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Saves and Steals

Bullpen Review: AL Central

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Over the last month, the bullpens of the NL East, AL East, and NL Central were reviewed in detail. Today, we'll move along to the AL Central.

 

As always, I welcome any and all criticism or suggestions. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter. I will list all pitchers likely to make the club out of spring training with others to watch included in the team-by-team write up. Relievers are a volatile asset class, some will rise and fall unexpectedly.

 

Kansas City Royals

 

Wade Davis

Joakim Soria

Kelvin Herrera

Luke Hochevar

Danny Duffy

 

Davis was a mediocre starting pitcher. As a reliever, he's in the conversation for best closer in baseball. He throws a four-seamer, cutter, and curve. All perform as well above average pitches, but his repertoire is a little unusual for a relief ace. While most top performers thrive on ridiculous whiff rates, Davis induces soft contact. He'll still strike out over a batter per inning with a low walk rate, just don't expect a repeat of his 2014 strikeout rate (13.63 K/9).

 

Former Royals close Soria is back in town after signing as a free agent. The righty gained a couple mph on his heater last season, but it's still his slider that does the heavy lifting. He commands four pitches to keep hitters off balance. The deep repertoire let's him get away with topping out around 93 mph.

 

Lots of guys throw 100 mph these days. Some of them are the best pitchers in the world. Others couldn't hit a white whale on a black background. Herrera is closer to the studs than the duds, but he's yet to unlock his world class potential. The reason is easy to see – he lacks a quality breaking ball. His plus-plus changeup ensures a high floor when combined with his 98 mph fastball and sinker. Without a punch out pitch, he'll have trouble tallying more than a strikeout per inning.

 

Hochevar successfully returned from Tommy John surgery last season. The righty throws a 95 mph fastball, 90 mph cutter, and an 80 mph curve. Both the fastball and curve are merely average offerings. His cutter is a true plus pitch. I expect to see him throwing more this season. He could be a good source for holds.

 

Duffy has mostly been used as a starter in recent seasons. He's a swingman quality arm. His stuff could play up in the bullpen, especially if his fastball gains a couple tics on the radar gun. Scraping a below average sinker and changeup may help to limit the damage against him. He's currently the Royals sixth starter so it's unclear if he'll be cut loose in a single inning role or used as a long reliever.

 

The Royals recently placed Dillon Gee on the 40-man roster. While that doesn't guarantee him a job, he's increasingly likely to serve in a long relief capacity. If one of the five starters takes a trip to the disabled list, Gee may be more likely to spot-start than Duffy.

 

Scott Alexander and Brian Flynn have the inside track on the final spot – mostly because they're already on the roster. Neither guy is particularly inspiring, but they could get lefties out in the middle innings.

 

Kansas City has a number of recognizable non-roster invitees still in camp. Specifically, Brian Duensing, David Huff, John Lannan, Peter Moylan, Ross Ohlendorf, and Chien-Ming Wang. I don't really expect any of them to make the squad.

 

Chicago White Sox

 

David Robertson

Nate Jones

Zach Duke

Zach Putnam

Jake Petricka

Matt Albers

 

Robertson had his ups and downs in his first season as the White Sox closer. The cutter specialist is a fly ball pitcher with a bit of a home run problem. Mix in very homer friendly U.S. Cellular Field and you have a problem that's unlikely to go away. You can count on high strikeout and low walk rates from Robertson, making him a useful pick in K/BB leagues. The home runs mean he'll usually underperform his peripherals. For example, last year, he pitched to a 3.41 ERA and 2.27 xFIP. He's still a quality closer.

 

Jones could easily outperform Robertson. The right-handed setup man pumps 98 mph heat with a wipeout slider. The fastball is put in play with some frequency, albeit with soft contact. Jones will turn to the slider over 40 percent of the time. If you have Robertson, a late round flier on Jones is advisable.

