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Bullpen Review: AL East

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Pitchers and catchers have reported for most organizations. Baseball is officially back! Now it's time to continue our division-by-division bullpen reviews. If for some reason you prefer a zoomed out version of this article, click over to the All Bullpen Review. Last week, we evaluated the NL East. Shall we move along to the AL East?

 

I welcome any and all criticism or suggestions. Think I missed somebody? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @BaseballATeam.

 

New York Yankees

 

Aroldis Chapman

David Robertson

Dellin Betances

Tommy Kahnle

Chad Green

Adam Warren

Chasen Shreve

 

This bullpen is absurd. Chapman may be the headliner, but all of Robertson, Betances, Kahnle, and Green performed like a top 10 closer last season. This unit is going to win the Yankees many games.

 

Chapman did have a little speed bump last season. He lost the closer role in mid-August, although he later recovered it. His fastball remained as zippy as ever, averaging 100.1 mph. However, he induced the lowest swinging strike and strikeout rates of his career. The result was a luck neutral 3.22 ERA. Not very Chapman-like. His command did deteriorate in August which led to his removal from the ninth inning. Those games – just 5.1 innings – accounted for eight of the 18 earned runs he allowed. It's possible his strikeout rates fell because opponents are less overwhelmed by triple-digit velocity. If so, a few more wipeout sliders should do the trick.

 

If Chapman crumples, Robertson offers a very steady alternative. The righty has thrown 60 or more innings in the last eight seasons. He typically ranges from a 2.00 to 3.50 ERA. He leans upon a cutter which he uses to induce soft contact. Once ahead in the count, he'll turn to an premium curve ball. On rare occasions, he'll try to catch hitters off guard with a slider. Robertson's cutter is more functional than elite, meaning he has to nibble around the edges with it. He can get into trouble if he's missing over the plate or struggling to throw strikes. That's what happened to him in 2016.

 

Speaking of potent curve balls, Betances' is on a short list for best in the game. He throws it more frequently than his fastball which might explain his unusually high 6.64 BB/9 last season. He's usually between 2.50 and 4.50 BB/9. After years as a multi-inning guy, the soon-to-be 30-year-old only threw 59.2 innings in 66 appearances. This wasn't a matter of platoons – his poor command forced him out of the game on several occasions. He was handed closer duties when Chapman faltered last season. Betances promptly suffered his own slump. Look for his command to rebound in 2018.

 

Kahnle has been a promising relief prospect for years. Suspect command has limited his results in the majors. He took a major step forward last season, allowing just 2.44 BB/9 while also inducing career best swinging strike and strikeout rates. His luck neutral 2.59 ERA, 13.79 K/9, and 1.12 WHIP marked him as one of the best non-closers. Two-thirds of his offerings are 98 mph fastballs which he supplements with an above average changeup and slider. In this deep bullpen, he'll soak up innings as the best middle reliever in baseball.

 

Green may have something to say about that “best middle reliever” quip. Last year, the righty posted a 1.83 ERA with 13.43 K/9 and 2.22 BB/9. The Yankees used him as a multi-inning guy. He tossed a nice 69 frames in 40 appearances. He'll likely reprise that role this season while making the occasional spot start. If there's cause for concern, it's with his extreme fly ball rate. That allowed him to limit hits on balls in play. His fastball was especially effective along the upper edge of the strike zone. However, if he hits a funk where he's missing a little lower in the zone, the homer brigade could come marching to Yankee Stadium. Green is an exciting talent. Before you pay out the nose for his elite ratios, remember that it's common for breakout performers to regress. Kahnle profiles as a similar pitcher and often costs less.

 

Adam Warren is a solid multi-inning reliever. Chasen Shreve is an effective lefty specialist who could rack up a few holds. In a normal bullpen, these are core contributors. For this Yankees squad, they're just a couple guys.

 

Boston Red Sox

 

Craig Kimbrel

Carson Smith

Joe Kelly

Brandon Workman

Matt Barnes

 

Kimbrel outdid himself last season. He recorded a 1.43 ERA (1.42 FIP, 1.50 xFIP), 16.43 K/9, 1.83 BB/9, and a tiny 0.68 WHIP. The improved walk rate was great to see from somebody whose command has always been iffy. While the overall results may look similar to his 2012 masterpiece, it's important to remember that major league hitters are a lot better against velocity than they were back then. Kimbrel continues to lean on a 98 mph heater and an elite curve ball. I know I said Betances' curve was on a short list for best in the game. Kimbrel's is the best.

 

Since being acquired by the Red Sox prior to the 2016 season, Smith has thrown a whopping 9.1 innings. Tommy John surgery stole most of those two seasons. Upon returning late last year, Smith showed off his signature bowling ball sinker. He also has a plus slider. While we should expect some bumps in the road, he projects to be a top setup man. The Red Sox should provide plenty of holds. If anything happens to Kimbrel, Smith is an able alternative.

 

Kelly tried to stick in the rotation. Unfortunately, flashes of inspiration were overshadowed by poor results. Upon committing full time to the bullpen, his fastball played up to 99 mph. He was also able to retire a bad changeup in favor of more curve balls. Although his 2.79 ERA was solid, his peripherals hint at impending regression. With 8.07 K/9, 4.19 BB/9, and a 4.07 xFIP (a predictor of future ERA), Kelly probably needs to tidy up his command. If he does, a second consecutive breakout is possible.

 

Another former starter turned reliever, Workman only hits 92 mph on the gun. A few years ago, that was something to comment upon, now it feels like he's a soft-tosser. He figures to fill a multi-inning role as a middle reliever. He could snag a few cheap holds and wins for those in very deep leagues. Barnes is a better source for holds. He supplements a 95 mph fastball with a curve and a slider. He recorded 10.72 K/9 last season – his best campaign to date.

 

Former closer Tyler Thornburg is recovering from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. That's always a tricky and unpredictable recovery process. He could factor into the late innings if he returns to form. Some kind of lefty reliever will be needed, possibly Robby Scott. He's a typical soft-tossing LOOGY.

 


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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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