In some formats (especially head to head leagues) fantasy owners can gain a substantial advantage by using relief eligible starters in their RP spots. Whether you play in a points based format where a two start SP can dwarf the weekly point total from an above average closer, or in a category based format where you may look to punt the save category, this article is for you.
Looking back at 2014, there were not many relief eligible starters who enjoyed prolonged success over the course of the entire season, but there were plenty of guys who emerged as useful options for a month or two at a time.
The chart below lists the top 10 RP eligible performers in CBS points leagues from 2014:
When looking at this data, four things jump out to me. The first is that there are only three starters on the list. The second thing is that the guys in the elite closer tier all have significant value. Next, after the elite closers are off the board, finding closer value in points leagues is a total crapshoot. Nobody predicted Britton and K-Rod would have the seasons that they did. Lastly, the top scorers in this group are significantly less valuable than the top scorers in the SP pool.
Garrett Richards, the top scorer here is also tied for 23rd on the SP list. Last season, three starters managed to top 700 points and eight men topped 600. The top closer only notched 479 points and since reliever value is tied directly to their save totals in this format, efficiency is much less important than it is in category leagues. For this reason, elite closers fail to separate from the pack the way that elite starters can. They simply don’t pitch enough innings to do so. Also, because they don’t pitch as much, even the best closers simply are not capable of reaching the heights that a top starter can. The fact that the number 1 scoring RP from last season was in fact a starter who missed the season’s final month speaks volumes.
Even though only three starters appear in our RP top 10 from a season ago, this number fails to account for pitchers like Alex Wood, Jesse Chavez, Mike Fiers and Carlos Carrasco who had significant value for short stretches last year. Even without acquiring a top RP eligible starter, there are often weekly matchup plays available on the waiver wire who are capable of outproducing an average closer.
Hopefully, you are all convinced that investing an early pick in a closer is an unwise investment for points league owners. Without further ado, however, let’s get into the RP eligible starters worth investing in on your draft day. Depending on specifics requirements of your league, the following starters may be RP eligible.
Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians
I have written enough about Carlos Carrasco, and if you have read any of my previous columns you know how much I love him. If you want to know why, click here. He is the one pitcher on this list with elite SP upside. I would draft him before Chapman and Kimbrel go off the board in points leagues. Don’t be afraid to reach as early as the 5th round if you want to land him in points leagues.
Alex Wood, Atlanta Braves
I like Alex Wood’s skill set, but I don’t love his situation. The Braves are not going to provide a lot of run support this season and Wood does not usually pitch super deep into games either. Wood may go off the board before the end of the seventh round, and I just don’t want to pay that price for a pitcher who may not reach 10 wins. Since points league value is fairly dependent on the win column, I would much rather wait for Stroman.
Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
Stroman made 6 relief appearances in 2014. If he is RP eligible in your league, he certainly makes a great target. He is currently going off draft boards after pick 150 in most leagues, but he is also a hot name whose value is trending up. He has tremendous breakout potential and could end up being the best value on this list. Stroman is a pitcher to target on draft day regardless of his eligibility. The potential RP eligibility is simply an added bonus.
Matt Shoemaker, Los Angeles Angels
Shoemaker made 7 relief appearances in 2014 and may also be RP eligible. His 2014 success is being heavily discounted. Many view Shoemaker as a one hit wonder, but he has an intriguing skill set that gives him a decent shot to repeat. He was able to both miss bats and limit walks in 2014. Most doubt that Shoemaker can continue to post above average K totals, but if he does he will make a great bargain after pick 200.
Mike Fiers, Milwaukee Brewers
Can Fiers match his success from 2014? I have no idea, but his impeccable control and deceptive delivery give him a fighting chance. Fiers is the least likely pitcher on this list to retain RP eligibility (4 appearances in 2014) but makes a very strong option if somehow he does.
Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
Carlos Martinez is all about upside. He currently has the inside track on the Cardinals fifth starter gig, and he has the stuff to be a fantasy ace. There is a rather large obstacle in his path at the moment given his struggles against lefties, but if Martinez can somehow learn to get them out he could be a great end game draft option. If he does not improve, it will be back to the bullpen.
Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals
Duffy is a tough guy to project. His ERA (2.53) was a full two runs lower than his xFIP and his K/BB ratio has hovered around 2.00. It is easy to look at the underlying numbers and get scared off. Consider that Duffy is a fly ball pitcher who does not give up a ton of HRs and has the best OF defense in baseball playing behind him. Those facts alone make me believe he is capable of beating his xFIP by a substantial margin. I would not be interested in Duffy for most category leagues, but he is well worth a late pick in points formats.
Yusmeiro Petit, San Francisco Giants
Petit is currently slated to begin the season in a bullpen role, but he is just a Hudson injury or Lincecum implosion away from getting his shot. If he does ever land in the starting rotation, his excellent efficiency numbers make him an intriguing fantasy option in all formats. Right now, Petit is merely a player to put on your watch list since his value is dependent on a rotation spot that he is unlikely to land right away.
Drew Pomeranz, Oakland Athletics
Pomeranz was successful last season out of the bullpen, but he only really has a two pitch arsenal. Right now, most depth charts have Pomeranz listed as a starter, but keep in mind that his talents may leave him best suited for the bullpen. Also, as the A’s staff gets healthy and Griffin and Parker return, it is difficult to imagine Pomeranz having any lasting value.
Jesse Chavez, Oakland Athletics
Chavez is currently not in the top 5 of Oakland’s depth chart, but he has the most fantasy upside of the three mentioned here. A long-term starter’s role is likely out of the question for Chavez also, but he fared quite well in 21 starts last season (3.44 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 8.52 K/9) and is worth monitoring this spring. If Chavez winds up with a rotation spot, he will be well worth a late pick.
Kendall Graveman. Oakland Athletics
Graveman is the new kid on the block for the A’s, but he seems to have as good a chance as any to win one of the final two rotation spots. Working in his favor, he does a great job throwing strikes and has always posted excellent ERA and WHIP numbers in the minors. Lack of strikeouts will deter most from taking any serious interest in him on draft day. He could prove to solid matchup play in time, but for now mixed league owners should watch from a distance.
Marco Estrada, Toronto Blue Jays
Estrada has had some good runs, but he gave up 1.73 HRs/9 last season in Milwaukee. What will happen now that he resides in the AL East? I can’t imagine a scenario where Estrada emerges as anything more than a matchup play.
Josh Collmenter, Arizona Diamondbacks
Good old Josh Collmenter. He is perennially overlooked because of a small K rate and high ERA indicator numbers. He continues to post useful numbers despite all the hate from the fantasy community and now he could actually emerge as the D’backs opening day starter. I am not keen on owning Collmenter in any category leagues, but as an RP eligible starter in a points league, he could be very valuable.