Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 3/28/12

The Mariners have the best record in baseball! Let their fans enjoy it for at least a day! For the rest of you, enjoy these 10 bold predictions for relief pitchers, the last installment in our preseason predictions series. You can see what else we’ve boldly predicted below:

  • 10 Bold Predictions: Catcher
  • 10 Bold Predictions: First Base
  • 10 Bold Predictions: Second Base
  • 10 Bold Predictions: Shortstop
  • 10 Bold Predictions: Third Base
  • 10 Bold Predictions: Outfield
  • 10 Bold Predictions: Starting Pitcher
1. Vinnie Pestano saves 25 games.

Odds: 25 percent

Most people believe that Pestano will eventually become Cleveland’s closer. Chris Perez is injured to start the season so Pestano gets a chance to show what he can do right away, and though Perez will get the job back once he’s healthy enough, I have a hard time imagining him holding onto it if he pitches as poorly as last season. Projecting 25 saves from Pestano is the equivalent of projecting he remains the Indians closer for about four months of the season. Perez is arbitration eligible and got a $2 million dollar bump this season to $4.5 million, and that number will only rise over the next two years. For a cost-conscious team like the Indians who have a team payroll just under $49 million, Perez might be someone they look to trade.

2. Sean Marshall saves 40 games.

Odds: 15 percent

When news broke that Ryan Madson would miss the 2012 season, everyone secretly hoped Aroldis Chapman would be named the closer. The team wisely chose a different alternative, and it looks like Marshall will be their closer to start the year. He’s been one of the game’s best setup men over the last two years, combining high strikeout rates with a walk rate just over 2.00 BB/9 last season, and he hasn’t allowed fly balls more than 27.9 percent of the time over any of the last three seasons. That should really help him in Cincinnati. I think Marshall will keep the job for the entire season, and that means he should be a great source of saves. Francisco Cordero saved 39, 40 and 37 games over the last three years, respectively, and he did that blowing 14 save chances over the last two seasons. If I was to be less bold and say Marshall will save 30 games, I’d put that at 70 percent. That’s the confidence I have in him.

3. Andrew Bailey pitches fewer than 35 innings.

Odds: 25 percent

Bailey is injury-prone. We all know that. Bailey is now a member of the Red Sox. We all know that, too. Put those two together, though, and you get some serious injury potential. For whatever reason, the Red Sox have had a very difficult time keeping their players healthy and rehabbing those who do get hurt. Bailey has already had some lat issues this spring, and I’m pretty scared about his health this season. The Red Sox did make some offseason changes to their medical staff in light of the problems they’ve been having over the last few years (Jacoby Ellsbury in 2010 and Clay Buchholz in 2011 come to mind) so we’ll see if that helps.

4. You’ll be happy you drafted Heath Bell.

Odds: 20 percent

Bell has been a reliever for eight seasons now, and before being an elite closer for the last three years he was an elite setup man for two years. Last season Bell saw his strikeout rate plummet even though his peripherals didn’t change much and his velocity remained constant, so what gives? I think Bell is a big risk this season because of his new contract and change in location (read: Not Petco). Miami is a volatile environment with a lot of uncertainties, ballpark included, and I’d rather not risk a higher pick to draft Bell when I can wait on someone like Marshall.

5. Jason Motte finishes as a top five closer.

Odds: 35 percent

I don’t think Fernando Salas has much of a chance taking the job from Motte. New manager Mike Matheny has pretty strongly put his faith in Motte, so let’s just assume he’s the team’s closer for the rest of the season. What kind of numbers could we see? If last year’s numbers are any indication (2.25 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) then Motte has what it takes to post elite ratios, and his great season last year is underscored by the fact that the former catcher is still new to this whole “pitching” thing. I think there’s a better chance he builds on his success than he regresses from it.

6. Jonathan Broxton saves more games than any Dodgers reliever.

Odds: 25 percent

This prediction boils down to two smaller predictions: Broxton will win the KC closing gig and Javy Guerra won’t last long in LA. Broxton was terrible in his 12 1/3 innings last year and his velocity has been on the decline for two seasons, but there’s a good enough chance he’s the best closing option even if he struggles. As for the Dodgers, Kenley Jansen and Guerra will steal saves from each other paving the way for Broxton to out-save them both.

7. Matt Thornton keeps the closing job all season.

Odds: 30 percent

After a disastrous start to his closing career last year, Thornton became the Thornton of old after moving back to the setup role. Now the questions is whether the struggles were related to him being a closer or just a very tough stretch to start the season. I think Thornton is capable of being an elite closer, and if he succeeds early on he should be able to hold off flame-throwing prospect Addison Reed.

8. Jim Johnson saves 25 games for the Orioles.

Odds: 20 percent

Johnson has the closing job to start the season, but he’s not your prototypical closer. He has a power fastball, but his strikeout rate has never topped 7.52 K/9. I don’t think Johnson is really a good candidate to close games, but he’s a heckuva lot better than Kevin Gregg and Matt Lindstrom will probably have to prove his worth to Buck Showalter.

9. Joe Nathan finishes as a top three closer.

Odds: 20 percent

Nathan says the difference between this spring and last spring is “night and day” to the point where this season he isn’t even thinking about his elbow. There are a lot of quality relief options in the Texas bullpen, but Nathan is the best of them when healthy. Now a full season removed from Tommy John surgery, Nathan is capable of getting back to his old ways. That could mean 40 saves, an ERA in the mid-to-low 2.00s and a WHIP just over 1.00. Gamble on Nathan.

10. Tyler Clippard is not worth drafting in non-holds leagues.

Odds: 90 percent

(Yes, I’m aware I listed this at 90 percent but it had to be said). After finishing last season with 100 strikeouts, a 1.83 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP, you might be tempted to draft or add Clippard in your non-holds league. Don’t. His strand rate last season was 95.6 percent. His BABIP was .197. His FIP was 3.18. Clippard will regress, and when he does he’ll likely have an ERA resembling that 2011 FIP, and a correction in BABIP will push that WHIP up near his 1.21 mark from 2010. Clippard brings you the strikeouts, but the rest will be easily replaceable. Oh, and with Drew Storen closing games he won’t get a chance at saves.

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