It's time for details. Saves and Steals returned last week with an All Bullpen Audit. All of the best relievers were covered at a very high level. Now it's time to dig deeper on just a few teams at a time.
Over the next six weeks, we'll cover all bullpens top-to-bottom by division. Today we'll begin with the NL East. One general caveat – it's difficult to fully account for all possible relievers, especially factors on the farm.
Relievers may be the most volatile player category in baseball. Some will emerge out of nowhere such as Baltimore's Mychal Givens and Seattle's Tony Zych. Both were excellent in a small sample last season. Maybe they repeat this success, maybe they backslide. The point is, some of the top performers will be completely unpredictable.
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.
New York Mets
The big relief news out of New York is the lifetime ban of Jenrry Mejia. For the third time, he tested positive for PEDs. He can appeal to return in two years, but don't count on him winning. It's a shame since Mejia looked like a meaningful midseason addition once he was done serving his second suspension.
This news only makes Familia's job more secure. Nobody else in the unit approaches his talent level so he should have a long leash. Familia locked down 43 saves in his first season as closer. He pitched well in the playoffs right up until the World Series. A painful home run and some defensive miscues led to a rough Fall Classic.
He leans heavily upon an above average 97 mph sinker. Once ahead in the count, his excellent slider and split come into play. Both performed as elite pitches last season. With their help, he posted 9.92 K/9, 2.19 BB/9, and a 1.85 ERA. When base runners are on, he can turn to the offspeed stuff more often to induce strikeouts.
Former closer Reed has the eighth inning – at least initially. He's an inconsistent reliever, although he did get better upon joining the Mets (small sample warning). A glance through the PITCHf/x data shows that his fastball was about twice as effective once he joined the Mets. There's no velocity increase so it's either a fluke or he located the pitch better. Reed has long been a fly ball pitcher, but he worked to keep the ball on the ground last year.
Bastardo, another inconsistent pitcher, is a fly ball guy with big strikeout rates and shaky walk rates. He typically racks up about 11.00 K/9 with over 4.00 BB/9. His fastball is his best pitch. It generates an elite 16 percent swinging strike rate.
Follow Robles if you're looking for a breakout candidate. The fly ball pitcher has a 96 mph fastball with a 14.45 percent swinging strike rate. His slider is a plus too. Robles' stuff and outcomes are actually quite similar to Bastardo. He has better control which could help him sneak into setup duties. Remember Reed and Bastardo are inconsistent.
There's a chance Goeddel won't make the roster, but he too also has the stuff to worm his way into setup work. Unlike the others here, Goeddel has an ordinary fastball. His curve produced a lot of weak contact. His borderline elite splitter was his carrying pitch last year. He'll need that weapon in top form to stick in the majors. Edward Mujica serves as an example of the downside to splitter-only pitchers.
The remainder of the bullpen will likely be composed of Logan Verrett and one of Sean Gilmartin or Jerry Blevins. Verrett is the long reliever and will provide rotation depth. Blevins has a long history as a lefty specialist while Gilmartin was good against both lefties and righties last year. My money is on Gilmartin making the club.
Command allows Papelbon to get the most out of his diminishing stuff. No longer possessing plus velocity, he still gets plenty of production from his fastball. A 12.54 percent swinging strike rate is above average. The pitch does well because of how it interacts with his impressive slider and splitter. He can mix the arsenal to keep hitters off balance. He thrives on weak contact and low walk rates. Expect about 8.00 K/9, 2.00 BB/9, and a 2.40 ERA.
If injury or another disciplinary incident befalls Papelbon, Kelley is sitting in the passenger seat. He's a fun pitcher to watch if only because he throws more sliders than fastballs. He can vary the depth and degree of break to the slider too. For a slider specialist, it's surprising he doesn't have platoon splits. He has three straight seasons of over 11.00 K/9.
