Hello friends. Hopefully you're finding a way to enjoy your Memorial Day. Ah, that means it's Monday and I'm going to rank something. Unfortunately it's not going to be the ol' "hey, we're two months into the MLB season and we can start to try and draw some conclusions" power rankings. Though it must be said, the Nationals were terrible at this point last year and turnarounds can happen (that shout-out was to you, my Nationals-aligned Twitter followers, who are excellent!).
I need to rank something.
I got it! I'm fully confident there is going to be a 2020 MLB season and also that it's going to look unlike any other season we've ever seen. Part of that will be a very short ramp-up, second "spring" training. My hunch is it could be as short as two weeks. The position players will be fine. The starting pitchers, however, won't have time to get stretched out to go more than a few innings at the start of the year. As such, the bullpens -- with expanded rosters for extra relievers, mind you -- will take on increased importance early in the season.
So let's rank the teams best suited for a bullpen game. That's essentially what it's likely going to be for the first several weeks of the season and, with a shortened schedule, that matters even more.
Our guiding light here is depth. Having a strong back-end with little depth (sorry now, Nats fans!) isn't quite as helpful as the teams with a long assembly line of quality relievers. Bonus points for teams who have been doing bullpen games already for the last several years (hello Rays and A's). The manager/coaching staff matters, too. I have so much confidence in the Indians due to how often they bring up pitchers who find immediate success, for example. Their system is excellent.
Let's get to it.
|The Rays have been using an "opener" for years and have had good success, for the most part, in doing so. They don't really have star power in the bullpen, but they led all bullpens in Fangraphs' WAR last season. The depth and volume of work are why. There is no franchise smarter in deploying relievers and it'll give them a nice boost early in the season.|
|Very similar to the Rays, and we could basically have had a co-number 1.Liam Hendriks pitched like a star last season, and I greatly trust Bob Melvin.|
|Here's your star power. Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton have been Cy Young contenders in past years. The Yankees have lots of depth and relievers who can carry multi-inning loads, too. Also, Aaron Boone has been one of my favorites with his bullpen management these past few years.|
|Kenley Jansen isn't what he used to be, but the Dodgers have so much organizational depth. I loved them buying low on Blake Treinen. Also, these are regular season rankings, so Dave Roberts is a plus.|
|They have been shedding depth these last few years from when they were a bullpen juggernaut, but there is no manager I trust more than Terry Francona.|
|Rocco Baldelli was masterful in his first year, especially in light of having to juggle through struggles from relievers like Blake Parker. I only expect him to get better and I love the three Ts (Taylor Rogers, Trevor May and Tyler Duffey).|
|With the shape of their rotation, the shutdown helps the Brewers more than most teams. The bullpen has been a strength for years and Craig Counsell is brilliant in how he deploys it. They aren't quite as deep as they were in 2018, though. I also wonder about the workload catching up to Josh Hader with his throwing motion -- but, again, the shutdown helps matters there.|
|They lose Carlos Martinez to the rotation, but there's great depth here. How much longer can Andrew Miller hold on? How will John Brebbia or Giovanny Gallegos react as closer? Will we see Jordan Hicks this year? There's big upside along with the questions. One non-question: Yadier Molina is handling things from behind the plate.|
|Kirby Yates had some stupid stats last season. I like the additions of Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan. They have good prospect depth and maybe that comes into play without the minors this season?|
|The Astros were eighth in Fangraphs' WAR last season among bullpens, but they lost Will Harris and Hector Rondon. Also, it pains me to say it since I love Dusty Baker, but going from A.J. Hinch to him is a downgrade.|
|Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen and Amir Garrett is quite the power trio at the back end. Does Pedro Strop have anything left?|
|Here's another team with little star power in the bullpen but a lot of good depth. Alex Cora was an amazing game manager, but now they've downgraded. They could be aided by a shortened season because the rotation is awful.|
|Welcome back, Merrill Kelly! His stuff will play better in the bullpen. Also, if you aren't familiar, check out Kevin Ginkel.|
|Edwin Diaz has to bounce back from a catastrophic season. I like the Dellin Betances addition, too.|
|No team has more question marks in this exercise. We have no idea how well David Ross will manage a bullpen. Is Craig Kimbrel washed up or will he bounce back? How will Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck hold up with an extended look? Jeremy Jeffress? Alec Mills? Your guess is as good as mine.|
|Steve Cishek is exactly the kind of change-of-pace guy who will be effective in the early innings of bullpen games, especially wedged between two power arms. Aaron Bummer is an excellent number two for Alex Colome, too.|
|The Nationals are so reliant on starting pitchers that they used a starter in relief eight different times in the 2019 playoffs. The only outside addition was Will Harris. It's a great addition, but Daniel Hudson, Sean Doolittle and Harris can only do so much.|
|Problems with the bullpen might've cost the Braves a chance at a World Series title last season. Does the addition of Will Smith change all that much?|
|Quietly, Ken Giles is coming off his best season. He struck out 83 hitters in 53 innings with a 1.87 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. He's doing a lot of heavy lifting here, though.|
|There are a lot of question marks here and Joe Maddon last season was bad at dealing with his Cubs' bullpen (that was banged up and full of question marks). I think he's a net positive, but it could still be a difficult situation.|
|Interesting twist here: I think the short workloads early in the season make Drew Smyly and Kevin Gausman more effective in the rotation. I still like Tony Watson, but losing Will Smith hurts and Gabe Kapler hasn't been great at bullpen management to this point.|
|Here's a team hurt pretty well by an increased reliance on the bullpen. They needed heavy workloads from Mike Minor and Lance Lynn -- while hoping Corey Kluber could also take one more -- in order to avoid exposing a thin bullpen.|
|The Return of the Binder in Joe Girardi's first MLB season since 2017?|
|A shift in organizational philosophy this past offseason is going to help, but the personnel has to be there for a full turnaround.|
|Since the end of the 2019 season, the Marlins have added five relievers via trade, free agency and the Rule 5 draft. We can't be sure if the likes of Brandon Kintzler and Brad Boxberger move the needle, but it was good to see the Marlins shake things up.|
|Wade Davis. Jake McGee. Bryan Shaw. It's not like we can blame the front office for not trying, I guess.|
|Remember when the Royals' bullpen was amazing? It posted a 5.07 ERA last season. I'm not sure what's left of Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal shores this place up.|
|You know what's a fun pitch? Yoshihisa Hirano's splitter.|
|Remember, there was a time less than a decade ago when the Tigers were awesome.|
|Last season the Orioles had five pitchers appear in at least 50 games. Their ERAs were 4.57, 4.66, 5.34, 5.37 and 5.13, respectively.|