Draft This, Not That: Relief Pitchers

What am I going to tell you here that you do not already know? Do not overpay for saves. Saves are available late in drafts. Saves can always be found on waivers throughout the season. You do not need a top-tier closer to win. A closer can be just as successful playing for a losing team. Broken record, right?

2014 saw the Orioles, Blue Jays, Rays, Indians, White Sox, Angels, A’s, Rangers, Mets, Pirates, Brewers, and Cubs changed their expected closer before the calendar hit May 1st. To save you from taking off a shoe to count up all those teams, that’s a total of 12 that uprooted the back of their bullpen within a month after the season began. At this time last year, who can honestly say they saw closer seasons coming from Francisco Rodriguez, Zach Britton, Cody Allen, Hector Rondon, and several others from 2014? Meanwhile, guys like Koji Uehara and Joe Nathan were supposed to be locks and even though they held their job, they likely did more harm than good to your fantasy team’s overall pitching stats.

What I can tell you is that the upper tier does seem safe. You might have noticed I lined out the old adage of never overpaying for saves in the lead. In most 2014 leagues Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Greg Holland, and Kenley Jansen were selected as sure-fire big-K locks inside the top 70-75 overall picks. Except for Jansen (recent injury) each of these big time closers will all make an appearance in that range for 2015 as well. With the money he is getting paid and the big-K numbers put up last year, David Robertson will also join the upper tier for 2015.  Whether it is their track record, lack of competition in their respective bullpens or the closer money they are getting paid, these five will enter 2015 with little to worry about other than unforeseen injury.

What can a top-notch, lights out closer do for you? For a nice round number, I will focus on a fantasy pitching staff being built to throw 1,400 innings. If you can get a 3.50 ERA and a 1.200 WHIP in the first 1,335 innings from your staff, here is what another 65 innings with a 2.00 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP can do to your ratios:

1,400 Innings Pitched
3.43 ERA
1.189 WHIP

At first glance, this might not jump out at you as being significant. Taking a look at the overall standings from the 2,460 teams that competed in the NFBC’s Draft Champions Leagues in 2014 you could have made significant gains with those numbers. A 3.50 ERA would have your team ranked 1,060 out of 2,460 teams in the category, but with a 3.43 ERA would have finished 825 out of 2,460. On the WHIP side of things, a 1.20 WHIP would have landed you at 705 out of 2,460 versus a 1.189 WHIP which would have brought you in at 530 out of 2,460 in the category.

Draft Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Greg Holland, or David Robertson
Not Addison Reed, Santiago Casilla, Neftali Feliz, Drew Storen, or Glen Perkins

This Draft This, Not That grouping is as much about stability versus the unknown as it is about strategically putting your team together for 2015. If you have followed my work at Fantasy Assembly heading into the 2015 season you know I am all for taking a Pocket Aces approach to building a top-heavy pitching staff, especially in deeper formats. As a fallback to that approach, I am also in favor of locking up one big K producing ace and a top end, big-K producing relief pitcher in 10-12 team leagues. Think something like Max Scherzer and Greg Holland or Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman.

In a 12-team league you can snag your ace with a late second round pick or wait until sometime in the third round. Someone like Holland or David Robertson can be had in the fifth or sixth round. Maybe even the 7th in Robertson’s case. Here are a couple of pitcher combinations to consider along with their combined Streamer projections:

  IP  ERA WHIP  K’s 
Max Scherzer, Greg Holland & John Lackey  439 3.095 1.118 457
Jordan Zimmerman, Glen Perkins & James Shields 448 3.435 1.172 402

I think it is fair to say that I did not skimp on the second grouping in this comparison. Many fantasy owners go with a wait on pitching approach where they skip the entire ace-tier. Assuming you have the 6th overall pick in your draft, I am going to say it takes a 2nd, 5th, and a 23rd round pick to lock up Scherzer, Holland and Lackey. In the same scenario it would take a 5th, 9th, and 13th round pick to lock up Zimmermann, Shields and Perkins. From the Streamer projections you can clearly see the gains from the first group of pitchers I have presented to you. Obviously you are going to miss the offense you did not land in the second round because you went with a pitcher like Scherzer. Still, I feel confident you can land as much offense with your 9th and 13th round picks as you could with your 2nd and 23rd rounders. With the 2nd and 23rd rounders you might land Yasiel Puig and Aaron Hill or Michael Brantley and Adam Lind. With your 9th and 13th rounders you could end up with Mookie Betts and Daniel Murphy or Matt Holliday and Yasmany Tomas. I can easily see those 9th/13th round combinations performing as well as those 2nd/23rd round combinations.

