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Fantasy Baseball: Bullpen Breakdown – AL East


It’s the love/hate relationship you really love to hate: closers! With a good two and a half months left until Opening Day, now is as good a time as any to start breaking down some bullpen arms ahead of your draft. This series will detail every division across the league, offering you the big names you’ll want to own, as well as the sleepers you need to keep an eye on, and of course some key stats to better prepare you for the big day.

 Team  Closer  Next in Line  Plan C
 Baltimore Orioles  Brad Brach  Mychal Givens  Darren O’Day
 Boston Red Sox  Craig Kimbrel  Carson Smith   Tyler Thornburg
 New York Yankees  Aroldis Chapman  Dellin Betances  David Robertson
 Tampa Bay Rays  Alex Colome  Dan Jennings  Ryne Stanek
 Toronto Blue Jays  Roberto Osuna  Ryan Tepera  Dominic Leone

**Green=elite bullpen. Blue=stable bullpen. Red=unstable bullpen.

Baltimore Orioles


  • 30 wins (5th most in Majors)
  • 18 losses (3rd fewest in Majors)
  • 35 saves (22nd in Majors)
  • 3.93 ERA (11th best in Majors)

Must Own: Brad Brach

And not for the first time, here’s Brad Brach back in the spotlight. Baltimore’s original closer, Zach Britton, will miss what appears to be the first half of the season with an Achilles injury, making Brach the go-to guy on Opening Day. Brach won four games last season for the Orioles but also lost five. He finished with a 3.18 ERA, 18 saves, and a tidy 70 strikeouts, but really, that’s just scratching the surface. Orioles fans know all too well Brach’s struggles on the road, but he’s been particularly poor against righties, finishing with a 4.0% walk rate and four home runs. See April’s memorable blown game against the Yankees for further proof:

If you’re super desperate for saves, Brach can certainly help you out, but owners do need to be aware of the pointy end of the stick: August through September. Brach has failed to post an ERA below 4.00 in the month of August across the last two seasons, allowing a line of .262/.340/.512 against last year. Obviously, a lot of that has to do with a severe drop in velocity across all four pitches, but at age 31, there could very well come a time when the Orioles opt for a much younger arm, especially if Brach struggles when the games matter most.

Diamond in the Rough: Mychal Givens

You could certainly make a case for Givens as the most attractive option in the Orioles’ bullpen. He won eight games in each of the last two seasons from the set-up role and struck out more batters than Brach in the process (80). The good times keep rolling in the walk column, too. Givens’ BB% dropped dramatically from 2016-17 by 3.6%, but of course, with the good comes the bad, and Givens’ home run tally certainly poops the party. He surrendered a career-high 10 home runs last season, and you don’t have to look hard to find the culprit: a career-high 31% hard-hit rate. However, his overall pitch usage eludes to an even bigger problem. Comparing 2016 to 2017, Givens relied more on his changeup and less on his slider, a questionable decision considering his slider once resulted in a fantastic .188 AVG against two seasons ago. Last year, however, it gave up twice as many home runs (4) as it did in 2016, even though it was used nearly 10% less of the time. If he falls back on what was once considered his best pitch, there’s big value here in the saves and strikeouts column.

Boston Red Sox


  • 29 wins (8th most in Majors)
  • 15 losses (fewest in Majors)
  • 39 saves (13th in Majors)
  • 3.15 ERA (2nd best in Majors)

Must Own: Craig Kimbrel

There might only be a handful of closers worth drafting semi-early, but Craig Kimbrel is certainly one of them. Last year marked seven consecutive seasons of 30 saves or more, and Kimbrel also led all relief pitchers in strikeouts (126). Diving deeper, any lingering command issues that once plagued him back in 2016 also seem to have vanished. Kimbrel cut his walk rate from 13.6% all the way down to 5.5% last season, in large part thanks to a crazy increase in swings on his four-seam fastball. When thrown outside of the strike zone, 38.7% of hitters swung, a 12.3% increase from 2016 to 2017. It’s a number that might only continue to climb higher, as Kimbrel’s fastball reached 101.43 MPH last year, while his curveball also saw an eight MPH increase in velocity. With the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, and Yankees all ranking in the Top 15 in K% last year, it’s safe to expect another season of 100+ strikeouts from the six-time All-Star.

Diamond in the Rough: Joe Kelly

The news of Addison Reed’s departure to Minnesota leaves the Red Sox a little lost at middle relief. Carson Smith figures to be the likely fill-in man (another player to watch), but on the back of two injury-plagued seasons, the slightest slip-up could open the door for Joe Kelly (again). Kelly’s 2017 season started off quite well. Before the All-Star break, he cruised to a 1.49 ERA, striking out 26 batters for a .188 AVG against. Kelly also faired particularly well against lefties all season, finishing with a 23.4% strikeout rate and something very close to a 90% strand rate. Still, things got ugly in the second half, as Kelly’s ERA ballooned to 4.98 whilst giving up 13 runs in the final two months of the season. From a fantasy perspective, he may only be playable if you’re in need of strikeouts, especially since saves come at a premium with Kimbrel around. If Kelly can revert back to his pre-All Star break form, however, the 29-year-old could surprise.

