In an effort to land on the best NL East bullpen, I surveyed several baseball insiders, including three MLB scouts and multiple front office and player development members from the National League.
For what it's worth, their consensus is exactly how I see the final rankings, which are as follows...
Drew Steckenrider is expected to graduate in to being the closer in 2019. In front of him, Miami's bullpen features Adam Conley, Tayron Guerrero, and Nick Wittgren -- none of whom strike fear in to the heart's of opponents.
"Steck," as they call him, struck out 74 batters in 64 innings when given the closer job last season. Miami likes him, which is understandable. But, he's also been lit up in bunches, which means he could end up relinquishing the role before the end of summer. In his wake, the Marlins will likely turn to Conley and Guerrero, the former having been compared to a young Andrew Miller and the later frequently hitting 100 mph with his fastball.
In the event Steckenrider, Conley, and Guerrero each remain healthy and pitch to their potential, I suppose it's possible the Marlins will end up with a good staff. The thing is, how many times will they have a lead so their bullpen matters?
Put another way, Miami is projected by FanGraphs.com to produce just 0.5 WAR from their relievers. PECOTA has Miami winning 65 games this season, which means the two systems figure less than 1 percent of Miami's wins will be the result of their bullpen. In short, the Phillies, Mets, Nationals and Braves will do just fine against the Marlins as long as they get an early lead each night.
Last year's closer, Arodys Vizcaino, is expected to split time with A.J. Minter this season, according to local reports. Behind Minter and Vizcaino, Atlanta's bullpen most notably includes Darren O'Day, Jonny Venters and Dan Winkler.
In many ways, Vizcaino's health could be the key to Atlanta's season. He pitched well to start 2018, but -- as has usually been the case for him -- he ended up missing significant time due to injury. In fact, he pitched more than 40 innings only once during the past four seasons. Also, when he's on the mound, he needs to get top-flight fielding behind him because the ball is so often put in play against him.
As a result of the above, it wouldn't surprise me to see Minter get more time pitching in high-leverage spots. The thing is, Minter is also no lock for success. He entered last season with a lot of hype, looked worthy of it as the season went on, but then totally fell apart due in large part to back pain.
Because they have Minter and Vizcaino, the Braves don't have to sign free agent Craig Kimbrel. But, it's easy to see why they've continued to negotiate with him, according to multiple reports. If acquired, he becomes their closer and elevates pressure on Minter and Vizcaino, who slot back in to set up rolls. Without Kimbrel, the Braves are rolling a major piece of their team on two guys with a ton of talent, but a sporadic track record and potential injuries.
The MLB scouts I talked with all believe Diaz is the best closer in baseball. However, Kimbrel, who remains unsigned, is right on his heels. The point is, with Kimbrel, the Braves are a totally different team than they are without him...
According to projections by FanGraphs.com, the Braves are expected to produce 2.6 WAR from their bullpen. That number easily leaps over the Nationals with Kimbrel, though they still likely fall short of the Mets and Phillies.
The way they're set up, Sean Doolittle will again be their closer with Kyle Barraclaugh, Trevor Rosenthal and Koda Glover getting the bulk of innings out of the bullpen.
The Nationals have been blown off by every major free-agent reliever they have pursued during the past few years. The crazy thing is, Doolittle, 32, has probably been better than any of the pitchers DC failed to sign. In the 73 games that he's pitched for the Nationals, he has a 1.94 ERA, 2.24 FIP and 0.76 WHIP.
Barraclough and Rosenthal will be Doolittle's primary set up guys, both of whom are a bit risky. Barraclough struggled with the Marlins in 2018, got demoted, injured himself and then got traded, all the while looking good in games when he did actually pitch. Meanwhile, Rosenthal is returning from Tommy John surgery, looks good this spring, but -- as we know -- a year after TJ is never a sure thing...
According to projections by FanGraphs.com, the Nationals are expected this season to produce 3.0 WAR from their bullpen, which is middle of the pack in the National League.
For the first time in five years, the Mets will enter the season with a new closer. Brodie Van Wagenen acquired phenom Edwin Diaz from the Mariners in early November, after which he signed back Jeurys Familia, who had been the team's closer before being traded last summer. Following Diaz and Familia, Mickey Callaway's bullpen will include Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and Luis Avilan and two or three other pitchers that have yet to lock themselves into the Opening Day roster.
Diaz is coming off a head-turning 2018 when he picked up 57 saves with a 1.96 ERA and 124 strikeouts in just 73 innings. It's difficult for me to see how he duplicates his numbers from last season. For starters, it was an amazing season and the odds of being that good again -- just based on probabilities -- is low.
However, going from Seattle and the quiet AL West to the high-drama, rivalry-packed NL East and the white-hot lights of New York City, which is notorious for being hard on closers, will be a unique transition for a young man with fewer than 200 career innings under his belt. Familia will be important on the mound, but his greatest value to the 2019 Mets may be in helping Diaz navigate the tumultuous waters of pitching late in games at Citi Field.
If Gsellman and Lugo can stick the entire in relief, and continue doing what Gsellman and Lugo do, and if Diaz and Familia pitch to their potential, the Mets will not just have the best bullpen among their division rivals they may very well have the best bullpen in the National League.
As mentioned above, according to projections by FanGraphs.com, the Mets are expected this season to produce 4.1 WAR from their bullpen, which is 0.1 fewer than the Phillies.
"The thing I like about these two bullpens (Phillies, Mets), and what's unique, is that they both include two of the top 20 to 30 relievers in the game (Robertson, Dominguez, Diaz and Familia)," a rival NL East source told me. "And in each instance, all four have experience and can slot in at closer and take hold of a big-game situation down the stretch."
While most I talked with did feel the Mets were better, the majority preferred the Phillies. It was close, though, and no one person felt confident in their pick.
The way it stands, the Phillies are set up in a less traditional way than the other four teams in the division. Last season, manager Gabe Kapler did a good job mixing and matching his staff based on situation and it looks like he will do the same in 2019 with David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Tommy Hunter and Hector Neris.
If Kapler decides to switch gears, he can lean more heavily on Dominguez -- who ended last season with 16 saves and a 2.95 ERA -- and Robertson -- who has a long and storied history pitching in big games.
According to projections by FanGraphs.com, the Phillies are expected this season to produce 4.2 WAR from their bullpen, which is 0.1 more than the Mets.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!