Ranking the AL East position by position: relief pitching

Oct 30, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Koji Uehara (19) reacts after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in game six of the MLB baseball World Series at Fenway Park. Red Sox won 6-1. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

1. Boston Red Sox- In many areas of the game, it would be reasonable to expect the Red Sox to regress a bit in 2014. However, the bullpen is not one of those areas. The Red Sox had a good-not-great bullpen in 2014, partially due to a myriad of injuries to pitchers such as Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, and Andrew Miller. However, the projected bullpen in 2014 shows not only depth, but also elite talent. One could absolutely make the argument that they have five elite late-inning relievers between Koji Uehara (1.09 ERA, 12.2 K/9), Junichi Tazawa (3.16 ERA, 9.5 K/9), Craig Breslow (1.81 ERA, 5.0 K/9), Andrew Miller (2.64 ERA, 14.1 K/9), and newcomer Edward Mujica (2.78 ERA, 6.4 K/9). Even beyond those pitchers, however, the Red Sox still have a number of quality pitchers that will see time in Burke Badenhop (3.47 ERA, 6.1 K/9), Brandon Workman (4.97 ERA, 10.2 K/9), Ryan Dempster (4.57 ERA, 8.2 K/9 as a starter), and Drake Britton (3.86 ERA, 7.3 K/9). Overall, the Red Sox have not only the best ‘pen in the AL East, but one of, if not the best bullpen in all of baseball.

2. Toronto Blue Jays- The Blue Jays had a number of problems in 2013, but their bullpen never seemed to be a major one. They generally stayed healthy and established a few relievers as household names with Steve Delabar winning the AL Final Vote for the All-Star Game. The Jays’ pen will be anchored by a foursome of power arms consisting of closer Casey Janssen (2.56 ERA, 8.5 K/9) and setup men Sergio Santos (1.75 ERA, 9.8 K/9), Steve Delabar (3.22 ERA, 12.6 K/9), and Brett Cecil (2.82 ERA, 10.4 K/9). Beyond those four, the depth of the ‘pen is not quite as strong but the Jays still have decent arms such as Dustin McGowan (2.45 ERA, 9.1 K/9), Aaron Loup (2.47 ERA, 6.9 K/9), and Neil Wagner (3.79 ERA, 7.8 K/9). While the Jays may well go through another disappointing year in 2014, their bullpen should generally be a bright spot for them.

3. Baltimore Orioles- The dominant Orioles’ bullpen in 2012, which was a key factor in their playoff run, was bound to regress a bit in 2013. It’s not really shocking that they went back to being a more average bullpen in 2013; however, it is shocking how different their bullpen looks just two years removed from that remarkable run. Closer Jim Johnson, who led the league in saves both 2012 and 2013, is gone after being traded to Oakland and 2012 breakout star Pedro Strop was traded to the Chicago Cubs after a slow start in 2013. In this new look bullpen, the Orioles do not have a bona fide closer right now but they do have four solid late-inning arms that could compete for that role in Tommy Hunter (2.81 ERA, 7.1 K/9), Darren O’Day (2.18 ERA, 8.6 K/9), Brian Matusz (3.53 ERA, 8.8 K/9), and Ryan Webb (2.91 ERA, 6.0 K/9). After those four, they have a few additional guys that could contribute in T.J. McFarland (4.22 ERA, 7.0 K/9) and Kevin Gausman (5.66 ERA, 9.3 K/9). The Orioles’ bullpen will certainly look different in 2014, but they should still be a well above-average group.

4. Tampa Bay Rays- While the Rays have shown a remarkable talent for developing starting pitching, they have shown an equally impressive talent in acquiring undervalued pieces to make consistently dominant bullpens. That will likely hold true in 2014 as the Rays picked up a pair of good late-inning arms without giving up too much in Grant Balfour (2.59 ERA, 10.3 K/9) and Heath Bell (4.11 ERA, 9.9 K/9). Those two will join an already impressive relief corps headlined by Joel Peralta (3.41 ERA, 9.3 K/9), Jake McGee (4.02 ERA, 10.8 K/9), and Cesar Ramos (4.14 ERA, 7.1 K/9). The Rays’ bullpen does not have quite the depth that those in front of them have, but they should still be a very solid group as they always seem to be.

5. New York Yankees- The retirement of Mariano Rivera, easily the greatest closer of all time, will truly usher in a new era in the Yankees’ bullpen. Rivera had been a fixture as the Yankees’ closer for over 15 years and will be impossible to replace, leaving much to be desired as the new era of the New York bullpen begins. David Robertson (2.04 ERA, 10.4 K/9), who has been an elite setup man over the last few years, will likely take over as closer and should be solid in that role. However, beyond Robertson, the Yankees really have no relievers that have the potential to be much more than average as the rest of the corps is headlined by Shawn Kelley (4.39 ERA, 12.0 K/9), Preston Claiborne (4.11 ERA, 7.5 K/9), and Adam Warren (3.39 ERA, 7.5 K/9). If the Yankees hope to contend in 2014, this motley collection of relievers is going to have to step up. Big time.

 

Topics: Boston Red Sox

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  • Jeff

    I would put the Blue Jays number 1 because there is much less chance of regression like there is in the Red Sox bullpen.

    • Conor Duffy

      I would respectfully disagree. First off, that likely isn’t true. Pitchers like Loup and Wagner had mediocre peripherals last season and will likely regress in 2014, and Cecil and Delabar both had career years and may regress as well. Secondly, the Red Sox have a combination of both elite talent and elite depth. They have five great late-inning relievers as well as a number of solid options and a farm system that’s starting to churn out young talent. I don’t think I’m being all that biased– I just think that the Red Sox very possibly have the best bullpen in baseball this year assuming they can stay healthy (which is admittedly a concern).

      • Jeff

        I don’t think you realize the depth of the Blue Jays bullpen Loup is not regressing, he is a young pitcher who is great in the role he has as a lefty specialist. Delabar is a rock he strikes an insane amount of players, Cecil has good power from a lefty. One key guy you’re forgetting in your analysis is Luis Perez, he was an absolute rock in 2012 before getting injured. And in all reality it is likely that Casey Janssen will be better than Uehara due to his age, and the fact that he just simply over performed. Janssen, Santos, Cecil, Delebar, Loup, Perez, and probably Jeffress vs. Uehara, Mujica, Breslow, Tazawa. The two best pitchers in the Red Sox bullpen ( Uehara, and Mujica) way overperformed last year, and it is unrealistic to expect the same from them. While Janssen, Santos, Delabar, and Loup, all pitched to there capabilities, so it is pretty realistic to see them repeat the same success. In conclusion I would say that it is pretty close, but the Blue Jays have exactly what you claimed the Red Sox have elite pitchers, and elite depth. There is no way either bullpen touches the Braves, Royals, or Twins.

        • Conor Duffy

          I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have a great grasp on the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I had them ranked fourth in the AL East just looking at the names alone, but once I saw the numbers I jumped them up to second. I still disagree with you, but even with the Blue Jays ranked first on this list, the Red Sox would still rank first on the final results by a wide margin. The Blue Jays would move up into fourth over the Orioles, though. Either way, the AL East should be a competitive division in 2014 and I’ll be interested to see the battle of the bullpens in Boston and Toronto.

  • iains

    Janssen a power arm? You’re kidding, right? He averages 90 -91MPH.

    • Conor Duffy

      Power arm may not be the right term, but he has elite secondary pitches and he strikes out lots of guys. He’s not a typical power arm, but he certainly can and does overpower hitters.

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