Let’s take a burn around the National League East position groups while waiting for baseball to return.
The earliest a pitch could be thrown is mid-May. So, we’ll be going around the division group by group. Today, the bullpens, a topic to make the hair on the arms of Nationals fans stand.
For consistency, we’ll use Baseball-Reference’s WAR computation when looking at the players. And keep crossing fingers baseball will be back as soon as possible.
Closer: Mark Melancon, 0.9
Key setup men: Will Smith, 2.2; Shane Greene, 2.1; Luke Jackson, 0.7
Overview: The Braves tried to fix things in the middle of last season. Hence the arrival of Melancon and Greene. They quickly added Smith, formerly San Francisco’s All-Star closer, in the offseason. Don’t be surprised if he supplants Melancon as the closer. On paper, Atlanta has the best back-end group. If Jackson can keep the ball in the park more often, the Braves may have one of the better big-league bullpens.
Closer: Sean Doolittle, 0.9
Key setup men: Will Harris,1.9; Daniel Hudson, 2.0; Tanner Rainey, 0.6
Overview: They were 29th by ERA, 25th by FIP, and 22nd in fWAR. By lore, a much less math-based assessment, the Nationals' 2019 bullpen was a gasoline truck driven into a bonfire, a GIF- and meme-producing mess which spent months undermining the season, only to finally be overcome. In short, they were bad.
This year should -- “should” always the key term -- be better. Doolittle’s workload can decline. Harris is as reliable as any reliever in baseball. Hudson is unlikely to be as good as last year, but is still a solid option. Rainey is searching for command, not stuff, as his role becomes more important.
At the least, it can’t be worse, right?
New York Mets
Closer: Edwin Diaz, -0.5
Key setup men: Jeurys Familia, -0.4; Dellin Betances, 1.5 (2018); Seth Lugo, 2.4
Overview: Mets fans have their own bullpen griping from a year ago to focus on. Diaz fell off a cliff, Familia wasn’t far behind and the unit was 25th in ERA.
One good thing? Seth Lugo. He was one of baseball’s best relievers in 2019. Lugo finished fourth in fWAR and the names ahead of him are MLB’s best closers: Liam Hendriks, Kirby Yates and Josh Hader.
Diaz’s recovery and Betances' (sore shoulder, Achilles tendon tear) health are the keys here. The only person New York is sure about is Lugo. The rest are wild-cards with high ceilings and low floors.
Closer: Drew Steckenrider, -0.2
Key setup men: Brandon Kintzler, 1.8; Ryne Stanek, 0.4; Yimi García, 0.1
Overview: Like most baseball things in Miami, the bullpen isn’t there yet. Steckenrider is the closer because someone has to be. Stanek throws very hard with a fastball-slider combination, and García is a solid next option. Kintzler followed a lousy 2018 with an excellent 2019 in Chicago. He could well end up the Marlins’ closer.
Closer: Hector Neris, 1.8
Key setup men: Seranthony Dominguez, 0.0; José Álvarez, 0.8; Victor Arano, 2.0 (2018)
Overview: Phillies fans are in for another season of crossing fingers and covering eyes.
Neris’ splitter was effective enough last season to hold his ERA to 2.93, though his FIP (3.83) was almost a run higher. Dominguez “suffered a setback” this spring during his recovery from an elbow strain which caused him to miss four months last season. Álvarez has a high walk rate and WHIP. Arano is coming back from arthroscopic elbow surgery.
This group needs an overhaul and is one of the reasons Philadelphia is again not expected to make the playoffs despite its major expenditures after the 2018 season.
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