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2018 Bullpen Outlooks - National League Central

The National League Central continues our series of National League bullpen outlooks. Check out all of the American League divisions here: AL East, AL Central, AL West, and the first National League article here: NL East

The NL Central has several strong closers who could make some significant noise in fantasy leagues this season. Even with that being true, if you were to ask a casual baseball fan to name you the closers from the NL Central, they could easily go 0-for-5. Savvy baseball fans, fantasy players especially, need to make themselves familiar with guys like Raisel Iglesias and Corey Knebel, to name a few.

Let's take a look at the National League Central and see why these guys deserve much more recognition than they're currently receiving.

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Chicago Cubs

Closer: Brandon Morrow

Volatility Rating: Questionable

Other Relevant RPs: Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek

The Chicago Cubs saw one really good relief season from Brandon Morrow and believed in him enough to not go after more established closers like Greg Holland. Morrow was excellent for the Dodgers last season, tossing 43 2/3 innings while posting a 2.06 ERA, 10.31 K/9, and 1.85 BB/9. He was working in a setup role then, making him a strong fantasy piece in holds leagues but not much of anything in standard leagues. This season, it looks like he'll get the chance to lock down wins for the Cubs. He has the upside of a high-tier closer, but he has dealt with injuries throughout his entire career, making him a bit more of a risky pick than some of the others in his same tier. Still, fantasy owners who draft him after some of the top closers are off the board could end up with similar or even better production out of Morrow.

Sure to be nipping at his heels if Morrow falters or gets hurt, Steve Cishek enters the season as the Cubs pitcher with the most ninth-inning experience. Cishek split 2017 between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays. He totaled 44 2/3 innings, putting up a 2.01 ERA, 8.26 K/9, and 2.82 BB/9. It was a solid season for the unique right hander, even though his strikeout numbers were quite a bit lower than his career average (9.58 K/9). Still, Cishek has saved 121 games in his career, and he'd certainly be the next guy up if Morrow can't cut it.

Fantasy Must Own: Brandon Morrow (all formats- significant injury risk, but upper-tier upside), Steve Cishek (all holds leagues, good insurance for Morrow in deeper standard leagues)

 

Cincinnati Reds

Closer: Raisel Iglesias

Volatility Rating: Solid

Other Relevant RPs: Michael Lorenzen, David Hernandez

The Cincinnati Reds look like they will have a very top-heavy bullpen in 2018, with closer Raisel Iglesias set to make plenty of noise as an excellent closer and [pause for effect] basically no one else. Iglesias is unlikely to get as many save chances as the other established closers in this division, but he'll make the most of the innings he gets. Last season, he pitched 76 innings, saving 28 games and posting a 2.49 ERA. He posted a strong strikeout rate (10.89 K/9) and was okay with his control (3.20 BB/9.) Iglesias has the potential to be in the top few tiers of closers, but his team situation will knock him down a rung or two. Still, Iglesias still flies under the radar in drafts and would be excellent to pair with a higher-save potential arm from an earlier round.

Behind Iglesias the Reds have Michael Lorenzen and David Hernandez. Lorenzen had an up-and-down 2017, ending up with a 4.45 ERA, 8.67 K/9, and 3.69 BB/9 in 83 innings of work. He's not a flame thrower, nor is he a guy with excellent "stuff", but despite that, he's a high-leverage pitcher with a decent strikeout rate. That's someone worth knowing about in deeper leagues, NL-only, and holds leagues. Don't draft Lorenzen, but if he's around on the wire and you need to pick up a few Ks one week, you could do worse.

Fantasy Must Own: Raisel Iglesias (all formats- underrated closer, could likely be had in the later rounds), Michael Lorenzen (deep/NL-only holds leagues)

 

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Corey Knebel

Volatility Rating:Solid

Other Relevant RPs: Josh Hader, Jacob Barnes

The Milwaukee Brewers have the best closer in baseball that people are still learning about. Corey Knebel burst onto the scene last season with 39 saves, a 1.78 ERA, and an elite 14.92 K/9. His 4.74 BB/9 wasn't ideal, but it's almost forgivable when he's striking out almost 15 per nine. Knebel is an elite closer who should challenge for that top tier of fantasy closers in 2018, but could likely still be had at a discount in more casual leagues due to a lack of name recognition.

