Closers tend to get all the glory, and if ranked solely on closers I would re-rank #s 2 and 3 on this list. But, this is not based solely on closers and a strong well rounded bullpen is key to a team trying to compete for a playoff spot and the AL East boast 4 of the top bullpen’s in the league.
1. Boston: Closer: Jon Papelbon, Others: Masterson, Okajima, Saito, Delcarmen
In the off-season last year Boston toyed with the idea of moving Papelbon into the starting rotation however he is such a dominant closer and they lacked another legitimate option that Papelbon remained the ninth inning man. He responded with another strong season. Behind Papelbon is a great mix of youth (Delcarmen and Masterson) and experience (Okajima and Saito), top to bottom this is the most well balanced bullpen in the AL East.
2. Toronto: Closer: BJ Ryan, Others: Downs, Carlson, Accardo, League, Frasor, Tallet
2008 was a stellar year for this group of relievers, pitching behind one of the best rotations they were able to stay fresh and responded when called upon to shut other teams down. This group lacks the big name, high ceiling talent of the Red Sox but based on last years performance they definitely rank #2 on this list though they may get a bit overworked with less depth in the rotation and there could be a bit of a let down for Carlson there shouldn’t be any let down for League, BJ Ryan is another year removed from TJ surgery and having Accardo healthy will be an added bonus.
3. New York: Closer: Mariano Rivera, Others: Marte, Bruney, Coke, Ramirez
Rivera is one of the top 3 or 4 closers in all of baseball, he is consistently dominant in the 9th inning however he is getting up there in years (though showing no signs of slowing down). The reason the Yankees drop down to third on this list is the supporting cast and if not for the difference in value between Rivera and Percival they would have been 4th. Coke has looked like a capable set up man and Marte has proved over his career to be a capable reliever as has Bruney but no one is lights out in the bunch.
4. Tampa Bay: Closer: Troy Percival, Others: Wheeler, Balfour, Howell, Shouse
The lack of a dominant closer keeps TB behind the Yankees in these rankings, Percival is also coming off back surgery. But Wheeler and Balfour both had wonderful seasons in 2008 and TBs hopes in 2009 rest on their shoulders. That is a tall statement for sure, and TB will do well no matter what in my opinion however, those two guys are keys in the bullpen and either could get some save opps if Percival isn’t ready to start the season.
5. Baltimore: Closer: George Sherrill, Others: Ray, Sarfate, Liz, Pauley, Baez, Sarfate
The steep drop off again comes at #5 with Baltimore. At the back end of the bullpen is George Sherrill who racked up 31 saves last season which is good however he did it with a 4.72 ERA and 1.51 WHIP and blew 6 saves. Coming back from injury is former closer Chris Ray he should be the primary set up man for Sherrill and if his struggles continue expect Ray to take over the job and not let go. Other then Ray and Sherrill there isn’t much to like in this bullpen, Liz has a great arm but can’t control it and the others likely wouldn’t be pitching for a contending team.
The tally so far:
New York: 41
Tampa Bay: 38