Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Bullpens of the NL East

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Almost time for the season, and Saves and Steals gets to the National League East just in time to wrap up the bullpens.

 

Look at your freshly drafted bullpen. Enjoy it. At least one of those guys won't be giving you the saves you have penciled them in for. That's okay, we'll be here all year trying to identify the next closer in the carousel.

 

Atlanta Braves

 

First Up: Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel struck out more than half of the batters he faced last season. That's insane, and also a record. He used to have control problems -- and they could resurface, given the single-season sample of a reliever -- but last year he pushed his walk rate down to elite territory. His average fastball velocity went up! He even gets ground balls! There is nothing not to love about Kimbrel, except that he's a pitcher, and we know what happens to pitchers.

 

Next In Line: Eric O'Flaherty

This used to be Johnny Venters, but Venters just grabbed his elbow and has what the team is calling a strain. O'Flaherty is better against lefties -- his walk rate doubles against righties -- but he's fairly steady and Kimbrel only misses a couple weeks, the team may just promote one of their best setup guys into the closer's role. Or have him platoon.

 

Sleeper: Jordan Walden

Jordan Walden's back hurts, but he's been a closer before. His jump step delivery gives him plus plus velocity, but it also steals control from him. Anyway, he's a righty, and if Kimbrel goes under the knife, the team is more likely to turn to a righty than a lefty for an extended period of time.

 

Miami Marlins

 

First Up: Steve Cishek

All the pieces are there for Cishek. He gets the whiff rates and strikeout rates you'd expect from a closer -- not elite, but he gets them. His control is about average. And he does add a nice bonus in a high ground-ball rate that keeps his home runs per game low. Plus that home park helps. There's no real reason to be suspicious of Cishek, at least not any more than you are suspicious of any closer or pitcher. But it is worth noticing that his strikeout rate has been up and down, his control has been spotty in some years, and he throws a ton of sliders. You never know when the injury bug will bite.

 

Next In Line: Ryan Webb

Next could be Mike Dunn, the power lefty in that pen, but he's a lefty and managers don't prefer them as closers. Particularly ones that walk almost six batters per nine innings. Webb is a ground-ball guy with good control, and that's safe. It's not usually closer material, but it's safe. He'd probably get the first crack at the job, but if Cishek goes down with a long injury or is so ineffective that the whole bullpen gets a crack at the job, look one rung lower for your most interesting name.

 

Sleeper: A.J. Ramos

On any other team, you might have heard about Ramos by now. He has a 94 mph fastball and then boasts a starter's arsenal of secondary stuff: a slider, a cutter, a curve ball and a changeup. That's meant whiffs in heaping handfuls so far in his career, even if his control has been up and down. He's 26 and has relieved his way through the minors, so there's no reason to send him down again, especially since the major league team isn't contending. Remember this name.

 

New York Mets

 

First Up: Bobby Parnell

Captain Fastball sometimes needs a couple extra fastballs to get up to full speed, but once he does, he regularly cracks triple digits. Last season was good for him beyond the velocity, though. After a season that saw him put up a bad walk rate and an un-closer-like 1.47 WHIP, the fact that he walked fewer batters than your average major league pitcher was nice to see. He still doesn't quite get the strikeouts you'd expect from a guy with his velocity, stuff, and swinging strikes, but that might be because he's chosen to keep his ground-ball rate high. If you want ground balls, there are tradeoffs to make -- more whiffs come on high pitches, more grounders on low pitches. In any case, he's got the job and the team is finally behind him, saying basically that it's his job to lose.

 

Next In Line: Frank Francisco

It was supposed to Frank Francisco's job to lose, but then Francisco went and showed us why he was so inexpensive to begin with, despite good strikeout numbers over his career. His control tanked in New York, and he got hurt again, as he always does. If his 45 healthy innings correspond with one of his better stretches of control, and some struggling from Parnell, it's not impossible that he gets saves again this year. He's still got 94-mph gas and a split finger.

 

Sleeper: Brandon Lyon

Lyon is as old as snot, but his ligaments have been refreshed. After his surgery, his curveball regained effectiveness and he's using it as a true out-pitch now. That means more strikeouts. Josh Edgin has a 93 mph fastball and a strong whiff rate, but the lefty might be needed in situational roles if Parnell goes down and Francisco can't get it going.

 

Philadelphia Phillies

 

First Up: Jonathan Papelbon

Papelbon lost more than a mile per hour off his fastball last year, and it showed a little. Well, not a ton -- he still had a double-digit strikeout rate and an elite walk rate. But he did give up the most home runs per nine innings in his career, so that's something. Anyway, none of this would be concerning if he didn't show further reduced velocity in some of his early spring starts. Even recently, he's been topping out at 91 mph, which is not good for him. At his age, this is meaningful stuff. Work done on spring velocities shows that they come within a mph of regular season velocities, too. Not good news.

 

Next In Line: Mike Adams

Antonio Bastardo is a lefty, so it's probably Mike Adams that's up next. Last year was one of his worst years, and the 34-year-old saw his first significant decline in velocity, too. But at 91-93 mph, it's not really about velocity for him. He's a master of using his cutter to get more whiffs than you might expect from his arsenal. If his strikeout rate can rebound this year (and he still got above-average whiffs if not above-average strikeouts), he's actually one of the best saves sleepers out there.

 

Sleeper: Jeremy Horst

Horst is a lefty and doesn't have closer velocity -- his fastball leaves his hand at about 90 mph -- but he has two good secondary pitches in his slider and changeup. His first season with the Phillies ended with tons of whiffs, and he can better the control he showed last season. At 27 years old, he's a decent deep dynasty acquisition.

 

Washington Nationals

 

First Up: Rafael Soriano

Though he still gets whiffs with the best of them, 33-year-old Soriano hasn't had an elite strikeout rate for a late-game reliever in three years. His fastball velocity is down a little from his peak, and he threw more sliders last year than he ever had before. That pitch is known to cause elbow stress in large quantities. And Soriano has been hurt before -- 2008 and 2011 were season affected by injury. Otherwise, he's all good. Good control most years, representative strikeout rates, and, most importantly, serious Closer Face. If he stays healthy all year, there shouldn't be a worry about his production.

 

Next In Line: Drew Storen

Storen is 25 and actually had a higher whiff rate than Soriano last season, but for some reason his strikeout rate was poor. He actually has better control than Soriano in your average season, and gets more ground balls, and humps the fastball in there two or three miles per hour faster. But he had a high profile meltdown at the end of the Nationals' season, and that tends to stick with people.

 

Sleeper: Tyler Clippard

That meltdown might even stick with Davey Johnson so much that Clippard is next in line if Soriano falters. Clippard does have an excellent strikeout rate, and has bettered his control the last two seasons. He doesn't have quite the gas of a Storen, but he uses his secondary pitches more and it works. This might be a pick'em behind Soriano.



Eno Sarris is an editor and writer at FanGraphs.com. You can find his work gathered in one place at and enosarris.com. Follow his misadventures in writing on Twitter as well.
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