MLB bullpen power ratings and why they matter

April 5, 2022 09:17 PM
USATSI_16735173

With each passing baseball season, the bullpen seems to take on greater importance. In 2021, starters only averaged a tick above five innings, meaning more and more games are being decided late.

I lean on my bullpen ratings now more than ever. On top of an increased workload, the rule being used in extra innings — with a runner starting on second base — has enhanced the importance of getting hitters out and getting them out in dominant fashion. Therefore, I place a great deal of emphasis on relievers’ ability to strike hitters out. 

The basis for my bullpen power ratings includes strikeouts per nine innings, WHIP, save percentage and the overall talent level of a staff, among some other factors.

Why do I find bullpen handicapping so important? Easy. Take a look at some numbers from the 2021 season:

— There were 2,465 MLB games last season. Simply taking the team with the higher Steve Makinen Bullpen Power Rating would have produced a record of 1,358-1,049 (56.4%) for -8.16 units (not including the 58 games in which the teams had equal ratings). That represents a negative ROI of just 0.3%. While not a positive ROI, it still beats the juice, which averages about 5%, by a wide margin.

— In matchups in which one team had at least a 20-point difference in my bullpen power ratings — essentially top-five bullpens versus bottom-five bullpens — the higher-rated team was 143-70 (67.1%) for + 17.58 units with an ROI of 8.3%.

I adjust these ratings throughout the season, sometimes daily. If you have a good gauge for talent and keep an eye on the key statistics, you’ll be able to spot the mismatches or even make your own strength ratings. If you want to rely on my ratings, I publish them regularly at VSiN.com and weekly in Point Spread Weekly.

Here are some bullet points from my 2022 bullpen power ratings: 

— The Brewers, one of the NL favorites, own the best bullpen in baseball, highlighted by closer Josh Hader and setup man Devin Williams. Their bullpen depth is also strong. The team regularly finds new arms who throw mid- to high-90s and breaking stuff to match. Alan Ashby and Jake Cousins, midseason call-ups in 2021, are prime examples.

— The Braves are No. 2 on the list. The defending champions added Kenley Jansen to an already loaded staff. I’m not a huge fan of tinkering with what was a dominant relief staff down the stretch and in the postseason. We’ll see how inserting a new closer plays out, especially since Will Smith had a .727 WHIP in 11 scoreless innings in the playoffs.

— I dropped the White Sox from No. 1 to No. 3 (and subtracted five ratings points) when they traded Craig Kimbrel to the Dodgers on Friday. I still like what they have with Liam Hendriks and Kendall Graveman, among others, but Kimbrel’s moxie will be hard to replace.

— The White Sox’s loss was the Dodgers’ gain, as I added five points and moved the World Series favorites up to No. 4 on my list. Using Blake Treinen as a full-time closer was somewhat concerning considering his lack of experience in that role, but Kimbrel (372 career saves, 14.7 strikeouts per 9 innings) provides another option now.

— The Yankees round out my top five. Aroldis Chapman hasn’t been nearly as effective over the last two seasons, which is reflected by a gradual drop in my ratings. The Yankees have been No. 1 or No. 2 on this list in recent years.

— Besides the Braves and Dodgers, 11 other teams will be changing closers according to my unofficial count. That group includes the bottom five on my list. Alex Colome, now with the No. 30 Rockies, is a closer to watch after floundering with the Twins last season.

— Three potential playoff teams that made moves at closer are the Cardinals, with Giovanny Gallegos replacing Alex Reyes (29 saves but too inconsistent in 2021); the Phillies, with Corey Knebel taking over after a strong season in a setup role with the Dodgers; and the Padres, with Robert Suarez replacing Mark Melancon, now with the Diamondbacks.

Here’s a first look at my Steve Makinen Bullpen Power Ratings (with ratings points in parentheses):

1. Milwaukee Brewers (Power rating: 22)

Closer: Josh Hader

Setup man: Devin Williams

Others: Aaron Ashby, Brent Suter, Jake Cousins, Josh Lindblom

2. Atlanta Braves (20)

Closer: Kenley Jansen

Setup man: Will Smith

Others: Collin McHugh, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, Luke Jackson

