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2018 Bullpen Outlooks - National League East

The National League East kicks off the first of our National League bullpen outlooks. Check out all of the American League divisions here: AL East, AL Central, AL West.

The NL East doesn't feature any of the big name closers that casual baseball fans would recognize, but there are some solid relief arms on each team and a few guys who should provide nice fantasy value in 2018. The Washington Nationals are the only NL East team almost certain to finish above .500, while a couple of other teams have some upside but aren't sure. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves will need a lot to go right to sniff a winning record and the Miami Marlins will likely have to fight to avoid a 100-loss season.

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

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Atlanta Braves

Closer: Arodys Vizcaino

Volatility Rating: Solid

Other Relevant RPs: Jose Ramirez, Peter Moylan, A.J. Minter

The Atlanta Braves are still rebuilding, but they seem to be on the upswing and 2018 could be a nice stepping stone toward near-future success. Still, it's unlikely they'll compete in 2018, but their bullpen will feature a few interesting arms that will have fantasy relevance.

Closer Arodys Vizcaino has some nice upside and put up solid numbers in 2017, but his previous control issues keep him from being an elite relief arm. In 2017, Vizcaino saved 14 games and posted a 2.83 ERA, striking out 10.05 per nine innings while walking 3.30 in that span. He was unable to control his fastball almost at all in the season before, however, struggling to a 6.05 BB/9 in 2016. If he can maintain his control like he did last season, he should be able to do a solid enough job to keep the ninth inning gig. If his control struggles rear their ugly faces again though, young lefty A.J. Minter could be coming for his job.

Minter is a 24-year-old that was drafted in the second round in 2015. He has the upside to be a top-tier closer if he can control his pitches just a bit more. He made his Major League debut last season, pitching 15 innings, posting a 3.00 ERA with elite rate stats: 15.60 K/9 and 1.20 BB/9, good for a sparkling 0.96 FIP. His minor league numbers show the potential for that kind of strikeout rate, but they show a much more concerning walk rate. If his 2017 big league performance was an indicator of things to come, it won't be long until Minter grabs the closer role and runs away with it as a top-shelf reliever. He's a risky choice because he does not yet have the job and because he could ultimately bust, but he could make the risk more than worth it, especially since he can almost certainly be grabbed off the waiver wire after leagues draft.

Fantasy Must Own: Arodys Vizcaino (all formats, later rounds), A.J. Minter (all dynasty/keeper leagues, worth a spec add in deeper redraft leagues)


Miami Marlins

Closer: Brad Ziegler

Volatility Rating: Solid

Other Relevant RPs: Kyle Barraclough, Drew Steckenrider

The 2018 Miami Marlins aren't going to look anything like the 2017 Miami Marlins. No, they didn't get new uniforms or a new stadium, but they did trade away almost all of their recognizable faces. The entire starting outfield is gone, the second baseman is gone, and the starting rotation is basically a bunch of people no one has ever heard of. (Jose Urena is in competition to start on Opening Day. Jose Urena.) All that being said, the bullpen still has some interesting right arms, with a mix of veterans and young guys making up what could end up being the most average part of the team in 2018.

Brad Ziegler is locked into the closer's role to start the season. The 38-year-old veteran struggled last season, but he was dealing with some injury issues almost all season which are reportedly now taken care of. In 47 innings last year, he posted a 4.79 ERA, 10 saves, a minuscule 4.98 K/9, and a 3.06 BB/9. Ziegler's never been a big strikeout guy, instead relying on ground balls to get outs, but that of course limits his fantasy value. Still, he's a guy with a solid ninth-inning job on a team that, when it wins, will win games by only a few runs. He's worth a late-round stab for owners who need saves, but don't mind not getting much else.

Kyle Barraclough might be the best arm in the Marlins bullpen, and may ultimately end up working in the ninth inning. Barraclough recorded his first big league save last season, but was never officially the team's closer. He tossed 66 innings, putting up a 3.00 ERA with 10.36 K/9 but a concerning 5.18 BB/9. Even more concerning, that 5.18 BB/9 was the lowest of his career. "Bear Claw" has elite swing-and-miss stuff, but he falls into traps at times where he has no idea where his pitches are going. If he can work on that control, he can develop into a very valuable mixed league reliever even if he doesn't take over the ninth inning immediately.

