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State of the Bullpen: 2020 American League Bullpen Update

Earlier this week, I brought you the National League Bullpen Update. Now, we go through the American League and go team-by-team to see where things stand, who has the closing job, who the next man up could be, and other relievers to target this season.

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American League Bullpen Update

AL East

Baltimore Orioles

Closer: Mychal Givens/Hunter Harvey
Setup Man: Richard Bleier
Notable RPs: (shrugging emoji)

Let’s be real. The only relevant reliever you’ll find on the Orioles is the one getting the save chances. Last season, it was Mychal Givens leading the team with only 11 saves. The Orioles were tied with the Marlins for the lowest save total in 2019 at 27. Things aren’t likely to get any better with the two Eastern divisions combining for this season.

With two weeks left until the new Opening Day, the team has yet to announce a closer. Givens may work in tandem with Hunter Harvey, who’s also vying for ninth-inning duties. Harvey made his MLB debut last season and pitched 6.1 innings, giving up one run and striking out 11 batters. At this point, the better dart-throw is with Harvey.

Boston Red Sox

Closer: Brandon Workman
Setup Man: Matt Barnes
Notable RPs: Collin McHugh, Darwinzon Hernandez

The Boston closer situation was a rollercoaster for much of the season until Brandon Workman came through down the stretch. He saved 16 games for the Red Sox, 13 of those saves coming after the All-Star break. While Workman did have a problem issuing free passes with a 15.7% walk rate, he did a great job limiting damage with a 36.4% strikeout rate and one home run given up in 71.2 innings. Workman was among the elite in suppressing the quality of contact of opposing batters. As long as he can keep that up, he should have no problem sustaining his success as the Red Sox closer in 2020.

In a 60 game season, managers could have shorter leashes with closers. Should the walk rate come back to bite Workman, Matt Barnes could step into the ninth-inning job. Barnes does have a control problem himself with a 13.3% walk rate. Not quite as high as Workman’s, and his strikeout rate of 38.6% was sixth in all of baseball among qualified relievers. If anything, Barnes should be one of the better middle relievers to roster for strikeouts.

New York Yankees

Closer: Aroldis Chapman
Setup Man: Zach Britton
Notable RPs: Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle

The Yankees have one of the deepest bullpens in baseball. And it starts at the top with Aroldis Chapman. Chapman showed no signs of slowing down in 2019, posting 37 saves with a 2.21 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 57 innings. Given his situation and job security, Chapman could very well be the best closer in fantasy for saves.

As for the rest of the pen, three of the top 10 relievers in holds were Yankees, including Zach Britton, Adam Ottavino, and Tommy Kahnle. So there’s plenty to go around for holds leagues. Kahnle and Chad Green may be my favorite of the bunch as they posted the two best K-BB rates among the group at 27.4% and 26.1%, respectively. Green should have SP eligibility in head-to-head leagues after opening 15 games for the Yankees last season. I always like rostering these types in daily leagues when you don’t have a starter going.

Tampa Bay Rays

Closer: Nick Anderson
Setup Man: Diego Castillo
Notable RPs: Jose Alvarado, Colin Poche, Oliver Drake, Brendan McKay

When Emilio Pagan was traded to San Diego, it was assumed that Nick Anderson would step into the primary closer role. Not so fast. In typical Rays fashion, manager Kevin Cash has refused to name a closer going into the season. Though Anderson would seem to have the best stuff in the bullpen. After he was acquired from the Marlins, Anderson put up a 2.11 ERA, 1.62 FIP, 0.66 WHIP, and a 50% K-BB rate in 21.1 innings. That’s just nuts. If you miss out on Hader for the strikeouts and ratios, Anderson could be the next best thing. Though, I wouldn’t count on getting a full share of save opportunities from him.

Hey, look, another great SP eligible middle reliever. Diego Castillo opened six games for the Rays in 2019 and completed two full innings on eight occasions. He finished with a 3.41 ERA, 17 holds, eight saves, and five wins. Castillo will be one of the better middle relievers to the roster, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to actually pair him with Anderson.

