RELIEVERS: Early observations in BAL, PHI, SEA, STL and LAA

Let's tour through early observations about Baltimore, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Not much is expected from Baltimore in 2019, and the bullpen is frankly, atrocious. There are a few left-handers who have some situational value, with Mychal Givens (RHP, BAL) closing. For AL-only or mixed league purposes, there is not much to gain unless one guy is grabbing all the saves. Is that Givens? Here is the first week:

BAL (1st wk)      Sv Hld  IP  ERA xERA WHIP  K BB HR BPV 
==============    == === === ==== ==== ==== == == == ===
M.Givens           0   2 2.7 3.38 3.06 1.88  4  2  0 114
P.Fry (L)          1   1 3.3 2.70 4.57 1.50  3  2  1  22
T.Scott (L)        0   0   0    0    0    0  0  0  0  na
R.Bleier (L)       1   0 3.0 9.00 4.84 1.67  2  0  1  94
M.Wright           1   0 2.7 6.75 4.45 1.50  4  1  1 144
M.Castro           1   1 3.0 3.00 4.01 1.00  2  1  1  72

One week in, four different Orioles have saves and none of them are Givens. This won't last and you should not expect many saves from the likes of Paul Fry (LHP, BAL) or Miguel Castro (RHP, BAL), much less Mike Wright (RHP, BAL) and Richard Bleier (LHP, BAL). Tanner Scott (LHP, BAL) had a lousy March and was shipped out to Triple-A, but he will be back at some point. Scott is really the only one who has stuff as good as Givens, but he has to throw strikes.

Here are the projections going forward:

BAL (proj)        Sv Hld  IP  ERA xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 BPV
==============    == === === ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===
M.Givens          23   4  73 3.58 3.70 1.15  9.5  3.1  1.0 104
P.Fry (L)          2  11  58 4.03 3.85 1.29  9.2  3.4  1.1  95
T.Scott (L)        2  23  44 4.09 3.54 1.34 11.2  4.9  1.0  93
R.Bleier (L)       2   8  58 3.57 3.93 1.28  4.3  1.7  0.8  70
M.Wright           2  15  87 5.38 4.97 1.60  6.9  3.6  1.4  43
M.Castro           2  11  73 4.68 4.98 1.48  5.9  4.4  1.5  14

Castro throws strikes, but strikes out no one and gives up lots of home runs. Wright also gives up home runs and lots of hits and is expected to have a 1.60 WHIP and 5.38 ERA. Bleier is expected to have a 4.3 DOM and 1.7 Cmd ratio, which is disastrous. The three arms that are marginally useful are Scott with a promising 11.2 DOM and 4.9 Cmd ratio, but he has to be consistent and throw strikes. He could come quickly if he can do that. He couldn't in March. Fry is the consistent pitcher in the grouping and he could vulture some saves—and some wins. As the projections show, Givens is the guy you want—if anyone—in the Orioles pen. He is the guy that will be used in the highest leverage, whether closing or not. That is as true today as it was a week ago, even if four different pitchers grabbed saves the first week and Givens didn't get one. Just know that you are bottom feeding grabbing from this grouping.

Conversely, Philadelphia went out and bought players for a run at the playoffs in 2019. That includes Opening Day closer David Robertson (RHP, PHI). Robertson had a horrible first week and no Phillie had a save:

PHI (1st wk)      Sv Hld  IP  ERA   xERA WHIP  K BB HR  BPV 
==============    == === === ===== ===== ==== == == == ====
D.Robertson        0   0 2.0 18.00 20.83 5.00  1  5  1 -492
H.Neris            0   0 3.0  6.00  3.65 0.67  2  0  1  142
J.Nicasio          0   1 3.0  0.00  3.27 1.33  3  2  0   49
S.Dominguez        0   1 2.0  4.50  1.66 1.50  4  1  0  260
P.Neshek           0   1 2.7  0.00  1.81 0.75  3  0  0  210

One week in, Robertson has a -492 BPV. That is laughably bad, and his xERA of 20.83 tells us that he is lucky that his 18.00 actual ERA isn't worse. Five walks, one strikeout, one home run. No bueno. But that's only two bad innings. Robertson has a long, strong track record. He will get it sorted out. And around him, the Phillies have several other elite arms. Hector Neris (RHP, PHI) started 2018 as the closer for the Phillies and had a bad start, got replaced, then ran wild the latter part of the year. Seranthony Dominguez (RHP, PHI) was the closer for most of 2018 and remains superb. Neither of them had a good first week, either, with Neris giving a 6.00 ERA and Dominguez a 4.50 ERA. The support skill stats say they were a lot better than that in their three and two innings, respectively.

