AL East 2015: Ranking the Relief Pitching


Oct 9, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitchers prepare for a photo shoot in the bullpen during workouts the day before game one of the 2014 ALCS against the Kansas City Royals at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

My last set of rankings looks at a group of pitchers that are often overlooked, relief pitching.  However, not every team has five aces, and when you pitch in the AL East, you need good relief pitching. And, for the most part each team has it.

Some teams, like the New York Yankees, have a filthy back-end of the bullpen.  Others, like the Toronto Blue Jays, have a very consistent group across the board. And this makes it hard to compare.

So I determined that I would rank the closers, setup men, middle relievers, and then the bullpen depth.  While I won’t break each of those roles down into separate posts, I will display my rankings when listing the team.

As always, if you want to see my rankings for all of the other positions, click for catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field, right field, designated hitter, and starting pitching.

1. Baltimore Orioles (third best closer, best set up, second best middle, best depth) – Zach Britton (Closer), Darren O’Day (Setup), Tommy Hunter (Setup), Brian Matusz, Wesley Wright, Brad Brach, Ryan Webb, T.J.McFarland, Logan Verrett, Jason Garcia

The Orioles have had one of the top bullpens in baseball for several years now.  However, everyone seems to forget that and thinks that Andrew Miller was the reason they were so good after the All-Star break in 2014. No, this bullpen has always been successful, Miller just took it from very good to dominant.

Britton is back as closer, where he was very successful last year. Moving from starter to closer allowed him to throw harder, and Britton became a ground ball throwing machine, which is just what the Orioles want. No drama necessary, unlike what O’s fans dealt with from Tommy Hunter, Jim Johnson and George Sherrill. However, with less than one full year of experience as the closer, it is tough to rate him any higher.

O’Day and Hunter are an excellent setup combo, with O’Day a side-armer and Hunter a hard-thrower. Matusz comes in as a lefty specialist, and Brad Brach was excellent last year.  The addition of Wright will give Buck Showalter, the master of the bullpen, even more options. Verrett and Garcia are both Rule 5 picks the team likes, but the only spot for them is a crowded bullpen.  Good luck.

2. Boston Red Sox (best closer, third best set up, fourth best middle, second best depth) – Koji Uehara (Closer), Junichi Tazawa (Setup), Craig Breslow (Setup), Edward Mujica, Anthony Varvaro, Alexi Ogando, Robbie Ross Jr., Brandon Workman, Steven Wright

The Red Sox are built on the back end, and their depth. Koji Uehara has been lights out, minus a blip at the end of 2014.  That likely was due to both injury and overuse, as Koji pitched in 64 games with a 2.52 ERA. He is one of the best closers in the business, although at 39, may not have too many years left.

Tazawa has fit in nicely in the bullpen.  Formerly the Red Sox main 7th inning guy, he likely will see most of the work in the 8th with the departure of Andrew Miller. Veteran relief pitcher Craig Breslow will likely be the other main setup man. Mujica also has a lot of late game experience.

Then comes a whole host of failed starters, some from the Red Sox organization, some signed by the team.  These are the types of players you normally see in the early innings out of the bullpen, so I don’t think the Red Sox are in too bad of shape.

3. New York Yankees (second best closer, second best set up, third best middle, worst depth) – Andrew Miller (Closer), Dellin Betances (Setup), Justin Wilson, David Carpenter, Chase Whitley, Esmil Rogers, Bryan Mitchell, Jorge DePaula

The Yankees are going with one of two guys who have never been a full-time closer, and there are not many concerns about that arrangement.  Both Miller and Betances have electric stuff and will be capable closers. I have a few reservations putting them so high, but I think they will be fine.  The other one will be the setup man, something both have excelled at. The only reason why the Yankees are second at setup is because they only have one setup pitcher, while the Orioles have two different looks.

Wilson, coming over from Pittsburgh and Carpenter from Atlanta are both pretty good pieces.  Whether they are as effective in the AL East will be a different story. The Yanks also fill the rest of their bullpen with failed starters, and not overly successful ones.  For another year the team is going to have to hope they can get the starters to go deep into games, and then try to avoid overworking Betances and Miller.  The depth is just awful in the Yankees’ bullpen.

4. Toronto Blue Jays (fourth best closer, worst set up, best middle, third best depth) – Brett Cecil (Closer), Aaron Loup (Setup), Steve Delabar, Todd Redmond, Chad Jenkins, Kyle Drabek, Aaron Sanchez

The Jays have been a good bullpen for several years, but I fear losing a few pieces is going to make them very vulnerable. Gone is closer Casey Janssen, who was a large part of their success. Cecil moves up a spot from the 8th inning to closing, which forces Loup and Delabar to also move up a spot. I don’t know that either of these two guys are cut out for setup roles. The team may use prized young pitcher Aaron Sanchez as a setup pitcher, but that is always risky. The Jays made it a goal to upgrade their bullpen, but if anything it got worse.

However, if Delabar can stay in middle relief with Jenkins and Redmond, then the middle of their bullpen is very good. And Drabek has the name and ability to be a good reliever, he just never put it together as a starting pitcher.

5. Tampa Bay Rays (worst closer, third best set up, worst middle, fourth best depth) – Grant Balfour (Closer), Brad Boxberger (Setup), Jake McGee (Setup), Jeff Beliveau, Kirby Yates, Ernesto Frieri, Burch Smith, Kevin Jepsen

Grant Balfour struggled mightily in 2014, delighting Oriole fans and frustrating Rays’ fans in his second stint in St. Petersburg. And at 37, it may be close to the end of the line for Balfour, who has been pitching for 11 years. He may have the most experience as a closer in the division, but that doesn’t exactly say much when you consider how bad last year was.

Behind him are two very good setup pitchers in Boxberger and McGee. They both have great stuff and are young, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them take over the closer duties if Balfour struggles. But, behind those two there is next to nothing. As a huge baseball fan, I haven’t heard of two of these players. The saving grace is that the Rays’ rotation is good, and maybe they will be able to bridge the shaky middle innings and get the game to their back-end.  For Rays fans, they can only hope.

Rating the bullpens is an inexact science, but if I just did the rankings without doing the sub-rankings, it would have likely looked the same.  Do you agree? Do you think I am biased toward the Orioles, or not giving the Jays’ mainstays enough credit?

Comment and leave your thoughts!