Building a super bullpen? 8 arms to consider

November 8th, 2020

You, too, can build your very own super bullpen this offseason. Want your favorite team to be more like the Dodgers, Rays, Braves, etc.?

Here’s an opportunity to take a giant step in that direction thanks to a free-agent marketplace loaded with quality relievers. Check out a few of the names: Liam Hendriks, Brad Hand, Alex Colomé, Blake Treinen, Jeremy Jeffress, Trevor Rosenthal, Shane Greene, Joakim Soria, Jake McGee and Justin Wilson.

Remember when building a bullpen was simple? You found one guy to close games and a couple of others to pitch an inning or two in front of him.

That, friends, was long ago and far away. You know, like 2010. Today, bullpens are built to take over games in the fifth or sixth inning, and they are constructed with multiple closers and an assortment of specialists.

For instance, take the Tampa Bay Rays. Including the postseason, 13 relievers recorded saves out of a bullpen in which general manager Erik Neander assembled an assortment of styles in terms of pitch arsenal, arm angle and deliveries.

Last season, six of the top seven bullpens -- as measured by ERA -- were on teams that went to the playoffs. Relievers accounted for 45 percent of innings during the regular season, up from 42 percent in 2019, 40 percent in '18 and 38 percent in '17.

Detect a trend? It’s even more pronounced in the postseason, with bullpens accounting for 50.1 percent of innings. Baseball’s best bullpens allow managers to insert a closer-type arm in, say, the sixth or seventh inning of a high-leverage situation.

Here are eight pitchers who would comprise our mythical best-in-baseball bullpen (stats from 2020):

1.4 WAR, 13.14 K/9, .227 xwOBA

Our main man. Hendriks' stuff, confidence and competitive fire define a great closer. During a 22-game stretch for the A’s last season, here’s what he did: 23 innings, two earned runs, one walk, 34 strikeouts.

1.2 WAR, 14.45 K/9, .210 xwOBA, .119 batting average vs. left-handed hitters

We’ll call him a lefty specialist, even though he’s a lot more than that. Rosenthal dramatically bounced back from a nightmarish 2019 season and was as good as virtually anyone in '20. At age 30, he appears capable of performing at a high level for a number of years.

0.7 WAR, 11.86 K/9, .235 xwOBA, 86th percentile fastball spin

Hand can be used at any point in the game. Left-handed hitters batted only .125 against him. In the last five seasons, he has averaged 61 appearances, 1.066 WHIP and 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

1.10 ERA, 0.796 WHIP, 12.1 K/9

O'Day's funky submarine delivery is the perfect contrast to the three hard throwers. He, too, can pitch anyplace in the game, and he was dominant against both right-handed and left-handed hitting in 2020.

65.3 percent ground-ball rate

Treinen had a 1.04 ERA in his first 17 appearances for the Dodgers before a couple of hiccups in September and the postseason. Nevertheless, he’s a quality arm who, like the others, has high-end stuff that makes him a valuable addition.

1.2 WAR, .136 batting average vs. left-handed hitters

Jeffress had a solid bounce-back season with the Cubs after a difficult 2019 with the Brewers. His success was due, in part at least, to a split-finger fastball that made his 93 mph heater even more effective.

.248 xwOBA

At age 36, Soria pitched as well as ever last season, fitting nicely into an Oakland bullpen that was one of baseball’s best. Beyond his pure stuff -- which is plenty good -- his reputation as a teammate and mentor should make him even more appealing.

.098 batting average against left-handed hitters

Colomé's eighth season was his best as he rode an 89 mph cut fastball to a great season with the White Sox. He made good on 12 of 13 save chances and held opposing hitters to a .163 batting average.