Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic are picking up steam. It's time to look under the hood at every major league bullpen. Over the last few weeks, we kicked off our detailed closer coverage with a high level All Bullpen Review. We've also looked at the NL East, AL East, NL Central, and AL Central. Now it's time for a glimpse of the NL West. It's definitely not the strongest division for relievers
One general caveat – it's difficult to fully account for all possible relievers, especially factors on the farm. Last year, we were treated to breakouts from Chris Devenski and Kyle Barraclough. Now they're both trendy non-closers. Others, like Tyler Thornburg and Brad Brach exceeded all possible expectations. No amount of February research will reveal all the top performers.
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Los Angeles Dodgers
This winter, Jansen signed a lucrative five-year, $80 million contract to remain with the Dodgers. The 29-year-old is coming off his best big league campaign – 1.83 ERA, 13.63 K/9, 1.44 BB/9, and a 0.67 WHIP. His owners – both fantasy and real – received an incredible performance. Jansen is well positioned to continue succeeding. Like Mariano Rivera, he leans almost exclusively on an elite cut fastball. Jansen will also mix in a very rare sinker or slider. He's said to be working on improving his feel for the slider this spring. If he gains confidence in the pitch, an increase in his strikeout rate is possible. It's hard to imagine there's any room for improvement in his other rate stats.
Dayton is one of those breakouts nobody saw coming. While his minor league numbers more or less match his 26 inning major league debut, Dayton was never considered much of a prospect. The 29-year-old lefty throws “only” 92 mph (that used to be fast). He's tough on both lefties and righties, making him a useful eighth inning guy. He has an elite performing fastball reminiscent of Sean Doolittle. He rarely induces ground balls, but he makes up for it with high whiff and infield fly rates. If you're in a holds league and don't want to pay top dollar for a Nate Jones or Kyle Barraclough, Dayton could offer similar value in a bargain package. There's some risk the stuff won't return in 2017 – his .196 BABIP is an extreme outlier.
Baez is a more typical sort of late-inning reliever. The righty hums at 96 mph. He'll throw an occasional sinker, change, or slider, but none of those offerings is better than average. He provided volume to the Dodgers bullpen last season, but he's currently recovering from a thumb injury. His status for 2017 is unknown at this time. When healthy, Baez is a great streaming guy in holds leagues – the kind you keep going back to again and again.
Back before all the cool kids were doing it, Romo was throwing more sliders than fastballs. He's been doing it for the last six seasons now. And although he isn't a paragon of health, he's avoided serious arm injuries. The long-time Giant will now spin his slide piece in Los Angeles. His role is uncertain – he could find himself in line for holds, or he may be a middle reliever.
Hatcher, 32, struggled with home runs last season. His spot on the roster is far from guaranteed. The righty has good strikeout stuff. His command is inconsistent. The good version of Hatcher could earn holds. Luis Avilan and Adam Liberatore figure to be in direct competition for a lefty-specialist role. Avilan has the better strikeout stuff and thus is the better fit for fantasy owners.
Ross Stripling is battling for the fifth starter's job. It's hard to imagine he'll win. However, the righty has a decent chance to snag the long relief role. He's not a fantasy asset. The rotation battle includes eight pitchers for two spots. Alex Wood may also find himself with a long relief or lefty reliever role. My guess is that Hyun-Jin Ryu, Scott Kazmir, and Brandon McCarthy would be destined for the disabled list or trade if they don't win the job. Brock Stewart and Julio Urias should be prepared to reinforce the roster later.
Other relief candidates include Josh Fields and non-roster invitee Brandon Morrow.
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San Francisco Giants
There's always one playoff-bound team whose season is torpedoed by their bullpen. In recent years, the part has been played by the Detroit Tigers. The 2016 goats roamed in San Francisco. Melancon was hired to solve those woes. The soon-to-be 32-year-old has four straight seasons of over 70 innings pitched with high quality ratios. He doesn't pile up strikeouts – career 8.19 K/9. However, his cutter-heavy repertoire induces soft contact. The result is a consistently low BABIP in the .250-.260 range. He's also good at stranding runners and preventing home runs.
If anything were to happen to Melancon, Strickland and Law are the primary backups. Strickland looks the part of closer with his 97 mph fastball and imposing frame. He doesn't rack up the big strikeout totals you'd expect, in part because he doesn't seem to trust his above average slider. He also turns to a below average sinker far too often (15 percent). Strickland could probably take a step forward by focusing on just the fastball and slider command.
Law doesn't have the same velocity as Strickland. He works at 93 mph. Going forward, he'll probably benefit from reducing his 52 percent fastball rate. The pitch is only slightly better than average. His other offerings are split between a slider and a curve. He'll also flash a rare changeup. The righty showed above average command in his 2016 debut, but his ability to hit spots has been inconsistent in the past. Keep an eye on his walk rate.
Smith is working back from elbow discomfort. He's said to be progressing without pain. The southpaw is the second-best reliever in the Giants' bullpen, but his handedness will probably keep him out of the backup closer role. Smith is still well positioned to rack up 20 holds. At his best, Smith relies on a frequently used slider. The pitch has plus whiff rates and results. He features middling command which can lead to between 3.00 and 4.00 BB/9. Those extra base runners occasionally get him into trouble.
Kontos and Gearrin are everyday middle relievers. Nothing about their profiles suggests potential for fantasy relevance. Sometimes, these volume guys will discover velocity or a wipe out breaking ball. It's rare. They'll have to compete with solid depth for one of the last three bullpen spots. Non-roster invitees include David Hernandez, Neil Ramirez, and lefty Bryan Morris. Ramirez was once a closer candidate in Chicago before Hector Rondon took the role. Ramirez was terrible with three teams last season. Hernandez had a solid campaign with the Phillies and probably deserved a guaranteed contract. Morris is a decent southpaw. He'll compete with Josh Osich and Steven Okert for a lefty specialist role. Kyle Crick is also now viewed as a reliever.