It's time to journey west. We've explored the east coast, where Ken Giles, Carter Capps, Andrew Miller, and Brad Boxberger await the opportunity to use their elite skills in the ninth inning. The heart of the country has plenty of closers-in-waiting as well, with Wade Davis and Pedro Strop headlining the crowd. It's time to explore the NL West. If you missed the previous editions or would like to reference them again, they covered the NL East, AL East, NL Central, and AL Central.
Over a six week period, we'll discuss every major league bullpen by division. It's not a simple job. Anybody could emerge during spring training or early in the season. Giles wasn't on the radar last February.
Suggestions and criticisms are welcome. My focus is on pitchers who are likely to make their club out of spring training, but I will also try to highlight notable prospects. If you would like to add a name to the mix, you can find me on Twitter.
Editor's Note: For more than 1,000 player profiles, prospect reports, positional tiers, mock drafts, ADP date, customizable projections and more, get Rotoworld's MLB Draft Guide.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants bullpen is rare in its continuity. Casilla, Romo, Affeldt, and Lopez were a part of San Francisco's three World Series winners. It's uncommon for a batch of relievers to remain valuable for so long a period, and it's probably fair to wonder when it's time to move to a new core.
Casilla is expected to open the season as the closer. He and Romo have traded the role a couple times in recent seasons. Don't be surprised to see it happen again. Casilla is a ground ball specialist who lives on weak contact. If he's missing his spots by a slim margin, his results can go sideways. That's when the closer turnover happens. He's one of the lesser ninth inning men in the league. At the same time, he's good enough.
If anything happens with Casilla, Romo and his sliders will likely fill the void. His breaking ball rate is generally above 50 percent. He's complained of a sore shoulder during camp already, so keep an eye on his health. He used a career high rate of changeups last season, although that doesn't affect his value.
Strickland looks the part of closer, but first he has to put an ugly postseason behind him. He allowed all manner of home runs during the playoffs and got into a shouting match while on the mound. He uses a 98 mph fastball and good slider to dominate hitters. With AT&T Park as his home, he should do just fine controlling the long ball. Saves aside, he's the most interesting reliever in this bullpen.
Machi, Affeldt, and Lopez all figure to earn a dozen holds. The Giants are fans of the ground ball, and Machi fits their preferred profile. He's not somebody fantasy owners should track unless the bullpen is really falling apart. Affeldt's name often comes up as an emergency closer, but it never happens. He's a full inning lefty. Lopez is a left-handed, ground ball specialist. His fantasy utility is close to nil.
Beyond the regulars, the club has to decide which of Tim Lincecum and Yusmeiro Petit is the long reliever. Unless somebody is injured, the presence of both players could force Strickland to open the season in the minors. Petit is particularly valuable as a reliever. He held hitters to a .177/.226/.246 line in 49 relief appearances last season. Including his starts, right-handed hitters posted a meager .191/.214/.296 line. Oh, and he throws what our old pal Eno Sarris calls an invisiball.
File away Erik Cordier's name. He features a 99 mph fastball with a devastating slider. Unfortunately, the 29-year-old has no grasp of command or control. He still needs a breakthrough to become a viable major leaguer.
The Diamondbacks have gone in an interesting direction under new GM Dave Stewart. He's taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to the rotation. The club has 14 starting pitchers between replacement level and league average. They're all battling for five rotation jobs. Some of those guys are going to land in the bullpen. Aside from Delgado, I couldn't begin to guess which pitchers will be left out of the rotation.
Reed is behind schedule rehabbing from shoulder discomfort. It's looking increasingly likely that he'll begin the season on the disabled list. The hope is that it's not a long stint. Reed is coming off a rocky season where he was plagued by home runs. Already a fly ball pitcher, he also suffered an elevated HR/FB ratio. That's the ol' double whammy. He does a great job with strikeouts and walks, so it's just a matter of keeping the ball from leaving the yard.
Ziegler would be the guy to fill in for Reed, except he's recovering from microfracture surgery to his knee. Last season was atypical for Ziegler – he actually pitched better against lefties than righties. He's usually a right-handed specialist, so it might be best that he's unavailable to close. Ziegler is king of ground balls. Only Zach Britton has come close to matching his volume of burnt worms.
