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2020 Early Bullpen Outlooks - A.L. Central


Welcome to 2020, fantasy friends. There are four football teams still playing and basketball and hockey are in full swing, so it's time to start thinking about the 2020 baseball season.

Free agency has been a little more front-loaded this season, leaving fewer questions about rosters heading into Spring Training. Still, there will be changes between now and Opening Day, so keep an eye on our Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Depth Charts throughout the year.

Let's continue with the American League Central, where it looks like closers might remain the same as in 2019, but some things may have changed in the seventh and eighth innings, and some leashes may have been shortened. Let's sneak out of this collar like my cat did in an airport once and rush through security into the AL Central.

Editor's Note: Get our 2020 MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our draft kit, premium rankings, player projections and outlooks, our top sleepers, dynasty and prospect rankings, 20 preseason and in-season lineup tools, and over 200 days of expert DFS research and tools. Sign Up Now!

 

Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers were bad last year. The Detroit Tigers will be bad again this year. But that doesn't mean the Detroit Tigers won't have some valuable fantasy contributors on the squad. One of them could be in the bullpen in the shape of closer Joe Jimenez. Jimenez had been the "closer of the future" for the Tigers for what seemed like forever before finally getting his chance after the team traded Shane Greene to the Atlanta Braves. Jimenez was okay overall in 2019, saving nine games in 14 chances. He posted a mediocre-if-we're-feeling-generous 4.37 ERA/4.19 xFIP in 59 2/3 innings, but he was able to post a strong 31.9 K% along with a decent 9.0 BB%. He had definite issues with the home run ball but showed enough upside to be worth a late-round selection in most formats.

Elsewhere in the Tigers bullpen reside even more question marks, with Buck Farmer looking like the best bet for the main setup role. Farmer posted a 3.72 ERA/4.11 xFIP in 67 2/3 innings in 2019, along with a 25.4 K% and 8.3 BB%. He's a solid reliever in real life, but not much of a fantasy asset, especially on a team unlikely to provide a ton of opportunities for holds. Gregory Soto and Jose Cisnero wrap up the likely end-of-bullpen arms for Detroit, and neither belongs on too many fantasy rosters.

 

Chicago White Sox

The Chicago White Sox have improved their team in almost every aspect this offseason, including a somewhat under-the-radar bullpen addition that could pay off in 2020. At the end of their bullpen remains Alex Colome, who was decent in 2019 but outperformed his peripherals and leaves some cause for concern. Colome converted 30 of his 33 save opportunities and posted a 2.80 ERA, but a 4.61 xFIP and pedestrian strikeout (22.1 K%) and walk (9.2 BB%) rates show possible signs of regression in 2020. He's still worth rostering in most formats, but he's likely to be overdrafted in some leagues.

Aaron Bummer should return as the key lefty and setup man in the White Sox bullpen. Somewhat similar to Colome in that he outperformed many peripherals, Bummer put up a sparkling 2.13 ERA but a 3.49 xFIP, partly thanks to his .228 BABIP against. He struck out 22.9% and walked 9.2% of the batters he faced. Solid enough numbers on a real mound, but not much to be excited about in fantasy. Steve Cishek joined the White Sox recently on a one-year contract. He was great in the first half last year before hitting an extended second-half slump, but should be a valuable part of the bullpen if he can find his first-half form again. For the season, he ended up with a 2.95 ERA/4.95 xFIP, 21.4 K% and 10.9 BB%. At this point in his career, he's another arm that is better on the mound than on your screen.

 

Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians traded their ace Corey Kluber and have been rumored to be looking to trade their best player Francisco Lindor (although more recent reports expect Lindor to stay for 2020). One place they did improve was in their bullpen. Brad Hand will be back to close things out, but Emmanuel Clase could put some heat on Brad's seat. Hand was excellent for some stretches in 2019 and awful for some stretches as well. He was so good when he was good that his season numbers don't show how bad he was when he was bad. Overall, he ended up with 34 saves in 39 chances, posting a 3.30 ERA/3.41 xFIP and a 34.7 K% with a 7.4 BB%. Those are potentially elite numbers, and bad luck may have played a role in Hand's struggles (.362 BABIP compared to his career .288 number, for example.) Hand should be back to his 2019-good self for most of 2020 and is worth being one of the first few closers drafted in most formats.