New York Yankees


  • 29 wins (7th most in Majors)
  • 24 losses (15th in Majors)
  • 36 saves (18th in Majors)
  • 3.34 ERA (3rd best in Majors)

Must Own: Aroldis Chapman

We could put plenty of stock into Chapman’s summer slump, but then again, should we? His fastball still reached 104.3 MPH at one point during the season, and sure, he finished with a 3.22 ERA, but we’re left with nothing but good feels following a pretty successful postseason. Of course, Chapman’s little hiccup in August (y’know, where he allowed a total of eight earned runs and was benched) is still worth touching on. There’s been plenty of blame on his shift from a two-seam to four-seam fastball grip, and more spin and less command, but really, the problem is hard to put a finger on. As a true fastball-first pitcher, maybe guys simply figured Chapman out or got lucky against him, but at the same time, there’s a 23.3% K-BB rate arguing against all that. Whatever the reason, Chapman is still the same flamethrower he always was. He’s still throwing in the 100s, and with Giancarlo Stanton now on board, you have to think he’ll get as many save situations as he can handle.

Diamond in the Rough: Adam Warren

A 30-year-old pitcher with back issues? Crazy, right? Hear me out: Warren’s 2017 season needs to be taken seriously, and with so many questions surrounding David Robertson as a potential trade piece, there’s still every chance he winds up in a middle relief role. If that indeed does pan out, those of you that count holds in your leagues need to pay attention. In fact, Warren could also hold some real value as far as strikeouts go. Warren may not be a popular name once the season begins, but for those in deeper leagues, keep in mind that he lowered his hard-hit rate from 28.2% in 2016 to 26.1% last season, and also recorded 21 strikeouts with both his fastball and his slider.

Tampa Bay Rays


  • 28 wins (11th most in Majors)
  • 31 losses (3rd most in Majors)
  • 53 saves (2nd most in Majors)
  • 3.83 ERA (7th best in Majors)

Must Own: Alex Colome

It’s been a headline kinda winter for Colome, constantly thrown into trade talks before finally avoiding arbitration last Friday. The 29-year-old led the league in saves last year (47) but actually ended the season owned in only 87% of leagues. Heading into his fifth season in the Majors, Colome’s value certainly decreases a little considering how underwhelming the Rays are offensively. What continues to impress with Colome’s game, though, is his versatility. He threw his cutter 18.94% more in 2017 than he did in 2016, and saw fantastic results: 51 strikeouts and just one home run allowed. After ditching his curveball in favor of just the two pitches, Colome’s fastball also created a crazy 87.5% swing rate when thrown high in the strike zone. It’s become a deadly duo resulting in a career-high ground ball rate (48.7%). Drafted with an ADP of 134, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see Colome taken even earlier this season.

Diamond in the Rough: Jaime Schultz

Truth be told, there’s not a great deal of value to be had in Tampa’s pen. This is a very young unit that is now without the likes of Tommy Hunter, Sergio Romo, and Steve Cishek, but it does feel like only yesterday that Rays fans were raving about Jaime Schultz. Unfortunately, all of the hype was derailed by a knee injury last season, and he’s now set to start the year in Triple-A. Even so, Schultz’s 42% strikeout rate in just 13 games last year speaks for itself, and although his command is wild at times, he’s a prospect to keep an eye on if he starts Spring Training red hot. The 26-year-old fastballer is capable of throwing in the high 90s, and with 497 strikeouts across 387.8 innings, make sure you remember his name.

Toronto Blue Jays


  • 29 wins (9th most in Majors)
  • 16 losses (11th most in Majors)
  • 45 saves (6th most in Majors)
  • 4.21 ERA (16th best in Majors)

Must Own: Roberto Osuna

Like so many others, there’s been plenty of interest in Osuna on the market this offseason. Since he converted 39 of his 49 save chances, it’s no wonder why. A career-high strikeout rate (33%) at just 22 years old also makes Osuna one of the premium closers to own in dynasty formats. He also sported the third-lowest walk rate in the Majors (3.6%) last season, ahead of only Kenley Jansen and Pat Neshek. Osuna did have some rough stretches last year, but overall, this is a pen that’s head and shoulders above the one we saw entering 2017. The trio of Ryan Tepera, Dominic Leone, and Danny Barnes combined for 224 strikeouts last season and a 13-1 win-loss record, flourishing in the set-up role. We may not see that same kind of production this time around, but the Jays almost have more depth than they know what to do with. Either way, Osuna should continue to benefit.

Diamond in the Rough: Carlos Ramirez

There are a lot of “what ifs” to play here, but what if Ramirez does somehow make it into the bullpen following Spring Training? We received a taste of the talented righty last season with mixed results, but overall things went well — five earned runs allowed in 16.2 innings pitched. Ramirez is in line to take over for Tepera/Leone/Barnes should one of them show signs of struggle, and since he tossed 25 scoreless appearances in the Minors last season, the 26-year-old certainly has the “stuff” to get the job done. Ramirez’s 92 MPH fastball isn’t mindblowing, but his slider surely is. It created a 53% swing rate last season, good for 12 strikeouts in the Majors. Even if he barely scrapes onto the big league roster ahead of Opening Day, we should see plenty of Ramirez at one point or another this year. His talent is too good for the Blue Jays to ignore, making him a stash-worthy prospect should he receive the call-up.

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