Mound Musings: Bullpens Are Constantly Evolving

Mound Musings: Bullpens Are Constantly Evolving

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

The trade deadline has come and gone. We're in mid-August, so only about six or seven weeks to go in the 2022 regular season. And, pitching is getting thin. Winning and losing could hinge on which teams can cobble together an effective bullpen and make it to the finish line intact.

For fantasy teams, there could be points to pursue in the saves category. Closer roles are generally set for the best MLB teams, but there are a lot of teams that either didn't have a reliable closer, or traded the closer away at the deadline leaving a void in their bullpens. Ideally, teams prefer to have fairly specific roles with regard to their daily bullpen assignments. In a perfect world, the starting pitcher would provide six or better yet, seven strong innings, whereupon the set-up guys would pitch the seventh and/or eighth inning before turning the game over to the closer to finish things. It just doesn't happen like that these days. That's why a typical bullpen has six or seven available pitchers, and from a fantasy perspective the roles of the bullpen pitchers can be almost endlessly adapting and evolving. Today's closer can be tomorrow's fourth-inning mop up guy, while last week's unheralded arm could be working in a key set-up role next week. With relief pitching, it's almost always a, "what have you done for me lately" game.

That's our goal. Let's see if we can sort out some of the most unsettled bullpens.

Here are some

The trade deadline has come and gone. We're in mid-August, so only about six or seven weeks to go in the 2022 regular season. And, pitching is getting thin. Winning and losing could hinge on which teams can cobble together an effective bullpen and make it to the finish line intact.

For fantasy teams, there could be points to pursue in the saves category. Closer roles are generally set for the best MLB teams, but there are a lot of teams that either didn't have a reliable closer, or traded the closer away at the deadline leaving a void in their bullpens. Ideally, teams prefer to have fairly specific roles with regard to their daily bullpen assignments. In a perfect world, the starting pitcher would provide six or better yet, seven strong innings, whereupon the set-up guys would pitch the seventh and/or eighth inning before turning the game over to the closer to finish things. It just doesn't happen like that these days. That's why a typical bullpen has six or seven available pitchers, and from a fantasy perspective the roles of the bullpen pitchers can be almost endlessly adapting and evolving. Today's closer can be tomorrow's fourth-inning mop up guy, while last week's unheralded arm could be working in a key set-up role next week. With relief pitching, it's almost always a, "what have you done for me lately" game.

That's our goal. Let's see if we can sort out some of the most unsettled bullpens.

Here are some bullpen scenarios to keep an eye on:

