Friday, September 18, 2015

The Top Five Bullpens in Baseball

By Joe Messineo

When things are going well for a Major League Baseball team, it's easy for fans to undervalue the role of the bullpen. But when things go off the rails for the bullpen, people remember pretty quickly — just ask Dodger fans, who have only recently seen their team recover from a post-All-Star Break swoon that had a lot to do with a flailing bullpen.

The bullpen is essential to any winning team. With a great bullpen, a team can preserve leads in tight games or give their offense a chance to come back when the team is down. Without a great bullpen, all the good starters and powerful offense in the world won't help.

So which teams have had the advantage in the bullpen this year? Here are the best five bullpens in baseball.

5. New York Yankees

The Yankees' bullpen includes two stud pitchers, Dellin Betances and closer Andrew Miller, who have combined to give the Yankees more than a few close wins this year. Miller and Betances lead a unit that has struck out more batters than any other major league bullpen while holding opposing batters to a .225 batting average, good for third in the league.

4. Houston Astros

The Astros bullpen has pretty impressive stats: their 2.95 ERA is good for fifth in the league, and their 24 wins are good for a respectable eighth. But despite how it looks, they've had some pretty rough luck with when the hits come along. Houston has held opponents to an incredible .208 batting average, the lowest in the entire league. If they'd spread those few hits out a little more, they could have been the top bullpen on this list.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh has a great bullpen by just about any measure. They're third in the league in ERA, fourth in saves, third in wins, and have the third-fewest losses. Those stats are even more impressive when you look at the level of the competition that the Pirates have had — they're in the brutal NL Central, the best division in baseball this year by far.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

Is there any part of this year's Cardinals team that isn't elite? Maybe, but the bullpen isn't it: they're tops in the league in runs allowed per game, with just 3.21 coming in every nine innings of relief. They lead the league in saves (56), their ERA of 2.54 is second only to the number one team on this list, and they've earned 25 wins as a group.

1. Kansas City Royals

Depth is the key to this bullpen: their closer Greg Holland has a mediocre 3.64 ERA this season, yet they somehow lead the league in key relief pitching stats. This Kansas City bullpen is second in wins (after the Cubs), first in ERA, and has lost the fewest games (10) of any MLB bullpen. They've also been worked hard all season long: no playoff-bound team has asked their bullpen to pitch more innings than Kansas City has. The way this bullpen is pitching, though, they can keep right on asking.

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