Ranking The Top Five Bullpens In Baseball

1. Atlanta Braves

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When you have the best bullpen arm in the game, it’s hard not to be #1. Craig Kimbrel is just head and shoulders above everyone else.

Consider this: Kimbrel has only pitched in three full seasons. In all three years from 2011-2013, he’s led the National League in saves, made the all-star team and every year, and has an ERA around 1.50.

And he’s just 25-years-old.

The rest of the Braves bullpen isn’t too shabby, either. Left-hander Luis Avilan is more of a finesse guy than a strikeout king, but he has a 1.69 career ERA and allowed just one home run in 65 innings last season.

Hard-throwing right-hander Jordan Walden had a 10.3 K/9 in close to 50 innings in 2013, and David Carpenter–although most likely known for the huge home run he gave up in the playoffs–was a revelation in his age-27 season, pitching 65.2 innings last season with an ERA under 2.00.

Throw in the fact Jonny Venters could return in May from Tommy John Surgery, and you have the standard for bullpens across the MLB.

2. Boston Red Sox

The defending world champions have depth in their bullpen, and lots of it. We all know what Koji Uehara is capable of, he was quite possibly the team’s MVP over the course of last season with his video game-like 1.09 ERA and .565 WHIP.

Add in the signing of Edward Mujica, who put up top three closers numbers and an eye-opening 17.00 K/BB ratio in the first half of last season as the set-up man, and look out.

The Sox also boast Junichi Tazawa as a dependable back end option, two established left handers in Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller, and young Brandon Workman, who actually pitched high-profile innings in the World Series last season.

This bullpen can match-up with the best of them.

3. St. Louis Cardinals

carlos

I don’t know what’s it the water in Missouri, but if you want hard-throwing, triple-digit MPH arms (who doesn’t?), then look no further than the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen.

Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez (who’s still in the mix for a rotation spot), and Kevin Siegrist can all dominate hitters with just fastballs, and not one of them has even reached their 25th birthday.

Add in reliable veteran Randy Choate, the underrated stylings of Seth Maness, and a possible return by former all-star Jason Motte, and you have one of the most dominating back-ends in the game today.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates

Jason-Grilli-Pittsburgh-Pirates

After going into last season with an inexperienced closer in Jason Grilli, and a guy coming off a miserable season in Mark Melancon, you would have thought the Pirates bullpen would struggle.

But instead they flourished.

Both guys were lights out all of 2013. Melancon (who I ranked the top set-up man in the game earlier this offseason) posted an ERA of 1.39 in 71 innings, and Grilli was an all-star until an injury last season.

Combine those two with left-handed studs Tony Watson–who posted a 0.69 ERA in the second half of last season–and Justin Wilson–who managed a 2.08 ERA in over 70 innings last year–and you have a bullpen built for success.

5. Cincinnati Reds

com_100810_sscChapman

How do you leave a bullpen off this list when they have a guy who throws 104 MPH and posted a 15.8 K/9 last season?

The solution?

You don’t. If Aroldis Chapman isn’t the best closer in the game, he’s certainly the second best. He has reinforcements, as well.

Sean Marshall is a former closer and established bullpen arm, opponents hit an abysmal .197 against J.J. Hoover in 2013, and Jonathon Broxton could be ready by opening day. It’s not just a one-man-show in Cincinnati.

Bullpens that just missed the cut: Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland A’s, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants

Follow OPSN Lead Writer Shawn Ferris on Twitter @RealShawnFerris for more MLB news, updates, and analysis. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19 Comments

Not very sound reporting when you leave out the Royals bullpen. They led in many bullpen categories including having an all-star closer. Check it out and I’m sure they would be top three.

Wait..Top 5 and just missed the cut and no mention of the Yankee bullpen which has been among the most consistent, if not best in the league over many consecutive years? Really, it’s an honest question to the author of this article. Are you rating past achievements or “potential” best. If it’s rating looking forward ok, maybe a few, but if past, I don’t understand many of the picks, actually including the Red Sox who’s pen has actually been among the worst in recent years, despite the contribution of Tazawa last year.

Please, go ahead, make an argument. Pull out your saber metric hand book and throw the numbers at me. In the meantime, few people can argue that the Yankee bullpen has been among the best and most accomplished (among many different arms) over many years.

You do know these rankings are for this upcoming season, right? Who cares what the Yankees bullpen did “over many years.” Maybe they end up with a top five bullpen, but they just lost the greatest closer of all time to retirement, so excuse anyone who isn’t willing to name them one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Maybe some people are just getting tired of an offseason where the Red Sox did little to nothing, lost many key players and continue to be categorized as the “best” at anything. They’re not. It’s not a great team on paper. Their outfield will be among one of the worst in baseball this season. I don’t want to deviate much, but these bloggers lose more and more of their credibility every day.

Yes, and at the above said also. The Royals also had a very good bullpen. This is just more of writing for the masses.

