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2018 Early Bullpen Outlooks - American League Central


The American League Central comes second in our series of 2018 Early Bullpen Outlooks. Check out the first of the series, on the American League East, right here.

The AL Central doesn't have bullpens with anywhere near the firepower of the AL East, but there are still some solid arms that can contribute to fantasy teams in 2018. The Cleveland bullpen is always interesting to follow since Andrew Miller, the best reliever in the division, isn't even his team's closer. The Twins will be fun to watch this year (more so for the rest of the division than for Twins fans, maybe) with Fernando Rodney working their ninth inning.

Let's take a look at the American League Central and see what teams are employing relief pitchers that could have fantasy relevance this season.

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Chicago White Sox

Closer: Juan Minaya?

Volatility Rating: Extremely Volatile

Other Relevant RPs: Joakim Soria, Nate Jones

The Chicago White Sox ended last season with 27-year-old rookie Juan Minaya working as their closer. He was okay, posting a 4.53 ERA with 10.51 K/9 while saving nine games. He had some pretty concerning numbers as well. He walked 4.12 per nine innings pitched and allowed a 1.44 HR/9 rate. Both numbers don't bode well for his continued success.

Add to that the fact that the White Sox acquired veteran reliever Joakim Soria and are getting high-upside reliever Nate Jones back for Spring Training, and it seems unlikely that Minaya will retain his closer job going into Opening Day. Soria would be the steady, somewhat boring choice. If he wins the job, he would be worth a look in the last round of drafts if only because the White Sox won't win many games this season, but the ones they do will be close. Soria would be a decent source of saves, and should rack up a decent amount of strikeouts as well (10.29 K/9 last season.)

Much more exciting, though, is the prospect of Nate Jones locking down the closer's role. Jones missed almost all of 2017, pitching just 11.2 innings before missing the rest of the year after undergoing a nerve re-positioning procedure in his elbow. He's expected to be fully ready for the start of Spring Training and should have a chance to compete for the ninth inning. Jones has a lot of upside, he posted a sparkling 2.29 ERA and 10.19 K/9 in 2016, his most recent full season. He's only saved three games in his career, so it might be an uphill battle for him against the more experienced Soria, but Jones has the better "stuff" and is the better pitcher. If he wins the job, he'd be worth owning in most formats.

Fantasy Must Own: Too hard to make this call now, but if Jones wins the ninth inning job, he has excellent fantasy upside. Soria or Minaya would be much less exciting, but probably still worth owning in deeper mixed leagues.

 

Cleveland Indians

Closer: Cody Allen

Volatility Rating: Solid

Other Relevant RPs: Andrew Miller, Dan Otero

The Cleveland Indians feature one of the strongest one-two punches in baseball at the end of their bullpen. Cody Allen is a legitimately good closer, but he's overshadowed in his own bullpen by Andrew Miller. Miller is widely considered one of the best relievers in baseball. He posted a pristine 1.44 ERA last season, with 13.64 K/9. He worked as the team's closer for a bit when Allen had to basically go on a break, but Allen is the Tribe's closer, and Miller is the bullpen Swiss army knife. Allen saved 30 games last season, posted a 2.94 ERA, and struck out 12.30 per nine innings pitched.

Allen is a must-own in all formats, and Miller is very much worth owning in most formats as well. He's one of the best assets in holds leagues and posts such great ratios, he's even worth owning in standard leagues with deeper rosters.

Fantasy Must Own: Cody Allen (all formats), Andrew Miller (AL-only, all holds leagues, deeper mixed leagues)

 

Detroit Tigers

Closer: Shane Greene

Volatility Rating: Solid

Other Relevant RPs: Alex Wilson, Joe Jimenez

The Detroit Tigers won't enter the 2018 season with a particularly strong bullpen, but they will enter the season with a bullpen that has set roles. Former starter Shane Greene found a home in the bullpen over the past two seasons and worked his way into the ninth inning. Last year, he saved nine games and posted a 2.66 ERA to go with a solid 9.71 K/9. His walk rate was a bit high, a concerning 4.52 BB/9, and some other stats were a cause for concern as well, including a 3.84 FIP/4.24 xFIP. Still, barring a disastrous Spring Training, Greene will enter the year as the team's closer, and that gives him value in most formats.

Alex Wilson could be next in line to take the ball in the ninth in case Greene struggles. Some reports state that Wilson will have the chance to compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training, which would obviously knock him out of the running for the closer's role. But still, Wilson has some late-game experience from last season, and that might give him a slight edge over Joe Jimenez.

