We’re just one week from the start of the regular season, and All Star closer Craig Kimbrel remains without a team. Nor are there any substantive rumors of a match. Per reports, the Nationals and Braves are out. The Red Sox remain stubbornly opposed to incurring a larger tax bill, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they eventually inked Bud Norris or Ryan Madson on a cheap contract.
While we await an eventually landing spot for these notable relievers, it’s time to conclude our division-by-division bullpen reviews. We’ve already covered the NL East, AL East, NL Central, AL Central, and NL West. There’s also a high-level look at every bullpen via the All Bullpen Audit. Let’s wrap it up with the AL West.
As always, I welcome any and all criticism or suggestions. Think I missed somebody? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @BaseballATeam.
The 2018 Astros bullpen was one of the strongest in the league. Despite some notable losses, they figure to finish among the top five yet again. Tony Sipp, Collin McHugh, and Brad Peacock were big contributors to the middle innings. Sipp is a free agent while McHugh and Peacock are likely to rejoin the rotation. Peacock may slide back into relief later in the year if and when Josh James and Forrest Whitley are deemed ready.
Osuna, a consensus top 10 closer, is coming off a slightly odd season in which he induced only 7.58 K/9 despite a 14.7 swinging strike rate. To put that in perspective, Felipe Vazquez posted 11.44 K/9 on the same swinging strike rate. Osuna lives perhaps a little too predictably within the strike zone. He’s reportedly working on a Marcus Stroman-inspired sinker which would only increase his pitch-to-contact profile. Osuna is just one year removed from a 11.67 K/9 rate so we shouldn’t worry about 2018. For now, it’s just a curiosity.
If you really want to find cause to fret about Osuna, take a gander at Ryan Pressly’s performance as an Astro. He posted 12.34 K/9, 1.16 BB/9, 0.77 ERA, and 0.60 WHIP with a 60.4 percent ground ball rate and 17.0 percent swinging strike rate. In brief, he was the third or fourth best reliever in the game – right in the mix with Josh Hader, Edwin Diaz, and Blake Treinen. Before getting too bullish, let’s recall we’re talking about a 23.1 inning sample. Pressly was fantastic with the Twins too, but not quite on the same level. It’s possible he’s a better reliever than Osuna. If we ignore saves, then they both rank in my personal top 10. The Astros have a quick trigger finger when it comes to promoting new closers so keep an eye on Pressly if Osuna is slumping.
Rondon and Harris are perfect examples of Houston’s impatience with underperforming closers. On numerous occasions, former Astros closer Ken Giles lost his job to Rondon, Harris, and others. They in turn lost the job once they began to scuffle. Although saves are probably out of reach, Rondon and Harris will both return over 10.00 K/9 with a healthy holds total.
Devenski’s heavy usage in 2016 and 2017 appeared to catch up to him last season. He worked only 47.1 innings in 50 appearances after a couple years of frequent, multi-inning outings. He may be in line to reclaim that multi-inning role now that McHugh and Peacock are back to starting. Smith is a solid veteran righty with some brief closing experience. He might be a streamable source of holds. Perez is the only southpaw in the bullpen. Assuming he loses the rotation battle with Peacock, Framber Valdez could make the club as a second lefty. Valdez leans on a heavy ground ball rate and pitch-to-contact approach. He’s like a below average command version of Dallas Keuchel.
The Athletics can thank their bullpen for helping the club to the postseason in 2018. While many of their relievers are not among the most celebrated in the league, the entire unit is effective. That starts with Treinen who worked a hefty 80.1 innings over 68 appearances. His 97 mph bowling ball sinker and increased command of his slider led to 11.20 K/9, 2.35 BB/9, 0.78 ERA, and 0.83 WHIP. In past seasons, Treinen has been prone to command-related funks. It will be interesting to see if that’s a thing of the past or if he merely managed to avoid a slump in 2018. Heavy workloads could catch up to him too. Even with a couple modest red flags, Treinen is an elite reliever.
If something were to happen to Treinen, Soria has plenty of closing experience. He should be an affordable but desirable target in holds leagues due to his consistent performance in over a decade of work. He’ll typically post over a strikeout per inning with a better than average ERA and WHIP. Trivino is comparably interesting after posting 9.97 K/9 and 2.92 ERA on the strength of a 98 mph fastball, 98 mph sinker, and frequently used 92 mph cutter. He’ll surprise hitters with a rare curve. There’s scope for a breakout with further refinement of his repertoire.
Beyond the top three, the unit features a deep pool of good-not-great candidates. Veterans Petit and Rodney figure to have a firm grasp on an Opening Day role by virtue of experience. Petit usually works in a multi-inning role while posting good ERA and WHIP. Rodney is probably too frustrating to use if he’s not accruing saves. Buchter is a double specialist. The southpaw is mostly used against lefties and induces a high fly ball rate. He could be useful for holds.
It’s difficult to predict who will round out the rest of the Opening Day relief corps. Liam Hendriks and Ryan Dull are familiar names in Oakland, but their performance last season was unexceptional. J.B. Wendelken pitched well. However, he can be optioned to the minors which hurts his bid for a job. Jerry Blevins, Tyler Alexander, and Kyle Crockett are non-roster invitees competing for a second lefty specialist role. Starters like Chris Bassitt, Jharel Cotton, and Daniel Mengden could also land in the bullpen.