Brad Johnson

Saves and Steals

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Bullpen Review: AL West

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Five divisions down, one to go. If you're just tuning into this series for the first time, you've missed a few of our division-by-division bullpen reviews. For a zoomed out version of this article, click over to the All Bullpen Review. Over the last five weeks, we evaluated the NL East, AL East, NL Central, AL Central, and NL West. It's time to wrap things up with the AL West.

 

One wild card looms over the closer landscape – Greg Holland. After misreading the free agent market, he's been left out in the cold. Some aspiring contender will decide their bullpen needs additional reinforcements. The Cardinals continue to look like an all-too-obvious fit. Upwards of 12 teams could meaningfully benefit from Holland.

 

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

 

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Houston Astros

 

Ken Giles

Chris Devenski

Will Harris

Joe Smith

Hector Rondon

Brad Peacock

Collin McHugh

 

The AL West is perhaps the shakiest division with regards to sitting closers. Giles is indisputably a quality high leverage reliever. He has a long track record of mixing one bad month with an otherwise dominant season. Last year, his bad month came at the least opportune time – October. It's a testament to the Astros pitching depth that Giles didn't sink their World Series bid.

 

At his best, the righty fires 98 mph bullets and elite sliders. The fastball runs a tad too straight. As a result, opponents have handled the pitch over the last two seasons. When Giles first established himself in 2015 and 2016, major league hitters had yet to adjust to this premium velocity. These days, he's a sort of high-velocity Luke Gregerson. Half of his pitches are sliders. You can bank about 12.00 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, and a few ups and downs in the ERA and WHIP department.

 

Houston need not be patient with a struggling Giles. Devenski is a potent reliever. Harris, Smith, and Rondon all have closing experience. Peacock played a big role last October including a critical save. This is a deep unit with multiple potential closers. Sometimes, the best sleepers come from unexpected places (i.e. they're actually sleepers).

 

Returning to Devenski, we can probably anticipate fewer multi-inning appearances this season. For one, Peacock and McHugh are available. Devenski also appeared to wear down through the middle months of the season before rebounding late. He features an above average fastball, double-plus changeup, and plus slider.

 

The Cubs discarded Rondon over the winter – odd treatment for a legitimate high leverage reliever. Rondon has struggled with home runs over the last two seasons, and it's possible there are some health issues in the mix too. He's missed most of the spring with “fatigue.” Fungal infections are common in Arizona so perhaps fatigue isn't a euphemism for an injury or poor conditioning. Rondon's best pitch is his slider, but he only used it 35 percent of the time. Look for a spike to over 50 percent usage this year.

 

Neither Harris nor Smith dazzle spectators. They're still valuable relievers. Last year, both recorded over 10.30 K/9 with fewer than 1.70 BB/9. Harris is a cutter specialist with a plus curve ball. Smith mixes a hittable sinker with an above average four seamer and slider. He gets good results with his fastball despite rarely reaching 90 mph. Harris and Smith are superb targets for holds.

 

Peacock and McHugh probably won't figure heavily in the saves or holds picture. Instead, they'll serve as the best rotation depth in the league. McHugh will probably handle multi-inning appearances in blowouts while Peacock will fill the same role in tighter contests. Notably, the Astros rotation is perhaps the best since the celebrated Phillies unit circa 2011. Although Houston has made a name for themselves with forward-thinking reliever usage, there may be less scope for creativity this year.

 

The above leaves out Tony Sipp who, as the only lefty reliever with a chance to make the club, probably will be on the Opening Day roster. I suppose Rondon may draw the short straw? We'll also see Francis Martes, James Hoyt, Jandel Gustave, and David Paulino later in the season.

 

Seattle Mariners

 

Edwin Diaz

Juan Nicasio

Nick Vincent

David Phelps

James Pazos

Marc Rzepczynski

 

Diaz is the safest closer in the division. Unlike Giles, Diaz's 97 mph fastball performs as a well-above average offering. It sets up a borderline elite slider. Although the 24-year-old won't replicate the 15.33 K/9 he posted as a rookie, it's reasonable to expect about 12.00 K/9. His command is questionable, and he appears to be slightly homer prone as a result. As such, his ERA and WHIP may not match the gaudy strikeout total.

 

The competition behind Diaz won't push him out of a job either. Nicasio has emerged as a could-be-closer, the kind that teams prefer to leave in a setup role. He's always leaned on his fastball. His other offering, a slider, is merely adequate. Phelps may be a slightly bigger internal threat to Diaz. He dealt with injury last season after carrying a heavy workload in 2016. He may make spot starts, eating into his holds opportunities.

 

The rest of the bullpen quickly falls off the fantasy radar. Vincent has been around for awhile as a guy you can stream for an occasional hold. The skill set doesn't deserve a permanent spot on your roster. Pazos flashed 95 mph velocity and a high impact slider. He could take a big step forward if he uses the breaking ball more often. To do so, his command also needs to improve. Rzepczynski is a typical LOOGY. Like Vincent, you can try to stream a hold or three from him over the course of a season.

 

Other factors include Ariel Miranda, Hisashi Iwakuma, Ryan Cook, and Shawn Armstrong. The first pair could act as rotation depth and long relievers. Cook was once a closer candidate for the Athletics from 2012 through 2014. He hasn't pitched much since then. At best, Armstrong is a typical middle reliever.

 


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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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