Treinen is a personal favorite of mine despite a glaring flaw to his profile. He throws a 96 mph sinker and an elite slider. His sinker is a good pitch, but it induces a high rate of contact. That makes it hard for him to reach two strike counts where he can use his slider to best effect. Unsurprisingly, he had just 8.65 K/9 last season. He could stand to improve his command – 4.26 BB/9.
As the resident lefty, good ol' Ollie Perez should nail down some holds. He was used as a specialist last year with 41 innings in 70 appearances. In 2014, he had better success against righties than lefties. There's plenty of uncertainty here, but you can at least count on about 11.00 K/9.
Gott, a hard thrower from the Angels organization, had trouble getting his 97 mph fastball by hitters. When he did get into two strike counts, he didn't have a put away pitch. Almost nobody whiffed on his curve ball, and he rarely threw his changeup. His name carries some hype, but he needs offspeed stuff or a better fastball to succeed in the late innings.
Unlike Gott, Rivero showed some very impressive stuff last season. An average performing 96 mph fastball and average slider are his top offerings as a reliever. He also throws a rare but potentially elite changeup. It can be hard to trust the pitch in relief, but he'll need to learn how to use it more regularly to reach his ceiling. He has the stuff to start if the Nationals decide to be more patient with him.
Petit is the club's long reliever and spot starter. He's been one of the most reliable pitchers in that role over the last three seasons. His strikeout rate plunged to 6.99 K/9 last year, but he maintained a strong 1.78 BB/9. He's the famous purveyor of the Invisiball.
Capps was a guy I hyped early and often last year. It feels good to see him in an open competition with Ramos for the closer gig. Capps ended the 2015 season on the disabled list with an elbow issue. There's risk of a recurrence or worse.
On a rate basis, Capps was every bit as good as Aroldis Chapman last season. His fastball can touch 100 mph, sits at 98 mph, and his quirky delivery adds additional perceived velocity. The pitch produced a nearly 18 percent swinging strike rate. Chapman, for reference, checked in at a 20 percent swinging strike rate.
If Capps just had the fastball, he would be formidable. Add in a curve with a daunting 41 percent swinging strike rate, and he's unhittable. When hitters bothered to swing at the curve, they whiffed over three-quarters of the time. The total package added up to 16.84 K/9, 2.03 BB/9, and a luck neutral 1.16 ERA (1.10 FIP, 1.17 xFIP). His command isn't actually as good as the walk rate suggests.
Ramos is the incumbent closer. While his stuff doesn't hold a candle to Capps, it does stand up to closers around the league. His fastball is decidedly average – or maybe even below average. However, he also throws an above average slider and an elite changeup. There are a good dozen teams who would happily push their closer aside for Ramos' 11.13 K/9, 3.33 BB/9, and 2.30 ERA (3.01 FIP).
The pen thins out beyond the top two. Dunn is a solid lefty specialist. As such, he'll grab some holds. He typically posts a 10.00 K/9 or better. His ERA depends upon limiting home runs since he's a fly ball pitcher.
Morris uses two fastballs and two breaking balls to pile up ground ball outs. He actually has good swinging strike rates on the breaking balls, but he prefers to induce early-count outs. His 95 mph sinker typically results in about 65 percent ground balls.
Jackson is rotation depth. He's also a decent option as a multi-inning middle reliever. You won't be looking to him for strikeouts, holds, or ERA help. Ditto for Brad Hand who should be in the long relief role.
Kyle Barraclough is my pick for the final pen spot. He throws 97 mph with suspect control. His ability to avoid walks this spring may decide his fate. The Marlins also have Dylan Axelrod, Dustin McGowan, and Chris Narveson in camp as non-roster invitees.
Grilli was all set for a midseason trade to a contender when his Achilles tendon popped. The extreme fly ball pitcher wields a plus fastball and slider. He recovered from a shaky 2014 to record 12.03 K/9, 2.67 BB/9, and a 2.94 ERA. Reports say he's ready for Spring Training. We'll need to see if his velocity is back to 94 mph.