Elsewhere in the Milwaukee bullpen, Josh Hader also gets a lot of strikeouts. Hader pitched 47 2/3 innings in 2017, posting a 2.08 ERA, 12.84 K/9, and 4.15 BB/9. He'd be solid in the ninth inning if needed, but so would another hard throwing righty in the Brewers bullpen, Jacob Barnes. Barnes tossed 72 innings last season, posting an even 4.00 ERA, striking out 10.00 per nine, and walking 4.13 in that span. He doesn't have the upside of a Knebel or a Hader, but he throws more innings. That makes him potentially a more valuable piece than Hader in a deeper holds league since he'll rack up a few more strikeouts along the way. Still, Hader seems to be the own to own as Knebel insurance and the preferred choice for holds.

Fantasy Must Own: Corey Knebel (all formats, okay as one of the first closers off the board), Josh Hader (all holds leagues, some deeper standard/NL-only)

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer: Felipe Rivero

Volatility Rating: Solid

Other Relevant RPs: Michael Feliz, George Kontos

The Pittsburgh Pirates are set for an interesting 2018. They're not quite rebuilding,but they're not quite competing either. The starting rotation has some question marks, but some nice upside as well. That could lead to a good number of save chances for lefty Felipe Rivero. Rivero has the upside to be one of the best closers in fantasy. He posted a sterling 1.67 ERA last season to go with 21 saves, a 10.51 K/9, and a 2.39 BB/9. He's likely to have a fairly long leash too, so even if he does struggle a bit, fantasy owners won't have to worry as much about him losing his job. He's an excellent fantasy asset and should be taken as one of the potential top-10 relievers in 2018.

Michael Feliz is an interesting reliever because he has all the strikeout upside in the world. With that though, comes a high walk rate, a huge home run rate, and a disappointing ERA. In 48 innings in 2017, Feliz came up with a 5.63 ERA. That went with a 13.13 K/9 and a 4.13 BB/9. He only induced ground balls in 31% of his outs, leading to a lot of fly balls and a 1.50 HR/9 rate. Feliz has upside, but has some legitimate blow-up-inning downside as well. He's worth keeping an eye on, but probably not worth drafting just yet. Also in the Pittsburgh pen is George Kontos. The former Giant is basically the definition of a solid late-inning reliever. He won't wow anyone with his 3.39 ERA, 9.50 K/9, or 2.71 BB/9, but he won't disappoint anyone either. He's worth consideration in holds leagues for fantasy owners who appreciate consistency and don't mind giving up a little bit of upside for it.

Fantasy Must Own: Felipe Rivero (all formats), George Kontos (holds leagues)

 

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Luke Gregerson

Volatility Rating:Questionable

Other Relevant RPs: Tyler Lyons, Brett Cecil

The St. Louis Cardinals have an interesting bullpen heading into 2018. Manager Mike Matheny still hasn't named a closer and very well might not do so before Opening Day. Luke Gregerson seems like the favorite for saves for now, but he's coming off an inconsistent season and the Cardinals have several other intriguing arms in that bullpen. Gregerson's 2017 featured a 4.57 ERA, 10.33 K/9, and 2.95 BB/9. All solid enough numbers to be a decent closer both in "real life" and in fantasy, but not numbers that are likely to lock him into the role if his competition starts performing well.

Speaking of Gregerson's competition, Tyler Lyons has been mentioned as a closer candidate by Matheny and by other members of the Cardinals brass. Lyons is a nice strikeout-upside pitcher who could develop legitimate fantasy value if Gregerson falters. Last season, Lyons pitched 54 innings, putting up a 2.83 ERA, 11.33 K/9, and 3.33 BB/9. The Cardinals would rather keep him in his familiar setup role, where he'll start the season, but he could be the most effective closer on the roster right now.

Fantasy Must Own: Luke Gregerson (if named closer: all formats; if leading committee: NL-only and deeper mixed), Tyler Lyons (all holds leagues)

 

More 2018 Player Outlooks




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