Fantasy Must Own: Brad Ziegler (deeper leagues, owners needing saves only), Kyle Barraclough (NL-only and deep mixed leagues)


New York Mets

Closer: Jeurys Familia/A.J. Ramos

Volatility Rating: Committee

Other Relevant RPs: Jerry Blevins, Anthony Swarzak

The New York Mets are going into the 2018 season with a closer-by-committee, but that committee is only two men: Jeurys Familia and A.J. Ramos. There have been varying rumors that the two will "battle it out" in Spring Training to see who wins the job, and pitching coach Dave Eiland already said that Familia, "will probably get the majority of the saves." It doesn't bode well for Ramos, but Ramos is likely the better pitcher and should be able to work his way into the ninth inning sooner rather than later.

Last season, Familia tossed just 24 2/3 innings, posting a disappointing 4.38 ERA. He struck out 9.12 per nine, but allowed 5.47 walks in that span. He's also reportedly begun concentrating on inducing more ground balls instead of trying for strikeouts, which will of course reduce his fantasy value. Meanwhile, splitting 2017 between the Marlins and the Mets, A.J. Ramos saved 27 games while posting a 3.99 ERA. He came up with a strong 11.05 K/9 but had control issues, posting a 5.22 BB/9. Ramos went through stretches where he looked like he had his control figured out, but then would fall back into stretches where he could not throw strikes. If he puts together a strong spring and starts the season off showing better control, it shouldn't be long until he takes the closer role for himself.

Ramos and Familia are both worth owning at this point, although neither will have great value until one proves himself the better option and takes the ninth innings reins for himself. Familia may have the upper hand right now, but Ramos could be the better bet for 30 saves.

Fantasy Must Own: Jeurys Familia and A.J. Ramos (in deep leagues, try owning both so that you're guaranteed a solid closer once things sort themselves out)


Philadelphia Phillies

Closer: Hector Neris

Volatility Rating: Solid

Other Relevant RPs: Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter

The Philadelphia Phillies are a very young team in general, but their bullpen is filled with veterans who should put together some solid seasons in relief. Closer Hector Neris relies strongly on his splitter, and it can be an absolute nightmare for hitters. He can occasionally lose control of his signature pitch though, and then he becomes a nightmare for himself. Still, when he's on, he's on. Last season, Neris saved 26 games and put up a 3.01 ERA, 10.37 K/9, and 3.13 BB/9. He'll face some competition from other solid bullpen arms, but his job seems pretty safe for now.

Pat Neshek has been a solid late-inning reliever since 2006 and should be just the same in 2018. Splitting last season between the Phillies and the Colorado Rockies, Neshek posted a dazzling 1.59 ERA. He added a solid 9.96 K/9 and an elite 0.87 BB/9. Neshek has had good control for a few years now, but the 0.87 was a career best. He's a strike-thrower who induces a lot of weak contact with his unique delivery. He could fill in at closer if Neris struggles or gets hurt, but Neshek is best used as a setup man, where he'll begin the season.

Fantasy Must Own: Hector Neris (all formats), Pat Neshek (holds leagues)


Washington Nationals

Closer: Sean Doolittle

Volatility Rating: Solid

Other Relevant RPs: Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler

The Washington Nationals will go into the 2018 season with three experienced closers as their top three bullpen arms. Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler have all had success closing out games in the past. Madson and Kintzler have been more of the "solid" type of closer, while Doolittle is the one with the elite potential.

Splitting last season between the Oakland A's and the Nationals, Doolittle saved 24 games, putting up a 2.81 ERA, 10.87 K/9, and 1.75 BB/9. He's struggled a lot with injuries in his career, pitching only 283 innings despite debuting in 2012. When he's on the mound, he's an elite closer who should be among the first 10 relief pitchers drafted in fantasy leagues. The risk with Doolittle does not come with his pitching, but with his health. Owners in deeper leagues should handcuff him with either Madson or Kintzler just to be safe.

Fantasy Must Own: Sean Doolittle (all formats), Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler (as Doolittle's handcuff in deep leagues)


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