Fantasy Baseball

The Closer Carousel: SP Eligible Relievers

Back in February, Tommy Landseadel identified some SP eligible relief pitchers.  These players are extremely valuable in holds leagues as owners can gain an advantage by being able to start one or more extra relief pitchers than their opponent.  Holds leagues aren’t the only place these players can help you though.  They can also help pad your peripheral stats and help cover the numbers of some of your more less desirable starters.  You can also use them to build a starting pitcher that will be better than almost any player available on waivers as I outlined in an article back in December.

Take Wade Davis as an example.  I’ve mentioned him a few times this year and own him in several leagues, and yet he is owned in less than 20% of leagues universally.  Look at what he’s done so far this year.

20.1 3 9 38 1.77 0.93 .141 0.94 1.65

This is close to the line that Francisco Rodriguez has put up this year, but because Davis doesn’t have any saves he remains widely available and is wasting away on waivers.  Those of you who see the value Davis can bring to the table already own him, but for those of you who are still missing the big picture, lets look at Davis’s numbers combined with the numbers of Francisco Rodriguez.

44.1 4 13 68 1.63 0.84 .157

If this were the line of a starting pitcher on waivers you can be damn sure that player wouldn’t be on waivers.  Davis has good numbers alone, but paired him up with another relief pitcher and those numbers are equal or better than almost any starter.  That was the point of my earlier article and a lesson many people still need to learn.  Relief pitchers have value.  SP eligible relief pitchers have more value because they allow you to circumvent the rules of your league which limit the number of relievers you can start by the number of P or RP slots you have.  If Davis is available in your league, do yourself a favor and pick him up.  If Davis is taken, here are some more RP eligible starters you might want to consider.  Many will be rostered in holds or Saves+Holds leagues, but in standard leagues they should be available.

Zach Britton (Orioles): You may have missed the boat on this one even if Baltimore hasn’t officially names him the closer, but even if Darren O’Day takes the job I would still hold onto Britton.  His numbers to date:

25.2 3 8 17 0.70 0.86 .161 3.29 3.04

His FIP & xFIP along with a .186 BABIP suggest a change is coming, but you don’t abandon ship because a change might come because it might not (at least for a while anyway).  Britton isn’t a big strikeout guy, but he’s limited his hits nicely, has only allowed one home run and 2 earned runs.  The ERA & WHIP make him worth it, and the vulture wins make him worth the roster spot over the bottom of the barrel starters on your roster.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (Mets): Raise your hand if you thought Matsuzaka would pitch this year, let alone be fantasy relevant.  He had one big stinker in the beginning of May, otherwise his numbers have been great.

21 1 17 24 2.14 1.24 .130 4.10 4.73

Just like Britton, his FIP and xFIP suggest he’s in over his head, but a good number of relief pitchers outplay those two numbers and go on to have successful years.  The past two weeks Matsuzaka has had an ERA and WHIP of 0.96 covering 9.1 innings.  He has a FB% of 45.5 and yet has only allowed one home run this season.  You don’t have to be a Matsuzaka fan or even like the man to recognize solid production.  Paired with the right relief pitcher, he could pay dividends to your teams stats.

Alex Wood (Braves): Wood is slowly being dropped by impatient owners.  That means he could be available to some but it also means his trade value couldn’t be any lower.  He currently has an ERA of 3.29 and a WHIP of 1.27, but those numbers could drop even lower in the bullpen.  Wood no longer has to be conservative with his pitchers, he can go all out for an inning or two which takes some of the mental pressure off of him.  He’s had a few hiccups since moving out of the rotation which could be used as a selling point to the current owner, but overall he’s been solid this year and in the minors.  Plus Aaron Harang and Gavin Floyd are overachieving right now so there’s a good chance down the road he gets moved back into the rotation (just in time for your playoff run).  Don’t worry about his move to the bullpen, Wood can still be useful now and an asset you’ll want to own later.  Buy him or acquire him.

Chris Capuano (Red Sox): I’m always intrigued when a strikeout pitcher gets moved to the bullpen.  They can go multiple innings without fatigue, that means multiple strikeouts a game plus more innings a week for your team.

24.1 1 10 23 2.22 1.23 .222 3.06 3.60

His walks are a little high (most of them in the past few weeks), but control has never really been an issue here.  The WHIP is no different that it was in the past, but his ERA is two full points lower than his career average and the BAA hasn’t been this low since his debut back in 2003.  Baring an injury Capuano should remain in the pen, and hopefully the Boston brass agree because it seems to agree with him.  Just like all middle relief pitchers, the honeymoon won’t last forever so take advantage of this one.  If you act now at least you’ll get the good portion of his numbers if they indeed do go south.