 

Duke emerged as a top reliever with the Brewers in 2014. His stuff took a step backwards last season due to shakier command. The sinkerballer was plagued by home runs. Those might have been bad luck or a symptom of the command issues. In addition to the above average sinker, Duke throws an average slider and plus-plus curve. The slide was hammered last season, but it's performed better in years past.

 

The White Sox have an unusual pitcher in Putnam. He throws splitters, splitters, and more splitters. Two-thirds of his pitches are splitters. There's a reason, his fastball and cutter are both below average offerings. Since splitters work best when combined with a good fastball, the risk of implosion is huge. You can still try to eek out some holds and strikeouts from him.

 

Putnam and Petricka are forever linked in my mind as part of a painful 2014 White Sox bullpen. Where Putnam has a gimmick, Petricka depends on inducing ground ball contact with his sinker. He also throws a solid changeup, and he'll flash the occasional slider or cutter. His ratios aren't good enough to merit chasing his holds.

 

Like Petricka, Albers is a contact-oriented ground ball specialist. Albers' offspeed stuff may be a little more reliable. Albers is a candidate for 15 holds. He lacks other redeeming qualities.

 

Dan Jennings, Tommy Kahnle, and Jacob Turner are probably the top candidates for the final spot in the bullpen. Kahnle has the most talent while Turner best fits a long relief role.

 

Cleveland Indians

 

Cody Allen

Zach McAllister

Bryan Shaw

Tommy Hunter

 

This is a tough bullpen to project after the first few names. Allen is the closer and an easy top 10 reliever. The fly ball pitcher suffered through a high .342 BABIP last season. He settled down to dominate in the second half of the season. Allen throws a merely average fastball. It's his borderline elite curve that carries him in the late innings.

 

McAllister was a guy I hyped last preseason, and I'm still in love with his potential as a reliever. He throws 95 mph cheddar. He'll sometimes toss in a curve or cutter. The straight heater is his bread and butter which limits his ultimate upside. The pitch isn't good enough to carry him as a relief ace, but he'll do as a setup man.

 

Shaw has served in a setup capacity for the Indians since 2013. He didn't throw a single four-seamer last year, instead relying on 92 mph cutter and 81 mph slider. He's able to use both pitches to minimize hard contact. Shaw gives up some swing-and-miss potential by being predictable. The result is a mediocre 7.60 K/9.

 

Here's where we get to the anything goes part of the bullpen. Hunter throws hard – 96 mph – but lacks upside. He's a solid middle reliever who should earn holds by default.

 

After Hunter, names like Dan Otero, Jeff Manship, Shawn Armstrong, Kyle Crockett, and Austin Adams populate the depth chart. Otero and Manship are more likely to make the club out of Spring Training. They aren't fantasy relevant. The latter trio could pitch well enough to be of value to fantasy owners later in the season.

 

The non-roster crew includes several notable names headlined by Joba Chamberlain. Also in the mix are Ross Detwiler, Tom Gorzelanny, Felipe Paulino, Craig Stammen, and Joe Thatcher. They all have significant major league experience.

 

Detroit Tigers

 

Francisco Rodriguez

Mark Lowe

Bruce Rondon

Justin Wilson

Alex Wilson

Blaine Hardy

 

K-Rod once threw one of the hardest fastballs in baseball. Now he limps along with an 89 mph fastball. His changeup is the star of his four pitch repertoire. It's a plus plus offering with plenty of whiffs and weak contact induced. He's homer prone which isn't ideal in a closer. Still, the Tigers have suffered through some painful bullpens in recent seasons. Rodriguez is an instant upgrade.

 

Lowe has been bouncing around the majors since 2006. He is coming off his best season to date. He throws a 96 mph fastball and an 87 mph slider. He uses both pitches 50 percent of the time in all counts. Lowe can be prone to inconsistency, making his risky to the Tigers and fantasy owners. Expect some regression from his 1.96 ERA, 9.98 K/9, and 1.96 BB/9. All were career bests.