And so it's Marshall who appears to be the beneficiary of the preseason injury stack. He uses a four pitch mix with a 94 mph fastball, sinker, slider, and change. Both offspeed pitches produce plenty of whiffs, which makes him a good fit for the ninth inning. His repertoire is surprisingly complete for a reliever. It would not shock me if the club considered the ground ball pitcher a safer bet for saves than Reed.
You remember Ollie Perez, right? He used to give Mets fans angina on a weekly basis. Perez has emerged as an excellent lefty specialist in recent seasons. He'll probably pick up about 15 holds with good rate stats.
Delgado is one of 14 pitchers battling for a spot in the rotation. I'm betting he lands in the bullpen. As a reliever last season, he continued to use his five pitch repertoire. He could see a real boost in value by focusing on his 94 mph fastball, vanishing changeup, and potent slider. He has elite upside as a reliever. Clinging to his past as a starter is only hurting his ability to contribute now.
Daniel Hudson has scarcely played since 2011. He's fully healthy and competing in the rotation battle royale. He flashed a 95 mph fastball in his brief cameo last season. It's possible he'll be an interesting reliever this year. Anything can happen, right?
In all probability, I will not own a Rockies reliever this season. I did own Hawkins in one H2H league last year. I got him for free and never found a reason to cut him. Beyond saves, he doesn't do anything positive for a fantasy owner. The 3.31 ERA, 5.30 K/9, and 2.15 BB/9 he posted last season probably represent the 42-year-old's ceiling. Be oh so careful.
Ottavino has emerged as the probable eighth inning man, but his game comes with a serious flaw. Left-handed hitters batted .338/.383/.560 against him last season. Over his career, they're hitting .319/.400/.477. Pitchers with platoon issues don't last long in the ninth inning. Until he solves lefties, it doesn't matter how well he pitches overall. His fastball jumped three mph in 2014, although his strikeout rate only inched up a couple percentage points.
Brothers was once considered the next Rockies closer, but his shaky control fled last season. He allowed a 5.59 ERA with 8.79 K/9 and 6.23 BB/9. His fastball velocity has dropped from 95 mph in 2012 to 93 mph last year. His ground ball rate plummeted 10 percent. It's all going in the wrong direction for the left-hander.
As a pitcher, your career has reached desperate straits when you willingly join the Rockies. Axford hasn't been very effective since 2011. His last three seasons have been plagued by home runs – a problem unlikely to vanish in Colorado. He still pumps 95 mph heat. He has an effective curve and cutter too, yet he produces bad results. Granted, his numbers last season weren't that bad – a 3.95 ERA, 10.37 K/9, and 5.93 BB/9. If he just halved his walk rate, he'd be a good looking pitcher. Too bad it's not that easy.
The other bullpen candidates include Hale, Logan, Chad Bettis, and Gus Schlosser. Logan is a LOOGY with a useful strikeout rate. He could rack up some holds too. The other three share low strikeout rates and fantasy irrelevance.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Jansen is expected to miss the early portion of 2015. He attended the Mariano Rivera school of relief. Nearly all of his pitches are classified as cutters. He'll flip the occasional 83 mph slider to keep hitters off balance. Sometimes he'll run a sinker up there at 96 mph. Most of the time, hitters are getting a 94 mph cutter. Sit on it all you like, it's still going around your bat.
While Jansen recovers from his foot injury, it's anyone's guess who will close. If I was in charge, I'd go with Hatcher. With a 96 mph fastball, slider, and splitter, he has all the tools of the closer trade. His four seam fastball had rough results last season, which explains his 3.38 ERA. He also has an equally hard sinker that overwhelmed hitters. Perhaps he should scrap the straight heat for the sinker. He demonstrated a new best in control, with only 1.93 BB/9 to 9.64 K/9. The Dodgers stole him from the Marlins as part of the Dee Gordon trade.
L.A. is more likely to use a veteran in the ninth. Peralta, League, and Howell all have some degree of closer experience. Peralta is a wily fly ball pitcher. When he was with the Rays, they liked to use him for partial innings despite a minimal platoon split. Surprisingly for somebody with a high fly ball rate, he leans heavily on a splitter. It's his fastball and curve that produce the high fly ball and line drive rates. The 39-year-old looks like a middle reliever these days.
