Brad Johnson

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Bullpen Review: AL East

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The NL East was the focus of last week's Bullpen Review. Now let's slide across the league divide to the always stacked AL East. These are some of the deadliest bullpens in both the real and fantasy realms.


As always, 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. Relievers are a volatile asset class, some will rise and fall unexpectedly.


New York Yankees


Aroldis Chapman

Andrew Miller

Dellin Betances

Chasen Shreve

Ivan Nova


Can it get much better than Chapman, Miller, and Betances? No, it can't. As you're well aware, the Yankees' biggest offseason addition throws 100 mph from the left side. He also features an elite slider and changeup. Any short list for top reliever has to start with Chapman's name.


The only blemish is the looming suspension of undetermined length. Hopefully a ruling will be made soon so fantasy owners can act accordingly. Honestly, I'm unsure why this situation has continued to linger. The league should have all the information they need to make an informed decision.


If Chapman is sidelined for an extended period, Miller is probably next in line. Another lefty, Miller wields an above average 95 mph fastball and an elite slider. He throws the slider more than his fastball. Miller can spot both pitches, making them dangerous weapons. He did suffer a forearm strain last season. Pitchers who throw a ton of sliders are thought to be at increased risk for UCL damage.


Betances may be the least of the Yankees' big three, but he's still a top 10 reliever. His 98 mph fastball is an easy plus-plus pitch. It's paired with a near-elite curve ball. Like Miller, he uses his offspeed pitch more than his fastball. Unlike Miller, Betances can occasionally run into trouble with command. Be especially careful with him early in the season. That's when he was still shaking off the rust last year.


The rest of the Yankee pen comes with uncertainty. Shreve is a solid lefty without platoon splits. He throws an average fastball, above average slider, and plus splitter. He had trouble with command last year (5.09 BB/9). He has a history of much better walk rates. He could pick up some holds.


Nova is currently the sixth starter. He'll serve in a long relief role until needed. Don't count on fantasy relevance while he's in the bullpen.


Among the other options, Bryan Mitchell is a middle reliever or swingman. He may be needed as rotation depth which would mean starting the season in Triple-A.


You may recognize Jacob Lindgren's name. He was a recent early draft pick who had a taste of the majors last year. He could serve as a lefty specialist, but this is already an extremely left-handed relief corps.


Kirby Yates, a fly ball pitcher with two years of experience in Tampa Bay, has a shot at a job. The best fly ball pitchers suppress home runs. Yates has not flashed that talent. He seems like a terrible fit for Yankee Stadium.


Another fly ball pitcher, Braden Pinder, could make the club – especially if Yates is cut or traded. He was shaky in 27.2 major league innings last season. He has a history of better performances in the minors.


Of the non-roster invitees, only one stands out – Vinnie Pestano. The old fantasy standby hasn't been relevant since 2012. He's still a ROOGY with fly ball tendencies and too many home runs allowed.


Boston Red Sox


Craig Kimbrel

Koji Uehara

Carson Smith

Junichi Tazawa

Robbie Ross

Roenis Elias


Since his debut in 2010, Kimbrel has been the best reliever in baseball. Others may be more talented now, but they can't stand up to his history of dominance. Kimbrel leans on a 97 mph fastball coupled with arguably the best curve in baseball. If there's a critique, it's that his command isn't particularly sharp.


I enjoy watching Uehara. He sets up his splitters with more splitters. Last year, he used the pitch 60 percent of the time. His splitter happy approach allows his fringy 87 mph fastball to play up. Hitters don't often connect with the splitter, and his fastball is an extreme fly ball pitch. As such, he sometimes gets in trouble with home runs. He's best known for his ridiculous K/BB ratios.


Smith emerged as a relief ace last season with the Mariners. When given the opportunity to close, he promptly ran into the only rough patch in his season. He'll own the seventh inning for the Red Sox. His skill set resembles the Orioles' closer. Smith induces high rates of ground balls with his sinker then pulls the rug out from under his plus-plus slider. The result was an 11.83 K/9 and 2.83 BB/9.


Over the years, Tazawa has been within reach of a closer gig a few times. He's never had a chance to grasp the job and run with it. It's hard to see 2016 being the year it happens. Entering his age 30 season, the righty can be expected to strike out about a better per inning with 2.00 BB/9. Count on about 15 holds too.


Ross is a solid middle reliever. He could hold a few games too, but opportunities may be few and far between. I suspect his primary job will be to keep the Sox in games when they're trailing. There's nothing special about his repertoire.


Elias is the sixth starter. As such, he'll fit as the long reliever. There's a small chance he could beat out Joe Kelly for the fifth starter job. It's unlikely given that manager John Farrell has told Kelly the job is his – and not to lose either, it's just his. Elias is a fantasy spot starter with no relief utility.


An injury in the rotation could open up the long relief role to knuckleballer Steven Wright. The 31-year-old is out of options.


Other factors in camp include Matt Barnes, Tom Layne, and Carlos Marmol. The latter is the most fascinating with his high strikeout rates and silly walk rates.


Baltimore Orioles


Zach Britton

Darren O'Day

Mychal Givens

Brian Matusz

Brad Brach

Dylan Bundy

Vance Worley


The Orioles bullpen can keep pace with the scions of the AL East. Britton is a personal favorite of mine. For two years running, he's posted a ground ball rate above 75 percent. It's no fluke, hitters just can't get under his sinker. They don't even make good contact on grounders. When he blows a save, it's usually because the opposition hit a couple infield nubbers.


Last season, Britton added strikeouts to his bag of tricks courtesy of an unhittable curve. When hitters swung, they whiffed at a 77 percent rate. The pitch was successful in part because it was rarely used. Look for him to turn to it more often in 2016. Hitters will probably make more contact with it as a result.


O'Day is one of the top eighth inning guys in the sport. He looks like he should be a righty-specialist, but he can handle any hitter. He gets the job done with deception and a lot of sliders. Unlike 99 percent of relievers, O'Day's four-seamer has his highest swinging strike rate. It's an elite performing fastball despite barely touching 88 mph. Count on over a strikeout per inning with about 2.00 BB/9.


Givens was a quiet breakout star in 2015. An adjustment allowed him to fix previous command issues. His 95 mph fastball is his best pitch. He also throws a plus slider. He rarely uses his changeup (I've never noticed it in game action). All of his pitches come with plenty of swing and miss. He should be able to post well over a strikeout per inning. Watch out for regression (the bad kind) in his 1.80 BB/9.


Matusz and Brach are easy to overlook from a fantasy perspective. Both pitchers are candidates for about 15 holds with 10.00 K/9, 3.50 BB/9, and a 3.00 ERA. Brach is a righty who occasionally works multiple innings while Matusz is a lefty specialist who often pitches less than a full inning.


Bundy used to be a top prospect – still is in many respects – but I'm not on the band wagon this year. Bundy is out of options, so he has to stick on the major league roster. Injuries have stolen most of the last three seasons from him. Reports indicate that his stuff has declined. I'll need a lot more information before I consider rostering him.


As a reliever last season, Worley had a 2.83 ERA with 6.91 K/9 and 1.88 BB/9. He's simply a long reliever, but I'd bet on him making the team over Odrisamer Despaigne.


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You can read more from Brad Johnson on Rotoworld, FanGraphs, and RotoBaller. Find him on Patreon and Twitter @BaseballATeam.
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