Jenry Mejia (Mets): He could be the new closer for the Mets.  If that happens, Mejia’s value goes up some since you’ll be able to play one more closer that your opponents.  His minor league numbers were good, but they haven’t translated well to the majors (at least not as a starter).  Mejia has pitched 5.1 innings in relief so far allowing 0 runs, 0 walks, 3 hits and 6 K’s.  For now it seems the bullpen agrees with him.  If you need a closer, I’m already recommending picking him up below, but if you have a full allotment of closers and want one more…batter up.

Tyler Thornburg (Brewers): Thornburg is one of those guys who is quietly doing his job.

23.2 3 4.94 8.75 2.28 1.23 .193 3.31 4.42

There have been improvements since last season, mainly in his strikeouts where are closing in on his minor league percentages.  He’s also done a good job keeping the ball in the park (2 home runs since 2013).  There are some negatives though, like his out of control walk rate and 50% FB percentage.  Thornburg has managed to limit the damage so far, but his luck could run out eventually.  This is one of the lesser known commodities of the group that you could roll the dice on, but I wouldn’t take that chance unless the above players are rostered.

Carlos Martinez (Cardinals): Due to a full rotation Martinez has spent the season in the bullpen, and the numbers he is putting up are not what were expected from one of the Cards top pitching prospect.

AA 83 5 73 23 7.27 2.82 1.16
AAA 68 5 54 27 8.34 2.51 1.19
2014 24 0 22 10 6.00 4.50 1.33

All of his numbers are up across the board except strikeouts which are way off in comparison to what he did in the minors.  There’s too much talent here to just forget Martinez, but he’s not doing anything worthy of a roster spot right now.  If he figures things out he could make a good add for the second half, but for now just keep your eye on him.

Carlos Torres (Mets), Randy Wolf (Marlins) and David Hale (Braves) are 3 more names to consider if all the players above are taken.  For now just monitor them as they are too volatile to risk on your roster.

Several SP eligible relief pitchers have been moved into the starting rotation.  If Danny Duffy, Drew Pomeranz, Josh Collmenter or Drew Smyly are ever moved back to the bullpen and released in your league, you may want to consider them along with some of the names listed above.  Joe Kelly is currently on the disabled list and when he returns, there may not be a place for him in the starting rotation.  Kelly would join the four players listed above for pitchers to consider if he is moved to the pen upon his return.  There are several other names not listed here that qualify for the SP slot, but none are worth owning now or in the future.  Several more may present themselves when teams start to promote some of their young hopefuls from the minors as some of them will start out in the bullpen.  If that happens, they become prime targets to focus on, but since they’ll be in the bullpen you can take a wait and see approach.


Closer Notes:

I said last week we would probably have another half dozen changes at the closer position before the month was up, and so far that is holding up.  I advised picking up Oakland’s Sean Doolittle in anticipation of a change.  On Tuesday that possibility became a reality as Doolittle picked up the save and was named the closer by manager Bob Melvin.  Those of you who made the preemptive strike were rewarded with a few saves and a closer that should finish in the top 20.  Ownership is still under 60% so Doolittle may still be available in your league, but he won’t be for long.

Over in Chicago the White Sox will be making a change, but this one is due to injury.  Matt Lindstrom will undergo surgery and will be lost for the remainder of the season.  Jake Petricka came in to get the save when Lindstrom when down, but it was Ronald Belisario who received the next three save opportunities.  Daniel Webb, seems to be the odd man out of this equation, and he is the one we all thought would get the call.  Bleisario’s second save wasn’t pretty by any means and he was shelled in his third save attempt.  Something tells me Webb or Petricka will get a shot sooner rather than later.  If you’re looking for saves you can grab Belisario, but given his past I might just do without than add an explosive option to my bullpen.  Petricka has pitched the best out of all three men, but I believe Webb will get the next chance should the Sox pull the plug on Belisario

Baltimore placed Tommy Hunter on the disabled list, but he had lost his job already so no loss there.  Ownership continues to rise for Zach Britton, meanwhile Darren O’Day‘s ownership is still under 85%.  It seems a lot of owners are taking Britton on faith, but there has been no official closer anointment.  Based upon what O’Day has done the past few years and the fact that he’s a righty, my money is here.  That’s not saying Britton won’t get save opportunities as I see Showalter using him based upon the potential lefty/righty matchups due up in the 8th and 9th inning.  If you’re fishing for saves or just want a good SP eligible relief pitcher like I discussed above, go get Britton.  If you’re a gambling man roster O’Day instead, something tells me he comes out of this one with the closers job.

