When looking at relief pitchers and closers, there is a lot more than what meets the eye. The Orioles bullpen is a perfect example. 2012, they were one of the best in MLB history, with the statistic from one-run games to back that up.
In 2013, they led the majors in blown saves, which is one of the reasons why former closer Jim Johnson is now in Oakland. The rest of the bullpen was kind of shaky as well. And such is life in the bullpen. Unless your name is Mariano Rivera, who of course is now retired, consistency doesn’t always occur.
Because of that, ranking the bullpen and closers is mainly going to focus on the closer spot. However, I will briefly touch on the depth of the bullpen, especially if I feel two teams closer situation is near equal.
Speaking of closers, there is only one closer in the AL East for 2014 who spent the entire season in 2013 as the closer. So there has certainly been a lot of turnover at the position. But he won’t rank number one in this list.
1. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have the best closer in the division. Koji is a pitcher who works fast, does not leave up many home runs and rarely walks anyone. He is a guy who does not get fans anxious when he comes into the game to close. His insanely good 1.09 ERA of 2013 and WHIP of 0.565 will not be duplicated, but Koji is a very good pitcher over his five years in the Majors. A career 2.42 pitcher with a low WHIP of .829, he could end up one of the best closers in the league. The one question the Red Sox must deal with is how often he can pitch. He is a guy who had a few stamina issues back when he was for Baltimore, so it will be worth keeping an eye on. But if can’t close, Mujica is a very skilled candidate after last year filling in at closer for the St. Louis Cardinals, and there are several other guys in the bullpen who have been there for quite awhile.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
If you were grading an entire bullpen, the Jays would be right up there with Boston. Delabar was an All-Star last year despite being a 7th-inning reliever. Janssen was firmly entrenched as the Jays closer last year, and did quite a good job, racking up a 4-1 record with 34 saves. Janssen is not a strike out pitcher, but he also does not leave up many hits, leaving up 39 in 52.2 innings in 2013. He has had a WHIP under 1 for the last two years, and is a very solid option at closer for Toronto.
3. Tampa Bay Rays
Grant Balfour…thought to be an Oriole, now back as a Ray. The flamboyant former Oakland A’s closer has spent less than two full seasons as a closer, something he has in common with Janssen, which gives him more closing experience than Uehara. Balfour was an All-Star last year for Oakland, going 1-3 with 38 saves and a 2.59 ERA and a WHIP of 1.159. Look at the numbers, his numbers are no better than Janssen’s. And I think he is due regression, because I can’t believe he is only going to get better at age 36. And the rest of the Rays bullpen, there are certainly a lot of question marks. Which Heath Bell are you getting, the one who was an All-Star closer three years ago, or the one who has struggled mightily the past two years. And McGee’s numbers aren’t horrible, but I always remember the Orioles destroying him about every time they face them.
4. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles bullpen I would stack up against any other in the AL East because of their depth. O’Day has been a set-up man for a few years now. Webb was a very good reliever for the awful Marlins, and Matusz gets lefties out with the best of them, as he just struck out David Ortiz again. However, Patton will start the season on the restricted list, former All-Star Meek is trying to regain major-league form, and Tommy Hunter only has four saves in his career. And because of that, they end up fourth on the list. The converted starter, Hunter closed four games last year during Jim Johnson’s struggles. As a reliever he can blow his fastball by hitters at 98 or 99 MPH, but the big concern is his issues leaving up home runs. The numbers are skewed a bit because of his starter past, but Hunter leaves up a lot of home runs, something you can’t do as a closer in a one-run game. But, the Orioles hope that he can keep the ball down, and he will be their primary closer, although Buck Showalter may also look at matchups as well.
5. New York Yankees
David Robertson has big shoes to fill, probably the biggest a reliever has ever had to fill. That alone is a lot of pressure. And Robertson is a very good pitcher, but he only has 8 career saves himself. Robertson gets a lot of strike outs, but also leaves up a large number of walks for a reliever. With a career .276 ERA, he should be fine as a closer. My concern isn’t about him. How in the world are the Yankees going to get the ball to him with the relievers in front of him? Yes, Betances has been very good this spring. But none of those names is striking fear into anyone. The Yankees’ bullpen has been a strength for so long, but this year it could be a glaring weakness.