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Saves and Steals

Bullpen Review: AL West

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Our in depth bullpen review is nearly complete. Today concludes the six week series with the AL West. The division might be the weakest for high impact closers and setup men, but there are still plenty of excellent options for fantasy owners. If you missed the previous editions or would like to reference them again, they covered the NL East, AL East, NL Central, AL Central, and NL West.

 

As always, suggestions and criticisms are welcome. My focus is on pitchers who are likely to make their club out of spring training, but I will also try to highlight notable prospects. If you would like to add a name to the mix, you can find me on Twitter.

 

Editor's Note: For more than 1,000 player profiles, prospect reports, positional tiers, mock drafts, ADP date, customizable projections and more, get Rotoworld's MLB Draft Guide.

 

Oakland Athletics

 

Sean Doolittle

Tyler Clippard

Ryan Cook

Dan Otero

Fernando Abad

Eric O'Flaherty

 

On the one hand, a torn rotator cuff – however slight – is extremely disheartening. Early tests on Doolittle's shoulder have been encouraging. The club expects an early season return, but it's worth wondering how much optimism is baked into that expectation. He'll be drafted in most fantasy leagues regardless of the injury, but he should come at a serious discount. He's worth a stash pick if the cost is low.

 

Doolittle is an interesting pitcher. He limits walks without pinpoint control. In a year where the low strike was king, Doolittle dominated with high pitches. When I played against him as a kid, he would use his high fastball to set up a then-devastating curve (devastating means something different to a 16-year-old). I'm not surprised to see him still using that high strike. The pitch has one of the highest whiff rates among all fastballs – nearly 18 percent.

 

With Doolittle missing time, Clippard looks like a lock for early season saves. Acquired for Yunel Escobar, Clippard is the reigning holds king. The fly ball pitcher is a good fit for the Coliseum. The A's speedy outfield should help him to maintain a low ERA. The righty leans heavily on his changeup which comes with a hefty 22 percent whiff rate.

 

For those of you familiar with BABIP, he's made a career of outperforming expectations. A typical pitcher BABIP is around .290. In 491 innings, Clippard has a .236 BABIP. His infield fly rate typically hovers just under 20 percent. Infield flies are basically in-play strikeouts – they're nearly automatic outs. Last season, Clippard's strikeout plus infield fly rate was a hair shy of 49 percent. In other words, half of hitters made automatic outs against him. No wonder he's so effective.

 

The rest of the bullpen is more useful in real life than fantasy leagues, although there are still a few use cases. Cook could run into saves if Clippard hits the shelf. He relies on a 95 mph fastball, slider, and change. There was a brief time when Cook looked like the next A's closer, but injuries derailed him. He only recorded one hold last season. I expect closer to 15 holds this season.

 

Otero and Abad are irrelevant for fantasy owners. Otero is a ground ball specialist who posted a 4.67 K/9 last season. Abad appears to be a generic middle reliever. He looks like a 3.00 ERA pitcher. Sometimes, those unassuming sorts breakout, but it's not common.

 

O'Flaherty could run into some fantasy utility. The A's used him as an emergency closer last season, although the experiment didn't go well. He's the top lefty in the pen and profiles as a typical LOOGY. With low strikeout rates, he doesn't offer much value unless he's consistently working the eighth or ninth innings.

 

Keep an eye on R.J. Alvarez. Acquired as part of the Derek Norris trade, Alvarez features a 95 mph fastball and a useful slider. We don't have enough PITCHf/x data to form many expectations, but he could have closer upside. He'll need to improve upon his slider while maintaining a 15 percent swinging strike rate on his fastball.

 

Evan Scribner, Eury De la Rosa, Jesse Chavez, and Drew Pomeranz could also find themselves in the bullpen. Scribner and De la Rosa are standard fare. You can ignore them for fantasy purposes. Chavez and Pomeranz could be mildly useful as relievers due to their starter eligibility.

 

Seattle Mariners

 

Fernando Rodney

Danny Farquhar

Tom Wilhelmsen

Charlie Furbush

Yoervis Medina

Dominic Leone

 

The Mariners have the best relief corps in the AL West. The unit posted the top bullpen ERA last season. Rodney contributed a strong season despite the occasional hiccup. Keep an eye on the soon-to-be 38-year-old's velocity. He lost a tick last year. Another decline could result in more damage against him.

 

He produced a 2.85 ERA, 10.31 K/9, and 3.80 BB/9 in 2014. He gets in trouble when he allows free passes, so be careful if he shows a streak of wildness. In general, fantasy owners are warier than they should be with Rodney. He's a good buy-low candidate.

