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Ranking the bullpens: 2014 edition

Feb 7, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

Detroit Tigers v Atlanta Braves Getty Images

We tried this with the rotations the other day. Once again, I’ll be dipping into my 2014 projections here to rank the bullpens. To come up with the following bullpen ERAs, I simply combined each team’s seven highest-IP relievers, according to my projections.

Royals – 2.93
Red Sox – 3.14
Athletics – 3.16
Rangers – 3.31
Tigers – 3.35
Rays – 3.36
Blue Jays – 3.39
Twins – 3.40
Mariners – 3.42
Indians – 3.49
Orioles – 3.55
White Sox – 3.58
Angels – 3.58
Yankees – 3.77
Astros – 3.97

– That’s a weaker showing for the Rays than I would have guessed, but they still have excellent depth and a couple of the lesser knowns will surely surprise, as they always do. My projections call for essentially the same ERAs from their 6th-12th relievers.

– The Blue Jays would have come in fourth here had I used both Dustin McGowan and Jeremy Jeffress instead of adding in Esmil Rogers. Rogers, though, seems like the best bet to have a spot.

– Boston comes in second even though it’s big addition, Edward Mujica, has the worst projected ERA of its seven relievers. However, Ryan Dempster is still projected as a starter for these purposes and would bring the group down a bit if he starts off in the pen.

– I assume the Yankees will add a veteran reliever prior to Opening Day. Even so, that ranking isn’t going up at all with such a big gap to the White Sox and Angels.

Dodgers – 3.07
Braves – 3.16
Cardinals – 3.19
Giants – 3.24
Reds – 3.29
Diamondbacks – 3.29
Nationals – 3.31
Padres – 3.31
Marlins – 3.38
Pirates – 3.42
Brewers – 3.50
Mets – 3.59
Cubs – 3.59
Phillies – 3.61
Rockies – 3.79

– The Pirates’ ranking here is getting dragged down by Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro, who are both projected to throw more innings than the top guys in their pen. They’ll be higher in the subjective rankings.

– The Cardinals are kind of an odd case, given that I have both Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez projected to open up in the pen but also spend some time in the rotation. The only three pitchers I have on the team in that typical 60-, 70-inning range are Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness. So, the depth is in question. On the other hand, a Jason Motte-Martinez-Rosenthal combo has the potential to be the best in the majors in the late innings, depending on how things shake out.

Here’s my ranking, 1-30, along with the top three ERAs from each team:

1. Royals (Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar)
2. Athletics (Sean Doolittle, Danny Otero, Ryan Cook)
3. Dodgers (Kenley Jansen, Paco Rodriguez, J.P. Howell)
4. Braves (Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden)
5. Red Sox (Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller)
6. Cardinals (Trevor Rosenthal, Randy Choate, Kevin Siegrist)
7. Rays (Jake McGee, Grant Balfour, Joel Peralta)
8. Pirates (Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli, Tony Watson)
9. Diamondbacks (Brad Ziegler, J.J. Putz, David Hernandez)
10. Reds (Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall, Sam LeCure)
11. Rangers (Neal Cotts, Tanner Scheppers, Neftali Feliz)
12. Blue Jays (Aaron Loup, Sergio Santos, Casey Janssen)
13. Nationals (Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano)
14. Giants (Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jean Machi)
15. Tigers (Al Alburquerque, Joe Nathan, Bruce Rondon)
16. Twins (Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Casey Fein)
17. Padres (Joaquin Benoit, Alex Torres, Nick Vincent)
18. Indians (Cody Allen, Josh Outman, Marc Rzepczynski)
19. Mariners (Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina, Fernando Rodney)
20. Marlins (Steve Cishek, Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos)
21. Rockies (Rex Brothers, Boone Logan, Wilton Lopez)
22. Orioles (Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter)
23. Brewers (Brandon Kintzler, Will Smith, Jim Henderson)
24. Angels (Ernesto Frieri, Joe Smith, Dane De La Rosa)
25. White Sox (Nate Jones, Scott Downs, Daniel Webb)
26. Cubs (Pedro Strop, Wesley Wright, Blake Parker)
27. Mets (Bobby Parnell, Gonzalez Germen, Josh Edgin)
28. Yankees (David Robertson, Preston Claiborne, Shawn Kelley)
29. Phillies (Jake Diekman, Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo)
30. Astros (Jesse Crain, Chia-Jen Lo, Josh Fields)

– The Royals are an easy No. 1 in my mind. Not only do they have the elite closer in Greg Holland, but all seven of their relievers have ERAs under 3.40 in my projections. Even if they take away from the group by sticking either Wade Davis or Luke Hochevar back in the rotation, they’d still take the top spot, though that would narrow the gap considerably.