Jose Alvarado could figure into the mix as well, as it seems his family issues that seemingly derailed his 2019 have been resolved. Meanwhile, Colin Poche and Oliver Drake should put up some excellent ratios and lock down some holds as middle relievers on a great team. And Brendan McKay could wind up as an opener or piggybacking off an opener, which could put him in line for some wins.

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Ken Giles
Setup Man: Anthony Bass
Notable RPs: Shun Yamaguchi

It’s all about Ken Giles in Toronto. His 1.87 ERA was fifth-best in baseball among relievers. And his 31.7% K-BB rate was sixth, showing he could still perform with the best of them. On stuff alone, he’s a sure top-10 closer with upside for top-five. The concern here is whether the Blue Jays decide to keep him or not. And it’s more likely in a 60-game season that they find themselves competitive, possibly stalling any Giles trade.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox

Closer: Alex Colome
Setup Man: Aaron Bummer
Notable RPs: Steve Cishek, Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon

Reliable, yet unspectacular can describe Alex Colome’s season for the Chicago White Sox. Actually, that’s pretty much Colome’s career summed up. He converted 30 of 33 save chances and ended the season with a 2.80 ERA. With Colome approaching free agency, the White Sox could decide to trade him. Though they’re in a position much like the Blue Jays where they could be in the thick of things when the trade deadline approaches.

Aaron Bummer did a great job as the primary setup man behind Colome with 27 holds and a 2.13 ERA. Bummer would be next in line to close and is likely the closer of the future after signing a five-year extension. Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon could have pivotal roles out of the bullpen as multi-inning relievers. Though Kopech has yet to report to camp, so that’ll be something to monitor for one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.

Cleveland Indians

Closer: Brad Hand
Setup Man: Nick Wittgren
Notable RPs: James Karinchak

Injury concerns and trade speculation overshadowed an otherwise excellent season overall for Brad Hand. On the year, Hand converted 34 saves with a 3.30 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 57.1 innings. Things unraveled for Hand in the second half after experiencing arm fatigue, putting up a 5.40 ERA and relinquishing his closer role in September. As long as he’s healthy, Hand should have plenty of opportunities to bounce back from the sub-par second half.

Should the speculation become a reality and Hand were to be traded, James Karinchak would be the name to watch. Karinchak is one of the best relief prospects in baseball. He struck out 74 batters in 30.1 innings across the minors in 2019. If he had a larger sample size in MLB last year, he’d probably be going much higher in drafts. Take advantage and grab the next Nick Anderson type before the breakout.

Detroit Tigers

Closer: Joe Jimenez
Setup Man: Buck Farmer
Notable RPs: Don’t bother

Joe Jimenez might not have the best ratios, putting up a 4.37 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 2019. But he’s got something better, job security. There’s no one in the Tigers bullpen, at least for 2020, that could come in and take the closer role from Jimenez unless he’s just god awful. Meanwhile, Tarik Skubal has the profile of an excellent reliever and could see some action in the majors in this short season.

Kansas City Royals

Closer: Ian Kennedy
Setup Man: Scott Barlow
Notable RPs: Trevor Rosenthal

Ian Kennedy ended his 2018 campaign with a 3-9 record and 4.66 ERA in 22 starts for the Royals. It was time for Kennedy to reinvent himself in 2019 to save his career, and he did a phenomenal job. Kennedy worked out of the bullpen and soon proved to be the best choice to close games, finishing the season with 30 saves, a 3.41 ERA, and a career-best 27.4% strikeout rate. He’s another name on trade-watch, and should he be moved, Trevor Rosenthal could see save opportunities once again.

Minnesota Twins

Closer: Taylor Rogers
Setup Man: Sergio Romo
Notable RPs: Tyler Duffey, Trevor May

Whether it was Blake Parker, Sam Dyson, or Sergio Romo, no one in the Twins bullpen could hold off Taylor Rogers from taking over the closer role in 2019. Rogers converted 30 saves for the Twins to go with a 2.61 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 90 strikeouts in 69 innings. On an excellent Twins team, Rogers could see plenty of save chances and finish as one of the best closers in baseball.