 

If you roster Rodney, I recommend investing in Farquhar. The cutter specialist is the most reliable reliever on the club, although it's not guaranteed he's Rodney's backup. The M's have incredible depth in the bullpen, so the hottest hand will likely succeed Rodney. Farquhar posted a 2.66 ERA with 10.27 K/9, and 2.79 BB/9. His command and control make him a good candidate for holds.

 

Wilhelmsen was the Mariners closer for two years. He runs into problems with his fastball command which leads to ineffectiveness. He actually uses six pitches with frequency, headlined by a 96 mph fastball. Four pitch repertoires are rare among relievers, let alone six. By PITCHf/x data, they're all quite effective – he just has to locate.

 

While he won't get a shot at ninth inning duties in Seattle, Furbush has some fantasy utility. The lefty is best used as a LOOGY, which is one reason he won't pick up saves. His 3.61 ERA was higher than his peripherals suggest. A 10.84 K/9 and 1.91 BB/9 could have supported much better numbers. He's an excellent source of holds and ratios.

 

Medina could be yet another closer candidate if he improves his command. With a 95 mph fastball, sinker, and above average curve, Medina has the raw tools to shutdown opponents. He notched 21 holds last season, so he has his fantasy uses. This is the type of reliever who could come out of nowhere to post huge numbers. For now, he's pretty far removed from saves.

 

Leone is yet another reliever with big upside. The 23-year-old debuted in 2014 with a 2.17 ERA, 9.50 K/9 and 3.39 BB/9 in 66 innings. His repertoire mostly consists of a 95 mph fastball, 90 mph cutter, and 84 mph slider. He'll also mix in a change and sinker. The whiff rates on his fastball and slider are similar to those of Ken Giles. Visually, his stuff is slightly less impressive.

 

The final spot is probably destined for Carson Smith or Erasmo Ramirez. In my opinion, Ramirez makes more sense because he's out of options and can fill the long relief role. Smith is a sidewinding righty. He's major league ready but profiles as a ROOGY. To me, the club needs an innings eater more than another specialist.

 

Los Angeles Angels

 

Huston Street

Joe Smith

Fernando Salas

Vinnie Pestano

Mike Morin

Cory Rasmus

 

The Angels acquired Street at the trade deadline to bolster a bullpen that has scuffled for years. He's one of the few closers who thrives without velocity. His fastball barely tops 90 mph. A slider is his bread and butter, and he also mixes in a useful change. The fly ball pitcher struggled with home runs in 2013, but he put that behind him last year. It's a risk, especially given the Angels history of impatience with closers.

 

If something happens to Street, Smith is next in line. He pitched well in the ninth inning after ousting Ernesto Frieri, but the club opted to add depth and experience. Smith is another low-velocity reliever with a sub-90 mph fastball. He's a ground ball pitcher who benefited from a .214 BABIP last season. He'll earn holds, but his ratios aren't sufficient to merit notice.

 

Salas was once viewed as a closer candidate. His profile was always a stretch for the ninth inning, but there are worse emergency closers in the game. He bounced back from a rough stretch to post 9.36 K/9, 2.15 BB/9, and a 3.38 ERA. With an extreme fly ball profile, he's a dangerous option for holds.

 

Pestano is another fly ball pitcher. The right-hander is a familiar fantasy name from his time with the Indians. His velocity has declined in recent seasons (90 mph), but he remains a useful ROOGY. It's a hard profile for fantasy owners to use.

 

Morin debuted with 8.24 K/9, 2.90 BB/9, and a 2.90 ERA. Those solid numbers hid a critical red flag – his fastballs were mashed. He used a fastball or sinker for 50 percent of his offerings. His slider and changeup were both extremely effective with high whiff rates. Most 23-year-old hurlers reach the majors on a plus fastball and iffy breaking stuff. Morin appears to be the opposite.

 

Rasmus was used as a swingman last year. I assume he'll fill a similar role in 2015. He posted a 2.57 ERA, 9.16 K/9, and 2.73 BB/9. His repertoire was quite effective, which hints at growth potential in either the rotation or bullpen. His changeup was particularly excellent, and his breaking balls were also effective.

 

Other candidates for the bullpen include Cesar Ramos and Cam Bedrosian. You may have noticed a lack of left-handed relievers. Ramos could fill that role. Either way, you can ignore him for fantasy purposes.

 

Bedrosian will possess the hardest fastball in the pen if he makes the club. He throws 95 mph gas, but his slider and change need further refinement. He debuted to a 6.52 ERA, 9.31 K/9, and 5.59 BB/9 in 19 innings. Obviously, he'll have to tighten up the walk rate.