– Even though they seemed to be in pretty good shape anyway, the A’s added $15 million in relievers in the form of Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson. I still have the incumbents (Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Danny Otero) with the best ERAs of the group.

– The Mariners were set to be ranked 21st before the Fernando Rodney signing.

  1. happytwinsfan - Feb 7, 2014 at 9:08 AM

    finally, a ranking thing where the twins aren’t near or at the bottom. spring is nigh!

    • kopy - Feb 7, 2014 at 10:16 AM

      The Twins got the rest of the league right where we want them, because we’re going to be using that adequate bullpen a LOT this year!

      • happytwinsfan - Feb 7, 2014 at 10:22 AM

        YEAH! they got us surrounded. the poor bastards.

  2. unclemosesgreen - Feb 7, 2014 at 9:11 AM

    It was nice to see Mark Melancon regain the power to get outs once he left Boston.

  3. cur'68 - Feb 7, 2014 at 9:11 AM

    Did you rank them last season, Matthew? if so, how did that work out?

    • happytwinsfan - Feb 7, 2014 at 9:19 AM

      we want a ranking of the rankings. nate silver come home!

    • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 7, 2014 at 11:45 AM

      No, I think this is the first time with the bullpens. I did the rotations a couple of times previously.

      No one here was interested the time I tried doing projection reviews. I leave those for Rotoworld now.

      • gloccamorra - Feb 7, 2014 at 12:46 PM

        What do you mean, no one here was interested? We eat this stuff for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and sometimes wake up in the middle of the night for a snack. You must have caught us while we were in the bathroom.

  4. cackalackyank - Feb 7, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    No big surprise for me here. Could you e-mail this to Brian Cashman please? There was no way to replace Mo, but the near total lack of attention to the pen is, I think, a potentially more lethal problem than the 2B/3B mess. It doesn’t help that outside of trading there really isn’t a reliever left out there worth having.

    • Francisco (FC) - Feb 7, 2014 at 9:49 AM

      Well I’m sure Cashman is checking out Ryan Madson.

  5. sdelmonte - Feb 7, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    if Parnell is healthy – a huge if – and if Vic Black’s upside is what I think it is, the Mets might do better than 27th. But the 6th and 7th innings will continue to be an adventure.

  6. pastabelly - Feb 7, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    Breslow will be ahead of Miller in Boston.

    • Jack Marshall - Feb 8, 2014 at 2:52 PM


  7. Old Gator - Feb 7, 2014 at 9:32 AM

    Matthew, did you rank those boolpens before or after the Feesh signed Marmol?

    • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 7, 2014 at 11:43 AM

      They were 7th before they signed Marmol.

      • NatsLady - Feb 7, 2014 at 12:17 PM

        7th before they signed Marmol and 20th after they signed him? Sounds about right.

      • 78mu - Feb 7, 2014 at 9:51 PM

        7th before and 20th after?

        Sounds like someone is overvaluing Marmol. There are still 10 teams below the Marlins.

  8. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Feb 7, 2014 at 9:54 AM

    Really a shock to see the Orioles bullpen go from one of the best 2-3 in the league two years ago to 22nd this year with what is primarily the same staff. I know they gave away Johnson, and that thinned them out some, but that really shouldn’t have dropped them that low. In fact, the one move they did make this year was to add a quality mid-relief pitcher. I believe they will perform much better than 22nd. The real question is will the starting pitching be so terrible again this year that the bullpen gets burned out in the second month of the season.

  9. jcmeyer10 - Feb 7, 2014 at 10:00 AM

    I just hope Koji doesn’t regress too far. I wear Sox colored glasses but just can’t think he will go as bonkers as he did last year.

    I know he won’t regress on featuring the cat face in his tweets so we are all set there.

  10. natstowngreg - Feb 7, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    The Nats’ middle-of-the-pack ranking seems about right. The team’s problems, from April through the first week in August, had many causes, but the bullpen was right up there (or down there, depending on one’s perspective).

    Reasons for optimism (why the Nats could be better than 13th):
    — Jerry Blevins gives them a solid, experienced lefty setup guy.
    — Hopefully, Drew Storen (if not traded) will pitch like he did after his remedial trip to Syracuse.
    — Xavier Cedeno did some good work late in the season, and could be a good second lefty.
    — A couple of losers in the 5th starter race (Ross Detwiler, Ross Ohlendorf, Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan) could make good long men. Though more likely, Roark and/or Jordan would start at Syracuse.
    — There are still arms out there who could be added to make the bullpen stronger.

