What it do, Razzballers!
Praise be!! The lockout has been lifted! After weeks of nothing, not even freakin’ pictures of players, we’ll have Spring Training games in a week. It’s kinda bonkers to think about.
What I wanted to highlight this week on the bullpen front were potential situations where Spring Training could impact who gets the 9th inning to start the season. Please keep in mind two things: 1). I’m kind of doing some “what if”-ing here, and 2). there are lots of good free agent RP who will be signed and who will shake up these scenarios even more. But I’ve got a deadline to meet, so I’m writing this from the standpoint that those guys remain out of the picture for now. And since I have no clever or funny introduction material, let’s just jump right in, shall we?
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So the guy right now is Lou Trivino. I wrote about him more here. In that blurb, I mention one crucial fact: he kinda sucks. His job is by no means safe, but he’s got lack of competition in his favor. Even so, there are two guys I’d keep a close eye on: A.J. Puk and Deolis Guerra. Let’s get Guerra out of the way first. He’s a soft-tosser, with a fastball that averages 90-91 MPH. Still managed a better K% (23%) than Trivino (21.6%), who tosses a 95-96 MPH heater. Guerra pitched 65.2 IP last year and had a 4.11 ERA to go along with a 1.11 WHIP. He recorded no saves and had just 3 HD. He’s not exciting in any shape or fashion, but the fact that Trivino is not exciting himself makes Guerra very capable of usurping the closer role at some point. Now A.J. Puk, on the other hand, is kind of exciting. He’s got a lil bit of some Randy Johnson vibes as a lanky southpaw with a nice fastball/slider combo. He’ll mix a sinker in there too, but last year that pitch got knocked around pretty good. If I were him, I’d ditch the ding dang thang. But anywho, Puk has big upside as a swing-and-miss reliever. We got a glimpse of how could he could be in 2019, his first taste of big-league action. Then, of course, it was injuries that derailed him. Assuming health, I could fathom a strong Spring from the “kid” (he’s 26) that nets him a look at closing duties.
I’ve talked before about how stacked the Seattle Mariners bullpen is. You’ve got Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, Diego Castillo, Casey Sadler, Andres Munoz, and Ken Giles as guys who could realistically accumulate saves this season. I’ve also talked before about how the M’s didn’t sign Giles just to let him not close. Think he’ll be the guy if healthy. I’m bothering to mention this “battle” here in case he’s not. I’ll go ahead and say it’s his job to lose, but if there’s any sign that his arm isn’t 100%, then lose it he will. Sewald, Steckenrider, and Castillo combined for 41 SV in 2021. If you wanna count SV+HD, they combined for 74. Throw in Sadler and you’ve got 89 SVHD. Then Munoz will jump into the mix this year, who hasn’t really pitched since 2019 in San Diego, where he showed great strikeout stuff despite some walk issues. I’d guess Munoz is lower on the totem pole, but who knows what a sexy Spring could do to the pecking order. The point here is this: I’d draft Ken Giles expecting him to be the primary closer, but I would temper expectations given there is heavy competition for his role. Sewald and Castillo can strike fools out, and Sadler and Steckenrider do a real nice job of keeping runs off the board, guys off the bases, and balls in the yard.
Like with Giles, I feel pretty good about declaring Dylan Floro as the Marlins closer to open 2022. He finished 2021 in a big way, so you gotta think he’s the primary guy barring either a free agent signing or a piss-poor Spring. Be that as it may, a guy like Anthony Bender could go on a…bender…to make the closer decision difficult for manager Don Mattingly. At times last year, Bender looked like the guy. He didn’t allow a run in his first 21.1 career innings, striking out 23 in that span and holding batters to just a .145 BA. Then after that he struggled, but I can forgive some bumps in the road from a rookie. He finished with a 1.69 ERA and 13 K in his last 15 outings. To be fair, I’ll note that ERA came with a 3.23 FIP, but that’s still pretty good in its own right. Bender’s got the goods to be closer material. I like Floro and have him ranked pretty high for a Marlins dude. Just keep Bender on the ol’ radar.
Lots of folks like Corey Knebel this year, and I’m one of them folks. He was a highlighted target in my Early Bird piece a couple weeks ago, after all. He used to be a baller closer for the Brew Crew way back in the day, too. So the experience is there, the pedigree is there, the coming-off-a-dope-ass-year mojo is there…but all of this comes with the caveat that we’ve really only seen small samples from Knebel since 2018. That’s four freakin’ years ago, y’all. 2018 was awesome, there was no 2019 for him, 2020 was awful, and then in 2021 he was awesome again. But do we really know what we’ve got with Corey Knebel? I will say I’m much more confident in him than I am Jose Alvarado, especially given Alvarado’s struggles with the free pass (career 5.64 BB/9…barf). If I had to pick one “battle” that I’m honestly not very worried about, it’s this one. Still felt I had to at least plant the seed since Knebel is somewhat of an unknown entity at this point in his career.
