Brad Johnson

Saves and Steals

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Bullpen Review: NL West

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


Every week, I look at Greg Holland languishing in free agency with nary a rumor of a possible destination. Then I look at certain would-be contenders who could really use a closer (*ahem* Cardinals). And I wonder to myself, wtf mate? Outdated flash videos aside, Spring Training is going swimmingly for just about every closer in baseball land. We've yet to lose anybody to injury.

 

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 four weeks, we evaluated the NL East, AL East, NL Central, and AL 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.

 

Editor’s Note: With over 15,000 reviews, DRAFT is the highest rated fantasy sports app. For a limited time, DRAFT is giving Rotoworld readers a FREE entry into a real money draft and a Money-Back Guarantee up to $100! Here's the link.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Kenley Jansen

Scott Alexander

Tony Cingrani

Ross Stripling

Pedro Baez

Josh Fields

 

Last winter, I had this to say about Dodgers setup ace Brandon Morrow.

 

“Other relief candidates include Josh Fields and non-roster invitee Brandon Morrow.”

 

That's it. I mentioned his existence and continued with the column. Fields is still around the periphery of this bullpen. Morrow is off closing in Chicago on a multi-year contract. The bullpen is fun! Fortunes can completely reverse in the span of one season – often unpredictably.

 

You're here to read some words about Jansen. I might as well reveal that he's my top ranked closer heading into the 2018 season. Hardly a controversial position. Last year was a masterpiece, combining 14.36 K/9, 0.92 BB/9, and a 1.32 ERA. The crazy part? These numbers are only slightly better than typical for Jansen. He features arguably the top performing cutter in baseball history, and he throws it almost exclusively. Yes, he's right there with Mariano Rivera. Will he match Rivera's volume of success?

 

Moving along, the Dodgers made a wise decision to acquire Alexander. The southpaw is basically a lower strikeout version of Zach Britton. He induced a 73.8 percent ground ball rate in his breakout 2017 campaign. Like Britton, he actually posted an above average 12.8 percent swinging strike rate. If he ever finds a second weapon to pair with his sinker, he'll turn into a top 10 reliever. As it stands, he's still a top 30 reliever despite throwing 91 percent sinkers.

 

When the Dodgers acquired Tony Cingrani last summer, I imagine they said to him, “hey, maybe throw a slider sometimes.” He replied. “Fine.” In 19.1 innings, his strikeout rate jumped to 13.03 K/9 with the help of 20 percent slider usage. He also recorded 2.79 BB/9, 2.79 ERA, and 1.09 WHIP in Dodger blue. I honestly can't guess if this is all a small sample fluke or a sign of things to come. In any case, there's upside here – and perhaps an illustration of how Alexander may also benefit from Dodger coaching.

 

The remaining trio are all quite solid. They're unlikely to feature in the late innings. Stripling could be in the mix for wins as a multi-inning reliever. The Dodgers tend to be quite aggressive with relieving their non-Kershaw starters. He'll run about a strikeout per inning with a low walk rate and high-3.00s ERA. Baez is a hard thrower who consistently outperforms his peripherals via a low BABIP. Expect over a strikeout per inning and a roughly 3.00 ERA. Fields is a fly ball pitcher who tends to be inconsistent year-to-year.

 

For the seventh spot in the bullpen, a slew of promising alternatives are on the roster including top prospect Walker Buehler, Yimi Garcia, Edward Paredes, and Adam Liberatore. Rotation depth Wilmer Font and Brock Stewart could also enter the equation. Non-roster invites Mark Lowe and Pat Venditte are long shots.

 

San Francisco Giants

 

Mark Melancon

Sam Dyson

Tony Watson

Hunter Strickland

Derek Law

Josh Osich

Cory Gearrin

 

Age and a hefty workload may have finally caught up to Melancon last season. Although his peripherals were typical, a .374 BABIP led to an unusually high 4.50 ERA. Notably, Melancon had not allowed more than a .259 BABIP in the three previous seasons. When healthy, he should be a low BABIP guy. Of course, the “when healthy” qualifier is a key component to this discussion. He missed time on multiple occasions with forearm discomfort – a common indicator of an elbow issue. If the injury recurs in 2018, expect Tommy John surgery to follow. Melancon pared back his repertoire to a cutter and curve. Both are plus pitches.

 

Dyson bombed as the Rangers closer last season before landing on both feet in San Francisco. His results with the Giants weren't very inspiring despite recording 14 saves. A 4.03 ERA, 6.39 K/9, and 4.26 BB/9 qualified him as the worst closer in the league. His main redeeming quality is a 63 percent ground ball rate. He's also featured much better command in past seasons. A rebound is possible for the sinker specialist.

 

I'm not sure how the Giants convinced Tony Watson to sign a three-year, $7 million contract. He'll serve as an alternative backup closer to Dyson. The southpaw lost his closer role with the Pirates – mostly because Felipe Rivero is a monster. Watson did take a few bad luck losses to open the door for Rivero. The Dodgers tinkered with Watson's pitch usage upon acquiring him at the trade deadline. It'll be interesting to see if he continues using his sinker at a 50 percent rate. He features four above average offerings – the sinker, a four seam fastball, a changeup, and a slider.

 

The rest of this bullpen ought to look pretty familiar to fantasy owners. Unless he recovers some of his lost velocity, we can probably officially give up on Strickland as more than a middle reliever. A lack of quality breaking ball limits his ceiling. He did improve his slider somewhat in 2017. It's not enough to make a difference. He may rack up a healthy total of holds.

 

Osich looks likely to be the lefty specialist. He struggled against both hands last season. Steven Okert is his main competition. Neither are fantasy relevant. Law and Gearrin could figure in the middle innings. Again, no need to worry about them for fantasy purposes. The same is true of Derek Holland. He could snipe 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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