RELIEVERS: AL spring training wrap up 2017

Spring training is (finally!!) wrapping up and while the sample sizes are too small to put any stock in, we know that teams evaluate players for roles based on these tiny samples that we get as well as a lot of work that we never see on back fields and in situational drills. But we do get a chance to pause and comment. Just remember to take it for what it is worth—particularly spring stats.

For example, Cody Martin (RHP, SEA) had this stat line on the morning of March 22: 13 strikeouts and 2 walks in 9.2 innings with a 0.00 ERA and 0.62 WHIP. One of the better reliever stat lines to that point in March. But by the end of the day, the Angels had scored 6 ER on 7 hits in 2.2 innings, taking Martin to 14 strikeouts, 5 walks, 4.38 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 12.1 innings. I hope the volatility here is obvious to you. By way of background, Martin was DFA'd in January, passed through and remained with the Mariners organization. He is expected to start the year in AAA.

For relievers, this volatility might go double. Relievers often take more time to get their release points. You see a lot of early walks. You see them ramping up their velocity. You see them working on breaking balls that aren't tuned yet. And then around the third week of March you start to see some pitchers work through some "dead arm" issues. This is common and normal. Managers are not overly worried about it and you should not be either.

So what is there to look for in spring training? Aside from sorting noise from useable news, there are position battles and there are players who might have their role determined by their early performances. So let's zero in on a couple of those, starting with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels do not have a great bullpen, to be blunt. Here are the projections of some of their top relievers:

           
LAA           IP  xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9  G/F  BPV ADP
============ ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===== === ===
Bedrosian     58  3.19 1.21 10.4  2.9  0.5 49/30 118 211         
Street        36  4.57 1.36  7.3  2.1  1.0 37/42  51 365
A.Bailey      58  4.57 1.43  7.6  2.0  1.2 40/41  50 550
J.C.Ramirez   73  4.17 1.36  6.2  1.9  1.1 55/28  57 na
J.Alvarez (L) 58  4.07 1.38  7.0  2.8  0.8 45/32  82 na
Morin         44  3.81 1.25  8.4  3.7  0.8 39/40 107 na

Huston Street (RHP, LAA) has been dealing with a lat strain and has only begun to throw in games again. But he is oft-injured and his effectiveness has fallen off a cliff. It is hard to see him contributing in a positive way. Andrew Bailey (RHP, LAA) had been rejected by the Phillies after being a pre-season favorite of some to close games there in 2016. After the Angels signed him, he actually pitched OK in September, even saving several games. But Bailey's skills are subpar, and he is up to 7 walks in 5.2 innings this spring. It is difficult to see Bailey getting a leverage role with all of these factors running against him.

The closer appears to be Cam Bedrosian (RHP, LAA) almost by default. He has the best skill set and he is having the best spring. He has to stay healthy. But there are no serious Plan B options for the Angels behind Bedrosian, making him a stronger option, perhaps, than he otherwise would be. The one other arm to watch belongs to Bud Norris (RHP, LAA). Norris could be working his way into the back end of the Angels rotation, but he could be more effective as a reliever and could quickly get to set-up if put in that role and left alone. Norris' March for what it is worth: 10 strikeouts against 2 walks in 8.2 innings (4.32 ERA, 1.08 WHIP).

Next let's take a look at the bullpen in Minnesota. The Twins have incumbent Brandon Kintzler (RHP, MIN) and Kintzler got a vote of confidence this week from his manager. Projections:

           
MIN           IP  xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9  G/F  BPV ADP
============ ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===== === ===
Kintzler      58  3.75 1.33  5.6  2.8  0.6 59/21  83 269
Pressly       73  4.00 1.37  8.0  2.8  1.0 41/35  87 628
Tonkin        73  3.78 1.29  8.6  3.3  1.2 42/38 105 694
Chargois      29  3.72 1.34  7.5  2.2  0.6 56/23  76 641

Not much to get excited about in this quartet. Kintzler has a projected 5.6 DOM. He got away with it in 2016 due to a high GB rate, but that is playing with matches to a large extent. The other options are not all that exciting. J.T. Chargois (RHP, MIN) has the GB rate and a better DOM, but needs to improve his CMD ratio and drop the walk rate. Ryan Pressly (RHP, MIN) throws hard, but the 4.00 xERA shows that the results do not come with velocity alone. Michael Tonkin (RHP, MIN) has the highest BPV and best WHIP and CMD ratio, but the 1.2 HR/9 and higher FB rate may be problematic.

There is no telling when or even if Glen Perkins (LHP, MIN) can return to action. Perkins recently said that he has no specific goals and instead is just working on his rehab. He does not know when his velocity will return. It is a situation the Twins cannot put a timeline on. Owners should track Perkins's progress, but not count on him in any regard—even as a future speculation.

The Twins have converted Tyler Jay (RHP, MIN) back to relief this spring. Jay could move quickly in this scenario and that might be the plan for him. Jay was a college reliever who converted to a starter after the Twins drafted him. Jay is going to have to get success under his belt in the minors, and then get called up, and then get success in the set-up role before we get too excited. But one can easily see this scenario playing out and it could easily sync up with Kintzler faltering. So keep an eye on Jay.

Finally, Adalberto Mejia (RHP, MIN) is a young pitcher who also appears to have transitioned from starting to relief. Mejia is a personal favorite due to his BPIs. He has had a solid spring as well with 14 strikeouts against four walks in 14.1 innings (1.88 ERA, 1.12 WHIP). Don't go overboard here—Mejia has to first make the Twins, then pitch with some success in relief and get into leverage. If he does that, you would do well to know who he is ahead of your competitors.

Oakland has a very interesting bullpen with a lot of moving parts this season. Do not put a lot of stock in this, but it is fun to point out the March that a couple of these guys are having:

           
OAK           
==================================================================
Madson     6.0 innings, 5 strikeouts, 2 walks, 7.50 ERA, 2.00 WHIP
S.Casilla  3.2 innings, 3 strikeouts, 3 walks, 9.82 ERA, 2.45 WHIP
Axford     5.1 innings, 2 strikeouts, 5 walks, 5.06 ERA, 2.44 WHIP
Doolittle  3.0 innings, 2 strikeouts, 1 walk,  6.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

Do these numbers matter at all? Not at all. Not yet. But they might start to matter if either Ryan Madson (RHP, OAK) or Santiago Casilla (RHP, OAK) stumble out of the gate in April. Sean Doolittle (LHP, OAK) is healthy and could go past them inside of a month if Madson and Casilla fail. These are the kinds of things to watch in the early going.

One last AL reliever who has caught my eye this spring is Zack Burdi his spring: 12 strikeouts, 4 walks in 10 innings, 2.70 ERA, 0.80 WHIP through Wednesday, before getting hit around by the Reds on Thursday. He seems likely to start the year in the minors, but you are going to want to track his success and progress, especially if the White Sox trade David Robertson (RHP, CHW) as is highly anticipated. Nate Jones (RHP, CHW) would be the logical replacement, but he has to stay healthy and even then, someone will have to pitch in set-up leverage and Dan Jennings (RHP, CHW) is not a long-term solution for that.

Things change rapidly this time of year in bullpens. Roles are being determined and redetermined, and so you have to anticipate that every week of the season changes take place in bullpens that allow you to take advantage of your competitors. Skills of up-and-comers (and lack of skills in incumbents) will lead you to those opportunities.

The regular season will be upon us in a week—pay attention to last-minute decisions and changes and tweaks as managers sort through their roster decisions.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.