On the slight chance that Minnesota plays matchups, Sergio Romo could find himself with a few saves. And Tyler Duffey has some of the best stuff among middle relievers with a 2.50 ERA in 2019 to go with 15 holds and a 28.6% K-BB rate.

AL West

Houston Astros

Closer: Roberto Osuna
Setup Man: Ryan Pressly
Notable RPs: Josh James, Bryan Abreu, Framber Valdez

Roberto Osuna did what the Houston Astros acquired him to do in his first full season with the team, converting 38 saves with a 2.63 ERA. Osuna is right up there with Aroldis Chapman among the top closers for saves. Osuna and Ryan Pressly combine to make probably the best late-inning duo in baseball. Pressly is an excellent middle reliever to target for holds and ratios.

There’s a group of pitchers vying for the fifth rotation spot and each of them could also play a role out of the bullpen. Once again, Josh James could have extenuating circumstances keeping him from winning the job. James has yet to report to Astros camp due to personal reasons. Should he find himself in the multi-inning role, he’d be an excellent target to vulture wins and rack up strikeouts in relief.

Los Angeles Angels

Closer: Hansel Robles
Setup Man: Ty Buttrey
Notable RPs: Cam Bedrosian, Keynan Middleton

Hansel(so hot right now) Robles went under the radar for much of 2019 despite saving 23 games for the Angels with a 2.48 ERA. Robles had career-bests when it came to his improved walk rate of 1.98 BB/9 and his home run rate of 0.74 HR/9. An uptick in his fastball velocity in combination with an outstanding changeup really went a long way for Robles. He should be one of the better middle-tier closers and has job security on an improved Angels team.

Oakland Athletics

Closer: Liam Hendriks
Setup Man: Joakim Soria
Notable RPs: Yusmiero Petit, Jake Diekman, Lou Trivino, Chris Bassitt

Much like Robles, Liam Hendriks made some mechanical adjustments and saw a rise in velocity across the board. After bouncing around between the rotation and the bullpen, he settled in nicely as Oakland’s closer after Blake Treinen failed to live up to his 2018 season. Hendriks saved 25 games and posted a 1.80 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 31% K-BB rate in 85 innings.

Yusmeiro Petit has proven time and again to be a valuable weapon out of the bullpen. Petit was among the holds leaders with 29 to go with a 2.71 ERA and ridiculous 0.81 WHIP. Joakim Soria recorded 21 holds himself but didn’t have the same success as Petis when it came to ratios. And Chris Bassitt will be a name to watch. If Jesus Luzardo can make the Opening Day rotation, Bassitt would be a primary long-reliever and could get valuable volume for strikeouts and wins.

Seattle Mariners

Closer: Matt Magill
Setup Man: Yoshihisa Hirano
Notable RPs: Carl Edwards Jr.

The Seattle bullpen proved to be one to avoid all season long, as it finished just as much of a mess as it started. Matt Magill and Anthony Bass shared closing duties to end the season, both earning five saves each. Magill has the job entering the season, and he actually showed some promise down the stretch, posting a 3.42 ERA after the All-Star break. The success came with higher usage of his curveball as the season went on. He had a 58.3% groundball rate on the pitch, with a 15.8% swinging-strike rate. Seattle could be a team that offers more save chances than anticipated, and Magill could be a cheap source of saves in drafts.

Texas Rangers

Closer: Jose Leclerc
Setup Man: Rafael Montero
Notable RPs: Brett Martin, Jesse Chavez

It was a disappointing 2019 for Jose Leclerc, to say the least. Fantasy owners had lofty expectations for Leclerc after he posted a 1.56 ERA, 12 saves, and a 38.1% strikeout rate. Instead, he left owners wondering what to do with him for much of the season. He recorded only 14 saves, posted a 4.33 ERA, had a decreased strikeout rate, an increased walk rate, and lost his job to Shawn Kelly for a portion of the year. The good news for Leclerc is that he was given the job back for the final two months, recording nine of his 14 saves in that span. Leclerc still struck out 100 batters in 68.2 innings, and his 3.59 FIP and 3.73 SIERA suggest a better season could be ahead.

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