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MLB Bullpen Power Rankings: Red Sox moving on up

02.02.11 at 7:39 am ET
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(For a breakdown of the Red Sox bullpen and what the rest of the American League East relievers look like, listen to The Bradford Files podcast, featuring Rob Bradford and Alex Speier, by clicking here.)

1. PADRES: Closer: Heath Bell; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 1st (2.78)

It was a pretty special group that San Diego trotted out last season, with Bell paving the way. The San Diego closer converted 47 of 50 chances, finishing with a 6-1 record and 1.93 ERA. The Padres’ relievers finished with a big-league best 544 strikeouts, while totaling the fourth-most innings (having to make up for the fact SD notched just two complete games from its starters). The combo of Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, and lefty Joe Thatcher were tough to top in ’10. This season, the Padres have added another veteran presence in Chad Qualls, who had a rough season between Arizona and Tampa Bay in ’10.

2. YANKEES: Closer: Mariano Rivera; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 7th (3.47)

Sure, Rivera blew five saves in ‘€˜10, and allowed left-handed hitters a better batting average than righties for the first time in four seasons. But he is still one of the game’€™s elite closers, and now has another one of MLB’€™s best game-enders setting him up in the form of Rafael Soriano. The jury is still out on Joba Chamberlain. The bullpen, however, does figure to give lefty hitters some issues with the presence of southpaws, Pedro Feliciano, Damaso Marte and Boone Logan, along with Soriano (.196 vs. left-handers in ‘€™10).

3. GIANTS: Closer: Brian Wilson; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 2nd (2.99)

The image of Wilson closing out the ’10 season with the final out in the World Series was fitting considering the kind of season the New Hampshire native came away with. Nobody in baseball had more saves (48), and he finished with an impressive 1.81 ERA. Oh yeah, and remember Ramon Ramirez? Well, the former Red Sox reliever only allowed three runs in 25 appearances with San Francisco, limiting opponents to a .137 batting average.

4. BRAVES: Closer: Craig Kimbrel; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 3rd (3.07)Atlanta took a hit with the retirement of Billy Wagner, but the way GM Frank Wren has filled in the pen from top to bottom has been impressive. Some veteran influences being brought in have been George Sherrill and Scott Linebrink, with Linebrink figuring to be more of the sure thing in terms of getting to Kimbrel. But it is guys like Jonny Venters (93 K’€™s in 83 innings) and Peter Moylan (6-2, 2.97 ERA in ‘€™10) that separate this group. The high ranking, of course, goes out the window if Kimbrel doesn’€™t step up seamlessly into Wagner’€™s spot.

5. OAKLAND: Closer: Andrew Bailey; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 12th (3.75)

The A’€™s did a good job of solidifying the group behind Bailey, signing both Brian Fuentes (lefties hit .128 against him in ‘€™10) and Grant Balfour. Not to be forgotten are Michael Wuertz and lefty Craig Breslow, who has developed into an extremely reliable reliever. Breslow has now pitched in 75 or more games in two straight seasons, while not allowing an opponents batting average against of more than .197 in either campaign.

6. RED SOX: Closer: Jonathan Papelbon; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 23th (4.24)

The Sox bullpen had a few problems in ‘€™10, chief among them were walks, giving up home runs (most in the majors), and allowing inherited runners to score. New comers Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler should help solve some problems. Jenks’€™ 3.39 K/BB and Wheeler’€™s success in not allowing inherited to score (6 of 32) would have both been best on the Red Sox last season. It should be noted that Wheeler also allowed left-handed bats just a .154 battingaverage a year ago (albeit as a situational reliever, facing just 54 lefties).

7. PHILLIES: Closer: Brad Lidge; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 17th (3.98)

There will be little change in what was a solid (albeit older) group, with Lidge (27 of 32 save opportunities in ‘€™10) and Ryan Madson offering a formidable one-two punch. The keys might lie in the consistency of veterans Jose Contreras (67 appearances) and J.C. Romero (60 appearances), who both proved mostly reliable last season. The fact that the Philly bullpen was 24th in batting average against despite the success of the aforementioned foursome suggests it still has some filling in to do.