Here’s one that’s a lot more interesting, and thus is one I’ll be monitoring closely throughout this spring. Davey Martinez has said in the past that Rainey is basically his ideal guy in the 9th, that he thinks Rainey’s got the stuff for it. That goes a long way right off the bat. What also goes a long way is Kyle Finnegan’s 3.55 ERA vs. Rainey’s 7.39 in 2021. Woof. Rainey even got sent to the minors at one point to get his ish together. Woof again. If we see Bad Tanner again this spring, Finnegan is almost definitely the guy. Their ADPs are within a handful of picks of each other on NFBC, though the vibe I’m getting is Rainey is the favorite right now. Just…keep a real close eye on it.
Straight speculating on this one, but look at the numbers between the two and tell me Brad Wieck doesn’t have a chance to be a thug ass closer in the MLB. At least more so than Rowan Wick, right? Maybe? Wick’s 2021: 4.30 ERA, 4.22 xFIP, 4.07 SIERA, 1.35 WHIP, 29 K%. And now Wieck’s: 0.00 ERA, 3.09 xFIP, 3.04 SIERA, 1.18 WHIP, 39.4 K%. It’s very fair to point out the ERA isn’t supported by the predictive metrics and that Wieck only pitched 17 IP. Small sample alert and all. On the other hand, Wieck’s career K% is 35.9, while Wick’s is exactly 10 points less. H/9, BB/9, and K/9 are all in Wieck’s favor, career-wise. Everyone’s drafting Wick as the Cubs closer, and it’s very likely he is. As of now. I could see it changing. All I’m saying. Mayhap Wieck gets walks under control and takes a big step forward. Both are pretty bad in that regard, so it’s not like walks are the deciding factor here anyway.
I’ve taken more than one share of Carlos Estevez so far and I’ve only got three teams drafted (RazzSlam, TGFBI, and our Razzball Writers League). I’m not exactly a fan, but he’s the de facto closer at the moment and he’s very cheap. What could change is that, well…he isn’t the closer anymore. Is he good? Nah. Are Robert Stephenson and Daniel Bard lights out? Not exactly. All three could factor into the save mix, though. And if you look purely at numbers, Stephenson is definitely “good” compared to the other two. One quick glance and ERA, WHIP, and K% will tell you that. Estevez finished the year as the Rox closer, ending up with 11 SV and 15 HD on the year. Bard was the closer all year until he completely fell apart in July/August, though he did finish with a better September and totaled 20 SV on the year. But what if I told you Stephenson had a 1.61 ERA and a 25:5 K:BB in his final 22.1 IP? There’s little doubt he’s got the most upside here. I’m not at all convinced he doesn’t see save chances in 2022.
Touched on this situation last week, giving some speculative love to Dinelson Lamet as a late-inning RP for the Dads. Robert Suarez has been so dominant in Japan that I figure he gets an honest look, but Pierce Johnson and Luis Garcia are very much in the mix as well. A strong Spring for any of these guys could vault them into primary consideration. I’m not gonna beat a dead horse since I’ve written about Suarez quite a bit already and consider him the loose favorite — just reminding y’all he’s not a set-in-stone type. There’s for sure competition here. Suarez has some pedigree as a professional closer, but the other three guys spank him in terms of strikeout material.
ADP will tell you Camilo Doval is the clear-cut closer in San Fran this year. I guess cuz he’s young and sexy and made some postseason appearances. Everyone seems to have forgotten Jake McGee was injured down the stretch and that that’s what afforded Doval his closing opportunities. McGee saved 31 games and added eight holds, posting a sub-3.00 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP in 62 games. He walked very few batters. Doval on the other hand had about double the walk rate. Sure, Doval has the strikeout advantage, but he’s also only got 27 MLB innings under his belt while McGee has years of experience as an effective/elite closer. This is another battle I’m watching like a hawk. I’m just low-key hoping Tyler Rogers doesn’t figure into the equation and make this even sketchier.
I do some fantasy baseball as well as some fantasy hockey here at Razzball. Find me on Twitter: @jkj0787. DMs are always open for questions, comments, concerns, complaints, etc. Odds are good I’m drinking black coffee, dark beer, or some form of bourbon at any given time.