Monday, February 7, 2011

MLB Bullpen Rankings

Editor's Note: These were our preseason rankings. Our updated team rankings can be found here.

Where does your team rank in our preseason rankings of every bullpen in Major League Baseball.

Off and on, the past few weeks, we looked at statistics of over 320 relief pitchers, focusing on last 3-season stats such as FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), HR/9, and K:BB ratio, plus Marcel 2011 WHIP projections. Below are our stories:

The Elite, Best of the Best
San Diego Padres
In a few years, we might look back and see a few closers come out of the 2010 and 2011 San Diego bullpens. Heath Bell is already one of the best closers in baseball, and Mike Adams, Luke Gregerson, and Ernesto Frieri are serious firemen. Tim Stauffer has transitioned from fringe starter to very good reliever over the past couple of years, and Joe Thatcher is a valuable weapon, as his 2.96 FIP over the past three seasons suggests. This team even signed Chad Qualls to potentially be their weakest link.

Oakland A's
Billy Beane is all smiles after adding
Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour.
The A's may have the best pitching front to back in the Major Leagues. Their rotation is probably the best young rotation in baseball. The only fan bases that could really argue for overall starting pitching dominance are the Phillies and Red Sox. In the bullpen, they very well could be number one. Joey Devine had a 1.97 FIP over the past three seasons, which was best to all relievers except Phil Hughes. We had the A's near the top of our rankings even before they added Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes. Billy Beane obviously saw very talented relief pitchers undervalued this offseason and cashed in with part of his line of credit. There are nine very good relievers on this roster, and that's before we know if Rich Harden is moving into a relief role.

New York Yankees
Mariano Rivera, statistically speaking, lead all Relief Pitchers over the past three seasons with a 6.7 K:BB ratio. His 2.56 FIP, 0.59 HR/9, and 1.06 Marcel WHIP for next season aren't too shabby either. The Yankees may have the best bullpen in the Majors. Rafael Soriano has the highest expectations of any 8th inning pitcher in the world. David Robertson was excellent last season. Pedro Feliciano, Boone Logan, and Damaso Marte are good lefthanders, and Joba Chamberlain is a pretty fantastic X-factor.

Lights Out, Usually
Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodger fans may think they have the best bullpen, and they may end 2011 with such status. I think they have elite relievers with Broxton and Kuo, strong arms with Guerrier, Troncoso, Belisario, and Jansen, but they lack the depth of the three teams above. John Ely may be an excellent swingman, but Broxton and Kuo need to stay healthy and they've had their moments in pain.

San Francisco Giants
Romo looks scarier
than Brian Wilson.
Brian Wilson and his beard are transforming themselves into cult heroes, and Sergio Romo has been a revelation. He looks like a badass and has fantastic statistics to support what our scouting eyes see. This team won the World Series last year, and the bullpen certainly did their part. If they can bounce back from a 7-month season, it'll be another great summer by the Bay.

Texas Rangers
Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels know what they're doing. Neftali Feliz may be the best closer in baseball this season, and there is still talk of making him another starter. While losing Cliff Lee hurt their rotation for the next couple of years, we'll see who takes that spot. Derek Holland will probably get a long look. Alexi Ogando is a pretty serious fireman, too.

Playoff Caliber 'Pens
Chicago White Sox
That's Ozzie, eating Jello, and
watching Super Bowl XLV
Matt Thornton is awesome, and the Ozzie Guillen could be a bullpen savant if he actually uses him sporadically for the highest leverage situations in each game he's available. Sabermetrics have been preaching for a while, that some of the biggest outs in many games are with runners on base in the 6th and 7th innings. Having a reliever like Chad Gaudin blow the game in that situation, while your "closer" wiats for the 9th is plain silly. Of all the managers to have figured this out, wouldn't it be amazing if it was the aloof Ozzie Guillen. The incredible thing is that this Sox team doesn't even have any relievers that seem so terrible. Sergio Santos is great, Tony Peña can be downright nasty, and Jesse Crain going from the Twins to the Sox tips the scales a bit within the division.

Colorado Rockies
Lindstrom's bringing his 100 mph
fastball to the Mile High City.
The National League West was a division everyone enjoyed following last season, and aficionados of excellent bullpenning should enjoy 2011 immensely. Four of the teams are in the top 8 of our rankings, and as we'll see below, the D'backs bullpen could also be a team strength. The Rockies are hear, not just because Huston Street is very good. They have excellent depth with guys like Franklin Morales, Matt Lindstrom, the underrated Matt Belisle, and deservedly, well-paid Rafael Betancourt.

