Having a good bullpen isn’t a necessity for a contending team, but it’s the next closest thing. Teams can win without an above average bullpen. Take the stretch of winning teams that the Tigers had a few years ago as an example. It’s well known, though, that a common trait among successful teams is a good relief corp. The players that handle the highest leverage points of the game make a huge impact, even though they may appear less.
Eight of the top ten teams in bullpen ERA in 2018 made the playoffs. The World Series featured two of those teams. All four teams that participated in the LCS had an above average bullpen. On the flip side, talented teams like the Cardinals, Indians, and Rockies had lesser bullpens hold them down.
This information shouldn’t be anything new to those that have kept up with baseball in recent times. The importance of bullpens, especially to teams that have an opportunity to contend, should be stressed a lot. This easily relates to the offseason too, as it might be the only time throughout the whole year that a team can significantly improve their bullpen, with perhaps the trade deadline being the lone exception.
Each offseason is filled with relievers coming off stellar seasons. Their degree of risk and/or cost may vary, but they are all over the place— anywhere from Craig Kimbrel to Oliver Perez.
It may be important to get a refresher as to what the state of collective team relievers may be. Trades have happened, such as Edwin Diaz, Juan Nicasio, and Kyle Barraclough. Add in signings along the lines of Joakim Soria, Andrew Miller, and Jeurys Familia and sprinkle in a few Rule 5 pickups and you’ll notice that the landscape of relief rosters has changed a bit.
Using the incredibly useful projections from Steamer, I sorted through each team and compiled together a look at the projected bullpen WAR for every team. Prorating each bullpen to 500 inning pitched, a helpful visual is developed to give us an idea of the talent level of each bullpen at its current state.
To add more context, I matched each projected team figure of fWAR/500 IP in 2019 up with their actual 2018 figure.
Standing out among the changes as the biggest outlier is the Mets, most notably with the additions of All-Star closer Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia. The team with the third biggest difference is the Indians, even with the loss of Andrew Miller. Possible full season usage of Brad Hand, Adam Cimber, and Danny Salazar could be the culprit here.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox are projected to have the sixth biggest loss in bullpen WAR. The loss of Joe Kelly and impending loss of Craig Kimbrel will obviously cause issues for the Red Sox in 2019. It wouldn’t be a surprise if their biggest moves the rest of the offseason revolve around the bullpen.
With big relief names like the aforementioned Kimbrel, David Robertson, Zach Britton, Adam Ottavino, and Kelvin Herrera still on the market, it’s good to build up a better idea of which teams need their talents the most, as this practice would suggest contending teams such as the Cubs, Red Sox, Rockies, and Angels may fit this bill.
The final playoff push for a lot of these contending teams could come through their relief personnel. Spending big through free agency or trade isn’t the only answer to filling any possible voids there, but through one way or another, the talent and outlook will need to be there eventually.