Braves 2020 Position Ranks: Bullpen

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We’re back already with the second post of our Braves 2020 Position Ranks series, and we still have a ways to go, so let’s get to it. First, a quick disclaimer:

In this series, we’ll look at each position group one at a time and rank all five NL East clubs according to their projected WAR total for the 2020 season. We’ll be using 2020 ZiPS projections for all rankings, and all WAR figures will be compiled from FanGraphs. The order of these posts will correspond with each defensive position-number on the field (1: pitcher, 2: catcher, 3: first base… etc.), with each team’s starting rotation and bullpen going out first.

In case you missed it, here’s what we’ve covered thus far…

• Starting rotation (March 2)


2020 NL East Ranks


Last time, we looked at the five NL East team’s starting rotations, though because each starting staff isn’t quite official yet, I went ahead and listed six starters for each team. The same logic applies for the bullpen, considering no one knows for sure where each pitcher will land (some that don’t make the rotation will reinforce the ‘pen). In 2019, the Braves had 13 different relievers make 20+ appearances, though I’m only interested in the main contributors for each team (otherwise, we’d be looking at over 70 pitchers altogether). Therefore, let’s again keep it at six players, that way we can cover each teams’ closer and setup guys, while also listing a few of the more low-leverage arms. Again, I am compiling my depth chart via


Braves — 4.2 WAR

  • M. Melancon — 0.5
  • W. Smith — 1.1
  • S. Greene — 0.6
  • L. Jackson — 1.0
  • D. O’Day — 0.2
  • C. Martin — 0.8

Depth is the true calling card of this relief core, as there are at least three or four guys who’re capable of closing out games if needed. However, I expect the owner of the major’s most dominant slider, lefty Will Smith, to hold down that role for the Braves fairly soon into the regular season. My two wild card picks, though, are 37-year-old Darren O’Day and Chris Martin. O’Day is finally 100% healthy, but his projection is rightfully conservative. However, when he’s right, he’s tough versus right-handed batters, running a career K rate of 9.64 per nine while allowing a .195 AVG. And Martin was just what the Braves needed in 2019 when he was acquired in July, as he finished up last season with a remarkable overall walk rate of 0.81 BB/9. Being stingy with free passes has always been Martin’s no. 1 strength (career 1.35 BB/9), and his ability to do just that will be critical to the Braves’ success in 2020. 


Mets — 4.2 WAR

  • E. Diaz — 1.2
  • S. Lugo — 1.1
  • D. Betances — 0.5
  • J. Familia — 0.5
  • J. Wilson — 0.5
  • B. Brach — 0.4

The Mets led the division in our last post covering each team’s starting rotation. There are several bounce-back candidates currently in this Mets’ bullpen, as guys like Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia struggled mightily last season, and newcomer Dellin Betances missed nearly the entire year. If those three guys can stay healthy and turn things around… look out, especially concerning Betances, who in each of his three seasons before 2019 (2016-18) averaged over 15 strikeouts per nine. Seth Lugo is no slouch either (11.7 K/9 in ’19), and he carried New York’s bullpen last season (80 IP / 2.3 WAR). Lugo led all major league relievers in fastball pitch value (according to FanGraphs) in 2019, holding opposing batters to a .153 AVG and 32 wRC+ with his high-90s heater. Only two other relievers finished the year with more WAR than Lugo last season.


Phillies — 4.0 WAR

  • H. Neris — 0.9
  • S. Dominguez — 0.7
  • J. Alvarez — 0.7
  • V. Arano — 0.2
  • A. Morgan — 0.3
  • R. Suarez — 1.2

The Phillies were even worse than the infamous Nationals when it came to bullpen performance in 2019 (0.8 WAR collectively / 22nd in MLB), but there appears to be some positive regression coming their way. Hector Neris is the only returning Phillies’ reliever that surpassed at least 0.5 WAR in 2019, as he led the group with 1 WAR, thanks to 89 strikeouts in 67.2 innings (11.84 K/9), plus a strong 2.93 ERA. Seranthony Dominguez is supposed to be Philadelphia’s leader out of the ‘pen, but he only tallied 24.2 innings in 2019 while dealing with elbow ligament troubles, so he’ll be inspired to redeem himself this coming season. Dominguez was one of the game’s best a couple of seasons ago when he posted 1.3 WAR and held batters to a measly .156 AVG in 2018. Ranger Suarez has quite the aggressive 2020 projection, but perhaps the 24-year-old lefty earned it after stranding runners on base at an 83% clip (the MLB average is 70%) and turning in a 3.14 ERA in 48.2 innings (0.4 WAR). This coming season will be just his second full season in the majors.


Marlins — 2.2 WAR

  • D. Steckenrider — 0.4
  • B. Kintzler — 0.4
  • R. Stanek — 0.5
  • Y. Garcia — 0.1
  • S. Sharp — 0.8
  • A. Conley — 0.0

Hey! The Marlins aren’t last in something as they barely skimp by the Nationals in projected bullpen play for the 2020 season (well, at least according to the depth chart I’m using today). This year’s Marlin’s relief core will feature several different arms compared to 2019. Drew Steckenrider is good to go after missing most of last season with an injury. Steckenrider is capable of making contributions similar to what he produced in 2017 and 2018 when he combined for 1.1 WAR and carried a 3.12 ERA. Brandon Kintzler comes over from the Cubs, where he posted 0.9 WAR in 2019 while pitching in 62 games and holding batters to a .214 AVG. Then there’s Miami’s 2019 Rule 5 pick Sterling Sharp (24-years-old), who some folks are raving about; however, he has never pitched above the Double-A level. Sharp was used as a starter in the Nationals’ system and is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he rose through three levels of the minors (RK, A-, AA) and finished with 8.0 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 58.2 innings (12 starts / 3.53 ERA). 


Nationals — 2.1 WAR

  • S. Doolittle — 0.7
  • W. Harris — 0.7
  • D. Hudson — 0.1
  • T. Rainey — 0.0
  • W. Suero — 0.5
  • H. Strickland — 0.1

For all the criticism the World Champion Nationals received regarding its 2019 bullpen, the Braves were only slightly better last season (1.1 WAR / 0.9 WAR). Either way, Will Harris was a big pickup for Washington this winter, as he was tough as nails while pitching for the Astros the last five seasons. In 2019, Harris posted a stingy 1.50 ERA with Houston, while striking out 9+ batters per nine in 68 innings. He’ll be one of the Nationals’ primary relief arms in 2020. Sean Doolittle (0.8 WAR) and Wander Suero (1.5 WAR) were the two leaders for D.C. in 2019, and they will both be significant contributors again this season, though they are complete opposites in terms of what they’re trying to do on the mound. Both can get their share of strikeouts, but Doolittle is a heavy fly-ball pitcher, posting the third-highest FB% (55.7%) in the majors in 2019; while Suero is more of a groundball guy (40.8 GB%) who does an even better job at suppressing home runs (0.63 HR/9) in ’19). 27-year-old Tanner Rainey is an absolute flamethrower, and his average fastball velocity (97.8 mph) was the 7th-highest average in the majors in 2019, among relievers with 40 or more innings. The only problem is Rainey can’t harness all of that gas (career 8.13 BB/9), though whenever he figures out how to, it’s going to be very bad for opposing hitters. 

Next up: Catchers


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