Detroit Tigers
Jose Valverde loves dogs!
Jim Leyland is still our favorite manager, and his use of relief pitchers is one of the top two or three reasons why. Jose Valverde is still electric and eccentric, while being less and less erratic as he's matured. Joaquin Benoit will be very good, when healthy, and I think Ryan Perry is going to become a stud almost as good as what we've seen Daniel Bard. Speaking of Daniel Bard...

Boston Red Sox
We began with the Red Sox bullpen ranked much higher, by reputation alone, but the statistics that came out of the ol' computer kept knocking them down or promoting other teams ahead of them. Still, you're ranked in the Top 10. Settle down, New England.

NL Central Meets in the Middle
St. Louis Cardinals
Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan are outstanding setup pitchers, and Ryan Franklin has been great as their closer. Shelby Miller is their bigtime closing prospect in the minors, but he could be in The Show early this Spring.

Milwaukee Brewers
John Axford had a 2.13 FIP last season, for crying out loud. He throws very hard and is becoming a legitimate force. The reason the Brewers bullpen isn't ranked any higher is because of legitimate doubts in Latroy Hawkins and the less experienced kids they're counting on.

Chicago Cubs
I've been a pessimistic Cubs fan lately, with reason. I feel it's safe to say that at least the Reds and Brewers will finish with a better record than the Cubs. The Cardinals will likely be better, and even Pittsburgh could be much improved, placing the Cubbies in the basement, once again the floormats of the National League. If the team pleasantly surprises me the way the 2010 Bears did, it's probably because Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, and Andrew Cashner lock down the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. The Cubs bullpen will hopefully be a silver lining to what looks like a bleak season.

Cincinnati Reds

Love Aroldis Chapman!!!!!

NL East Coin Tosses
Florida Marlins
The Marlins are turning the corner. They have a fantastic balance of good starting pitching, exciting young hitters, and a dependable and deep bullpen that should be able to perform very well even if/when one or two players gets hurt. Edward Mujica is a big X-factor. He comes over with expectations to pitch well, but he gave up 1.51 HR/9 over the past three years, pitching for San Diego (163 ip) and Cleveland (39 ip).

Philadelphia Phillies
Ryan Madson is ready
to close somewhere.
When you've been on-again/off-again for long stretches, the way Brad Lidge has been, it's tough to be counted on for excellence. They could potentially have one of the five best bullpens in the game, especially since they're starting rotation should keep them well rested. Ryan Madson really is a fantastic 8th inning man, one of the best in the game. The fact that Jose Contreras has seemingly been pitching since the Reagen administration also leaves doubt that the team will certainly have an outstanding bullpen. Why is Chad Durbin still a free agent?

Solidly Rebuilt
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are in transition, after losing team leaders Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Matt Garza for financial reasons. They rebuilt their lineup with clearance rack purchases of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, but the bullpen has been the offseasons work in progress that deserves the most attention. J.P. Howell is their best pitcher, and he needs to come back healthy for this team to thrive. The rest of the names don't jump out off the page, but Joel Peralta, Adam Russell, Cesar Ramos, and Jake McGee should be solid to go with Kyle Farnsworth and maybe Andy Sonnanstine, and former cubs Chris Archer and Juan Cruz.

Atlanta Braves
The Braves are also a team in transition as they move on from Bobby Cox to the Fredi Gonzalez Regime. Fredi has always been a Bobby Cox guy, so things aren't going to change very much. They have a lot of good young arms in this bullpen, but the lack of an extensive track record has them ranked 18th out of 30. It wouldn't be surprising to see them finish in the Top 10.

Won't be Bad
Los Angeles Angels
Jordan Walden is awesome.
Mike Scioscia has always been a manager who could handle a bullpen, but what kind of hand has he been dealt this season? Fernando Rodney has always been a favorite of ours, but he hasn't been so great lately. They have some good support in Kevin Jepsen and newcomer Hisanori Takahashi, and we love the hard-throwing Jordan Walden. He seems pretty special.

Washington Nationals
Drew Storen should become a reliable closer for years to come. Tyler Clippard has been outstanding. The Nationals process seems sound, even when probably overpaying for Jason Werth. The Nationals may have felt like they had to overpay for someone the way the Tigers had to overpay for Ivan Rodriguez to let their fans and other players know that they were serious about competing and playing big bucks for future free agents. They traded their left fielder for Henry Rodriguez, and he throws gas.

Kansas City Royals
Joakim Soria is probably being groomed, by his agent, to be the next Mariano Rivera. Is there a Casino anywhere that will take action on who's the next full-time closer after #42 hangs them up in the Bronx? Jeremy Jeffress came over in the Zack Greinke trade. He'll likely start in the minors but could get called up to relieve if the Royals feel like trying to contend mid-year.

