Brad Johnson

Saves and Steals

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Bullpen Review: NL East

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


Baseball is coming. Despite over a dozen quality relievers - and plenty of other position players - waiting in free agency, Spring Training is just around the corner. Last week, we kicked off our detailed closer coverage with a high level All Bullpen Review. Now it's time for deep dives. Let's begin with the National League East.

 

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

 

Washington Nationals

 

Sean Doolittle

Ryan Madson

Brandon Kintzler

Koda Glover

Enny Romero

Shawn Kelley

 

The Nationals rebuilt their crumbling bullpen with a couple mid-season trades. Doolittle and Madson came as a packaged deal. The lefty-righty combo both performed superbly upon landing in the nation's capital. Doolittle is a unique reliever. He leans on the high heat over 87 percent of the time. The pitch induces whiffs and plenty of easy fly outs. He'll mix in a rare slider, changeup, or splitter to catch hitters off guard. Even with a predictable repertoire, he's able to frequently throw strikes (1.75 BB/9) without any ill effects. He has a history of shoulder injuries so you may want to roster a handcuff.

 

The handcuff to own is Madson. The former closer out-pitched Doolittle last season despite losing the closer job over the previous winter. Now entering his age 37 season, he combines a high whiff rate and few walks with a 55 percent ground ball rate. Madson has four plus offerings, making him a rare species of reliever. Don't be surprised if the righty squeezes ahead of Doolittle on the depth chart.

 

Kintzler is an effective ground ball specialist. Although he spent parts of two seasons closing for the Twins, he's best suited to a middle relief role. Once he joined the Nationals, he had some issues with his sinker movement. It's probably why he re-signed so cheaply with Washington this winter. Assuming he gets back on track, he'll be a valuable weapon. Even the lesser version of Kintzler was useful. His low strikeout rate hurts his value in most leagues.

 

The future of the Nationals bullpen is Glover. His stuff is so visibility delicious, and yet he posted a 5.12 ERA with only 7.91 K/9. I suspect he's working a little to predictably within the strike zone. One thing to watch is his strand rate – in a tiny sample, he's really struggled with runners on base. It could be a fluke or an early warning sign. Much of the damage against Glover occurred against his changeup and curve ball. Both are show-me offerings. His fastball is effective despite a low whiff rate while his slider is flat out unfair. He has some adjustments to make before returning to the late innings.

 

Romero is a weird left-handed reliever. He stymies right-handed hitters while fellow southpaws tee off. There's no obvious explanation for his reverse splits. Batters crushed his cutter last season. He should strongly consider retiring the pitch. Kelley, a slider specialist, had a disaster of a season. His fastball was destroyed to the tune of a .323 average and .785 slugging percentage. Still, he has a long track record of success. A healthy return could lead to holds with useful rate stats.

 

Southpaws Matt Grace and Sammy Solis figure to vie for a role – especially since Doolittle is the closer and Romero has those reverse platoon splits. Hard thrower Trevor Gott will eventually receive another chance to deliver on his upside. Don't hold your breath.

 

New York Mets

 

Jeurys Familia

A.J. Ramos

Anthony Swarzak

Paul Sewald

Jerry Blevins

Hansel Robles

 

For the moment, Familia has a loose grasp on the closer role. He missed big chunks of the 2017 season for a domestic violence suspension and a blood clot. When he pitched, he combined his typical velocity, strikeout rate, and bulky ground ball rate. Unfortunately, he also had some issues with walks (5.47 BB/9). The result was a 4.38 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. Not fantasy friendly. Since the rest of his stuff remains present, better command would presage a rebound to his sterling 2015 to 2016 production. He has a chance to massively outperform his ADP.

 

The Mets have two backup closers just in case Familia falters. Long time readers of the column probably know exactly what I have to say about Ramos. He features a below average quality fastball with a double-plus changeup and plus slider. He'll typically use those offerings as often as his fastball. He tinkered with some alternatives last year, but they performed horrifically. Even without a useful fastball, his offspeed stuff is good enough close. Over his career, he has 99 saves and a 2.88 ERA.

 

Swarzak was a surprise breakout for the White Sox and Brewers in his age 31 season. He shifted to throwing more sliders than fastballs in 2016. Apparently, it took him a year to adapt to his new pitch usage. Neither of Swarzak's pitches are particularly impressive. Instead, he relies on above average command to keep hitters swinging at offerings outside of the strike zone. He's valuable in holds leagues and could potentially snipe some saves.

 

Blevins is also useful for holds leagues. The lefty specialist typically produces a high strikeout rate, a sub-3.00 ERA, and appears in over 70 games. He'll only supply about 45 innings because he doesn't face many right-handed hitters. Sewald and Robles will probably open the season in the 'pen. Both are middle relievers. Robles has some small potential for a breakout. I think he needs to scrap the slider for a curve ball.

 

Rafael Montero is the odds-on favorite to fill a long reliever role. It's also possible the club will need to stash as many as two of Seth Lugo, Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman, and Steven Matz in the bullpen.

 


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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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