 

Rondon was sent home early last fall due to dissatisfaction with his work ethic. While manager Brad Ausmus made point of excluding Rondon from a list of bullpen locks, Rondon is needed in a setup role. Recent reports are mostly positive although his actual in-game results have been terrible. His 98 mph fastball often touches 100 mph, but it performs as a well below average offering. It's his slider that racks up the outs.

 

The Tigers swapped a couple decent prospects to add Justin Wilson over the offseason. The southpaw has an above average 95 mph fastball with four other average offerings. Last season with the Yankees, Wilson did well to strikeout over a batter per inning while limiting walks and home runs. Although he was often used in short bursts, he doesn't have the platoon splits of a LOOGY. In fact, he had reverse splits last season.

 

Alex Wilson was briefly a closer candidate last season. He's best used as a multi-inning reliever due to plus command and unimpressive stuff. He mostly leans on a fastball, sinker, and cutter combo.

 

Lefty Blaine Hardy was a big part of Detroit's bullpen last season. He'll probably make the Opening Day roster as a result. The lefty specialist features four pitches. Other names to consider include Drew VerHagen, Kyle Ryan, and Shane Greene. Ryan or Greene may fit best since they can be used as long relievers.

 

The Tigers have former Mets closer Bobby Parnell in camp on a minor league deal. The righty lost command of his entire repertoire last season. He could be a decent middle reliever if he recovers his touch.

 

Minnesota Twins

 

Glen Perkins

Kevin Jepsen

Trevor May

Casey Fien

Michael Tonkin

J.R. Graham

 

The Twins bullpen lacks sex appeal. While they have a few guys who could be on the cusp of a breakout, nobody offers much reliability. Perkins is obviously the closest thing to reliable.

 

He's quite good when his neck isn't forcing him to the disabled list. He hands out surprisingly few free passes for a slider specialist. Neither the fastball nor slider are anything more than above average. It's his command that allows the pitches to play up to plus.

 

Between the frequent injuries and merely good stuff, it's only a matter of time before he turns in an ugly season. It may not be this year, but if it is, we'll all nod our heads and say we saw it coming. Proceed with caution.

 

With a 95 mph fastball, above average curve, and an average changeup, Jepsen has two straight solid campaigns in the bag. He's allowed a .250 BABIP over his last 135 innings. It's just enough to make you wonder if he continue to limit hits on balls in play. It's a necessary skill for Jepsen if he wants to remain a setup man. With limited strikeout ability and fringy command, his profile reads like a typical middle reliever. His fastball is his best pitch, and he also throws a good change. His curve and slider could use work.

 

May was quite good out of the bullpen last season with 10.63 K/9, 2.30 BB/9, and a 2.87 ERA. Many have tabbed him as the heir apparent to Perkins if anything happens this season. Count me as on the bandwagon. May's transition to relief work will allow him to scrap his sinker altogether.

 

Fien was once a good source of holds. Unfortunately, his stuff has consistently declined over the last three seasons. While it hasn't shown up in his ERA, he no longer possesses a rosterable strikeout rate.

 

Tonkin and Graham have potential to improve this season. Both pitchers have a good minor league track record. Tonkin's had trouble inducing whiffs in the majors while Graham was used as a multi-inning guy in his Rule 5 season. He could be headed back to Triple-A now that the Twins have his rights locked up. These are simply guys to track.

 

Of much greater interest is former top prospect Alex Meyer. The hard throwing righty converted to relief last season with good results. His command is still a problem which may be enough to keep him in the minors at the start of the season. He has the stuff to be a future closer if he ever learns to locate.

 

Other Twins on the radar include Fernando Abad (NRI), Ryan Pressly, and Ryan O'Rourke. There's also talk of sending Ricky Nolasco or Tommy Milone to the bullpen.  

Brad Johnson

You can read more from Brad Johnson on Rotoworld, FanGraphs, and RotoFanatic. Find him on Patreon and Twitter @BaseballATeam.