A major-league club's bullpen is as important to its success as any other component of the roster.
In fact, with the usage of an opener becoming an increasingly popular strategy, relief pitching dominates headlines as the season progresses.
Many clubs have also made a concerted effort to move away from pushing starting pitchers to go 200-plus innings over a season. Only 61 starters threw more than 160 innings in 2018, which further illustrates the need for a dominant bullpen.
Here are the five relief pitching corps expected to be the best in baseball in 2019.
|Carl Edwards Jr.||R||3.79|
|Brandon Morrow (IL)||R||3.51|
|Xavier Cedeno (IL)||L||3.74|
|Tony Barnette (IL)||R||3.72|
The National League's best bullpen last year by ERA looks mostly the same coming into this season. Jesse Chavez (2.55 ERA in 2018) departed for Texas and was replaced by Brach (3.59 ERA in 2018), but this group looks poised to put up similar numbers to those from a campaign ago. Chicago's bullpen will also get a boost when Morrow returns from offseason elbow surgery. The closer's 1.47 ERA was the fifth-best mark by a reliever with at least 30 innings pitched last season. The bottom of the bullpen depth chart will become even stronger when offseason additions Cedeno and Barnette return from their respective injuries.
One of the Athletics' biggest strengths from a season ago was their bullpen, and nothing should change in 2019. Treinen returns as the closer after finishing sixth in American League Cy Young voting thanks to a 0.78 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings. Jeurys Familia is gone but Oakland replaced him with Soria, who pitched wonderfully last year (11.1 K/9, 2.44 FIP). Trivino has quickly developed into a stud, Buchter has pitched to a sub-3.00 ERA in three straight years, and Rodney should provide added stability and mentorship. With Oakland's rotation being what it is, expect Hendriks to continue with opener duty. The Aussie made eight starts for the A's in 2018 and was on the hill to begin the AL wild-card game against the New York Yankees.
|Jeremy Jeffress (IL)||R||3.37|
|Bobby Wahl (IL)||R||3.59|
The Brewers can mash, but their bullpen was responsible for much of the team's success last season when Milwaukee finished one win away from reaching its first World Series since 1982. Hader is one of the league's filthiest pitchers (15.8 K/9) and Jeffress held opposing hitters to a .182 average to go along with a sparkling 1.29 ERA last year - though the latter reliever is expected to begin the season on the injured list. Knebel finished 2018 strong after a miserable summer and hasn't allowed a run in spring training, but a UCL injury has the Brewers concerned about his status. Due to either of those recent injury concerns or simply the drive to improve, the team has been linked to free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel. He could be the man this group needs to remain among this elite company.
|Joe Smith (IL)||R||3.95|
The Astros have been forced to slide some of last year's most important bullpen pieces into the starting rotation due to losing multiple starters through free agency (Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel) and injury (Lance McCullers Jr.). Both Colin McHugh and Brad Peacock are expected to join the rotation in 2019. However, the relief pitching should once again be dominant. Osuna was a perfect 12-for-12 in save opportunities in 23 games for the Astros last season and Pressly was one of the biggest steals of the trade deadline. After Houston acquired him in July, the 30-year-old Pressly allowed just two runs in 26 appearances.
|Dellin Betances (IL)||R||2.86|
Another year of baseball, another year of the Yankees owning MLB's scariest bullpen. Chapman is still throwing flames in the ninth - his four-seamer averaged 98.7 mph last season - and should find himself among baseball's elite closers. Betances struck out more than 15.5 hitters per nine with his three-pitch mix, while Ottavino and his frisbee slider look to be an upgrade over the departed David Robertson. Britton (142 career saves) and Green (6.27 K/BB) are no slouches, either. They both could be closers on one of the other 29 teams in baseball, but instead will likely anchor the middle innings for New York, which shows just how deep this bullpen actually is.
(Projections courtesy: FanGraphs Steamer)