Which 'pen is the cream of the crop?

Which 'pen is the cream of the crop?

A good bullpen doesn't guarantee a postseason berth, but just try to get to the playoffs without one. Last season five of the eight playoff teams had bullpens that finished in the top three in their respective leagues in earned run average.

Which 'pens will lead the way in 2007?

We asked various people around baseball to rate each team's relievers as part of MLB.com's "Best of 2007" series, and the results were surprisingly consistent. Three bullpens -- Seattle's, San Diego's and Toronto's -- barely missed the cut, and the top five were consistently cited by the panel:

No. 5 -- New York Mets
The Mets will miss Roberto Hernandez, currently with Cleveland, but they still have Billy Wagner (3-2, 2.24 ERA, 40 saves) to close the door and most of the rest of the cast back from a bullpen that won a Major League-best 32 games last season and held opposing hitters to a .239 batting average, which also led the Majors. Aaron Heilman (3.62 ERA in 74 games), Pedro Feliciano (7-2, 2.09), Duaner Sanchez (5-1, 2.49), Guillermo Mota, and recently acquired Scott Schoeneweis and Ambiorix Burgos should give manager Willie Randolph plenty of options and the Mets another stout bullpen in '07.

No. 4 -- Detroit Tigers
Left-hander Jamie Walker will be missed, but the Tigers should still have one of the more effective bullpens in the game, with Todd Jones closing things out and Jason Grilli, Wil Ledezma, Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya bridging the gap between the starters and Jones. The Tigers also added veteran right-hander Jose Mesa as another setup option, which will give manager Jim Leyland the option of resting Zumaya or Rodney more often than he could last year. The Detroit bullpen held opposing hitters to a .242 batting average last season, the second-best showing in baseball behind the Mets.

No. 3 -- Oakland Athletics
The A's come right at hitters with young, hard throwers and effective options for each situation. Closer Huston Street (4-4, 3.31, 37 saves), Justin Duchscherer (2-1, 2.91, converted nine of 11 save opportunities), Kiko Calero (3-2, 3.41), Chad Gaudin (4-2, 3.09), Brad Halsey and Jay Witasick are back from a staff that led the Major Leagues with 54 saves and won 25 of 40 decisions. Joe Kennedy will likely move to the rotation, and lefties Ron Flores and Scott Sauerbeck are gone, but the A's added veteran Alan Embree (4-3, 3.27 for the Padres last season) to help against left-handed hitters.

The Best
MLB.com spends a week exploring which teams are considered the very best in five key categories:
  • Everyday lineup
  • Starting rotation
  • Bullpen
  • Infield
  • Outfield

No. 2 -- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Brendan Donnelly left for Boston, but weep not for the Angels bullpen. Not only are Francisco Rodriguez (2-3, 1.73, converted 47 of 51 save opportunities), Scot Shields (7-7, 2.87 in 74 games) and Hector Carrasco (7-3, 3.41 in 56 games) back, the Angels added Justin Speier (2-0, 2.98 in 58 games for Toronto last season) to what should be another lights-out bullpen.

No. 1 -- Minnesota Twins
Last season, Minnesota's bullpen had the best winning percentage in the Major Leagues (.722), the lowest ERA (2.91) and allowed just 39 homers in 498 innings, second only to Oakland (37 in 465 innings). Closer Joe Nathan (7-0, 36 saves, 1.58 ERA) held opponents to a .158 batting average and issued only 16 walks in 64 games. Right-hander Pat Neshek (4-2, 2.19, .176 opponents' batting average), left-hander Dennys Reyes (5-0, 0.89, .197), and right-handers Jesse Crain (4-5, 3.52, 18 walks in 76.2 innings) and Matt Guerrier have different styles, but all have excellent stuff, throw strikes and do not allow a lot of baserunners.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.