Minnesota Twins
It seems like every year the Twins have few players to boast about on paper, then Gardy and his staff finish with a division championship and one of the best bullpens in the league. There's been chatter that Joe Nathan may be ready for Opening Day. That would raise them in the rankings, but if Nathan needs a year to recover, his bounceback may not occur until 2012.

Toronto Blue Jays
The month of January was incredible for Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. He pulled off the impossible Vernon Wells trade, and many Jays fans elevated AA to demigod status. The bullpen is getting better, and they were ranked a bit higher for much of this process. In the end, their expectations are lowered because Octavio Dotel hasn't really been all that in a while.

Hope is a Good Thing
Arizona Diamondbacks
Sam Demel should bring some Value.
The D'backs could belong in the well rebuilt group. Kevin Towers is a bullpen expert, and he's already made improvements. J.J. Putz was the big offseason splash, but we're more excited to see Sam Demel, Jordan Norberto, and Juan Gutierrez dominate the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings. We haven't seen them put it all together, yet, and the numbers reflect that. However, we won't be surprised if the bullpen becomes a team strength.

New York Mets
No-one knows what to expect out of K-Rod, and losing Pedro Feliciano to the crosstown Yankees was terrible for them. We feel they needed to bring him back and will regret the loss, even after adding a lefty we liked as a free agent: Chris Capuano. Bobby Parnell and Taylor Buchholz are solid, and the bullpen probably won't embarrass themselves the way they did in '07 and '08.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Meek would be our pick for closer.
Evan Meek looks like a stud, and he makes up half of a very good 8th/9th duo with Joel Hanrahan. The Pirates also have a bunch of okay relievers who will probably get shelled, since they are now Pirates. If anyone become really effective, they could always get traded for a prospect or two. Hanrahan, Chris Resop, Jose Veras, Jose Ascanio, and newcomer Joe Beimel will all be available.

Houston Astros
Sammy Gervacio is probably the relief pitcher we are rooting for more than anyone besides Wood and Marmol. He's coming back from arm surgery, and I don't think the Astros are really counting on him too much going into camp. Unfortunately, they still have Brandon Lyon. Wilton Lopez could take the closer's job away from him. Lopez has an outstanding 6.22 K:BB ratio over the past three years. They have some depth with Marc Melancon and Fernando Abad, some decent swignmen who could relieve or start, such as Nelson Figuero and Hyphen (Ryan Rowland-Smith). If Alberto Arias keeps throwing hard and improving, he could become a 7th inning nasty boy.

Future Performance Should Improve
Cleveland Indians
Indians relievers have been hurting my fantasy baseball team ever since Joe Borowski left. I have faith in guys like Chris Perez, Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez, and even Joe Smith. The bit of research that went into this exercise kindly reminded me that although these guys "look" like good pitchers on TV, they've had some struggles. Instead of giving into the numbers, though, I still think they'll improve. Rafael Perez is awesome. Maybe they just need to get out of Cleveland, can't blame 'em.

Bullpen Cellar Dwellers
Baltimore Orioles
Current Orioles chatter is either praising their offensive lineup, after adding Vladdy Daddy, but some of us feel like it's a great lineup for 2004. We're sitting somewhere in the middle. It's actually a pretty good looking lineup: Roberts/Markakis/Reynolds/Scott/Vlad/DLee/Weiters/Jones/Hardy. Will they score enough runs to finish any better than last place in the AL East? The main issue I have with adding Vladdy Daddy is that it kills the Felix Pie/Nolan Reimold platoon. Will a good team trade for Felix Pie?

Let Pie Play!!!
Seattle Mariners
David Aardsma is the closer, but he won't be ready for the first couple of months at least. Brandon League is pretty good, but it's too much to ask him to turn into Goose Gossage. Jack Zduriencik has invited a bunch of people to camp. There are new faces everywhere. Garrett Olson wants to start, but maybe he can blossom in the bullpen like Sean Marshall did for the Cubs. The team is expecting quality from Dan Cortes and Cesar Jimenez. Josh Lueke is a top prospect that may get used in the Major League bullpen. That strategy worked for Phil Hughes, but not Jenrry Mejia. That's why they play the games.

In summation, it brings us no joy to have the White Sox looking so strong. Bullpens are always evolving, as most teams will turnover more than 50% of their relief arms through attrition and reactions to performance. However, with Complete Games going the way of the dodo, bullpens have become more important keys to the game than they have ever been.

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