Fantasy Baseball: The best and worst bullpens, and where you can speculate on saves

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We are a month into the season and it is an appropriate time to look at how teams' bullpens have been performing thus far. Above is the per inning ranking for all 30 bullpens up to this date based on my ADREIP metric. Essentially, we're looking at how many runs per inning a bullpen saves adjusted for the leverage of a given situation — you can read more about this metric and it's uses here, and see the results here.

A few interesting points emerge the Astros pen unsurprisingly is dominant, with Ryan Pressley and Roberto Osuna making up a filthy back end tandem. That situation seems steady, so don't expect anything to change.

The next three teams are pretty surprising. The Giants have a significant amount of talent in their pen supporting a terrible team. Will Smith has been electric and will likely get traded at some point this season. That means a new closer will emerge, making this an interesting pen to monitor as the season progresses. Mark Melancon has quietly been excellent and looks like he may have regained his old form. If Smith is moved I expect Melancon to step into the closer role.

Despite a miserable start to the year from Andrew Miller the Cardinals have a strong pen headlined by Jordan Hicks but supplemented by John Brebbia and John Gant who have both been excellent in over 15 innings out of the pen.

At the bottom we see three contenders and two teams amid a rebuild. The Royals and Marlins pens have been terrible which was to be expected. Keep an eye on these as they could be cheap saves sources going forward. Nick Anderson and Tyler Kinney have been the best performers thus far for the Marlins, while Ian Kennedy and Scott Barlow have been leading the Royals. I am a fan of Barlow and think he is a guy to keep an eye out for. The team has already given him one save opportunity this year; I think more could be coming soon.

The Cubs, Mets, and Nationals are all contenders who have been getting killed by their pens. Outside of Edwin Diaz, no Met is performing well. And due to the team's publicized reluctance to use Diaz for more than one inning at a time, they will need to shore up their pen. Seth Lugo and Jeurys Familia have track records of success but have not been living up to that this season so it will be interesting to see when I run the initial xADREIP numbers this weekend if they have any major issues in their underlying numbers.

Similarly, the Nationals are getting no help from anyone other than Sean Doolittle, who continues to be the most underrated dominant reliever in baseball. The rest of the pen has been awful, headlined by Trevor Rosenthal who looks to have lost all control of his fastball in returning from Tommy John. This team needs help and fast and I fully expect them to once again be active on the trade market. If Doolittle goes down with an injury, it's not clear who they would turn to. 

Lastly, we have the Cubs who have actually been decent but are being dragged down by some bad individual numbers, mainly Carl Edwards Jr. Pedro Strop and Brandon Kintzler have both been solid and eventually Brandon Morrow will return and could add some more depth to the pen.

Speculative possibilities

As Fantasy players, the best we can do early in the season is try to speculate and find some potential weak spots amid weak performing pens. As I mentioned before the Marlins and Royals are decent places to begin speculating, and another great spot in the Mariners. They have featured a revolving door at closer thus far, but they have a clear three headed monster that has emerged. Anthony Swarzak, Chasen Bradford, and Brandon Brenna have been excellent thus far, Brennan, a Rule 5 pick, leading the way. Brenna has an insane 16% swinging strike rate and solid control. He could ascend into the closer role soon but even if he doesn't, he should provide tons of k's and solid ratios and is a decent option especially in holds leagues.

The Angels have already announced that Cody Allen has lost the closer's job after a poor start leaving it open for someone to take. The top options are Hansel Robles and Ty Buttrey. Buttrey was excellent as a rookie, while Robles has had some ups and downs in his career. Robles has some impressive K/BB numbers thus far but Buttrey is the better pitcher and may be the better option in the long run. Prioritize him in pickups, even he hasn't been used in a traditional closer role yet. He did blow the save on Wednesday, but he was asked to throw over two innings. The Angels may prefer him as a fireman of sorts instead of a traditional closer, so that will need to be monitored as the next few days unfold. A sleeper I like here is Taylor Cole who looked even better than Buttrey in 2018 but is currently in AAA. Keep an eye on Cole as the season goes on. He is a favorite of my model.

Jose Leclerc has also struggled mightily, though the Rangers have publicly defended him. But now might be a good time to start the speculation on other options relievers. Thus far Shawn Kelley has been the best reliever in baseball, results wise and has a track record of wipe-out stuff. He was terrible in 2017 and bounced back last season, and has shown a small improvement in his swinging strike rate back to his dominant days. And, he has not walked a batter yet. He may be a cheap speculative pickup if the Rangers decide to move Leclerc back to some lower leverage roles to get his confidence back.  

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