years he saved 17 games and had 132 holds as the primary set up man in San Diego. As the right-handed portion of the current closer by committee, Gregerson should be the first in line for saves and the first picked up in fantasy leagues.
2. Sean Doolittle: This third year left-handed pitcher has also averaged a strikeout per inning in his career with his mid-90s fastball. Melvin has given every indication that Gregerson and Doolittle will be his first options depending on match-ups, with Doolittle getting the save on Sunday facing Abraham Almonte, Brad Miller and Robinson Cano. Last night Doolittle got the save opportunity and quickly gave up a double to Calhoun and then a two run homer to Mike Trout. Doolittle should be monitored for now, but he doesn’t appear to be taking the job from anyone yet.
3. Ryan Cook: Cook has the mid to high 90s fastball to go with his closing experience to run away with this job. The problem is that he has just returned from a spring shoulder injury and his velocity has been in the low 90s. Melvin is easing him back into late inning situations with the hopes his velocity will improve. Ryan Cook can be ignored unless the situation drags out for another week or two.
4. Jim Johnson: 10 million dollars usually buys a second chance. Johnson has saved 101 games the last two seasons and while his peripherals have never screamed stud closer, he keeps the ball on the ground and can be effective. In 2014, he has a 47% GB rate to go with a 22% K rate; numbers that defy the 11.81 ERA he had when he lost the closing gig. In three games since, he’s pitched 5 shut out innings picking up two wins dropping his ERA to 7.56. Johnson should be held or picked up in any leagues where he was dropped.
Tier One: Super Hero Motion Pictures
These closers have superhuman abilities and are dedicated to protecting your team from the evils of Dr. Blown Save, hereafter referred to as B.S.
|1||Craig Kimbrel||Atlanta Braves||David Carpenter
||Luis Avilan||Jordan Walden|
|2||Greg Holland||Kansas City Royals||Wade Davis||Kelvin Herrera||Aaron Crow|
|3||Kenley Jansen||Los Angeles Dodgers||Chris Perez||Brian Wilson||J.P. Howell
|4||Koji Uehara||Boston RedSox||Junichi Tazawa||Edward Mujica
|5||Trevor Rosenthal||St. Louis Cardinals||Carlos Martinez||Kevin Siegrist||Jason Motte|
Koji Uehara’s MRI came back clean, after being off for nearly a week with shoulder discomfort. He’ll rejoin the team without a DL stint. Mujica got the save chances in his absence and is the handcuff to own; a great signing by the Boston Red Sox.
Craig Kimbrel hasn’t pitched since Saturday, and after not appearing in a save situation on Monday it was disclosed that he has been dealing with a sore shoulder. Both Kimbrel and the Braves are saying it is nothing serious, but I’m grabbing David Carpenter now everywhere I can. Stay tuned.
Brian Wilson has been activated from the DL and will get the lions share of holds chances in Los Angeles. Paco Rodriguez was optioned to make room for Wilson.
Tier Two: Westerns
These cowboys are tough, honorable and ready to inflict their own personal justice on opposing hitters.
|6||David Robertson/Shawn Kelley
||New York Yankees||Adam Warren||Matt Thornton||Dellin Betances|
|7||Glen Perkins||Minnesota Twins||Jared Burton||Casey Fien||Michael Tonkin|
|8||Jason Grilli||Pittsburgh Pirates||Mark Melancon
|9||Grant Balfour||Tampa Bay Rays||Joel Peralta||Jake McGee||Heath Bell|
Shawn Kelly has assumed the closer role while David Robertson is on the disabled list until April 22. He may need a few extra days making Kelley a good grab for one more week. Adam Warren, Matt Thornton, Dellin Betances (and Cesar Cabral) have combined to pitch 13+ shutout innings for the Yankees. This bullpen has the chance to be pretty darn good.
Grant Balfour has moved into the Cowboy section with his excellent start to the season, converting each of his 4 save opportunities. Balfour has been one of baseball’s best performers for the past three seasons.
