Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith have all joined the American League East this offseason, with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox making the biggest hot-stove headlines in regards to relief acquisitions.
Chapman combines with left-hander Andrew Miller and right-hander Dellin Betances in New York to form what Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck calls the scariest bullpen on the planet.
The Red Sox paid a steep price in prospects to get Kimbrel, one of the best closers in baseball, from the San Diego Padres. They also managed to pull off what some consider among the steals of the offseason by landing the up-and-coming Smith in a trade that sent extra starter Wade Miley to the Seattle Mariners.
Moving beyond the buzz, let's look at the real questions following the influx of relief talent: Who has the best bullpen in the AL East? And who has the best late-inning combo in the division?
In 2015, the Orioles were at the front of the AL East pack with a 3.21 bullpen ERA, third-best in the AL. Their relievers also ranked in the top five in the AL in strikeouts (518, second), opponents' batting average (.238, fifth) and WHIP (1.26, fifth).
Here's how the division broke down in terms of relief ERA:
1. Orioles, 3.21
2. Toronto Blue Jays, 3.50 (fifth in AL)
3. Yankees, 3.65 (sixth in AL)
4. Tampa Bay Rays, 3.93 (ninth in AL)
5. Red Sox, 4.24 (13th in AL)
The Orioles lost nothing from their bullpen, with their biggest potential departure -- right-handed setup man Darren O'Day -- re-signing to a four-year, $31 million contract. Add in a full season of right-hander Mychal Givens and a potentially healthy Dylan Bundy, and there's no reason to think the unit will take a step back.
The additions to the Yankees and Red Sox should provide significant boosts, especially in the late innings. But after four straight years possessing either the best or second-best bullpen in the division, the Orioles should be right there once again.
Moving the conversation specifically to the back end of the 'pen, here's a team-by-team breakdown of each AL East club's projected late-game trio with each pitcher's 2015 relief stats in parentheses:
LHP Zach Britton (4-1, 36 saves in 40 opportunities, 1.92 ERA, 65 2/3 innings, 79 strikeouts, 14 walks, 0.990 WHIP)
RHP Darren O'Day (6-2, 6 saves, 1.52 ERA, 65 1/3 innings, 82 strikeouts, 14 walks, 0.934 WHIP)
RHP Brad Brach (5-3, 2.72 ERA, 79 1/3 innings, 89 strikeouts, 38 walks, 1.197 WHIP)
RHP Mychal Givens (2-0, 1.80 ERA, 30 innings, 38 strikeouts, 6 walks, 0.867 WHIP)
RHP Koji Uehara (2-4, 25 saves in 27 opportunities, 2.23 ERA, 40 1/3 innings, 47 strikeouts, 9 walks, 0.917 WHIP)
RHP Craig Kimbrel (4-2, 39 saves in 43 opportunities, 2.58 ERA, 59 1/3 innings, 87 strikeouts, 22 walks, 1.045 WHIP)
RHP Carson Smith (2-5, 13 saves in 18 opportunities, 2.31 ERA, 70 innings, 92 strikeouts, 22 walks, 1.014 WHIP)
RHP Brad Boxberger (4-10, 41 saves in 46 opportunities, 3.71 ERA, 63 innings, 74 strikeouts, 32 walks, 1.365 WHIP)
LHP Jake McGee (1-2, 6 saves, 2.41 ERA, 37 1/3 innings, 48 strikeouts, 8 walks, 0.938 WHIP)
RHP Alex Colome (5-1, 2.66 ERA, 40 2/3 innings, 44 strikeouts, 7 walks, 1.31 WHIP)
RHP Roberto Osuna (1-6, 20 saves in 23 opportunities, 2.58 ERA, 69 2/3 innings, 75 strikeouts, 16 walks, 0.919 WHIP)
LHP Brett Cecil (5-5, 5 saves, 2.48 ERA, 54 1/3 innings, 70 strikeouts, 13 walks, 0.957 WHIP)
RHP Aaron Sanchez (2-2, 2.39 ERA, 26 1/3 innings, 19 strikeouts, 7 walks, 0.873 WHIP)
LHP Andrew Miller (3-2, 36 saves in 38 opportunities, 2.04 ERA, 61 2/3 innings, 100 strikeouts, 20 walks, 0.859 WHIP)
RHP Dellin Betances (6-4, 9 saves, 1.50 ERA, 84 innings, 131 strikeouts, 40 walks, 1.012 WHIP)
LHP Aroldis Chapman (4-4, 33 saves in 36 opportunities, 1.63 ERA, 66 1/3 innings, 116 strikeouts, 33 walks, 1.146 WHIP)
On paper, the Yankees have the best late-inning trio, one that might trump the Kansas City Royals' group (Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera) that helped sweep the Orioles in the 2014 American League Championship Series.
In Betances, Chapman and Miller, the Yankees have the only three pitchers to strike out at least 100 batters in relief in 2015. And that unhittability is coupled with excellent control, as none of the three let many reach base. On any given night that all three are rested, the game could be over after six innings.
Although the Red Sox created a stir by adding Kimbrel and Smith, it's easy to argue that the Orioles have the second-best end-of-game combination in the AL East.
The Orioles are one of only two teams in the majors, along with the Houston Astros, to return two relievers with ERAs under 2.00: left-handed closer Zach Britton and O'Day. Both strike out more than a batter per inning and both were nearly unhittable a year ago, each finishing with a sub-1.00 WHIP.
A third established pitcher of that caliber might help the Orioles' group give the Yankees' a run. The only thing stopping it is uncertainty because Chapman, Miller and Betances have all produced at an elite level for multiple seasons.
The Orioles aren't hurting for options for a third late-inning arm after right-hander Brad Brach and Givens emerged a season ago. Brach's 2015 breakout (fifth among AL relievers in strikeouts) could give him an inside track on staying with O'Day and Britton in the late innings. But Givens showed flashes of a future as a dominant reliever, striking out 11.4 batters and walking 1.8 per nine innings in 30 innings as a rookie. Both of those totals would've led the team if maintained for a full season.
That conversation doesn't even include Brian Matusz (2.94 ERA, 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 2015), but that's because he's so valuable as a lefty specialist. Left-handed hitters batted .186 against him last season.
The Red Sox's back end is quite good. But it gets knocked down a notch because of questions. Uehara is entering his age-41 season and is coming off a broken wrist. Kimbrel is fresh off his worst season -- although his numbers were still strong -- and it came in pitcher-friendly Petco Park, perhaps sending up a red flag. Smith is considered a potential relief star, but has just one full season on his resume.
The Blue Jays and Rays both have solid overall bullpens, but their end-of-game setups aren't as fearsome as the three mentioned above.
Many relievers' performances fluctuate from year to year and it's the elite ones that build a consistent resume of dominance. The Yankees have three of them, the Orioles two and the Red Sox one.
So, even with the splashy moves made by the Yankees and Red Sox, don't discard the Orioles, who still boast one of baseball's best bullpens.
- Major League Baseball
- Baltimore Orioles
- Boston Red Sox
- New York Yankees
- American League East
- Craig Kimbrel
- Aroldis Chapman
- Dellin Betances
- Andrew Miller
- Zach Britton
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Koji Uehara
- American League
- Houston Astros
- Kansas City Royals
- San Diego Padres
- Brett Cecil
- Jake McGee