 

Houston Astros

 

Luke Gregerson

Chad Qualls

Pat Neshek

Josh Fields

Tony Sipp

 

The Astros have yet to announce their closer, but it's widely expected to be Gregerson. The free agent import is a soft-tossing righty who splits his offerings between a sinker and a slider. We've seen a similar profile work with Sergio Romo. He consistently induces weak contact. His strikeout rate is a little soft and the job isn't guaranteed to remain his, so don't go overboard when acquiring him.

 

An alternative to Gregerson is Qualls. The righty spent most of 2014 as the Astros' closer. He pitched well when not facing the A's (four blown saves in seven appearances). He's a ground ball specialist who limits free passes. He's an even less impressive option than Gregerson, which is why I think he'll be ousted from the ninth.

 

Theoretically, Neshek is also a part of the closer competition. Prior to his 2014 breakout, Neshek was viewed as a fringy ROOGY. He pitched well against left-handed hitters last year, so there is some room for hope. When you dig a little deeper, he still showed some of the same old flaws against opposite-handed hitters. They were just muted. Be careful relying on him for full inning work.

 

Fields has looked like a possible closer for years, but he hasn't put all the pieces together yet. In 2013, the fly ball pitcher ran into a major home run problem. Last year, he kept the ball in the yard only to see his BABIP soar. If he can maintain luck neutral results with his 11.52 K/9 and 2.80 BB/9 from last year, he could be a great holds pickup. Obviously, he's risky.

 

Sipp is the primary left-handed reliever, although he's useful against both righties and lefties. With a big 11.19 K/9 and 3.02 BB/9, Sipp is another good source for holds. He's a fly ball pitcher, so beware home run friendly stadiums.

 

The remainder of the pen is uncertain at the moment. Jake Buchanan, Kevin Chapman, and Samuel Deduno are options for a long relief role. The remaining spot is probably tabbed for Will Harris or Joe Thatcher. The latter is a typical lefty specialist. Harris actually pitched relatively well for the Diamondbacks over the last two years with a fastball-curve combo. His results seem to outstrip his stuff.

 

Texas Rangers

 

Neftali Feliz

Tanner Scheppers

Kyuji Fujikawa

Shawn Tolleson

Alex Claudio

 

Last year, Feliz posted a 1.99 ERA in 31 innings. It was his first taste of success since 2011 yet there are reasons to be cautious. Since the Rangers aren't contenders, they can afford to give Feliz a long leash. At his best, he featured a 97 mph fastball. While he averaged only 93 mph last season, he worked up to 96 mph in September. His slider was sharp. The changeup was not.

 

Feliz had a ridiculously low .176 BABIP. Over his career he has a similarly ridiculous .215 BABIP. He's doing something to limit quality of contact. Indeed, like Clippard, Feliz induces a crazy quantity of infield flies. His strikeout rate should improve with better velocity, which means he might be a halfway decent closer.

 

Of course, a lot of things can go wrong with someone like Feliz, so you'll want to monitor his backups. Scheppers has the name value, but he's not somebody I take seriously. An elbow injury slowed him down in 2014. He opted for rest and rehab over surgery. Scouts always said he'd be injury prone, so there is reason to be wary. Even a healthy Scheppers wasn't actually that good. His 96 mph fastball wasn't enough to produce a strong strikeout rate. Last year, the heater declined to 94 mph.

 

Fujikawa is the guy who interests me most as a setup man. He was on track to close for the Cubs in 2013 before he landed on the disabled list for ligament replacement surgery. In a brief return last year, Fujikawa showed good peripherals with his four pitch repertoire. A cutter and splitter were his best offerings. He's not a typical closer, but he could get the job done in a pinch.

 

Once upon a time, Tolleson was a semi-interesting Dodgers prospect. He consistently posted big strikeout numbers in the minors without corresponding stuff. He proved himself to be a reliable middle reliever for the Rangers with a 2.76 ERA, 8.67 K/9, and 3.52 BB/9. I have a 20-team, 48 player dynasty league where Tolleson isn't even on the radar. It's probably safe to leave him off your watch list even though there is a chance he becomes useful.

 

The remainder of the Rangers bullpen is in flux. Claudio will probably open the season with the team. He has a unique repertoire – a 85 mph sinker, potent slow change, and a slider. Both offspeed pitches produced very high whiff rates. The sinker did its job, leading to heaps of ground balls. He might factor in for some holds. It's such a weird profile, so I'm keeping my distance.

 

Other names in the mix include Juan Oviedo (the former Leo Nunez), Roman Mendez, Phil Klein, Joe Beimel, and Anthony Ranaudo. If any were to emerge as a fantasy option, I'd put my money on Mendez. With a 95 mph fastball and strong pitch peripherals, he could breakout at any time. He just needs to improve his command and control.

Brad Johnson
You can read more from Brad Johnson on Rotoworld, FanGraphs, and RotoBaller. Find him on Patreon and Twitter @BaseballATeam.