To say the Washington Nationals bullpen in 2019 was a disappointment is an understatement. They were atrocious and almost ruined the teams season. The bullpen ranked dead last in ERA with a 5.66, tied for third worst in blown saves with 29, 26th in FIP with a 4.94, and were 28th in opponents batting average with a .266. While the bullpen improved throughout the season, they were mostly unreliable outside of Sean Doolittle and trade deadline acquisition Daniel Hudson. In their World Series run, Manager Dave Martinez managed the bullpen by using his starters in relief role’s when needed. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin all stepped up.
While it worked in the playoffs, Martinez will be unable to use this method in the regular season. Mike Rizzo knows this and decided to strengthen the bullpen in the off-season. He started by re-signing Daniel Hudson and signed former Houston Astro reliever, Will Harris. Baring a trade, the loser for the fifth starter will become the new long reliever. These three join Doolittle, Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Hunter Strickland, and Roenis Elias in the revamped bullpen.
The bullpen will be improved compared to last season, but by how much? More importantly, how does the new look bullpen compare to the rest of the NL East?
Battle of the bullpens
In 2019, here is how the five NL East bullpens fared.
Atlanta- ERA: 4.18 (11th) Blown Saves: 23 (tied for 17th) FIP: 4.49 (15th) BAA: .252 (tied for 18th)
Miami- ERA: 4.97 (26th) Blown Saves: 22 (tied for 20th) FIP: 5.06 (27th) BAA: .252 (tied for 18th)
New York- ERA: 4.95 (25th) Blown Saves: 27 (tied for ninth) FIP: 4.71 (tied for 19th) BAA: .258 (tied for 23rd)
Philadelphia- ERA: 4.36 (16th) Blown Saves: 21 (tied for 23rd) FIP: 4.84 (23rd) BAA: .258 (tied for 23rd)
Washington- ERA: 5.66 (30th) Blown Saves: 29 (tied for third) FIP: 4.94 (26th) BAA: .266 (28th)
BAA- opponents batting average
FIP- Fielding Independent Pitching
Last season, all five bullpens in the NL East struggled. No leads were safe and this led to some epic late inning comebacks or soul crushing collapses. This has led to the NL East attempting to bolster their respective bullpens for the 2020 season. Here is how each teams new bullpen looks heading into 2020.
Atlanta: While many teams were waiting for Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, and Gerrit Cole to make their decisions, the Braves struck first. They brought back Chris Martin and Darren O’Day, as well as sign the top reliever on the market in Will Smith. The trio will join Luke Jackson, Shane Greene, and Mark Melancon to form Atlanta’s best bullpen since the Craig Kimbrel days.
Atlanta now has multiple established closer’s which is essential in today’s game. With Melancon, Greene, Jackson, and Smith all having closing experience, the Braves relievers won’t be over worked. Instead of relying on one guy to close games, the Braves relievers will share the role .
Will Smith is what puts the bullpen over the top. Last season he went 6-0, with a 2.76 ERA, 96 strikeouts, while going 34-38 in save opportunities. Now he will be tested in the toughest division in baseball.
Projected Braves 2020 bullpen: Smith, Melancon, Jackson, Greene, O’Day, Martin and Cole.
Miami- The Marlins remade their bullpen as they lost the majority of the group from last season. Miami brought in veteran Brandon Kintzler to be the new closer. Last season with the Cubs, Kintzler went 3-3, with a 2.68 ERA, and 48 strikeouts. He hasn’t closed since 2017 when he was on the Twins, but he should fill the role nicely. After that, the entire bullpen is full of question marks.
Projected Marlins 2020 bullpen: Kintzler, Conley, Stanek, Garcia, Tarpley, Sterling Sharp, Drew Steckenrider
New York- The Mets bullpen was projected to be the be the best in the division and instead faltered. Edwin Diaz was brought in to be man in the ninth inning and was a liability. Injuries and inconsistencies plagued the Mets bullpen in 2019. If the Mets want to make it back to the postseason, the bullpen will need to improve.
For starters, the Mets NEED Edwin Diaz to bounce back to his 2018 form where he led the league with 57 saves. A bounce back for Diaz would allow Seth Lugo to move into the eighth inning and the Mets would no long have to worry about the late innings. Last season, Lugo was the Mets lone bright spot in the bullpen. He immediately became the teams best reliever even though he began his career as a starter. Lugo has the ability to go multiple innings when needed. In 2019, Lugo went 7-4, with a 2.70 ERA, 104 strikeouts, and 21 holds. Lugo and Diaz are joined by returning relievers, Jeurys Familia, Robert Gsellman, and Justin Wilson.
New York took a flyer on Dellin Betances who is currently recovering from a torn Achillies. When healthy, Bentances is one of the best relievers in the game. This is backed up by the fact he has a career ERA of 2.36.
Projected 2020 Mets bullpen: Diaz, Lugo, Familia, Gsellman, Wilson, Betances (when healthy), Brad Bach,
Philadelphia- The Phillies best reliever David Robertson is going to miss the majoirty of the 2020 season with Tommy John surgery. To make matters worse, they lost Juan Nicasio, Mike Morin, Jared Hughes, J.D. Hammer, and Pat Neshek to free agency. That was the majority of the bullpens depth. Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez, Adam Morgan, Seranthony Dominguez, and Tommy Hunter all return. Dominguez and Morgan battled injuries last season and will provide a boost if they are both fully healthy.
Washington- Last year Sean Doolittle was overworked due to being the only reliable reliever on the team till Daniel Hudson arrived. Heading into 2020, the Nationals have more reliable options so Doolittle’s body shouldn’t fall apart. Besides the Braves, bullpen the Nationals should be able to match up with every other team’s pen in the division. Hudson, Harris, and Doolittle make for a big three, and if Rainey can build on his rookie season then the Nationals will have their best bullpen since 2012.
Who has the Edge?
On Paper, the Braves have the best bullpen in the division. Smith, Greene, Melancon, and Martin provide plenty of depth and options. With the new three batter rule going into effect, each pitcher is proven and can handle the challenge.
If, and that’s a big if, Diaz bounces back for the Mets, then they will have the best reliever in the division. Lugo provides an elite innings eater who can also close. The Mets will need their depth to stay healthy this year, but if they can then the bullpen will be a problem for opposing offenses.
The Nationals are once again, trying a new look bullpen. Doolittle, Rainey (if he can cut down his walks), Hudson, and Harris should finally lock down the back ends of the bullpen. If everything goes right, then the Nats will finally have fixed their bullpen issue.
The Phillies bullpen once again looks intriguing but will need to prove they can stay healthy and consistent.
The Marlins have an established closer but have to many inconsistencies after that. While the bullpen might be improved from 2019, it still won’t be on par with the rest of the division.
Best bullpen in the NL East: Braves