8. DODGERS: Jonathan Broxton; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 19th (4.03)The situation in Los Angeles isn’€™t all that different than what the Red Sox face. LA has put together some solid pieces, but need its once dominant closer to improve on a subpar ‘€™10. The Dodgers made a very solid acquisition in workhorse/sinkerballer Matt Guerrier, while entering the new season optimistic that 23-year-old Kenley Jansen (41 K’€™s, 27 innings) and Hong ‘€“Chih Kuo continue down the right road. In case you missed it, left-handed hitters were 6-for-63 against Kuo.

9. RANGERS: Neftali Feliz (or Alexi Ogando); 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 6th (3.38)We will go under the assumption that Feliz will be the Rangers’€™ closer, despite the fact that Texas enters spring training stretching out the fireballer as a starter. If Feliz does remain in the bullpen, the dynamic of him, Ogando, Darren O’€™Day, and veterans Arthur Rhodes (2.29 ERA in 69 appearances with Reds in ‘€™10) and Darren Oliver offers a reliable group. If Feliz does leave for the rotation (remember, this is the same team that moved C.J. Wilson from pen-to-starter), obviously the Rangers relievers should be bumped down.

10. TIGERS: Closer: Jose Valverde; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 15th (3.96)

Detroit made a big, three-year commitment to Joaquin Benoit to try and make sure there was no doubt leading up to Valverde. Of Benoit’€™s successes last season, one of the most impressive was allowing just two of 23 inherited runners to score. With Phil Coke being moved to the starting rotation, Jim Leyland will need Ryan Perry to step up and repeat his effectiveness of a year ago, when the then-23-year-old held lefties to a .167 batting average.

11. TWINS: Closer: Matt Capps; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 8th (3.49)

If Joe Nathan can come back from his Tommy John Surgery, it would be an enormous help (regardless of any dilemma regarding whom might close), especially with the loss of dependable set-up men Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain. The Twins traditionally have one of the better bullpens, but with Pat Neshek and Jose Mijares the only two proven bridge guys, this season might prevent some unique challenges. Carlos Gutierrez, an ‘€™08 first-round pick, could help at some point.

12. CARDINALS: Closer: Ryan Franklin; Bullpen ERA Rank: 11th (3.73)

Nothing about St. Louis’ pen blows you away, starting with Franklin. The closer has very good control, but not the overly-impressive heat that sometimes defines a game-ender. The hardest thrower of the group is Jason Motte, who appears to be the next in line to take over the closer’s role if Franklin falters. Kyle McClellan offers stability in the set-up role, having come off an ’10 season in which he had a 2.27 ERA in 75 1/3 innings. Veteran lefty Trever Miller also serves a purpose in the Cards’ pen, having allowed just seven of his 41 inherited runners to score.

13. ROCKIES: Closer: Huston Street; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 18th (3.99)

Colorado is loaded with righties, relying primarily on Street, Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle and Matt Lindstrom. It is a group that worked in some ways for the Rockies last season, coming away with the second-best strikeout-to-walk ration in the majors. Lefty Matt Reynolds, who allowed four runs in 18 innings as a rookie, could become an important part of this bullpen’s dynamic.

14. WHITE SOX: Closer: Matt Thornton; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 10th (3.73)

While Chicago lost some hard-throwing pieces (Bobby Jenks, Octovio Dotel, J.J. Putz, along with Scott Linebrink), it has seemingly filled in the gaps nicely. Long-time Twin Jesse Crain is now in the fold, along with lefty Will Ohman. Thornton figures to fill in for Jenks at closer, but Sergio Santos (26 K’€™s out of 86 AB’€™s) and Chris Sale (the White Sox’€™ first-round pick last year) have already proved to be worthy of late-inning duties

15. ORIOLES: Closer: Kevin Gregg; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 24th (4.44)

Baltimore’€™s pen has the potential to be improved with the addition of Gregg (2 years, $10 million), and Jeremy Accardo, along with the ability to retain Koji Uehara. Perhaps two biggest wild cards in regards in the equation will be Gregg’€™s ability to continue his evolution into the closer’€™s role (37 for 43 in save opportunities in ‘€™10), and Mike Gonzalez finding some sort of health (allowed 0 runs, 2 hits in last 7 outings).