Speaking of Joe Jimenez, he's the "closer of the future" in Detroit, and in a season the Tigers are expected to struggle through, they might want to take a look at what the future holds. Jimenez struggled in his first taste of the big leagues in a small sample size last year, pitching 19 innings and putting up a painful 12.32 ERA. The 23-year-old was excellent in Triple-A though, posting a 1.44 ERA and 12.96 K/9. Jimenez has plenty of upside and is worth grabbing in any dynasty or keeper formats. There's a decent chance he gets some ninth inning action this season too, so he could be worth the last bench spot in a deeper redraft league as well.

Fantasy Must Own: Shane Greene (AL-only and deeper mixed leagues), Joe Jimenez (deep leagues and dynasty/keeper formats)

 

Kansas City Royals

Closer: Kelvin Herrera

Volatility Rating: Volatile

Other Relevant RPs: Brandon Maurer

The Kansas City Royals are heading into a rebuilding season. Despite that, they have two closers in their bullpen with ninth inning experience. Kelvin Herrera is the incumbent and the presumed favorite to enter 2018 with the job. He struggled quite a bit in 2017, but has a track record of success prior to that. Herrera's 2017 featured a 4.25 ERA, 26 saves in 31 opportunities, and a 8.49 K/9 to go with a 3.03 BB/9. Compare that to his excellent 2016, when he put up a 2.75 ERA and 10.75 K/9 with a 1.50 BB/9, and it's easy to see not only why 2017 was disappointing, but also why 2018 could be a make-or-break year for Herrera. Several teams have reportedly shown interest in acquiring the righty, but for now he is projected to start the season as the Royals closer. He can likely be had late in drafts and might be worth a shot in case he can return to his previous form. If he is traded, however, he almost certainly would be working in a setup role and not in the ninth inning, killing any standard league fantasy value.

Brandon Maurer had an even worse 2017 than Herrera on paper, but he was kind of a statistical marvel last season. He saved 22 games in 26 chances, posting a 6.52 ERA and 8.95 K/9 along with a 2.95 BB/9. Numbers beyond ERA show that Maurer was way better than one might think: his 3.93 FIP shows signs of a solid pitcher. He's not a ground ball guy at all though, and doesn't get the huge strikeout numbers that you'd want to ideally see in a closer. Maurer could win the job from Herrera and likely do a decent job, but he would be somewhere in the bottom tiers of closers. Still, if he does indeed take over the ninth inning, either because he outperforms Herrera or because Herrera gets traded, Maurer would be worth adding in deep leagues and in AL-only, and because of that awful ERA last season, he'll go undrafted in a lot of leagues.

Fantasy Must Own: Kelvin Herrera (deep mixed leagues and AL-only, assuming he gets the job), Brandon Maurer (same as Herrera, assuming he gets the job instead)

 

Minnesota Twins

Closer: Fernando Rodney

Volatility Rating: Solid

Other Relevant RPs: Addison Reed, Taylor Rogers

Fernando Rodney's Wild Ride is being relocated to Minnesota this year. The 41-year-old closer signed a one year deal with the Twins this offseason, with an option for 2019. Rodney was atrocious in April last season, which made his overall season numbers look average at best: 39 saves in 45 chances, a 4.23 ERA, 10.57 K/9, and 4.23 BB/9. After April though? 2.38 ERA and 52 strikeouts to go with just 19 walks. Rodney proved that he still has "it" and can pitch at a high level. Despite the team signing Addison Reed as well, manager Paul Molitor has already confirmed that Rodney will start the season as the team's closer. He likely won't have an endless rope, but Molitor seems like the type to give him a few chances to fix things before removing him from the role. Rodney is worth owning in all formats, and perhaps his awful April last season will allow him to slip well into the last rounds of drafts.

Despite Rodney's post-April success, Addison Reed is still the best pitcher in the Minnesota bullpen. Reed split 2017 between the Mets and Red Sox, totaling a 2.84 ERA to go with 19 saves and exactly one strikeout per inning pitched (9.00 K/9). He only walked 1.78 per nine, showing his elite control. Reed will work as the primary setup man in Minnesota and is a must-own in all holds leagues. If Rodney falters, Reed would be the next man up, and would return excellent value as a closer. He should be considered for a final roster spot even in non-holds leagues if only because his path to saves might be a bit clearer than other similarly-talented setup men.

Fantasy Must Own: Fernando Rodney (all formats), Addison Reed (all holds leagues and some deeper leagues)

 

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