  • Mariners – For me, this is probably the most intriguing bullpen in baseball. The modest favorite for saves today is Paul Sewald. He is an excellent set-up man who has done a respectable job as their closer. The versatile Erik Swanson also picks up an occasional opportunity when he isn't opening or pitching multiple middle innings. He's not bad either. What makes this pen so interesting is my thought that the eventual closer is still pretty much in waiting. I am fairly convinced Andres Munoz will eventually emerge with the gig, but the question is when? With Seattle immersed in a playoff race, they may not opt to rock the boat, so it might be next year. Monitor this one closely and enjoy!
  • Diamondbacks – For a moment in time Mark Melancon was reliving the glory days. He did a reasonably good job closing, for much of the early part of the season, but meltdowns, mostly in non-save situations finally caught up to him and he is now part of a committee. He'll likely still get a handful of chances, but another veteran, Ian Kennedy, will too, while Joe Mantiply, who profiles better in a set-up role, might be a factor if Kennedy and Melancon struggle. I really think they could turn back to Melancon who traditionally fares much better in actual save situations, but this could be a mix and match through the end of the year.
  • OriolesJorge Lopez came on and made a huge contribution as Baltimore's closer before being dealt to Minnesota on the deadline. Now the O's will hope to strike gold again. Most eyes are on hard throwing Felix Bautista, and it makes sense. He has the tools, and the demeanor, but I'm not completely convinced it is a done deal. Dillon Tate has some pedigree (a former first round pick) and I have liked a lot of what I have so far in 2022. Bautista is deservedly the favorite, but they may both get a look, so keep an eye on Tate too. 
  • Rangers Joe Barlow, IMHO, was always somewhat miscast as a closer. He went on the IL and that provided the Rangers with an opportunity to explore other options. I really thought they might take another look at Jose Leclerc, but they seem very determined to avoid using him in the ninth inning. Enter Jonathan Hernandez. Good stuff, and he fairly easily converted his first couple chances after he returned from the IL. He's the top candidate to claim the job, and I think he could be an adequate endgamer. One name to consider as a darkhorse is southpaw Matt Moore. A former member of my kid's list, injuries derailed his career for a long while, but he's quietly establishing himself as a reliever.
  • Angels – The Angels displayed confidence with Raisel Iglesias, and overall, the team played well early in 2022. Then injuries and inconsistent play provided a downturn in performance, and Iglesias took his lumps, too. By the trade deadline, their season appeared to be lost, and Iglesias was dealt. The bullpen doesn't really feature an obvious closer. There has even been talk of Jesse Chavez getting the ninth inning. Really? Ryan Tepera is probably a possibility, but he has struggled this year, too. Nobody profiles as a true closer, so I am inclined to look for at least a little upside, which points to lefty Jose Quijada, but his performance prior to this season has left much to be desired. I'd stay away.
  • Phillies – For the past few seasons, the Phillies have operated a merry-go-round with relievers coming in – mostly veterans – taking a spin downward and eventually fallen off. The most recent was Corey Knebel who recently lost his job as the closer. So, at the trade deadline, they acquired another "seasoned" arm in David Robertson. He was an adequate closer several years ago, but I have my doubts about him doing it again. The best arm in that pen pretty clearly is Seranthony Dominguez, but in some ways he's like Boston's Garrett Whitlock. They would like him to close, but they would also like him to be available anytime the game is on the line. He can't do it all, so I think he'll close at some point, but they might try Robertson for a bit before that happens.
  • Athletics – The A's had an extremely shaky bullpen before Lou Trivino left in the Frankie Montas trade, and Trivino was no star. Now it looks like a casting call. They might give Dany Jimenez, who proved inconsistent when asked to handle the ninth earlier this year, another look. No thanks. Zach Jackson has logged a couple saves, and he does have pretty good stuff, but he also has trouble throwing strikes, and even Domingo Acevedo could get a look during the open auditions. Probably their best option to close, southpaw A.J. Puk has the raw tools, but durability is a major question mark. If I had to own one of these guys, it would be Puk, just know he may not handle a lot of outings, making it appear they are deploying a committee.

Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:

  • Over the past few weeks I have mentioned Miami's Braxton Garrett as a pitcher I've been pursuing. His ability to miss bats initially caught my eye, and as I watched him pitch, he seemed be rounding into a fantasy asset. He's not overpowering, but he gets a lot of movement and keeps hitters guessing.
  • If it weren't for bad luck … Boston's Chris Sale pitched just 5.2 innings in 2022, and now he has broken his wrist in a bicycle accident that required surgery, ending his season. The good news is he looked good in those innings and should probably be on your draft list for next year. He's due for some good luck.
  • San Diego's Blake Snell has to be high on the list of frustrations for fantasy owners this year. However, just when you think it's time to pull the plug, he pops up with a few innings, reminding us how good he can be. He just struggles to consistently repeat his motion, but when he's got it all working, he's an ace.
  • Making just his second start for the Mariners – both against the heavy-hitting Yankees – Luis Castillo was brilliant, tossing eight shutout innings. He looked as good as the line score, too. He didn't get a win as his mates weren't able to provide any run support, but he clearly made a statement. Very impressive.

Endgame Odyssey:

In Cincinnati, Hunter Strickland has lost his hold on the closer's job, which gives the Reds the reason to make a change and let their best option, Alexis Diaz, step in. He looks like a viable ninth-inning guy. With David Robertson gone, Rowan Wick should get his chance to prove he can handle closing duties for the Cubs. His name has come up over the past couple years, but another option always seemed to appear. The ninth inning was in good hands with Clay Holmes, but the Yankees' closer has struggled recently. In watching him, command is the issue, and I think his mechanics are just out of sync temporarily. Pittsburgh's closer David Bednar went on the IL earlier this month with lower back inflammation, and his return timetable has been rather vague. That leaves Wil Crowe the most likely candidate to see save chances. I considered covering Tampa Bay in the analysis above, but the closer candidates would probably change before you read this. If you really have to have a Rays' reliever, try Pete Fairbanks or Jason Adam. In an interesting twist earlier this week, Washington's Kyle Finnegan entered the game in the seventh inning (and was credited with a blown save) while Carl Edwards logged the save after the Nationals retook the lead. Keep an eye on this one.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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