Brad Johnson

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Bullpen Review: AL Central

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


As the calendar flips to March, Spring Training injuries are on the rise. Expected closers have yet to be afflicted, but it's only a matter of time. If and when the injury bug inevitably bites, Greg Holland is still panhandling for a job. In the west, Tim Lincecum is now one of five relievers vying for a piece of the Rangers ninth inning role.

 

It's time to continue our division-by-division bullpen reviews. If you prefer a zoomed out version of this article, click over to the All Bullpen Review. Over the last three weeks, we evaluated the NL East, AL East and NL Central. It's time to peek in at the AL Central.

 

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

 

Cleveland Indians

 

Cody Allen

Andrew Miller

Nick Goody

Dan Otero

Zach McAllister

Tyler Olson

 

The AL Central is a division of weak bullpens. The Indians are the obvious exception. The Allen-Miller dynamic duo may be the best late-inning pairing. Both closers are capable of pitching multiple innings when needed while recording strikeouts at will. Despite occasional early-season slumps, Allen has posted a sub-3.00 ERA in five straight seasons. Entering his age 29 campaign, I'm a tad concerned about his workload. He's thrown the third most relief innings since the start of 2013. He's a free agent after 2018 so the Indians will ask him to leave everything on the field. If he fails, Miller is arguably the better reliever anyway.

 

Allen combines an above average quality fastball with a frequently thrown elite curve ball. Over 50 percent of swings against his breaking ball don't make contact – not even a foul tip. When batters do put it in play, it's feeble. Last year, he allowed a .174 batting average and zero extra base hits with the curve. His fastball is ordinary by comparison. Batters hit .249 with a .480 slugging percentage. Miller is sort of a left-handed version of Allen. He throws his unhittable slider 57 percent of the time. Once again, hitters can't do anything against it. Last season, he allowed an .099 average and .152 slugging percentage with the slider.

 

After the elite back end, the Indians have a slew of solid volume arms. Of the options, Goody most closely resembles a late-inning reliever. He splits his offerings between a workable fastball and a double-plus slider. His heater is an extreme fly ball pitch which can work in most of the AL Central venues. His slider features near-elite whiff rates. Overall, he recorded 11.85 K/9 and 3.29 BB/9 – both numbers I think he can repeat.

 

Olson was used as a typical lefty specialist. Notably, he didn't show any platoon splits in a 20 inning sample. He also didn't allow a single run. Expect that number to increase. He may earn easy holds in very deep leagues. Otero is a ground ball specialist the Indians like to use to get out of jams and absorb multiple innings. He rarely earns holds. McAllister, a past favorite of mine, never got around to developing a breaking ball. His fastball alone is good enough for middle relief duties.

 

Excess from the rotation – either Josh Tomlin, Danny Salazar, or Ryan Merritt – are the odds on favorites to earn the final spot in the bullpen. Salazar may even find his way to high leverage scenarios. Tomlin and Merritt would only fill long relief roles.

 

Cleveland also has some high quality non-roster invitees. Matt Belisle is a serviceable middle reliever who briefly held his own as the Twins closer late last season. Since the start of 2013, Carlos Torres has paced Allen on the innings pitched front. He's often better than the average reliever. Alexi Ogando and Evan Marshall were once considered future closers. Now they're looking to get their respective careers back on track.

 

Minnesota Twins

 

Fernando Rodney

Addison Reed

Trevor Hildenberger

Zach Duke

Taylor Rogers

Ryan Pressly

 

A trio of free agent signings may have saved the Twins bullpen from oblivion. Rodney is often frustrating for his fantasy owners, mixing long scoreless streaks with Nero-esque conflagrations. He has one of the top changeups in baseball. The pitch performs comparably to Allen's vaunted curve ball. Rodney's four seamer and sinker are firmly above average too. Things go sideways when he loses command on the strike zone.

 

If the 40-year-old Rodney falters, the Twins can plug Reed right into the equation. The righty broke out upon joining the Mets in 2015. Technically speaking, the adjustments were made while with the Diamondbacks, but they mistakenly gave up on him too soon. He features an above average fastball and slider combo. He could probably stand to throw more sliders. Expect about a strikeout per inning with a low walk rate and sub-3.00 ERA.

 

Hildenberger earned respect in deep leagues via 9.43 K/9, 1.29 BB/9, and a 3.21 ERA. While I see some analysts refer to him as a potential closer, he first needs to improve the results on his sinker. He allowed a .328 average and .500 slugging percentage with the pitch. It's his primary fastball. At least he induces a high ground ball rate with it. He also frequently threw a double-plus changeup. That's where all the strikeouts originate. Without a better performing fastball, he's no more than a setup reliever.

 

Duke was the third free agent acquisition. The lefty specialist basically missed the last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. At his best, he induced high strikeout and ground ball rates. In a brief return last season, he only showed off the ground ball stuff (5.89 K/9). Bulk holds could be forthcoming. Rogers may also be in the mix as a LOOGY.

 

The rest of the bullpen will probably be some combination of Pressly and spare starting pitchers. Pressly has a 95 mph fastball and a potentially double-plus curve ball. The fastball was killed last season (.295 average, .543 slugging percentage). He's not quite a finished product. Tyler Duffey, Adalberto Mejia, and Phil Hughes are all candidates for a long relief role.

 


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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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