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2018 Early Bullpen Outlooks - American League East

Baseball season is almost back, but before that comes fantasy baseball draft season. In this series of articles to be published over the next several weeks, we will look into the bullpens of all 30 teams, taking a look at closers, setup men, and other bullpen arms in the process. Some teams have roles already set in stone while others will be using Spring Training to discover the best way to split up their relievers.

The American League East gets us started, and while all five teams in the division have strong closers, the similarities more or less end there. The setup men and the overall bullpen depth varies wildly between these five teams.

Let's get started with a look at these five teams and where their bullpens stand today.

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Baltimore Orioles

Closer: Brad Brach

Volatility Rating: Questionable

Other Relevant RPs: Darren O'Day, Mychal Givens, Zach Britton

The Baltimore Orioles have a truly elite closer in Zach Britton, but he was only able to pitch in 38 games last season and won't be ready to start the 2018 season either. Britton ruptured his Achilles' tendon in the offseason and underwent surgery in December. Some players can take up to 12 months to recover from the procedure, but Britton and the Orioles are optimistically projecting he'll be back on the mound in the second half of the season.

In the meantime, Brad Brach is expected to continue filling in as closer, much like he did in 2017. Brach is not the elite closer that a healthy Zach Britton is, but he's no slouch either. Last season, he saved 18 games and posted a 3.18 ERA while striking out more than a batter per inning (9.26 K/9). He'll be worth owning in most formats and should be available late in drafts.

Other interesting relief arms in the Orioles bullpen (and guys who could end up with save chances if Brach struggles) are Darren O'Day and Mychal Givens. O'Day has seemingly been around forever, and he's coming off the best strikeout season in his career. He posted a passable 3.43 ERA with a strong 11.34 K/9. He's been mentioned by manager Buck Showalter as a potential closing option. Givens is also coming off a strong year, posting a 2.75 ERA and 10.07 K/9 in 78.2 innings pitched. He has less experience closing than O'Day and Brach, but he would be a solid option in the ninth if Showalter gave him a chance. Keep an eye on any developments in the Orioles bullpen leading up to Opening Day. For now, Brach is the one to own, but that could change rather quickly.

Fantasy Must Own: Brad Brach (AL only, deeper mixed leagues), Zach Britton (on teams with an available DL spot)


Boston Red Sox

Closer: Craig Kimbrel

Volatility Rating: Solid

Other Relevant RPs: Joe Kelly, Carson Smith, Matt Barnes

The Boston Red Sox have one of the best closers in baseball in Craig Kimbrel and yet their bullpen is still not even close to the level of that of their arch rival, the New York Yankees. Still, let's not sell the Red Sox bullpen short. As mentioned, Kimbrel is a monster. In 2017, he saved 35 games and posted a 1.43 ERA to go with a ridiculous 16.43 K/9. That 1.43 ERA was backed up by a 1.42 FIP and a 1.50 xFIP. He may have benefited a bit from an unsustainable 93.9% LOB% (93.9% of the batters who reached base against him were left on base and did not score.) Still, Kimbrel is elite and should be one of the first closers off the board in fantasy drafts.

The Red Sox have a couple of other interesting arms in their bullpen as well. While neither is likely to reach Kimbrel's level, Matt Barnes and the latest version of Joe Kelly are both solid relievers in their own rights. Barnes appeared in 70 games last season, posting a 3.88 ERA and 10.72 K/9. That's solid, but by no means spectacular. Joe Kelly found a home in the bullpen and had a strong 2017. He put up a 2.79 ERA in 58 innings while striking out 8.07 batters per nine innings pitched. Kelly did occasionally show a concerning lack of control, walking 4.19 batters per nine innings. Both are solid "real life" relievers to have in the back end of a bullpen, but neither Barnes nor Kelly are worth drafting in standard fantasy leagues. Both could have value in holds leagues though, with Barnes getting a slight edge over Kelly.

