Back in March, the writers of Camden Chat ranked players by position among the American League East division based on pre-season rankings. As the last post of this series, we'll take a look at how the bullpens stack up at the All-Star break. Since the original posts were done late in Spring Training and the bullpen was far from set, you'll notice there was no comparison among relief pitchers. While we have nothing to compare to, we'll take a look at the state of each AL East bullpen to date.
5) Tampa Bay Rays (8th in the American League for 2013/3rd in AL East)
2014 has been an all-around struggle for the Tampa Bay Rays. They currently find themselves tied with Boston (9.5 games back) in the basement of the division. They've scored among the fewest runs in the entire AL and measure up right in the middle for runs allowed. While the Rays have gotten solid pitching from the likes of David Price, Chris Archer, and Jake Odorizzi, they've needed 311 innings out of relievers - most in the AL. Among the bullpen, Jake McGee has been the standout. He has tossed 41.1 innings to the tune of a 1.52/1.44 ERA/FIP. He's striking out nearly 11 per 9 innings and has yet to allow a home run this season. Behind McGee, the Rays bullpen falls off of a cliff. Of the eight Rays relief pitchers who have thrown at least 20 innings, five have posted negative WAR values. Included in that gaggle of underachieving relievers is Grant Balfour, who somewhat "famously" failed a physical with the Orioles following a contract agreement with the team during the off-season.
4) Toronto Blue Jays (6th in the American League in 2013/2nd in AL East)
The Blue Jays, much like the Orioles, have a more well-rounded bullpen. They don't boast any elite relievers, but have received quality efforts from four regulars, including closer Casey Janssen and 2013 All-Star Brett Cecil. They have not put up the gaudy numbers of 2013, but the 552 innings from relievers put them 2nd in the AL. This season, the 287 innings at the mid-season point clocks in among the fewest. Blue Jays relievers certainly live on the edge with the AL's second worst BB/9 (resulting in the third worst FIP), but they have the best HR/FB ratio in the AL's East division. Fun fact: former Oriole Steve Tolleson has thrown a third of an inning for the Blue Jays this season. Not so fun fact: in case anyone needed proof that bullpen arms are completely volatile from year to year, 2013 All-Star Steve Delabar, the Jays best reliever from a year ago, is statistically the worst in the pen this time around.
3) Baltimore Orioles (10th in the American League in 2013/4th in the AL East)
If you had to guess where the Orioles bullpen would be at the mid-season point, 3rd is probably where you'd guess. They've had some good performances, some bad performances, and some pleasant surprises. Pacing the way are mainstay Darren O'Day, newcomer Ryan Webb, and transitioned starter Zach Britton. It was only a matter of time before Tommy Hunter was replaced as closer (not a surprise), but how many expected that replacement would be Zach Britton (surprise)? He's thrown the most out of any O's reliever and has done so with a 78% ground ball rate. Among the rest of the bullpen, the great news is that Dan Duquette has had little patience for those who haven't performed. He demoted the struggling Evan Meek to AAA after fewer than 20 innings (he's since been back) and shipped out the troubled Troy Patton to San Diego following just 6.2 innings. With that trend in place, Brian Matusz has to be checking around every corner for trouble, even though he's technically the lefty specialist. The bad news is that as the Orioles rack up the bullpen innings (4th most in the AL), they are relying more and more heavily on unproven (and possibly overachieving) guys such as Brad Brach and T.J. McFarland. That's not, however, what this post is about. Both pitchers have been solid, if unspectacular, in the roles they've been asked to fill.
2) Boston Red Sox (4th in American League in 2013/1st in AL East)
While they do not have the record to show for it, Boston's bullpen rising toward the top of the American League should not come as a surprise. Last season, Boston relief pitchers paced the division and ended 4th in the AL. This season, they have repeated that success thus far, clocking in 2nd in the both the division and the American League. Andrew Miller and former Oriole Koji Uehara have been dominant and own identical 1.3 WAR values. Miller, specifically, owns a K/9 of 14.32 and allows a home run only once every 36 innings. Additionally, pricey off-season acquisition Edward Mujica is slowly improving after a rough start.
1) New York Yankees (11th in the American League in 2013/5th in the AL East)
No Mariano Rivera? No problem. The star closer might be retired, but the Yankees bullpen has risen to the top of the American League anyway. Although 20 pitchers have made appearances out of the Yankee pen, they have a prime core that has performed very well over the first half, including new closer David Robertson (23 saves, 1.76 FIP, 16.26 K/9). With so many injuries among their starting rotation, the bullpen's success could become a key factor in the second half.