Clase came from the Texas Rangers in the Kluber deal and should immediately slot into the eighth inning. He will be just 22 on Opening Day and has only thrown 23 1/3 innings at the big league level, all in 2019. In those innings, he pitched to a 2.31 ERA/3.42 xFIP. He showed strong control with a 6.4 BB% and should improve upon his so-so 22.3 K%. He has an unquestionably elite fastball (often given an 80 grade on the 20-80 scale) and could become an elite bullpen arm if he can develop a decent enough secondary offering. Clase is the closer-in-waiting in Cleveland and was the prize of the Kluber deal, so Hand could end up on the trading block at the deadline if Cleveland struggles. Other relievers to keep an eye on are James Karinchak and Nick Wittgren. Wittgren is one of those guys who has more value to his real team than to any fantasy team, but Karinchak has had almost unheard of strikeout numbers in the minors (66.7 K% in Double-A and 53.9% in Triple-A!) He struggles with control quite a bit though, however he was excellent in his 5 1/3 cup-of-coffee innings in 2019.

 

Kansas City Royals

The Kansas City Royals are bringing back most of the same relievers in 2020, although roles may be a little more solidified at least to kick off spring training. Ian Kennedy's career renaissance as a closer was a sight to see in 2019, as he saved 30 games in 34 tries while putting up a 3.41 ERA/3.77 xFIP. He enjoyed the best strikeout rate of his career (27.4% compared to a previous high of 24.5%) and the lowest walk rate (6.4%) since 2012. He'll be the unquestioned closer in KC at least until the trade deadline and should make for a solid value pick in the later rounds of fantasy drafts.

Kevin McCarthy will be one of the main setup guys in Kansas City, but he shouldn't be a factor in any but the deepest of AL Central-only fantasy leagues. McCarthy somehow posted a 4.48 ERA/4.55 xFIP despite striking out only 14.2% of the batters he faced and walking 7.8%. He's fine on a Royals team not expected to do much in 2020, but you won't want him on your fantasy team that you're expecting good things from. Elsewhere in the Royals bullpen will be the similarly uninspiring Scott Barlow (lots of strikeouts but too many walks) and Jake Newberry (lots of walks, not enough strikeouts). Kennedy is the only one in KC right now worth considering for your fantasy bullpens.

 

Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins are set up for another good season in 2020. They won 101 games in 2019 and still went out and improved the team for 2020, adding some starting pitching and Josh Donaldson. Their bullpen was solid last year and should be again in 2020, with most of the same arms in there. Taylor Rogers will enter the season as the unquestioned closer after posting 30 saves in 36 chances and pitching to a 2.61 ERA/2.84 xFIP. He struck out 32.4% and walked only 4.0% of the batters he faced, both very strong numbers. Rogers should be one of the better, more consistent fantasy closers in 2020 and can likely be had for a good value because of a lack of name recognition.

Sergio Romo will return for the Twins, re-signing for 2020 after being acquired from the Miami Marlins at the 2019 trade deadline. Romo's slider was still sliding throughout 2019, when he put up 20 saves (17 with the Marlins) and a 3.43 ERA/4.68 xFIP. His strikeout and walk rates (24.1 K%, 6.8 BB%) don't make for an elite fantasy reliever, but those in holds leagues looking for consistency can likely draft Romo in one of the last rounds and be satisfied with their choice. Trevor May has more upside but also a bit more risk. He came up with a 2.94 ERA/4.15 xFIP in 2019, striking out 29.7% and walking 9.8% of opposing batters. May and Romo will be the main setup arms ahead of Rogers, and both should have mixed league hold value. Romo for consistency, May for upside.

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