Several significant reasons make trying to look at preseason performances for relievers particularly dicey. Firstly, relievers are volatile by nature; even the best have bad months. Over a regular season, that doesn't matter too much, but in spring, a month can be your entire campaign. Secondly, we're dealing here with extremely small sample sizes. Of our credible bullpen candidates, only three have thrown more than four innings. It's safe to say assessment is going to be much more based on how the coaches and Chip Hale sees them looking in bullpen sessions, on back fields, etc. than on, say, the three batters faced in-game by Silvino Bracho to date.
Additionally, not all spring training innings are the same. You can come in for the fourth inning, and still be facing major-league quality hitters. Or you can come in for the ninth, and pad your numbers against minor-league hitters wearing numbers more appropriate for an NFL: defensive line. The box score does not discriminate or allow for this significant difference. Still, since when something being a really dumb idea ever stopped us on the SnakePit from plowing on, regardless? So, bearing the above firmly in mind, here are the spring training stats so far, for the players who appear to have even the slightest chance of making the 2016 Opening Day bullpen.
There are some for whom spring performances are almost irrelevant, because their places are, as mentioned above, virtually secured. Brad Ziegler, Daniel Hudson, Tyler Clippard, Josh Collmenter and Randall Delgado (the last, in particular, being out of options) appear assured of their spots, which leaves everyone else to fight for the remaining two. Based on last year's major-league performances, Andrew Chafin would seem to have come into spring with a very good shot, but I am concerned by the small workload - it has now been a full week since he has been seen in a game, and that didn't go very well.
Indeed, the number of appearances might be a useful guide at who is getting a serious look. Outside the five "locks" listed, the players seen most often have been Evan Marshall, Jake Barrett, Enrique Burgos, Sam LeCure and Wesley Wright, all of whom have more or less credible claims to stake. Marshall would, obviously, be the feel-good story of spring (as anyone who saw last night's Cactus League Weekly knows!), but he still faces tough opposition, most likely from Burgos and Wright. The latter has the left-handed advantage, something missing from the "locks", and has thrown more, and more effectively than fellow southpaws Keith Hessler and Matt Reynolds.
Of those who have been seen less often, some are entirely explicable: Silvino Bracho was delayed by a groin injury, while Brad Ziegler is deliberately keeping his preseason workload light, having apparently found last year (where it was the result of off-season knee surgery) that a gentle spring helped him maintain effectiveness to the end of the regular season. [The "I'll do it on the night" approach, if you're familiar with Shaun of the Dead] However, former All-Star Matt Capps's comeback doesn't appear to be gaining much traction, with a solitary Cactus League outing, on March 7.
Beyond that? Hard to say much at this point. As we head into the second half of March, we should begin to get a better idea, in terms of pitchers being used in specific situations, and that may also help give us pointers as to who will snag the spots at the back of the bullpen for Opening Day.