By one measure, a 2.57 ERA, League experienced a bounceback season in 2014. A 5.43 K/9 and 3.86 BB/9 demonstrate other forces were at play. His ground ball rate spiked to 67.5 percent. During his best seasons, he featured similar rates. It's hard to get a handle on the most effective way to use League. To borrow a Yogiism, he can pitch the ninth inning, except when he can't. It's up to Don Mattingly and company to determine if League is ready to close.
The Dodgers used Howell as a lefty specialist last season, although he's solid against all hitters. His 2.39 ERA looks shinier than the 8.82 K/9 and 4.59 BB/9 he allowed. Somehow, he survives with a 87 mph sinker and 79 mph curve. I don't expect the Dodgers to trust him to lock down saves.
Nicasio was acquired earlier in the offseason. The club intends to use him as a multi-inning reliever. He did pitch better in a short stint out of the bullpen. In 20.2 innings, he allowed a 3.48 ERA with 7.40 K/9 and 2.18 BB/9. A move to sea level should only help. He could be a useful real world reliever, but fantasy relevance is unlikely.
Others who could worm their way into the bullpen include Joe Wieland, Dustin McGowan, Pedro Baez, and Paco Rodriguez. McGowan and Wieland could be used as long relievers. Baez probably needs more time to build a repertoire around his 95 mph fastball while Rodriguez is a lefty specialist with a 88 mph fastball.
San Diego Padres
Sometimes, it pays to stick with it. Benoit earned his first serious opportunity to close in 2013. After the season, teams were wary to sign the then 35-year-old to close, so he landed in San Diego as a setup man. It took a trade of Huston Street to reveal Benoit's next chance. After two consecutive successful seasons, nobody questions Benoit's ability.
Now it's his age and expiring contract that have folks looking for the next big reliever in San Diego. Benoit is coming off a 1.49 ERA, 10.60 K/9, and 2.32 BB/9. He's a great target in redraft leagues. His combination of fastballs, sliders, and splitters produce elite whiff rates. He's the total package.
Beyond Benoit are three or maybe five viable closers. The Padres acquired Kelley from the Yankees earlier this winter. Like Romo, he throws a slider more often than his fastball. Despite a 4.53 ERA, he pitched well last year. Most of the damage was done upon return from injury. He piled up whiffs with the slider (11.67 K/9) while limiting walks (3.48 BB/9). There isn't much ceiling left for Kelley, but guys like Romo and Brad Lidge have proven this profile works in the ninth inning.
The Pads were excited to acquire Maurer for Seth Smith. In a 37.1 inning sample out of the bullpen, Maurer looked fantastic. A 2.17 ERA was supported by 9.16 K/9 and 1.21 BB/9. His fastball burst from 94 mph as a starter to 97 mph in relief. He also focused more attention on his fastball and slider. Maurer is a popular target to be the next conversion success story. My only qualm is that everybody sees it coming.
Quackenbush was the handcuff to Benoit last season, so a lot of outsiders expect him to reprise the role. Don't be surprised to see him fall to middle relief. With a 91 mph fastball, curve, and splitter, Quackenbush lacks the upside of Maurer. He was developed as a closer, so he has plenty of experience in the ninth inning. A 2.48 ERA, 9.28 K/9, and 2.98 BB/9 are all good enough on the right team. The Padres are too loaded.
Vincent is a cutter specialist who manages great results without elite tools. His velocity hovers around 90 mph, yet he still posts strong strikeout (10.15 K/9) and walk (1.80 BB/9) rates. His 3.60 ERA from last season belies just how well he pitched. He's another guy who could handle the ninth in a pinch.
Another reliever developed as a closer, Thayer has some major league experience with nine career saves. In this bullpen, he's the sixth best reliever. He finished 2014 with a 2.34 ERA, 8.54 K/9, and 2.20 BB/9. This bullpen is truly ridiculous.
One “flaw” with the pen is a lack of left-handed relievers. Alex Torres is that guy, but it's possible he'll be shoved aside by Brandon Morrow. Torres consistently posts good results despite a high walk rate (career 4.50 BB/9). He was once a closer candidate while in Tampa Bay. Really. Another one.
The club could prefer to give Morrow a shot in relief since he's unlikely to make the rotation. He's had trouble staying healthy, so it might be smarter to go with the known quantity in Torres.