3. Chicago White Sox (20)

Closer: Liam Hendriks

Setup man: Kendall Graveman

Others: Garrett Crochet, Aaron Bummer, Ryan Burr, Joe Kelly

4. Los Angeles Dodgers (19)

Closer: Craig Kimbrel

Setup man: Daniel Hudson

Others: Andrew Heaney, Brusdar Graterol, David Price, Blake Treinen

5. New York Yankees (18)

Closer: Aroldis Chapman

Setup man: Jonathan Loaisiga

Others: Luis Severino, Chad Green, Joely Rodriguez, Clay Holmes

6. Los Angeles Angels (16)

Closer: Raisel Iglesias

Setup man: Mike Mayers

Others: Ryan Tepera, Jose Suarez, Aaron Loup, Michael Lorenzen

7. Toronto Blue Jays (12)

Closer: Jordan Romano

Setup man: Tim Mayza

Others: Nate Pearson, Yimi Garcia, Ross Stripling, Julian Merryweather

8. New York Mets (9)

Closer: Edwin Diaz

Setup man: Trevor May

Others: Seth Lugo, Adam Ottavino, Trevor Williams, Felix Pena

9. San Francisco Giants (9)

Closer: Jake McGee

Setup man: Camilo Doval

Others: Tyler Rogers, Jarlin Garcia, Sammy Long, Kervin Castro

10. Houston Astros (8)

Closer: Ryan Pressly

Setup man: Ryne Stanek

Others: Hector Neris, Rafael Montero, Phil Maton, Blake Taylor

11. Tampa Bay Rays (7)

Closer: Andrew Kittredge

Setup man: JT Chargois

Others: Pete Fairbanks, Matt Wisler, Colin Poche, Jeffrey Springs

12. Miami Marlins (6)

Closer: Dylan Floro

Setup man: Anthony Bender

Others: Jesus Luzardo, Richard Bleier, Steven Okert, Anthony Bass

13. Seattle Mariners (6)

Closer: Paul Sewald

Setup man: Drew Steckenrider

Others: Ken Giles, Diego Castillo, Andres Munoz, Justus Sheffield

14. St. Louis Cardinals (6)

Closer: Giovanny Gallegos

Setup man: Genesis Cabrera

Others: Alex Reyes, Jordan Hicks, Drew VerHagen, Nick Wittgren

15. Philadelphia Phillies (5)

Closer: Corey Knebel

Setup man: Jose Alvarado

Others: Brad Hand, Seranthony Dominguez, Connor Brogdon, Bailey Falter

16. Boston Red Sox (4)

Closer: Matt Barnes

Setup man: Jake Diekman

Others: Garrett Whitlock, Darwinzon Hernandez, Josh Taylor, Matt Strahm

17. Minnesota Twins (4)

Closer: Taylor Rogers

Setup man: Jorge Alcala

Others: Tyler Duffey, Caleb Thielbar, Joe Smith, Trevor Megill

18. Cleveland Guardians (3)

Closer: Emmanuel Clase

Setup man: Bryan Shaw

Others: James Karinchak, Nick Sandlin, Trevor Stephan, Sam Hentges

19. San Diego Padres (3)

Closer: Robert Suarez

Setup man: Dinelson Lamet

Others: Pierce Johnson, Emilio Pagan, Nick Martinez, Craig Stammen

20. Detroit Tigers (2)

Closer: Gregory Soto

Setup man: Michael Fulmer

Others: Andrew Chafin, Tyler Alexander, Kyle Funkhouser, Bryan Garcia

21. Cincinnati Reds (1)

Closer: Hunter Strickland

Setup man: Luis Cessa

Others: Lucas Sims, Art Warren, Tony Santillan, Dauri Moreta

22. Texas Rangers (0)

Closer: Joe Barlow

Setup man: Greg Holland

Others: Taylor Hearn, Spencer Patton, Brandon Workman, Jose Leclerc

23. Oakland Athletics (-1)

Closer: Lou Trivino

Setup man: Deolis Guerra

Others: A.J. Puk, Daulton Jefferies, Dany Jimenez, Domingo Acevedo

24. Arizona Diamondbacks (-3)

Closer: Mark Melancon

Setup man: Ian Kennedy

Others: Caleb Smith, Oliver Perez, J.B. Wendelken, J.B. Bukauskas

25. Kansas City Royals (-5)

Closer: Scott Barlow

Setup man: Josh Staumont

Others: Carlos Hernandez, Amir Garrett, Domingo Tapia, Dylan Coleman

26. Chicago Cubs (-7)

Closer: Rowan Wick

Setup man: David Robertson

Others: Adbert Alzolay, Mychal Givens, Chris Martin, Alec Mills

27. Pittsburgh Pirates (-9)

Closer: David Bednar

Setup man: Anthony Banda

Others: Chris Stratton, Heath Hembree, Sam Howard, Austin Brice

28. Baltimore Orioles (-10)

Closer: Cole Sulser

Setup man: Tanner Scott

Others: Tyler Wells, Keegan Akin, Paul Fry, Jorge Lopez

29. Washington Nationals (-11)

Closer: Tanner Rainey

Setup man: Kyle Finnegan

Others: Steve Cishek, Sean Doolittle, Patrick Murphy, Luis Avilan

30. Colorado Rockies (-12)

Closer: Alex Colome

Setup man: Carlos Estevez

Others: Daniel Bard, Robert Stephenson, Chad Kuhl, Tyler Kinley

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