Fantasy Must Own: Craig Kimbrel (all formats- should be one of the first closers drafted)


New York Yankees

Closer: Aroldis Chapman

Volatility Rating: More Volatile Than You Probably Think

Other Relevant RPs: Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle

Many people hear the name "Aroldis Chapman" and think, "best closer in baseball." While that may have been true in the recent past, it was certainly not the case in 2017. Chapman was good. In fact, Chapman was very good. He saved 22 games and posted a 3.22 ERA in 50.1 innings pitched. He posted an eye-opening 12.34 K/9. Those are good numbers, but they're not "best closer" numbers. Arguments could even be made that there are better closers in the very same Yankees bullpen.

David Robertson, Dellin Betances, and Tommy Kahnle have all experienced success in closing out games at the major league level. Working together, they form a fearsome end of the bullpen for the Yankees that can easily be seen as one of if not the best bullpen in baseball today. All four posted double digit K/9 rates last season, led by Betances' 15.08. The best reliever in the Yankees bullpen in 2017 though? At least by fWAR, it was none other than Chad Green, who accumulated 2.3 fWAR in 67 innings pitched while posting a 13.43 K/9 and a 1.61 ERA.

Keep an eye on the Yankees bullpen through Spring Training, if Chapman struggles, the team knows they have an embarrassment of riches already around to take his place. For now, Chapman is the only "must own" in mixed leagues, but that could change quickly. All of the pitchers mentioned here have the upside to be elite fantasy closers.

Fantasy Must Own: Aroldis Chapman (all formats, but keep an eye on any Spring Training developments), Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle (any leagues that count holds will see all three of these pitchers return solid value)


Tampa Bay Rays

Closer: Alex Colome

Volatility Rating: Questionable (Solid if Colome doesn't get traded)

Other Relevant RPs: Dan JenningsRyne Stanek

The Tampa Bay Rays are probably not going to give their fans a ton to cheer about this coming season. They traded away the face of their franchise when Evan Longoria packed his bags for San Francisco. They've also been reportedly shopping their closer, Alex Colome. Colome is not an elite closer like some of the other guys in the AL East, but he's a solid ninth inning guy who can consistently shut the door when called upon. If he remains with the team, the Rays will at least have a solid closer to call on the few times they have a lead in the ninth inning. Colome's solid 2017 featured 47 saves and a 3.24 ERA in 66.2 innings. He's never been a huge strikeout guy, he recorded just 7.83 K/9 last season. Odds are, if Colome gets traded, he might not close for his new team. That makes him a risky draft choice in fantasy leagues that draft early.

As far as who would close in the event of a Colome trade, that role would seemingly go to lefty Dan Jennings. He's the only other pitcher in the Rays bullpen with any real semblance of major league late inning experience. Jennings isn't great, but he's been a solid lefty late inning reliever for long enough now. Last season, he posted a 3.45 ERA in 77 appearances. This will be a bullpen to avoid in most fantasy formats unless Colome sticks around. Ryne Stanek is an interesting potentially high-upside reliever, but he's yet to figure it out at the big league level. Keep the name in mind though, just in case.

Fantasy Must Own: Alex Colome (AL only, if he stays in Tampa Bay)


Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Roberto Osuna

Volatility Rating: Solid

Other Relevant RPs: Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera

The Toronto Blue Jays have their bullpen anchored by a 22-year-old. That might sound like something they should be concerned about, but Roberto Osuna has proven himself to be one of the better closers in baseball, even at such a young age. Last year, he saved 39 games and posted a 3.38 ERA. While the ERA may not sparkle, he was hurt by a 59.5% LOB% and his FIP was just 1.74, showing that perhaps some of the bloat in his ERA was due to bad luck. Osuna was able to strike out 11.67 batters per nine innings while walking just 1.27 in that span. He accumulated a 3.0 fWAR and did very well at not allowing home runs.

Elsewhere in the Blue Jays bullpen are Ryan Tepera and Aaron Loup. Both are solid relievers who strike out over a batter per inning (9.39 K/9 for Tepera, 9.99 for Loup). They serve important purposes in the Toronto bullpen, but neither would be a must own closer if Osuna went down. In holds leagues, however, both Tepera and Loup should return decent value and can almost certainly be had in the last rounds of a fantasy draft.

Fantasy Must Own: Roberto Osuna (all formats)


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