Plus, when you consider the gains you will get from a pitcher trio of Scherzer, Holland, and Lackey over the alternatives in the 5th, 9th, and 13th rounds I think I have proven my point. One more thing to chew on for you is that I did not even go into the risk factors associated with a lesser tier closer like Perkins who finished the 2014 season with arm issues. Swap him out for Storen and you take a major hit to your K-total. Take Casilla instead of Perkins and you might get the Giants 8th inning man if Sergio Romo reclaims the 9th in San Francisco. Maybe you want Neftali Feliz instead of Perkins. Feliz has not thrown more than 42 innings since 2011. Or just take Addison Reed and run the risk of him thrashing your ERA and WHIP ratios.

Take a combination of Corey Kluber, Craig Kimbrel, and Matt Garza versus Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and Drew Storen and the results are roughly the same as the scenario I have used above. Maybe your preference is Chris Sale, David Robertson, and Brandon McCarthy versus Cole Hamels, Jacob deGrom, and Addison Reed. Different names, same result.

Draft Joaquin Benoit, Not Steve Cishek

All Benoit has done the past five seasons is post ERAs of 1.34, 2.95, 3.68, 2.01, and 1.49. In that time Benoit’s WHIP results have been 0.68, 1.05, 1.14, 1.03, and 0.77. He threw between 54 and 71 innings in each of those five seasons and will go into 2015 with a clear path to the Padres’ closer role. Oh, he tends to offer his share of K’s as well with 76, 63, 84, 73 and 64 in that five-year time span.

Benoit is possibly heading into a contract year depending on what becomes of the team option attached to his contract. That can be both a positive and a negative for his appeal. On one end, it means he could be auditioning for his next contract. However, if the Padres fall out of contention Benoit could be someone else’s set up man come late July or early August. Another closer who could be another team’s set up man come late July or early August is Steve Cishek. No, Cishek is not headed into a contract year or anything like that. He simply plays for baseball’s most Jekyll and Hyde team. The Marlins love going all in, only to blow up their roster shortly after. Anyone other than Giancarlo Stanton is subject to a change of address at any time if they go into a season calling Miami their home during baseball season.

Please know that I am not trying to convince you that Steve Cishek is less of a pitcher than Joaquin Benoit. I see them as equals in terms of talent and opportunity. What this comes down to is Cishek is being selected near pick 115 on average per NFBC’s ADP data while Benoit goes off the board closer to pick 170 on average. I would also take Benoit over Glen Perkins who has an ADP of 152 at the moment. Perkins finished the season with arm issues. It should be noted that he claims to be fine. You might note that Benoit had a slight arm issue this past season as well. The difference for me in that regard is that Benoit made it back before the end of the season and pitched fine.

I would prefer Benoit over a handful of other relief pitchers that go off the board before him as well. The point in all of this is that despite initially telling you to lock up a top-tier closer, you are going to need more than one, possibly even three or four, and solid closers can still be had beyond pick 150, sometimes even beyond pick 200 if you are really willing to gamble.

In the search for sneaky saves, Draft Veterans, Not Young Flamethrowers:

I suppose an appropriate sub-heading here could have been Draft Joakim Soria or Sergio Romo, Not Ken Giles or Brad Boxberger. Ken Giles, Brad Boxberger and other relief pitchers of that ilk certainly have their place in our game of numbers. Truth be told though, many teams do not want young guys like them to take the closer role too early for fear they may have to pay them more in arbitration when the time comes. The other aspect at play or at least what teams will tell you, is that you must have the “mental make-up” to slam the door on a game. These guys are all major leaguers here. I am pretty sure it is safe to say they probably have the mental make-up to handle that sort of thing. Not all, but most do. In terms of draft status, many veteran bullpen arms without a sure lock on a closer gig will come quite a bit cheaper than those young guys lighting up the gun with triple digits.

For these reasons, in the search for sneaky saves, I will throw a prospective dart at Sergio Romo, Joakim Soria, Jordan Walden, or Kevin Jepsen before I go hoping the respective teams of Ken Giles or Brad Boxberger will hand the ninth over to them. For that matter, there is no guarantee Dellin Betances is getting the closer job for the Yankees either and he is being drafted as a top-7 bullpen option in many leagues. It would not surprise me one bit to find out sometime in March that the Yankees have decided to go with the more veteran arm of Andrew Miller to fill their ninth inning role because they feel Betances is better utilized as a potential multiple inning set up man.

Draft This: Not That
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