Royals bullpen is a huge miss. Holland is not that far behind Kimbrel based on last year. The rest of the pen was easily top 5 and probably top 3

As I thought, I just cross referenced this with a few other sites and the Yanks did fact come in top 5 (#4) on others based on the metrics available. The Red Sox are near the bottom for 2012 and middle of the pack for 13. Looking forward, the Yanks have some of the highest upside arms in the league for bullpen and Girardi has shown a mastery more than anything at managing a bullpen and squeezing maximum results from it. Betances already looks amazing this spring. Additional of Bailey maybe later in the years, plus all the other proven arms (Robertson, Thorton, Kelly, etc).

P.S. the Royals pen has been among the best also for many years and I see no reason why they won’t be a top 5 this season also.

Dear author. Re-write the article an omit the Red Sox. It’s ok. You won’t be fired.

How on earth do you leave the Royals out of the top 5?? And not even a mention in the missed the cut notables?? Wow…just wow…

Lazy writing. Do your research. Royals have to be top 5. I’m not even a KC fan but they are legit. I am a Rays fan and I would say they are top 5 also but that might be the homer in me.

Uehara+Mujica+Tazawa+Breslow+Andrew Miller+Badenhop+Workman
Robertson+Thorton+Kelly+Warren+Claiborne+Phelps
who’s pen is better? lol
the only NYY bullpen pitcher can beat BOS is Robertson.
Thorton cant make playoff list in 2013 redsox pen
Kelly and Claiborne are very good Pre All-Star. after All-Star….

Hey guys. First off, thanks for all the comments. The Yankees didn’t even cross my mind as a top ten choice for 2013. Robertson, although extremely effective, has not been tested as a closer, and the rest of the bullpen is mostly unproven. As for the Royals, they certainly have a case for the top 10 and were one of the teams that could have been included in the “just missed.” Herrera, Crow, and Collins all had ERA’s of 3.38 or higher in 2013, and although they all have high ceilings, I have to see it consistently before I elevate them to that level.

KC finished 1st in war in 2012 and 2nd last year. All bullpens change year over year, but they are bringing all of their important pieces back. I would say that’s established. Also, every team has guys with 3.38 or slightly higher ERA’s in the pen. The difference is that KC has no real dogs in the pen putting up 4+ or 5+ ERA’s in significant innings.

The whole thing stems from a writer making silly predictions like this before a season begins. The article should have been phrased entirely different; something along the lines of “these teams have potential to be good, but tried and tested bullpens like the Royals, Yankees, Braves have shown strong consistency between upside talent, depth and managerial use”. It’s far more intelligent to go on proven results of how a bullpen is built and used — one of the few things the Yankees do just as good or better than most teams in baseball. I think that’s the point being made here and yes, the Royals have been very good, much better than many others mentioned. The Red Sox shouldn’t even be mentioned in this discussion.

How are the Blue Jays not in this? Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos (Former closer), Brett Cecil (All-Star), Steve Delabar (All-Star), Aaron Loup….

I appreciate the response Shawn…but…(you know the but was coming)…

Yes, a few of the Royals had some higher ERAs than you’d like in an elite reliever…but taken as a whole, and other metrics, showed dominance that does not seem to be waning.

Average age of the KC pen is somewhere around 25 years old.

Royals relievers k/9 in 2013:
Holland: 13.8 (holy freakin’ cow)
Hochevar: 10.5
Herrera: 11.4
Collins & Crow: 8+
Coleman: 9.7

BAA:
Hochevar: .169
Holland: .170
Coleman: .186
Herrera: .219
Collins: .244

League average was .256.

And the aforementioned WAR stat that KC was #1 in in ’12 and #2 ’13…that’s as consistent as you can get, methinks. And no one over 4 ERA, methinks again.

Not saying Braves are not #1 (and I like that Venters should be back this year)…but Walden had a 3.45 ERA in 2013. Your characterization of Royals pitchers having similar ERAs to Walden, yet seemingly giving him much more weight with similar peripherals and age, doesn’t seem to jive.

BTW…Crow was an All-Star too (2011…given all-star selections are not the keystone to exceptional play…particularly with the 1/team rule and when it comes to Royals)…curious as to how many teams have two recent all-stars on their staff. I don’t know the answer, just asking the question…so there may be others, but certainly a piece of the conversation.

Truly appreciate your insight…but not sure how the Royals corp is not a definitive Top 5.

P.S. You were correct to leave the Yankees out.

Thank you for the reblog Jason, and thank you all for the comments. I appreciate them all, as well as all your opinions.

Reblogged this on Bucco Talk.

I think the Jays’ bullpen is pretty damned good. Janssen, Delabar, Cecil, Santos, and Loup, are all excellent, not to mention guys like Wagner and McGowan.

Braves Bullpen # 1. The Red Sox Bullpen went 52-30 with 41 saves en route to the World Series last year. I can’t tell how many years the Braves bullpen led both the majors & the National League in BLOWN SAVES as a team. I think it was 12 out of the past 22 years!!!

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