Jeff's Top 5 MLB Bullpens in 2016
1) New York Yankees
Aroldis Chapman and his 100 MPH fastball will have sit out the first 30 games. But, make no mistake, this bullpen has the talent and depth to withstand his absence. Lets start with Dellin Betances, who was ranked 5th in all of baseball with 29 holds last season. When I watch him pitch, I say to myself how does anyone get a hit off him. His "stuff" is off the charts and he stands 6'8 on the hill. His 131 strikeouts in 84 IP last year has future All-star Closer written all over it. The Yankees are so deep in the pen they don't need him to close this season. Betances enters this year with a career 11-4 W/L record, 1.78 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 278 strikeouts in 181.2 IP. I sure wish he was on my favorite team (Dodgers) who's bullpen figures to be mediocre outside closer Kenley Jansen. Andrew Miller will get the majority of save chances until Chapman returns. Miller was outstanding last season with 36 saves, 2.04 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 100 strikeouts in just 61.2 innings. Chasen Shreve is tough on lefties and yet another Yankees pitcher with more strikeouts (64) than IP (58.1) last season. The rest of the bullpen are filled with solid upside guys like Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, and Kirby Yates. All three have looked dominant this spring. Keep an eye on Bryan Mitchell, who is fighting for the last spot. He has a 0.57 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 15 spring innings so far. Ivan Nova should be a great addition to the bullpen unless the Yankees decide to remove C.C Sabathia from the fifth-starters spot. Anthony Swarzak is on the bubble to make the team and might start the season in Triple A. This is a very deep and formidable group that should help the Yankees reach the playoffs.
2) Houston Astros
Adding Ken Giles to an already talented group has the Astros as my No. 2 best bullpen in 2016. Giles was one of a few bright spots for the Phillies last season. Had 87 strikeouts in 70 innings with a 1.80 ERA, while holding hitters to a .219 batting average. Giles should be the opening day Closer. Pat Neshek had 28 holds last season mostly pitching late in ball games. Luke Gregerson had 31 saves last season and his career numbers are better than most setup men. In 480.1 career innings Gregerson has 470 strikeouts. If the Astros have any type of lead after the 6th inning, they will be tough to beat. Tony Sipp held hitters to a .208 batting average last season. Although the Astros don't use him for more than one or two batters, he's capable of getting right-handed batters out. Righties batted just .190 against Sipp last season. Look for a more expanded role this season. Will Harris hasn't allowed an earned run this spring, coming off a career-low ERA of 1.90 in 71 IP last season. Mike Fiers and Scott Feldman are fighting for the fifth-starters spot. I believe Fiers is a better fit for the bullpen with 180 strikeouts in 180.1 innings last season. Feldman is currently listed ahead of Fiers on the depth chart. If Lance McCullers begins the season on the DL (almost a lock) than Fiers should make at least one start. Josh Fields and veteran southpaw Wandy Rodriguez round out a very dynamic bullpen. Houston is another one of those teams with good pitching prospects in the minors including Michael Feliz, Francis Martes, and Joe Musgrove. Feliz and Musgrove are very close to being major-league ready. The Astros are my pick to win the American League West.
3) Kansas City Royals
You can make a strong case for the Royals being first or second on this list. The Royals will not have two-time All-star Closer Greg Holland this season and their depth might get tested. Wade Davis is the Closer and should breeze his way to at least 40 saves. He's got overpowering stuff with 78 strikeouts in 67.1 innings last season. Kelvin Herrera returns and should improve on his 21 holds (ranked 20th) from last season. Luke Hochevar is a solid veteran and will be 1 year removed from a major injury. Joakim Soria returns to the team where he recorded a career-high in saves (43) in 2010. He's most likely going to pitch the 7th inning along with Danny Duffy depending on matchups. Duffy can pitch multiple innings and should thrive behind a very speedy defense. The Royals speed and skill on defense would make any bullpen that much better. The Royals are top-heavy. Any significant injury to one of their top 4 (Davis, Herrera, Hochevar, Soria) will be tough to overcome. Dillon Gee and Chien-Ming Wang round out the third best bullpen in all of baseball.
4) Pittsburgh Pirates
Pittsburgh had the lowest bullpen ERA (2.67) in all of baseball last season. The Pirates bullpen pretty much remains the same so I see just one reason (injuries) they won't dominate again. Mark Melancon recorded a league-high 51 saves in 53 chances with a devastating cut-fastball and knuckle-curve. Not a strikeout guy (62 in 76.2 IP last season), but very effective to say the least. For what it's worth, he's allowed 0 earned runs in 6 innings with 5 strikeouts this spring as of March 30th. Tony Watson had another fantastic season in 2015 and has been very dependable throughout his five-year career. If I said pitcher A is 24-8 with a 2.46 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, while holding hitters to a .212 batting average in their career, you would say he's an ACE. That pitcher is in fact Tony Watson. Definitely, the best reliever you never heard of unless you're a fan of the Pirates. Watson is 14-3 with a 1.77 ERA over the last two seasons combined. Arquimedes Caminero had a solid season in 2015, but has looked shaky this Spring with a 9.00 ERA in 10 IP. They will need him to preform from last year's level when he struckout 73 in 74.1 IP. Naftali Feliz has looked quite good this Spring after a disastrous 2015 campaign, where he surrendered a career-high 6.38 ERA playing for Texas and Detroit. He should be much better and more comfortable pitching in the NL. Juan Nicasio has won a starting job with a "lights out" Spring, so that means Ryan Vogelsong will start the season in the pen. I think that's a better role for his skill set. Jared Hughes had a 2.28 ERA in 76 games last season. He might start the season on the 15-day DL with a left lat strain. Kyle Lobstein and Rob Scahill round out a very good bullpen, although I don't believe they will lead the league in ERA like last season.
5) St. Louis Cardinals
The Red Birds seem to have a solid bullpen every season. Last year, they were ranked No. 3 with a 2.82 bullpen ERA. It starts and ends will All-star Closer Trevor Rosenthaul, who had 48 saves with a 2.10 ERA last season. He also missed games due to some nagging injuries. His 83 strikeouts in 68.2 IP shows his dominance. Jonathan Broxton is on the back nine of his career, but his 118 career saves provides a solid setup man, possibly slated for the 7th inning. Kevin Siegrist should pitch the 8th after his breakout performance last year. He went 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 90 strikeouts in 74.2 IP. In three seasons with the Cards, Siegrist has held hitters to a .196 career batting average. Jordan Walden has 266 career strikeouts in 222 IP and hasn't allowed a run this Spring as of March 30th. Seung Hwan Oh has looked impressive in limited work this spring. Tyler Lyons and Seth Maness are fighting for one of the last bullpen spots. Lets not forget the Cardinals have some good pitching prospects that might get called up after April. Alex Reyes is the number one rated prospect in the Cardinals' organization and could be called up at any point during the season. He's got 151 strikeouts in 101 innings in his 3-year minor league career. He's ready now. This is a solid group.
Honorable Mention: Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, NY Mets, & Baltimore Orioles
Jeff Hochman of JH-Sportsline