Tier Three: Dramas
As in film this is the largest group assembled. These closers have big questions and real conflicts. You’ll see their best, their worst and everything in between. Tragically, some of these closers will not survive the season while others will persevere and triumph.
|10||Sergio Romo||San Francisco Giants||Santiago Casilla||Javier Lopez
|11||Steve Cishek||Miami Marlins||Mike Dunn
|12||Joe Nathan||Detroit Tigers||Al Alburquerque||Evan Reed||Ian Krol|
|13||Sergio Santos||Toronto Blue Jays||Steve Delabar||Brett Cecil||Casey Janssen|
|14||Ernesto Frieri||Anaheim Angels||Dane De La Rosa
||Joe Smith||Michael Kohn|
|15||Addison Reed||Arizona Diamondbacks||J.J. Putz||Oliver Perez||Brad Ziegler
|16||Fernando Rodney||Seattle Mariners||Danny Farquhar||Yoervis Medina||Tom Wilhelmsen|
|17||Joakim Soria||Texas Rangers||Neal Cotts||Jason Fraser||Neftali Feliz|
||Milwaukee Brewers||Will Smith||Jim Henderson||Brandon Kintzler|
|19||Huston Street||San Diego Padres||Joquain Benoit||Dale Thayer||Alex Torres|
Joe Nathan is dealing with “dead arm” symptoms, leaving his owners scrambling for better options to start. This situation warrants monitoring, though with no other options out of the pen, Nathan has a longer leash than anyone in baseball. Dombrowski downplayed the injury Monday, but Nathan needs to start producing before his stock falls further.
Count me among those that think Sergio Santos keeps the closing gig even when Casey Janssen returns this weekend. While he won’t keep up his current 52% K rate, he struck out 31% of the batters he faced in 2013. He’s been as dominant as any closer in the early going.
Fernando Rodney has been lights out so far with 4 shut out innings, going 3 for 3 in save opportunities while striking out 7 in 3.2 innings. Danny Farquhar has 4 clean innings too, though he’s walked four batters in his 5.2 innings of work.
Tier Four: Disaster Films
Be prepared for the shipwreck that’s coming. Whether by injury, age or diminishing arsenal these closers are about to be left to freeze and die in the Arctic Ocean.
|20||Rafael Soriano||Washington Nationals||Tyler Clippard
|21||Tommy Hunter||Baltimore Orioles||Darren O’Day||Evan Meek||Brian Matusz
|22||Jonathan Papelbon||Philadelphia Phillies||Mike Adams||Antonio Bastardo||Jacob Diekman|
|23||John Axford||Cleveland Indians||Cody Allen||Bryan Shaw||Mark Rzepcynski|
|24||Latroy Hawkins||Colorado Rockies||Rex Brothers||Matt Belisle
Rex Brothers has done nothing to wrestle the closing role from Latroy Hawkins, walking 7 batters in his first 5.2 innings of work. Hawkins meanwhile is 2 for 2 in save opportunities and may have extended his leash a little longer with some solid early play.
Mike Adams has returned to the Phillies pen after shoulder surgery, hopefully helping the disaster that has been the Philadelphia bullpen. Adams will take on the 8th inning role and may be next in line
if when Papelbon falters.
It’s no secret I suspect Jonathan Papelbon and Rafael Soriano to fall flat on their faces this year. Soriano has struck out 8 batters in 4 shut out innings while Papelbon is 3 for 4 in save opportunities with a strike out per inning. Closers are a funny thing, but I might look to move them if I could get a closer from the dramas.
Tier Five: Mysteries
Secrets, plot twists and unpredictability are all the order of the day. While some leave you asking “whodunit”, the mystery with others is “what are they thinking?”
|25||Sean Doolittle/Luke Gregerson
||Oakland Athletics||Dan Otero||Ryan Cook
|26||Jose Valverde||New York Mets||Gonzalez Germen||Kyle Farnsworth||Jeurys Familia|
|27||Matt Lindstrom||Chicago White Sox||Nate Jones||Scott Downs||Daniel Webb|
|28||Jonathan Broxton||Cincinnati Reds||Manny Parra||Sam Leclure||Sean Marshall
|29||Pedro Strop/Hector Rondon||Chicago Cubs||Justin Grimm||James Russell||Jose Veras|
|30||Chad Qualls/ Josh Fields/ Anthony Bass
||Houston Astros||Matt Albers||Kevin Chapman||Jesse Crain|
Aroldis Chapman threw his first bullpen session on Monday night, clearing a big hurdle towards his return to big league action. The original time frame of a late May return could move up if things continue to progress ahead of schedule. The Reds bullpen currently ranks last in the NL; the return of Chapman and Sean Marshall will turn that ship around pretty quickly.
Jose Veras has lost his closing position after blowing 2 saves and allowing runs to score in three of his first four outings. His ERA stood at 12.27 when the Cubs announced they would be making a change. Pedro Strop would be the favorite to replace him if not for the outstanding performance of Hector Rondon. Both are strikeout per inning guys, but I’m betting on Renteria playing the hot hand each day making this a situation to avoid for fantasy owners.