Here are the projections going forward:

PHI (proj)        Sv Hld  IP  ERA xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 BPV
==============    == === === ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===
D.Robertson       24  10  73 2.71 2.64 1.01 13.2  3.4  0.9 168
H.Neris            2  12  73 3.45 3.34 1.19 11.7  3.2  1.1 137
J.Nicasio          0  10  65 3.32 3.45 1.25 10.4  2.8  1.1 131
S.Dominguez       16   9  65 3.05 2.83 0.97 10.9  3.7  0.6 130
P.Neshek           0  10  65 3.05 4.03 1.08  7.9  1.7  1.2 110

Look at these beautiful BPIs across the board. Robertson will certainly share save chances with Dominguez and likely Neris as well. That lethal combo will shorten and win a lot of games. Juan Nicasio (RHP, PHI) is like a forgotten man here, but he is terrific too, and will likely get the multiple-inning stints when needed to bridge a bit further. One thing you don't see is a left-handed reliever. But these fearsome right-handers are more than capable against either side in leverage. Don't be fooled by the poor start. Do watch for the early usage patterns to see who is going to grab saves. When all are rested, the current bet is Robertson, then Dominguez, then Neris, but it could change based on the previous night's usage, so don't expect huge save numbers from any one of these relievers.

Seattle sure had an interesting first week. Anthony Swarzak (RHP, SEA) returned just as Hunter Strickand (RHP, SEA) got hurt. Swarzak had a great first two-thirds of an inning and got a save. Everyone else fell down while the Mariners won anyway. Swarzak is the closer! Here is the first week:

SEA (1st wk)      Sv Hld  IP  ERA xERA WHIP  K BB HR  BPV 
==============    == === === ==== ==== ==== == == == ====
M.Festa            0   2 4.3 0.00 4.51 0.92  3  2  0   20
A.Swarzak          1   0 0.7 0.00 0.00 0.00  1  0  0  321
C.Gearrin          0   3 3.3 2.70 6.47 1.50  3  4  0 -125
C.Bradford         1   1 1.7 0.00 3.58 0.60  1  1  0   -4
R.Elias (L)        1   1 4.7 3.86 4.54 0.86  4  1  0   86

One week in, yep, Swarzak is the closer. For now. Matt Festa (RHP, SEA) might be already thrust into leverage and will set up with Cory Gearrin (RHP, SEA). For a moment, it looked like Gearrin might have to be a temp closer, but that ended before it started. Festa is going to be more and more interesting down the road and may ultimately become Seattle's best reliever.

Here are the balance of 2019 projections:

SEA (proj)        Sv Hld  IP  ERA xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 BPV
==============    == === === ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===
M.Festa            5   7  44 3.27 3.55 1.45 10.4  2.4  1.2 144
A.Swarzak         11  11  58 4.03 4.10 1.31  8.1  2.5  1.4  97
C.Gearrin          4  14  58 3.88 3.83 1.29  8.7  3.9  1.4  78
C.Bradford         0  11  51 4.24 4.43 1.45  6.0  2.3  1.1  74
R.Elias (L)        0   4  36 5.00 4.93 1.53  6.8  4.2  0.5  29

Festa is projected to be the best reliever in this bullpen in 2019—best ERA, xERA, Dom, BPV. He has to throw strikes and get more consistency game-to-game. Swarzak is OK, but not really what you want closing games. Hunter Strickland (RHP, SEA) will miss at least a couple of months with his lat strain and even when he returns, a projected 67 BPV is just a placeholder-type closer. Other reinforcements may come soon as Shawn Armstrong (RHP, SEA) is about to start a rehab assignment following an oblique strain. Armstrong is projected for a 86 BPV, but he showed some promise late in 2018. Sam Tuivailala (RHP, SEA) is expected back at the end of June from an Achilles injury. Tuivailala is projected for a 82 BPV.

Do not expect the Mariners to go buy Craig Kimbrel (RHP, FA). But it won't be a surprise to see them make some kind of trade to bolster the back end of this bullpen to something better than Swarzak. Swarzak is the guy for now, but he is keeping the seat warm. He is not a season-long solution.

St. Louis got a save from John Gant (RHP, STL) and one from Dakota Hudson (RHP, STL) in week one. Here are the week one results:

STL (1st wk)      Sv Hld  IP  ERA  xERA WHIP  K BB HR  BPV 
==============    == === === ====  ==== ==== == == ==  ===
A.Miller (L)       0   1 2.7 6.75  6.10 1.88  2  2  1  -33
J.Brebbia          0   0 3.0 0.00  3.16 0.67  3  1  0  102
D.Leone            0   0 4.7 0.00  3.90 0.43  5  2  0   87
A.Reyes            0   2 2.0 9.00 10.95 2.00  1  3  0 -288
J.Gant             1   0 4.7 0.00  4.09 1.07  3  4  0  -59
J.Hicks            0   0 3.3 5.40  2.76 1.20  4  1  0  150
D.Hudson           1   0 5.0 5.40  4.09 2.00  6  3  3   92

Just like they drew it up. Uber-lefty import Andrew Miller (LHP, STL) got blown up, expected closer Jordan Hicks posted a 5.40 ERA, and prized prospect Alex Reyes (RHP, STL) had a -288 BPV. Miller threw 2.7 innings, Hicks threw 3.3 innings and Reyes threw 2.0 innings. The results will change for the better. In fact, it is unfair to say Hicks didn't have a good first week as he got four strikeouts against one walk in 3.3 innings—a 2.76 xERA and a 1.20 WHIP. This is how meaningless 3.3 innings is—5.40 actual ERA; but deserved a 2.76 xERA.

