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.
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.
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.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are taking the ol' “throw it against the wall and see what sticks” approach to bullpen building. They snagged Soria in a three-team trade to serve as a consistent guy to hold leads. He hasn't technically been named the closer, although it would be a shock if Jones or Minaya opened the season with the role. Soria scaled back his breaking ball usage in 2017. He mostly focused on his fastball and changeup. Both are difficult-to-hit offerings.
Jones, if he's ever healthy, has the potential to post a gaudy strikeout rate. He fires 97 mph fastballs. The real show stopper is his primary pitch – a premium slider. The breaking ball allows him to hunt for strikeouts at will. It also may explaining his recurring elbow issues. He missed most of the 2014 and 2015 seasons for Tommy John surgery then proceeded to sit out nearly all of 2017 with elbow discomfort. Jones is a lovely speculation pick. Just don't be surprised if the elbow explodes again.
Minaya finished the season as the White Sox closer. On the plus side, he recorded 10.51 K/9. That came with a luck neutral 4.53 ERA, 4.12 BB/9, and a high fly ball rate. With Guaranteed Rate Park as his home venue, a fly ball approach is not ideal. Minaya has the raw ingredients of a late-inning reliever. The fastball, curve, and slider are all good pitches when he hits his spots. Therein lies the rub – his below average command needs to step forward at least two grades. Avoid for now.
The NRI list is packed with names you probably remember. Jeanmar Gomez used to be the worst closer in baseball. Bruce Rondon was supposed to be a closer. Hector Santiago is in camp as a starter. A long relief role is possible. Chris Volstad and TJ House could also vie for that multi-inning reliever job.
Kansas City Royals
I'll say this about the Royals bullpen, they're probably going to find some interesting relievers. They have a long track record of uncovering bullpen gold. For the nonce, it's a very thin unit. Herrera is obvious trade bait, but they may want him to improve upon the 4.25 ERA he posted last season. Home runs were a problem early in the season. I noted at the time that his homeritis was merely bad luck. After June 10, he allowed just two home runs in 35 innings (0.51 HR/9). Strangely, he dropped a solid curve ball from his repertoire. His slider was crushed. He's always preferred to use his fastball and changeup, but the combination doesn't induce many strikeouts. Don't be surprised with another sub-9.00 K/9.
Maurer has a little Rodney in him. He'll steamroll the competition for a span then completely melt. Last year, he had one of the best 6.52 ERA seasons in recent memory. I know, that's a weird statement. Despite looking the part of a high leverage reliever, he may be better cast in a middle-innings role. If and when Herrera is traded, Maurer is currently first in line to close games.
The Royals will experiment with Peralta in the bullpen. The Brewers tried this last season. He allowed an 11.94 ERA in 17.1 innings. Peralta's job is far from secure. Fantasy owners should be wary. Jesse Hahn and Sam Gaviglio appear to be the sixth and seventh starters. They may land in the bullpen, especially Hahn who I believe is out of options. Veteran righties Blaine Boyer and Seth Maness are in camp as non-roster invitees. Rule 5 pick Burch Smith has the inside track at a job.
Greene is the apparent closer in Detroit after recording nine saves last season. Run estimators believe his 2.66 ERA to have been extremely lucky, pegging him for closer to a 4.00 ERA going forward. In this Tigers bullpen, that might be enough to hold the job. Greene is a sinker-slider guy. He'll also mix in some cutters. Both fastballs are merely adequate. The slider holds some promise, especially if he uses it more often. He only threw the pitch 28 percent of the time last year. Buffing that to 40 percent could coincide with over 10.00 K/9. Command remains an issue which might prevent him from throwing more sliders.
After the nominal closer is a whole heap of nothing. VerHagen is an unexceptional ground ball specialist. Wilson is flat out unexceptional. He doesn't have a gimmick. Jimenez was supposed to be the heir apparent before falling on his face last year. Now he's a post-hype sleeper. Hard contact haunted Jimenez last season. His fastball (.396 average, .642 slugging percentage) and slider (.345 average, 552 slugging percentage) were hammered.
Travis Wood, Francisco Liriano, and Buck Farmer may find their way into the bullpen as starting pitcher depth. Wood is a non-roster invitee. Southpaws Daniel Stumpf and Blaine Boyer could wind up with a lefty specialist role. Overall, this bullpen isn't going hold many leads – not that the offense or rotation will supply many. Go elsewhere for holds. Greene should be among the cheapest closers available.