16. NATIONALS: Closer: Drew Storen; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 5th (3.33)

Already coming off a solid season, the Nationals’ bullpen has a lot of potential, led by 2009 first-round draft choice Storen. In his first big-league season, the righty held his own, even when put in the closers role where he converted five of seven save opportunities. If Storen doesn’t work out, Washington has some back-up to fill in the late-inning responsibilities, most notably lefty Sean Burnett (2.14 ERA in 74 games) and Tyler Clippard, who collected 11 wins (with a 3.07 ERA) in 78 relief appearances.

17. BLUE JAYS: Closer: Frank Francisco; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 21st (4.07)

The Jays’€™ pen took a big step forward when they got Francisco from Texas in exchange for Mike Napoli. Francisco, who had a solid 3.33 K/BB ratio in ‘€™10, will be set-up by veterans Octovio Dotel and Jason Frasor. The Jays acquired a couple of wild-cards in former closer Chad Cordero and Carlos Villanueva. While losing Scott Downs will be a big loss, David Purcey showed some reliability in the role of lefty set-up man.

18. REDS: Closer: Francisco Cordero; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 14th (3.95)

The Reds will feature a fairly formidable one-two punch at the back-end of their pen, with Cordero (40 of 48 in save opportunities) finishing games, and fireballer Aroldis Chapman (19 K’s in 13 1/3 innings) setting him up. The problem for Cincy will be getting to the pair. Righty Nick Masset proved reliable, making 82 appearances and finishing with a 3.40 ERA. The wild-card for the Reds might be former Angels’ reliever Jose Arredondo, who missed all of last season after blowing out his elbow while playing in the Dominican Republic. Before the elbow issues, Arrendondo turned in a rookie season in ’08 that saw him go 10-2 with a 1.62 ERA in 61 innings.

19. BREWERS: Closer: John Axford; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 26th (4.47)

Axford has the makings of a dominant closer, standing at 6-foot-5 and throwing his fastball upwards of 95 mph. In his first full major league season, Axford saved 24 of 27 chances, while finishing ’10 with an 8-2 mark and 2.48 ERA. The problem for Milwaukee is getting to Axford. Rookie lefty Zach Braddock proved mostly reliable in his 46 games, coming away with a 2.94 ERA, as did righty Kameron Loe (2.78 ERA in 53 appearances). But the difference-maker this time around figures to be veteran Takashi Saito, who had his second straight impressive season since injuring his elbow in the ’08 campaign. Saito had a 2.83 ERA in 56 games, almost identical numbers to his season in Boston the year before.

20. ANGELS: Fernando Rodney; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 19th (4.03)

Los Angeles is heading into the season facing plenty of uncertainty in its pen, thanks in large part to Rodney’s presence as its closer. The former Tigers’ reliever converted just 14 of his 21 save opportunities, with less than impressive strikeout-to-walk rate (53-to-35 in 68 innings). The Angels did throw some money around to add some sort of certainty leading up to Rodney, signing Scott Downs (3 years, $15 million) and Hisanori Takahashi (2 years, $8 million)

21. MARLINS: Closer: Leo Nunez/Clay Hensley; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 16th (3.98)After blowing a National League-high 25 saves last season, the jury is still out on who will finish games for Florida. Hensley (.200 batting average against; .185 vs. righties) took over at season’€™s end. They added some intriguing pieces in the form of Edward Mujica (MLB-best 12.00 K/BB ratio), hard-throwing Mike Dunn (in Dan Uggla trade), and former Tampa Bay lefty Randy Choate.

