Team Bullpen

So your draft strategy was to load up on hitters and then concentrate on filling out your staff later with some stable arms along with some high upside young pitchers.  Unfortunately those arms you were counting on went earlier then you expected and the sleepers you thought would fall to the later rounds were snatched up right out off your queue just moments before your turn.  You’ve scoured the waiver wire and there are some streaming options available along with a few minor leagues guys you could stash, but nothing noteworthy.  What’s an owner to do when left in a predicament like this?  The answer is quite simple, abandon wins and strikeouts; enter team bullpen.

You might have been in a league with someone that has used this strategy; at first the idea sounds ludicrous but if done right, you could actually dominate your league.  The best part is, your league mates probably won’t even realize what you are doing at first.  By the time they do put all the pieces together you will have created a monster that could rival the best pitching staff in your league.  I should mention that this strategy is primarily for H2H leagues.  You could attempt a version of this in roto or possible points depending on the structure of your leagues scoring, but it might not be worth the risk.

First things first, you need to assess your pitching staff.  For the purpose of this article, I’m going to use a random team from one of my leagues and transform his staff into a bullpen from hell.  So here’s what we are starting with.

SP Doug Fister
SP James Shields
SP Tony Cingrani
SP Alex Wood
RP Greg Holland
RP Ernesto Frieri
P Ervin Santana
P Drew Hutchison
Bench Tim Lincecum
Bench Ivan Nova
Bench A.J. Griffin (awaiting DL)

It’s not the worst staff in the world, but it will need some luck, trades and keen waiver wire work to make this work.  For bench hitters, this team has Kolten Wong (Ian Kinsler starting-J.J. Hardy at MI), B.J. Upton & Matt Kemp (DL) and Michael Brantley as a fourth outfielder.  Along with the starting pitchers, there are some decent trade chips on the bench.  First thing you need to do is identify which one of these players are you going to build around.  Remember, we’re punting wins and strikeouts here so ERA, WHIP & saves are the primary focus for your team.

Of this group, Greg Holland is the lone standout with outstanding ratios and a good chance at 40 (or more) saves; this give you your first piece of the puzzle.  The biggest name on this staff would be James Shields who on average went off the board in round 9.  Looking at some of the trades that have gone down, Shields has been traded for Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman (pre-injury), Greg Holland and Koji Uehara;  Trevor Rosental would be another name to consider here as well given his level of talent.  Of these closers I would concentrate on Jansen, but don’t get a case of tunnel vision as Uehara & Rosenthal would be great options as well.  Try trading Shields (or your top pitcher) and attempt to land one of these players.  You may have to package one of your other players in the deal to land him, but getting another top closer with elite ratios is key for this scenario to be successful.  Remember, you’re building a bullpen so trading your top pitcher for a top closer isn’t overpaying as long as you are getting what you need.

For the sake of argument, lets say you package Shields and Michael Brantley for Jansen and some other useful part.  You now have Jansen & Holland as your top 2 closers.  B.J. Upton is now your fourth outfielder but as many owners will tell you, finding a fourth outfielder on waivers isn’t that difficult.  That’s nice, but we need more.  Aroldis Chapman was mentioned above, and lucky for you he’s on the DL and out until at least June.  I’m sure his owner isn’t too happy and would love a useful closer to replace him in the order.  You have Ernesto Frieri on your roster.  He is a good player for saves, but his ERA & WHIP are not what you are looking for as far as your staff goes so.  This team also has Matt Kemp on the DL, and he should be back to start the season or at least by mid April.  A package of Kemp & Frieri could be enough to land Chapman, or you could offer Frieri and one of your other pitchers (maybe that owner is a fan of Hutchison or Cingrani or a Yankees fan).  A healthy closer and a second piece they find valuable should be enough to land Chapman.  Yes, you won’t have him for the first 2 or 3 months, but having this elite option for the second half could prove to be invaluable.

Doug Fister is this teams second most valuable pitcher.  He was moved up many draft boards with the trade to Washington and many owners would like to have him on their team.  He went off the draft board in rounds 12-13 on average, right around the same time Glen Perkins and David Robertson went.  You could try to acquire one of these two players for Fister, or you could maybe package Fister with another pitcher and try for a higher caliber pitcher such as Rosenthal or Uehara along with some other useful part.  Another option would be to package Fister with someone like J.J. Hardy or Ian Kinsler and attempt to get a big gun like Craig Kimbrel.  This team has an adequate back up for second base in Kolten Wong so trading Kinsler wouldn’t hurt this stacked lineup.  If the Kimbrel owner won’t bite, Perkins or Robertson would both make great additions.  Use your own discretion when it comes to trading away a bat.  If your team is built on hitting, you don’t want to weaken your greatest strength so only offer what you can afford to lose.