The Mets (while not making any official announcement) seemed to have settled on a closer, and the winner is Jenrry Mejia.  He pitched a clean 9th inning Thursday night to notch his second save.  Daisuke Matsuzaka was a candidate for the closer role, but he stays in the set up roll where he has had great success this season.  If you haven’t already done so, It’s time to take Mejia off waivers.  Terry Collins has a habit of changing his mind, but there doesn’t seem to be a reason this time.  Baring a Mejia meltdown, the closers job should be his for now.

For two straight weeks I’ve made comments about St. Louis Cardinals Trevor Rosenthal‘s struggles in light of the pending return of Jason Motte.  That day has come and Mike Matheny (who originally stated Motte would be eased back into things) said he would have no problem using Motte in high pressure situations.  The clock is ticking and if you’re in a league where closers get snatched up before you can act, make the preemptive strike on Motte NOW.


Saving Nolan RyanBelow are my current closer rankings and the (alleged) player next in line to for save opportunities.  A number of the higher ranked closers will need an injury (or Tanya Harding incident) to remove them from their current role, while some of the lower ranked closers will probably put themselves out of work by their own doing.

 Job security (1 = All Clear, 2 = solid ground, 3 = shaky ground, 4 = rocky ground, 5 = Avalanche…RUN



Team Next in Line DL 
1 Craig Kimbrel 1 Braves David Carpenter  
2 Kenley Jansen 1 Dodgers Chris Perez  
3 Greg Holland 1 Royals Wade Davis  
4 Koji Uehara 1 RedSox Junichi Tazawa  
5 Aroldis Chapman 1 Reds Jonathan Broxton  
6 Francisco Rodriguez 1 Brewers  Will Smith Jim Henderson
7 Glen Perkins 1 Twins Casey Fien  
8 Huston Street 1 Padres Joaquin Benoit  
9 Trevor Rosenthal 1 Cardinals Carlos Martinez  Jason Motte
10 Sergio Romo 1 Giants Jeremy Affeldt Santiago Casilla
11 Joe Nathan 1 Tigers Al Alburquerque Joel Hanrahan
12 David Robertson  2 Yankees  Adam Warren  
13 Rafael Soriano  2 Nationals Tyler Clippard  
14 Jonathan Papelbon  2 Phillies Mike Adams  
15 Steve Cishek  2 Marlins A.J. Ramos  
16 Joakim Soria  2 Rangers Alexi Ogando  
17 Casey Jannsen 2 Blue Jays Brett Cecil Sergio Santos
18 Jason Grilli 2 Pirates Mark Melancon  
19 Addison Reed  2.5 Diamondbacks Brad Ziegler  
20 LaTroy Hawkins  3 Rockies Adam Ottavino  
21 Hector Rondon  2.5 Cubs Justin Grimm Pedro Strop
22 Sean Doolittle 2.5 Athletics Luke Gregerson  
23 Fernando Rodney  3 Mariners Danny Farquhar  
24 Jenrry Mejia  4.5 Mets Daisuke Matsuzaka  
25 Ernesto Frieri 3.5 Angels Joe Smith  
26 Grant Balfour  3 Rays Jake McGee  
27 Zach Britton ?  3.5 Orioles Darren O’Day  
28 Bryan Shaw 4.5 Indians Cody Allen  
29 Chad Qualls  4.5 Astros Tony Sipp Jesse Crain
30 Ronald Belisario 6 White Sox Daniel Webb Nate Jones

This weeks movers and shakers and other bullpen notes.

  • Newly appointed closer Sean Doolittle debuts at #22 this week based upon his work this year and in the past.
  • Luke Gregerson moves into the setup role, but don’t be surprised to see Fernando Abad in the 8th inning on occasion.
  • Casey Janssen moves up 4 spots with 5 saves in the past 10 days.
  • John Axford allowed 2 hits, 2 walks and 2 runs (1 earned) on Wednesday.  He’s not getting his job back anytime soon so keep rolling with Shaw and add Cody Allen to your queue.
  • Jason Grilli is back but hold on to Mark Melancon for a few days to make sure Grilli is 100%.
  • No saves opportunities for the Angels this week so the Frieri/Smith controversy continues.  Hold them both until further notice.
  • Addison Reed had a much needed good week.  A change to Brad Ziegler could still be in the cards if fortunes become reversed.
  • Grant Balfour blew another save this week.  Meanwhile Jake McGee hasn’t given up a run in two weeks and Joel Peralta has been pitching better.  Tick Toc…Tick Toc…
  • Sergio Romo took the loss Tuesday giving up 2 runs in the bottom of the 9th.  It’s the second time in 5 appearances he’s given up 2 runs.
  • Joe Nathan gave up his first runs of the month on Tuesday.  He looks to be his old self after a rocky start to the season.
  • Trevor Rosenthal had 2 saves this week after giving up 2 runs and blowing another save last Sunday.

