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PECOTA's Pen Picks

Tuesday night's mishap notwithstanding, Rafael Soriano gives the Yankees one more high-grade reliever to call upon. (AP)

This week at Baseball Prospectus, I've peeked into our PECOTA projection system's expectations for each team's bullpen in a manner similar to the way I evaluated the rotations a few weeks back. On Tuesday, I tackled the NL, and today, I take on the AL.

To determine this, I tallied the expected playing-time adjusted WARP totals, ERAs and strikeout rates for each team's five best-projected relievers, gerrymandering the set so it excluded pitchers projected to throw less than 30 innings and included anyone who might reasonably be expected to share time as closer. It's an admittedly imperfect exercise, one in which the spread of values is relatively small given the recent tweaks to the WARP system, but it does reveal some interesting points that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Not surprisingly given that it was the one place they spent significant coin this winter, the Yankees look strong in this light; their cumulative projection of 5.2 WARP is just a whisker behind that of the Rangers, with the league's top strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio (9.4 and 2.8 per nine, respectively) to boot. Less than a full win behind them are this weekend's opponents, the Red Sox, who given their 0-6 start haven't yet had a chance to show off their A-team to best effect:

As for the Yankees, venerable closer Mariano Rivera (2.54 ERA, 1.6 WARP) and setup men Rafael Soriano (2.77, 1.7) and David Robertson (3.39, 1.2) project to be the league's strongest "big three," not to mention its most expensive in light of Rivera's two-year, $30 million deal and Soriano's even more controversial three-year, $35 million pact. Manager Joe Girardi appears to have bumped Joba Chamberlain (3.95, 0.5) ahead of Robertson in the pecking order, calling him the Yankees' "seventh-inning guy," though perhaps the clarity of Chambelain’s role will help him more than the uncertainty to which he's been subjected in the past. Meanwhile, the folly of throwing $8 million at "abused" lefty Pedro Feliciano (4.20, 0.2) is apparent in the PECOTAs, as fellow lefty Boone Logan (4.38, 0.1) projects to be almost exactly as valuable, albeit at a fraction of the cost.

The Red Sox are positioned about halfway between the top two teams and the next three. Anticipating the departure of pricey closer Jonathan Papelbon (2.74, 1.5) following this season, the Sox went out and signed a burly seventh-inning guy of their own in Bobby Jenks (3.39, 0.8) to act as a bridge—either as a setup man or a stopgap closer—to future closer Daniel Bard (3.80, 0.6). They also signed ex-Ray Dan Wheeler (3.44, 0.8) and ex-Yankee Alfredo Aceves (4.00, 0.7), a pair of battle-tested righties, away from their AL East rivals. The latter was supposed to be the Opening Day starter in Pawtucket on Thursday, but he was scratched, a move which in fact heralded a callup.

At the other end of the spectrum is the East's other limping beast:

...Meanwhile, down in the cellar with the Angels are the Rays, who lost virtually their entire 2010 bullpen—Soriano, [Joaquin] Benoit, [Grant] Balfour, Wheeler, Randy Choate, and the immortal Chad Qualls—to free agency and nontendered Lance Cormier just for good measure, because really, who wants to rebuild their bullpen around Lance Cormier? Joe Maddon appears ready to go with a closer-by-committee, which doesn't inspire a ton of confidence given the material on hand. Joel Peralta (3.47, 0.5), Kyle Farnsworth (3.87, 0.2), Juan Cruz (3.91, 0.2), and rookie Jacob McGee (4.09, 0.0) appear to be in the mix for high-leverage duties, though the fact that the Rays haven't held a single lead has prevented anyone from seeing exactly how that will work. Hopefully, the Rays will have shown us their blueprint by the time J.P Howell (3.55, 0.3, and excluded from the tally in favor of Andy Sonnanstine) returns from shoulder surgery around the beginning of May.

The takehome is that the Rays’ bullpen situation will do them no favors in the AL East race, assuming they eventually hit enough to enter.

Friends, no matter how dire things get with the Yankees' bullpen this year — as they did on Tuesday night, when Soriano walked the ballpark and then fled it in short order — remember this: you could have Kyle Farnsworth closing games.

Via Twitter, I know many a Rays supporter who was high on the Farnsworth signing, or at least high on some mood-altering substance that made the Farnsworth signing bearable. With all due respect, this is the same squad that cheered last year's Qualls misadventure, figuring that despite the BABIP-based pasting he'd suffered in Arizona, he was bound to regress. As it turns out, Qualls tried to come back too early from surgery to repair a dislocated patella (cringe) and his mechanics were never right, so his numbers didn't rebound as expected. Farnsworth is at least healthy, and I know that bunch — and perhaps the Rays front office — is clinging to the notion that his ability to suddenly keep the ball in the park in Kansas City (0.5 HR/9, compared to 1.4 per nine prior) was founded upon his adding a cutter to his arsenal. Perhaps, but he is terminally still Kyle Farnsworth, and anyone rooting for the Yankees is overjoyed he's pitching elsewhere.