Let’s assume that you were able to trade Fister and Ivan Nova for Robertson and another player (or even Robertson straight up).  Yes this might be an overpay, but like I said earlier, pitching doesn’t matter to you here.  You may have to overpay with some teams as they may only have 2 closers and might not want to part with one of their only closers.  Fortunately you don’t have to worry about overpaying if you’re trading away two pitchers, you don’t need them.  I keep repeating you don’t need your starting pitchers because I want you to remember that while you’re attempting to build this staff.  Their upside is irrelevant to your success.

So now you have a staff of Jansen, Holland & Robertson (and possibly Chapman on your DL).  You need one more closer and you still have some decent trade chips on your roster.  Odds are you won’t be able to afford, or the asking price might be to high for a Rosenthal or Uehara.  You can make an attempt and offer a few of the remaining pitchers you have, but with your top names traded already you might not have what it takes.  Someone like Glen Perkins or Joe Nathan could be in your range.  Depending on who was used in the Chapman trade, you could have both Hutchison & Cingrani, maybe Kemp is still on your team, plus you will have a few extra players from the previous trades who may or may not be useful to you that you can include.  You still have plenty of pieces to overpay and get what you want.  Owners don’t like to lose one of their higher end closers, but if you’re paying above market value (or they love the second player you’re throwing in), they will make an exception.

I’m going to assume that Perkins was overpaid for; lets take a look at what you have.

W K SV ERA WHIP
Kenley Janson 4 111 28 1.88 0.86
Greg Holland 2 103 47 1.21 0.87
Glen Perkins 2 77 36 2.30 0.93
David Robertson 5 77 3 2.04 1.04
Aroldis Chapman 4 112 38 2.54 1.04

Using last years numbers, your 4 closers will give you an ERA in the 1.7 range and a WHIP around .92.  Even the best pitching staff in the league can’t compare to those ratios, and that’s without Chapman who serves as your second half security blanket (because injuries happen).  And if you’re not happy with Perkins or Robertson, you can now package one of them with some more pitching to possibly upgrade again as the owners of Kimbrel, Uehara & Rosenthal might be willing to part with their guy if they are getting a closer in return.  What you have now is a great base, but you can still improve upon what you have if there was something better out there you couldn’t get before.

You’re half way there, but you’ve still got those 4 pesky SP slots to fill.  That’s where those SP eligible relief pitchers come in.  Tommy wrote an article last month about this very subject, and this is how you will complete your bullpen from hell.  Most of these guys will be ignored in your leagues; owners aren’t usually interested in relief pitchers that aren’t going to get them wins or saves, that works to your advantage.  It also gives you time to evaluate these players and monitor them on waivers.  Last year in my roto league, I rostered Drew Smyly, Luke Hochever, Tommy Hunter and Brett Cecil over the final few months just to bring down my ERA & WHIP.  Since I used last years numbers for the closers above, lets look at the final numbers of the four SP eligible relief pitchers I owned last year.

W K SV ERA WHIP
Drew Smyly 6 81 2 2.37 1.04
Luke Hochever 5 82 2 1.92 0.82
Tommy Hunter 6 68 4 2.81 0.98
Brett Cecil 5 70 1 2.82 1.10

Overall these players are not very impressive but like I pointed out in an article last year, Hochever & Smyly’s numbers combined are almost equivalent to those of Jose Fernandez.

What started out above as a mediocre pitching staff could easily be turned into a monster that can take ERA, WHIP and saves on a weekly basis.  There is even the potential to steal a point or two in the strikeout and wins category from time to time as well.  The best part is, nobody will see this coming.  People will assume you’re just bulking up your bullpen to make up for the lack of starters, but once you’ve done that and added in your SP eligible relievers….it will be too late for them to do anything about the juggernaut you’ve created.  So if your staff resembles the one above and you’re wondering how you are going to compete this year, give the team bullpen strategy a try.  I’ve done it in the past and it does work, and you will annoy several owners in your league by doing so.

Jim Finch

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The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.

One thought on “Team Bullpen”

  1. Nice Article Jim!

    This strategy can work in roto leagues too, but in order for it to be successful you cannot invest too heavily in the high end closers because your offense needs to be absolutely dominant (must average top 2 in every category).

    Like you mention, an assembly of elite closers pretty much guarantees you 3 pitching categories, but since you are punting wins and Ks in this scenario you don’t need to overpay for the elite ratios of the top tier closers. Doing so is overkill.

    Waiting a few extra rounds while you continue to load up on elite bats is the better play for roto leagues. A bullpen like this one:

    David Robertson
    Casey Janssen
    Nate Jones
    Tommy Hunter
    Sergio Santos
    Mark Melancon

    is still going to get you in the top 2 in ERA, WHIP and saves while allowing you to build a sick offense.

    As for those pesky SP spots? If your league does not have an innings minimum, leave them empty. The only counting stat that matters for you is saves, so don’t risk harming those pristine ratios.

    Employing this strategy correctly should yield about 90 roto points (average of 11 in 8 cats, 1 in the other 2) which puts you in contention. Beware though, it does not work so well if multiple teams try it.

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