There were several teams this past season that improved their bullpen during the offseason, but which teams are set up for the most success entering 2020? Let’s take a look at who we think has the best bullpens in the game today.
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Let’s start with the Padres, a team filled with exciting arms both in the farm and on the MLB roster. San Diego’s bullpen did finish with the eleventh worst ERA last season (4.59), but was the sixth best in K/9 (9.77), fourth in FIP (4.00), and was the fifth best bullpen when it came to generating ground balls (45.3% GB%). Kirby Yates last season not only emerged as a rock-solid closer for San Diego, but he also established himself as one of the best late-inning relievers in the game. Fireballer Andres Munoz (3.91 ERA, 30.9 K%) and Michel Baez (3.25 ERA) looked impressive during their time in the Majors last season, and Craig Stammen (3.29 ERA, 21.5 K%) was a reliable arm once again for San Diego.
With the talent the Padres had in their bullpen entering the new year, they were already poised to be in good shape, but San Diego’s pen improved even more with the addition of Emilio Pagan. Pagan, who spent last season as the Rays’ closer, was traded to San Diego for two players earlier this month, and he should be a fine fit for the Padres. Oh, and by the way, he looked great in his first outing as a Padre.
This Emilio Pagan guy is pretty good. Blows two fastballs by Brian Goodwin and Mike Trout for 2 Ks in his first inning 🔥 Pretty big-time asset for the Padres pen this season 📈 pic.twitter.com/hDP6JnDFkN
— Friar Faithful Chronicle (@TheFFChronicle) February 27, 2020
The Braves’ bullpen was a bit of an issue at one point last season. Luke Jackson was the team’s closer, and the team was receiving uneven results from Touki Toussaint and A.J. Minter. At the 2019 Trade Deadline, the Braves acquired Mark Melancon and Shane Greene to bolster their pen, and both provided some help for Atlanta’s bullpen. Melancon recorded a 1.83 FIP and a 10.3 K/9 last season with Atlanta, while Greene did a decent job (3.94 FIP).
Entering 2020, not only will the Braves return Melancon and Greene, but Atlanta also signed former Giants closer Will Smith to a three-year deal. Smith was dominant last season in San Francisco (34 SV, 2.95 ERA, 1.78 FIP, 12.8 K/9), and even though he may or may not be the closer entering 2020, the 30-year old Smith should be a key member of a formidable bullpen in Atlanta, along with Melancon, Greene, Luke Jackson and Sean Newcomb.
The Rays may have traded Emilio Pagan to the Padres earlier this month, but Tampa has arguably the most underrated bullpen in baseball. The Rays may not have big-name relievers, but Tampa Bay certainly has talent in their pen. Last season, the Rays’ bullpen finished first in ERA (3.71), second in FIP (3.94), and eleventh in K/9 (9.62). Entering 2020, the Rays may not return everyone from their 2019 pen, but they will bring back most of the arms that led them to the ALCS last season.
Jose Alvarado may be inconsistent at times, but the 24-year old has a really good cutter to go along with a hard sinker. Hard-throwing righty Diego Castillo can beat hitters with his fastball, as well as with a hard slider with sharp break. And Nick Anderson, who was acquired by the Rays last July from the Marlins, should replace Pagan as the Rays’ closer, and given his numbers from 2019, he should be just fine in that role. With those three, Andrew Kittredge, Oliver Drake and Chaz Roe, the Rays have set themselves up quite nicely entering 2020.
Once again, the Yankees will feature arguably the most powerful bullpens in the game today. Aroldis Chapman, the 2019 AL Reliever of the Year, returns to the Bronx after yet another dominant season (37 SV, 2.21 ERA, 2.28 FIP, 13.4 K/9) as the Yankees’ closer. Right-handed pitcher Adam Ottavino had a strong first season in the Bronx (31.1 K%, 1.90 ERA, 11.9 K/9), while Tommy Kahnle fastball/changeup combo stymied hitters all season long (88 K and 3.33 FIP in 61.1 IP). Left-hander Zack Britton may have struggled a bit with his control at times (4.7 BB/9) last season, but he did post a sparkling 1.91 ERA while allowing very few hits.
All four of those names return to the Yankees for 2020, as the Bronx Bombers look to make the World Series for the first time since 2009. And if the Yankees bullpen can do what it did last season (1st in MLB in Soft%, 3rd in K%, 10th in ERA), the defending AL East Champions should have a good chance to do just that.
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