Selecting the best of a division in one particular category hasn't been that difficult for most of our Around the Horn exercise this offseason. That's not to say there can't be more than one dominant starting staff in a division, nor would it be accurate to assume only one team
Selecting the best of a division in one particular category hasn't been that difficult for most of our Around the Horn exercise this offseason. That's not to say there can't be more than one dominant starting staff in a division, nor would it be accurate to assume only one team can be strong up the middle, or at all three outfield positions.
• 5 big questions for each team in AL Central
But choosing the strongest bullpen in the American League Central was a challenge. Several teams should feature strong relief corps this year, either by way of building on what was already in place last year or adding to what was already a solid core. It came down to the Twins and the Indians (though we also encourage you to not sleep on the White Sox). Without further ado, the winner is ...
Look no further than the Twins' bullpen for an example of new pitching coach Wes Johnson's profound impact on the team. The Twins had been pilloried last offseason for not doing more to address their pitching staff and spent much of the first half searching for consistency in their bullpen outside closer Taylor Rogers, but by the end of the regular season, several homegrown pitchers took a collective leap forward to gel into one of the most effective relief corps in baseball.
Rogers (2.61 ERA, 32.4 K%) was elite all season long, but Trevor May (2.94 ERA) suddenly learned how to touch 99 mph with his fastball and Tyler Duffey (2.50 ERA, 34.5 K%) stunned Twins fans by completing a transformation from inconsistent depth starter to one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. They formed one of the game's most reliable late-innings corps with midseason acquisition Sergio Romo, and surprise big league impact from rookies Zack Littell (2.68 ERA) and Cody Stashak (3.24 ERA) gave the Twins surprising depth down the stretch. They're all back, with veteran Tyler Clippard also in the mix to pitch in with his 13 seasons of Major League experience.
-- Do-Hyung Park
The rest (listed alphabetically, not ranked)
They may not have had the most overpowering arms, but the Indians found a way to put together the lowest bullpen ERA (3.51) in the Majors from the beginning of the 2019 season until the end of August. In the last month of the season, the club, including the relievers, began to run out of gas. But after closer Brad Hand missed some time in September with arm fatigue, the Tribe expects the lefty, who went a perfect 22-for-22 in save opportunities to begin last season, to return to full strength at the back end of the bullpen.
The Indians also return Nick Wittgren, Adam Cimber and Oliver Pérez, all of whom played large roles in the relief corps’ success last year. However, that group could see tremendous improvement in 2020. What was a bullpen that averaged the slowest fastball velocity (90.8 mph) in the Majors in '19 could now see quite the uptick. The Tribe acquired 21-year-old righty Emmanuel Clase, who has a triple-digit cutter in his arsenal, and prospect James Karinchak, who sports a 95-98 mph fastball and 12-to-6 curveball, is Major League ready. -- Mandy Bell
The Royals’ bullpen was an eyesore last year, finishing with a 5.07 ERA, second worst in the AL. General manager Dayton Moore has closer Ian Kennedy (30 saves) back along with setup men Scott Barlow and Tim Hill. The problem is quality depth. The Royals most likely will shift right-handers Jorge López and Glenn Sparkman from the rotation to the bullpen to bolster that depth. Moore also added non-roster invites Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal, hoping one or both can have a bounce-back season. Young power arms Kyle Zimmer and Josh Staumont each got a taste of the big leagues last season and should factor in as well. -- Jeffrey Flanagan
For a team whose late-inning leads were few and far between last year, the Tigers might finally have the makings of the young relief corps they’ve been trying to build for over a decade. After years as the Tigers’ closer of the future, Joe Jiménez enters his first full season in the role after taking over for Shane Greene last August. He went 9-for-10 in save chances down the stretch, including three conversions on the road against eventual playoff teams in Tampa Bay, Houston and Oakland.
Aside from setup man Buck Farmer, the Tigers have an open competition set for Spring Training, leaving chances for hard-throwing young lefty Gregory Soto and former University of Miami closer Bryan García to step into late-inning roles. With more starting pitching prospects than rotation spots, one or more of Detroit’s former first-round picks are likely to transition down the road.
-- Jason Beck
Alex Colomé returns as the White Sox closer, but the team has other viable options for that role. Steve Cishek, who has appeared in 150 games combined over the last two years for the Cubs, was added via free agency, while left-hander Aaron Bummer is coming off of a breakout performance with a 2.13 ERA over 58 games. Veteran Kelvin Herrera is a prime comeback candidate after finishing with a 6.14 ERA in 57 games but posting a 1.93 ERA in September with 15 strikeouts over 9 1/3 innings. Right-hander Evan Marshall also returns following an impressive 2.49 ERA produced in 55 games.
Add in hard-throwing Jimmy Cordero and southpaw Jace Fry, and manager Rick Renteria has plenty of late-inning, high-leverage choices to mix and match. Colomé opens as the primary ninth-inning option, with 30 saves last season to go with a 2.02 ERA in the first half against a 3.91 ERA in the second. He also had decisive home/road splits, with a 1.60 ERA at Guaranteed Rate Field vs. a 4.28 ERA away from home. Keep an eye on Zack Burdi, the 26th pick overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, who is healthy after Tommy John and knee surgeries, and should provide late-inning help at some point. -- Scott Merkin
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.