When a team wins the World Series by utilizing the best bullpen in the big leagues, it’s a safe bet that everyone would swarm towards Nashville for the Baseball Winter Meetings with the intention of boosting their bullpen. After its conclusion on Thursday, there were a handful of teams that pulled it off.
The Houston Astros also made the biggest boost to their bullpen by acquiring Ken Giles, who ranked third among relievers in ERA over the last two seasons at 1.56 and third in strikeouts per 9 innings at 11.8. That’s because he’s sixth in average fastball velocity (96.7 MPH) Only one Houston reliever ranked fifth in the majors in strikeouts per nine innings and that was incumbent closer Luke Gregerson, who only averaged 8.7.
Giles was a setup man with the Philadelphia Phillies last season but should be the closer for the Astros. Gregerson could move into a setup role and be good at it. After all, his 71 holds from 2012 to 2014 ranked fourth in the majors. The Astros also re-signed middle reliever Tony Sipp to a three-year deal. Sipp held right-handed hitters to a .190 batting average in 2015, which is the third-lowest among left-handed pitchers.
After signing Ben Zobrist, the Chicago Cubs traded Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for pitcher Adam Warren, who can start or relieve and be effective. Warren finished last season with a 2.29 ERA in 35⅓ innings out of the bullpen and a 3.66 ERA in 17 starts for the Yankees. He was also very effective in preventing home runs. In the past two seasons, his home run rate was 0.6 per 9 innings, which ranks just outside the top 10.
The Boston Red Sox traded starting pitcher Wade Miley to the Seattle Mariners for Carson Smith, who had the third-lowest hard-hit rate in baseball last season at 7.1 percent. Only Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman (5.8) and Baltimore Orioles reliever Zach Britton (6.7) ranked higher in baseball. Smith also ranked fifth in the majors with a 66 percent ground-ball rate.
The Detroit Tigers also completely changed their bullpen by trading for Justin Wilson and signing Mark Lowe to compliment closer Francisco Rodriguez. Wilson will be the key lefty on a team whose lefty relievers allowed a .357 on-base percentage last season, which was fifth-worst in the majors. But the real big move was Lowe. who averaged 95.4 mph with his fastball, his best average radar reading since 2011 (96.7) and his strikeout rate of 10.0 per nine innings was also a career high.
Even after the winter meetings, there will likely be more bullpen moves happening this offseason.