If Grilli declines to his 2014 form, Vizcaino is ready to take the ball. A 98 mph fastball and 85 mph curve comprise his repertoire. Both are plus-plus pitches with high whiff rates. The fastball can flatten out and get hammered from time to time. The stuff is there for a leap forward in production. Even if he stands pat, 9.89 K/9, 3.48 BB/9, and a 1.60 ERA (3.50 xFIP) aren't too shabby.
Please stay away from Johnson. The sinker specialist is a passable major league pitcher, but he has no use to fantasy owners. Even his holds are likely to come with few strikeouts and a too-high ERA and WHIP.
Withrow is an intriguing reclamation project. On the surface, he pitched fine last year with a 2.95 ERA and 11.81 K/9. The blemish is an unusable 7.59 BB/9. If Withrow can halve the walk rate without giving anything away, he'll be a good late innings option. For what it's worth, that's exactly how he pitched in 2014 so it is possible.
The Braves selected Rutckyj (pronounced root-ski) in the Rule 5 draft. In a losing season, they have every reason to give him a chance to stick. He seemingly overcame a history of suspect command last year, posting about 12.00 K/9 and 3.00 BB/9 split between Single- and Double-A. He might be a lefty-only guy.
Another lefty, Krol, has been sniffing the majors for three years now. He's out of options which improves his chances to stick. Krol has handled the minors only to be handled in turn by major league hitters. He approaches relief like a starter, using five pitches. He might be better served focusing on his fastballs and plus slider.
David Carpenter managed to save three games for the Braves in 2014. He flopped in Washington last season and is now back in Atlanta as a non-roster invitee. Others who could factor into the bullpen include Jhoulys Chacin, Alexi Ogando, and Alex Torres.
Don't forget about Shae Simmons. He once looked like the closer of the future in Atlanta with his big whiff rates. Tommy John surgery delayed those plans. He had suspect command before the injury so he still has much to prove. He'll return midseason.
This is perhaps the least satisfying bullpen to examine in the majors. If the club quickly gives up on Vincent Velasquez as a starter, he could be a worthwhile closer. I don't expect that to happen.
Instead, retread Hernandez is the odds on favorite to close. He's a solid, if homer prone, pitcher who should give you about a strikeout per inning 3.00 BB/9, and a 4.00 ERA. Not what you want from a fantasy reliever. Also not too shabby for the 29th or 30th closer off the board. He even has upside for 30 saves. His slider's actually quite good, it's his fastball that's the problem.
If Hernandez isn't closing, I'd put my money on a non-roster invitee stealing the job. You may recognize Mujica, Andrew Bailey, and Ernesto Frieri. The trio of former closers hasn't succeeded in a while. You never know when you can catch lightning in a bottle.
Other NRIs include Bobby LaFromboise, James Russell, and Yoervis Medina. LaFromboise is a soft tossing lefty with bafflingly good numbers. He's a command and control guy. Russell, also a lefty, saved a few games for the Cubs over the years. A plunge in strikeout rate and a high BABIP led to a painful 5.29 ERA in 2015. Medina's stuff declined in every way imaginable last season.
Daniel Stumpf was the Phillies second Rule 5 pick (outfielder Tyler Goeddel went first). He was a solid multi-inning reliever in the Royals system. The 25-year-old will get a chance to serve a similar role in the majors. If the numbers translate from Double-A, expect about a strikeout per inning with fringy command.
Incumbents Garcia, Gomez, and Hinojosa have the inside edge on jobs. None are guaranteed. Garcia, an erratic, right-handed ground ball pitcher with a 95 mph heater is the most locked in. He even has an outside shot to close if he can get the command under wraps.
Gomez is a solid multi-inning reliever. He may have fantasy utility as a hold guy – if only because this bullpen is a dumpster fire. Somebody has to pitch the seventh inning. I'd stay away regardless of his role.
Hinojosa is a Cuban defector who was dumped by the Red Sox last year. The Phillies snagged him and were rewarded with a 0.78 ERA, 8.22 K/9, and 3.13 BB/9 in 23 innings. He has a fastball, slider, and change. All three are roughly average offerings.