By Jim Finch

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.

5 replies on “The Closer Carousel: SP Eligible Relievers”

Hey Rev. I’m trying this strategy this week, and I may run with it if it benefits me. My league has 5 SP and 3 RP. Scoring is 6×6 with K,QS,SV,HD,ERA & WHIP. My P roster is J Zimm, Hamels, Cueto, Darvish, C Archer, AJ Burnett as the SPs & Rosenthal, Chapman, J Benoit (Holds) and Britton. Britton is the only one with flex availability. Do I start him as a SP? I’m currently 1st in Ks & ERA, 2nd in HD & WHIP, 4th in QS and 6th in SV. It’ll obviously help me in saves, but will benching a SP for him hurt me too much in other categories besides the obvious QS (I’m only 3 behind the league leader)?

Also, should I considering dropping any of my current pitchers for the ones you have listed above? If so, who would you drop? I had Wood (lol) but dropped him when he went down to AAA, Dice K is a starter now, Thornburg’s on DL, C Mart’s only RP eligible on ESPN, so Cap, Mejia, and everyone else below them on your list.

Thanks in advance for any replies

In using this strategy you’ll take a hit on wins (in your case quality starts) and lose a few K’s weekly, but it will help your ERA, WHIP and holds since you use them. Unfortunately you don’t have a problem with ERA & WHIP as you have 5 solid starters, and the only category you’re lacking in is saves.

I’m assuming by the way you phrased this that you set your lineups weekly. If that is the case, each week check the teams behind you in QS that could move up. Look at his matchups and estimate how many of those players could be in line for quality starts. If you think you can match that team (or teams) in quality starts, those would be the weeks I would bench one of my starters for Britton.

I might also consider dropping Burnett and picking up Mejia to hold. Once you get a somewhat comfortable lead over the 5th place team in quality starts, you can possibly play both Britton & Mejia some weeks depending on their opponents and chances for saves.

It’s a balancing game and all comes down to how far your team is from moving up in quality starts and saves and how close the team below you is to passing you. If it looks like you can gain a point is saves one week without losing a point in quality starts, go with the extra closer in the SP slot, and vice versa with quality starts. And keep your eye on K’s as well. Losing a point won’t hurt if you can gain it back in another category, but don’t let the other teams get too close.

And since you’re second in holds, look at the team right behind you, you may be able to sit Benoit some weeks, start Britton in the RP slot and still play all 5 pitchers. Like I said, it’s a balancing act and the strategy can change from week to week. Finally, while Burnett is your weakest pitcher IMO, I might look to drop a bench hitter for Mejia if you have someone you can live without. Having a 6th pitcher is a nice option if things get too close in QS & K’s, enabling you to bench Benoit or one of your closers (depending on which category you won’t fall behind on) and start that extra pitcher.
Other than Mejia and looking at your team, the only other pitcher I would keep an eye on would be Joe Kelly. He’s likely headed to the bullpen when he returns which could mean holds. If that happens you’ll have to weigh the needs of holds vs saves between him and Mejia and which one is needed more. He’s not someone I would grab right away, but if you have a spare DL slot, then picking him up first and stashing him before you pick up Mejia is an option.

Hope this helps and answered your question.

Thanks Rev. You are correct on the weekly lineup assumption. I’ll keep an eye on the weekly standings and adjust accordingly. Unfortunately, I’ve been suffering on the offensive side with injuries (Carlos Santana, Votto, a Hill, R Zimm, Neil Walker, Rasmus, CarGo, Harper, Wil Myers, Yelich), and with only 4DL slots (had 8 last year) and 4 bench spots, I’d have to drop one of the last 6 or Burnett to pick up Kelly (And dropping Burnett will hurt, since I foolishly traded away Tehran for him expecting major regression). Now only if there were a strategy like the RP in SP slot for the offensive side of the ball…

Walker, Cargo, Harper, Myers and Yelich are the one’s currently on the DL (I’m not counting Rasmus as he should be back today or tomorrow). With Myers out until August, unless this is a keeper league you might want to consider dropping him. Even if he’s back by August 1st, it’s a wrist fracture which will sap his power, and he wasn’t exactly hitting before he went down. That’s one short term solution. If it is a keeper league or you’re dead set on holding Myers, Yelich is another option (unless you count OBP instead of BA). With the exception of runs, he’s not doing anything special and the few stolen bases he has gotten this year can be found someplace else.

If you drop one of them you’ll be able to pick up Mejia now. Even if you can’t play him, you’ll prevent someone else from using him against you. It’s not always about offence, sometimes you have to think defensively as well.

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