22. CUBS: Closer: Carlos Marmol; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 29th (4.55)Signing Kerry Wood was a must for this club, with Chicago desperately needing somebody besides Sean Marshall to get to Marmol. But even with Wood in the fold, there is a need for improvement, particularly in regard to the closer’€™s control. Sure, the 28-year-old righty struck out 138 in 77 2/3 innings, allowing just a .147 opponents batting average, but he also walked 52. It would also go a long way if lefty John Grabow could return from his knee injury.
23. METS: Closer: Francisco Rodriguez; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 9th (3.50)Before Rodriguez’€™ season blew up, he wasn’€™t faring all that poorly. Yes, he had blown five saves in 30 chances (in record-setting season of 62 saves he blew seven total), but was carrying a 2.20 ERA while walking just 21 in 53 games. If the Mets are going to move up the rankings ladder, not only will Rodriguez (who is in the final season of his deal, assuming New York won’€™t pick up $17.5 million option for ‘€™12) have to step up, but set-up men D.J. Carrasco and Bobby Parnell will also be equipped to carry a heavy load.

24. INDIANS: Closer: Chris Perez; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 13th (3.83)

Perez has seemingly cemented himself at the end of the Indians’€™ bullpen, not only limiting righties to just a .154 batting average, but he also didn’€™t give up a single run in his 17 appearances after Aug. 6 (0.63 ERA after the All-Star break). The question is how well the young arms can get to Perez. Tony Sipp and Joe Smith did show an ability to get out jams, combining to allow just 16 of 81 of their inherited runners to score.

25. ROYALS: Closer: Joakim Soria; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 25th (4.46)

Soria is a great start, a notion he proved once again in ’10 when the righty converted 43 of 46 save chances while finishing with a 1.79 ERA. Getting to him, well, that’s the issue.

26. PIRATES: Closer: Joel Hanrahan/Evan Meek; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 28th (4.55)

Some believe this isn’t a problem because of the arms of Hanrahan (100 K’s in 69 2/3 innings) and Meek, but keep in mind that you’re talking about a pitcher (Hanrahan) who converted six of 10 save opportunities while totaling 3.62 ERA, and another (Meek) who saved only four in 10 chances. Pittsburgh did get some help from the left side when they recently signed Joe Beimel.

27. MARINERS: Closer: David Aardsma; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 22nd (4.16)

Seattle could be in some trouble early on, with Aardsma not expected to be ready until the season’s first few weeks due to a torn hip labrum. Brandon League, coming off perhaps his most consistent season of his career (9-7, 3.42, 70 appearances), would be the most logical replacement in Aardsma’s absence, although Seattle is hoping hard-throwing Dan Cortes and Josh Lueke will be stepping up to take on make more of a late-inning presence. Seattle also signed former Baltimore closer Chris Ray, who is coming back from an elbow injury, to a minor-league deal.

28. DIAMONDBACKS: Closer: J.J. Putz; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 30th (5.74)

Arizona’€™s pen will be better, partly because there is nowhere to go but up. Most of the improvement will be dependent on Putz, who is hopeful that knee problems are a thing of the past. The Diamondbacks are high on former Orioles’€™ righty reliever David Hernandez (.198 vs. lefties), who came over in the Mark Reynolds trade, and have high hopes for the development of Juan Guiterrez to help in the seventh inning. If Putz goes down, however, Arizona could be facing the kind of horrific numbers experienced a year ago.

29. RAYS: Closer: Bullpen-by-committee/J.P. Howell; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 4th (3.33)

Tampa Bay will have to hope that it can find another diamond in the rough, the likes of which they uncovered with Joaquin Benoit in ‘€™10. That player might be righty Joel Peralta, who allowed just a 2.02 ERA in 49 innings with the Nationals last season, with opponents hitting .170. The Rays are also banking on getting value from veteran from Kyle Farnsworth, while hoping that Jake McGee ultimately emerges into a back-of-the-bullpen force. Rays’ manager Joe Maddon has said he is ready to head into the season with a bullpen-by-committee until somebody can emerge as a reliable closer.

30. ASTROS: Closer: Brandon Lyon; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 27th (4.49)

After signing a three-year deal with Houston, Lyon bounced back somewhat from a disappointing stint in Detroit by converting 20 of 22 saves. It was a performance this is allowing the Astros to go with Lyon at closer after trading Matt Lindstrom. Houston will need surprise success story Wilton Lopez to continue the progress he made in ‘€™10, when allowed just four unintentional walks in 67 innings.

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