    Concerns (why they may not):
    — They won’t be in the top tier of bullpens with Soriano as closer. He blows too many saves.
    — I worry a little about Stammen (and, to a lesser extent, Clippard) wearing down from overuse. It’s happened before. Especially Stammen, who has been among the leaders in relief innings. Clippard was overused and faltered late in the 2012 season. I could see something similar for Stammen, if Williams isn’t careful.
    — Don’t know if Ryan Mattheus can return to being a good middle reliever.

  11. kcrobert10 - Feb 7, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    Go royals world series baby world series. I think the bullpen numbers for us will come down a bit with the lose of Santanas innings. I like Duffy and Venturas potential but neither has a pension yet for going deep into games.

  12. proudlycanadian - Feb 7, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    I expect that McGowan and Jeffress have a better chance to stick in the Jay’s pen than Rogers. If Rogers does not make the rotation, he will probably be traded or sent to the minors.

  13. tcostant - Feb 7, 2014 at 10:18 AM

    Interesting on the Nationals (Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano) you list Craig Stammen over Drew Storen. Why?

    • tcostant - Feb 7, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      Never mind – top 3 ERA’s in the pen. I guess I need to READ the post. Sorry

  14. cohnjusack - Feb 7, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    Fun fact:

    Kevin Siegrist’s 0.45 ERA was the lowest by a pitcher with at least 30 innings pitched since Buck O’Brien in 1911.

    Granted, ERA isn’t the best way to judge relief pitchers and there is no way in hell that’s repeatable…but it’s a damn fun little statistical factoid that I enjoy very much.

  15. The Rabbit - Feb 7, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    ERA is probably a fair method to compare bullpens over a long season, but doesn’t really tell the whole story about bullpen effectiveness. After all, the RP’s ERA doesn’t suffer if he allows inherited runners score.
    Not a criticism..I know you know more about this than I do, Matthew.
    Are there rankings available that include inherited runners scoring and maybe WHIP in combination with ERA?

    • jcmeyer10 - Feb 7, 2014 at 12:33 PM

      That’s a good point. Just because he didn’t put him there doesn’t mean he didn’t allow him to score. To further your point, you’d be best to adjust by situation.

      RP comes on with man on third with 0-1 outs and a simple sac fly scores the runner that’s one thing. The RP comes on with a man on first and 2 outs and the runner scores, that’s another.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 7, 2014 at 1:15 PM

      Right. I’m not getting too complicated with it. ERA is easy for me to do with the projections, but it’s not the best measure of a bullpen. The bullpens and rotations are intertwined enough that even trying to rank one without the other isn’t exactly fair.

      • jcmeyer10 - Feb 7, 2014 at 2:30 PM

        Oh for sure. It’s just an interesting idea. It would just be cool to see what bullpens are the best at not letting ANY runs score.

  16. gloccamorra - Feb 7, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    Is Huston Street the only closer not listed as one of the lowest 3 ERAs?

    • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 7, 2014 at 1:21 PM

      A’s (Johnson), Diamondbacks (Reed), Indians (Axford), Padres (Street), Rockies (Hawkins) and Cubs (Veras) don’t have their probable closers in the top three. And the Rangers could pick Soria over Feliz and Scheppers. Also, the Astros will probably start off with Qualls closing.

      If I were actually ranking the relievers there by quality instead of just ERA, some of those guys would be listed. The Indians, for example: I have the lefties Outman and Rzep ahead of Axford, but I wouldn’t really say they’re better pitchers. They should be used in a fashion that helps them post lower ERAs.

  17. historiophiliac - Feb 7, 2014 at 2:00 PM

    I seriously hope the Tigers set a record this year for most innings pitched by starters. Everybody does at least 8!

    • unclemosesgreen - Feb 7, 2014 at 2:33 PM

      Detroit’s relief corps is projected to be roughly 10x better than it was last year.

  18. yordo - Feb 7, 2014 at 4:06 PM

    No one uses ERA to evaluate anymore.

  19. musketmaniac - Feb 7, 2014 at 5:21 PM

    love to see Black to do well in N.y. A few idiot sports writers in Pittsburgh tried to put a negative spin on him once we traded him. I think he has a big upside and is real close.

  20. musketmaniac - Feb 7, 2014 at 5:30 PM

    But I don’t get your math. You say jenmar and mazzaro extra innings raise our era up. mazzara era was 2.81 and jenmar 3.35. of our top 7 returning only 2 had era above 3.0. And your eye test ranks us as eighth. your confused, Matthew get some rest

  21. Kevin Gillman - Feb 7, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    Matt, you might seriously be underestimating the Indians bullpen. Especially if Vinnie Pestano can become that dominating setup guy he was between 2010-2012. WBC clearly hurt him, as he was injured in the early part of the year, and his velocity wasn’t the same all season long. But he can easily be that guy again, and if he does, the Indians can have a very underrated back end of the bullpen.

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