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How do AL East bullpens stack up?

@ladsonbill24
February 10, 2020

In MLB.com's final position-by-position analysis of the American League East, we tackle the bullpens. NEW YORK -- The days of the one-batter specialist are over starting this season. No longer will a left-handed pitcher be able to face one left-handed hitter. According Major League Baseball's newest rule, relievers must face

In MLB.com's final position-by-position analysis of the American League East, we tackle the bullpens.

NEW YORK -- The days of the one-batter specialist are over starting this season. No longer will a left-handed pitcher be able to face one left-handed hitter. According Major League Baseball's newest rule, relievers must face a minimum of three batters or pitch to the end of a half-inning. The league is hoping to reduce pitching changes and cut down the average time per game.

That shouldn’t be a problem for the Yankees, who arguably have the best bullpen in the AL East. The only other bullpen in the division that rivals that of the Yanks is the Rays, but they just traded away a key piece in Emilio Pagán, so the nod goes to the Bronx Bombers.

The Yankees' entire relief core can pitch at least one inning without any problems. New York’s bullpen is led by closer Aroldis Chapman, who converted 37 of 42 save opportunities while posting a 2.21 ERA during the regular season. Though his fastball velocity has dipped slightly, Chapman’s biting slider continued to serve as a dominant out pitch, as his 13.42 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio ranked fourth among AL relievers.

The Bombers’ bullpen figures to align Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle and Chad Green as the main contributors feeding the ball to Chapman in the ninth inning. Britton regained his extreme sinkerball tendencies in 2019, inducing a Major League-best 78.5 percent ground-ball rate, while Kahnle enjoyed 42 hitless and scoreless appearances. Green showed his versatility by serving as an opener in 15 contests (plus one in the postseason), and Ottavino posted a 1.41 ERA through Aug. 6 before enduring a late-season fade.

The rest (in alphabetical order)

Blue Jays
The Blue Jays’ bullpen has several openings as they prepare to open Spring Training this week. Ken Giles will anchor the group on the back end, with Anthony Bass and Rafael Dolis joining 2019 holdovers Wilmer Font, Sam Gaviglio and Jordan Romano competing for roles. Offseason signing Shun Yamaguchi could be used in relief if he doesn’t crack the rotation, and the Jays could also consider shortening up some of their young starters, like a Sean Reid-Foley. Add in a crowd of Minor League signings, including Jake Petricka, and there are plenty of names to track through Spring Training.

Toronto's 'pen will need some clarity with no obvious seventh- or eighth-inning option on paper. The Blue Jays burned through plenty of arms last year as they patched over an injured rotation with openers. This year’s usage should have a more traditional look. There’s surely room for a long man in Charlie Montoyo’s bullpen, but having multiple arms capable of handling “bulk” shouldn’t be as necessary in 2020.

Orioles
With few experienced arms and just one proven high-leverage reliever, the Orioles’ bullpen struggled mightily in 2019. It didn’t come as a surprise since 33 pitchers appeared in for Baltimore relief last season. But by and large, the O’s are looking for internal improvement from several bounce-back candidates, notably Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier. After his electric eight-game debut as a rookie, Hunter Harvey also figures to be an X-factor. Miguel Castro dominated for long stretches and is a breakout candidate entering his age-25 season. Several projections have Tanner Scott taking a step forward as well, if the lefty can learn to command his high-octane fastball/slider arsenal.

Rays
The Rays’ bullpen took a hit after trading Pagán to the Padres in exchange for outfielder Manuel Margot and catcher Logan Driscoll on Saturday. Pagán led Tampa Bay with 20 saves in 2019 and is expected to play a key role out of the bullpen in '20. But even with Pagán in San Diego, the Rays still have a lot of depth and talent heading into the season. Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo and Colin Poche stepped up in ‘19 and became key pieces to the back end of the bullpen, and they’re going to have even more responsibility in this season. Oliver Drake, Andrew Kittredge and Peter Fairbanks all showed well and were pleasant surprises.

Aside from returning most of the bullpen that led the Majors with a 3.66 ERA, the Rays are also hoping for bounce-back seasons from José Alvarado and Chaz Roe. Alvarado was the projected closer in 2019 but struggled with his command before an oblique injury ended his season in August. Roe, on the other hand, struggled with his command, but finished the season strongly, posting a 2.66 ERA after the All-Star break. If Roe and Alvarado return to form, paired with continued development from Castillo, Poche, Anderson and Fairbanks, Tampa Bay’s bullpen could once again be one of the best in the Majors, even with Pagán no longer in the mix.

Red Sox
The perception of Boston’s bullpen is worse than reality, and mainly shaped by the shaky performance of the relief crew in the first half of last season. After the All-Star break, the Red Sox settled into a nice rhythm and had one of the better 'pens in the game, led by the emergence of closer Brandon Workman, who was ranked sixth on MLB Network's "Top 10 Relief Pitchers Right Now." Matt Barnes is a strong setup man, though he hit a rough patch at midseason last year. Young Darwinzon Hernandez has electric stuff and transitioned very effectively into a bullpen role down the stretch last season. Lefty Josh Taylor is also an underrated weapon. The Sox hope for a bounce-back season from Ryan Brasier, who was magnificent in the championship season of 2018. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom acquired a collection of lesser-known arms over the winter who might be of help, including Austin Brice, Matt Hall, Chris Mazza and Josh Osich.

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.