Meanwhile, John Brebbia (RHP, STL) went three good innings, Dominic Leone (RHP, STL) went 4.7 good innings and Gant also went 4.7 good innings. This week will give Mike Shildt a lot to think about with respect to relative skill sets. Hudson got a save, but he also allowed three home runs in five innings.

Here are the projections for the balance of the season:

STL (proj)        Sv Hld  IP  ERA xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 BPV
==============    == === === ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===
A.Miller (L)      18  16  58 2.79 2.40 0.97 13.3  3.1  0.6 181
J.Brebbia          0   3  44 3.48 4.10 1.20  9.4  2.4  1.2 111
D.Leone            2   9  58 4.03 3.78 1.29  9.0  3.1  0.9 102
A.Reyes            2   6  87 3.83 3.77 1.26 10.2  3.8  1.3 102
J.Gant             0   7  73 3.95 4.51 1.42  7.2  3.7  0.9  52
J.Hicks           20  20  65 3.88 3.75 1.38  8.3  5.3  0.3  47
D.Hudson           0   1 116 3.96 4.08 1.38  5.4  3.4  1.0  45

Miller and Hicks will get a lot of rope. Hicks is supposed to be a changed pitcher with new pitches to add to his electric stuff, but he has to throw strikes consistently. The projection has him with a 5.3 Cmd ratio. If Hicks can do that, he will be a top-end closer, not a 47 BPV leftover. If he can't, the Cardinals will replace him with the hot hand. The name that stands out on this list might be Brebbia. He is projected to have the second-best BPV, a 3.48 actual ERA and 1.20 WHIP and he is practically invisible in the midst of this grouping of relievers. Watch Brebbia as he is sure to rise into leverage sooner than later if we can trust these skill indicators.

Carlos Martinez (RHP, STL) is expected back at some point as well and will enter the relief mix instead of the rotation. Martinez is projected for a 95 BPV; it is just unclear at this point whether the Cardinals can count on him or where they might slot him. If Hicks has failed and there is no obvious hot hand when Martinez returns, Martinez himself could end up closing. It is too speculative right now to guess even when Martinez will return, much less to what role.

And finally, we have the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim who had zero saves the first week. Ty Buttrey (RHP, LAA) had a great week, but otherwise, well, let's look at the stats:

LAA (1st wk)      Sv Hld  IP  ERA xERA WHIP  K BB HR  BPV 
==============    == === === ==== ==== ==== == == ==  ===
C.Allen            0   0 1.0 0.00 6.85 1.00  1  1  0 -103
C.Bedrosian        0   0 2.3 0.00 3.67 0.43  2  1  0   53
T.Buttrey          0   1 3.0 0.00 1.15 1.00  5  0  0  315
H.Robles           0   0 2.7 6.75 5.02 1.50  4  1  1  155
J.Anderson         0   0 3.3 0.00 4.51 1.20  2  2  0  -21

One week in, Cody Allen (RHP, LAA) has one inning. We cannot tell much from that, except that Brad Ausmus intends to use Allen as a traditional closer and preserve him for that clean ninth inning. Buttrey appears to be more of the leverage guy, along with Cam Bedrosian (RHP, LAA) in the early going. We are going to need more innings with leads to get a good read on all the roles.

Here are the balance of the season projections:

LAA (proj)        Sv Hld  IP  ERA xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 BPV
==============    == === === ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===
C.Allen           30   4  65 3.60 3.63 1.22 11.6  3.9  1.4 117
C.Bedrosian        0   8  58 3.72 3.77 1.29  9.2  3.4  0.8  97
T.Buttrey          6  23  58 3.57 3.51 1.31  9.0  3.9  0.8  89
H.Robles           2  19  58 3.72 4.25 1.34  9.3  3.7  1.4  79
J.Anderson         0   8  58 4.34 4.21 1.55  9.5  5.9  0.9  43

The projections think Allen is going to be a traditional closer and also have the best BPIs in this pen. That would keep things tidy for Allen owners and for the Angels as well. Buttrey is going to have something to say about it before all is said and done. Buttrey does not project to the same Dom, but the Cmd ratio is the same, indicating fewer walks and Buttrey also has a better projected HR/9. Allen has the better projected WHIP, though, even with the more walks, and as we have seen in the past, he can hold the role. Allen just has to stay away from the 1.4 HR/9. If that comes in bunches, there will be changes. If the team continues to lose games, it should consider using its best relievers more flexibly than one inning/week.

Next week, this column will continue comparing usage with projected skill sets to help you make decisions. Follow me @dougdennis41


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.