In 2015, Dellin Betances was the top ranked relief pitcher who had fewer than 10 saves. Five years ago, the usual go-to guy was Tyler Clippard if you needed a relief pitcher without saves. These types of relievers usually don’t get much love in standard formats, but as more leagues lean toward having holds as a separate category, or using SV+HD, the setup man can provide value year-round. When relievers can rack up strikeouts, vulture wins, and hold an elite ERA and WHIP, they’re valuable regardless of saves and holds. This is especially true for pitchers who can come near 90 innings. I don’t need to go into a ton of detail to make an argument about having a non-closer reliever in your active roster for roto leagues, but I will look toward 2016’s best breakout targets. Honorable mentions to Betances and Tony Watson; I’m skipping them simply because they are rather well-known.
His ERA isn’t great due to some gopheritis from 2015, but the rest of his stats scream high value for relievers. Everyone loves strikeouts, and he posted a 10.6 K/9. What’s even more impressive for me is his elite walk rate to go with it, at 1.6 BB/9. A lot of power relievers can’t get their walks under control, but he’s among the best: his K/BB of 6.8 was the ninth best in the majors for pitchers with 30+ IP. He has a fly ball tilt, which some people dislike and which may scare others away, but his HR/FB improved in the second half from 10% to 6%. He appeared in 39 games in the first half, but only 20 in the second half. My bet is that he’ll earn more appearances after a strong 2015, and if he can approach 70 games, his value will be even better.
As a former shortstop converted to reliever, he may still be a bit raw. On the other hand, his arm’s a bit fresher than guys who’ve been pitching since high school. The big red flag that calls out from 2015 is his extremely high LD%, but his BABIP was league average, his FB% is rather low, and he doesn’t give up a lot of homers. Those factors help offset the batters who may square up on him. What’s more, he’s another flamethrower who misses bats (13% swinging strike rate) and hits the mid-90’s. Add in a 1.8 BB/9, an 11.4 K/9, and therefore another elite K/BB (6.3), and you know his ERA and WHIP aren’t going to shoot up that much. As a bonus, he’s capable of multiple innings in an appearance (22 G, 30 IP), and those are the most valuable non-closer relief pitchers because they’re more likely to reach a top-10 IP for relievers.
I’m always happy when failed starters find a second wind as hard-throwing relievers. After averaging a fastball near 90 as a starter, he ramped up to 94 as a reliever. Because he used to be a starter, he can go multiple innings when needed (58 G, 65 IP). He had a good walk rate as a starter, but he dialed up his K/9 (9.9) and his swinging strike rate (12%), suggesting this is a maintainable level. With a slight ground ball tilt and average HR/FB for a reliever, a repeat of his ERA and WHIP is likely, but he could add more games and flirt with 80 IP.
He’s not a flamethrower, but his strikeout rate was solid (9.6), and his walk rate was truly elite (0.6). You can’t argue with those skills, and with a high first pitch strike rate and a solid swinging strike rate, they’re likely to continue. What has affected his value is a horrible HR/FB (23%), which ballooned his ERA. His BABIP was league average, so his WHIP will remain strong, but unless he can get his gopheritis under control, he’ll be a bit more limited in value for roto leagues. That said, how can you ignore a 16.0 K/BB? I feel comfortable expecting a correction in HR/FB, and at the least, I can enjoy the help in K’s and WHIP. He also managed a few multi-inning appearances. Scribner likely won’t get a chance to close until he proves his HR/FB is under control, but there’s sneaky value here for an endgame pickup.
There are already indications that Storen will close, which will allow Osuna to continue with multi-inning appearances. As a former starter, he should have the ability to remain a multi-innings guy. Aside from a touch of gopheritis in September, he put up a solid 2015 — and even with that rash of home runs, he finished with a 2.58 ERA. He’s more of a fly ball pitcher than I prefer from my relievers, but many have made it work in the past, and it was really just one bad month that brought his HR/FB to 9% for the year, so improvement is likely moving forward. He had a strong K/9 of 9.7 and a good BB/9 of 2.1. His swinging strike rate and average fastball velocity indicate he could increase his strikeout total, and he improved his walk rate in the second half. There’s a lot to like here even if he never closes in 2016.
As we transition into the less elite skill sets, there will be more risk involved. In he case of Harris, it’s a rising HR/FB and very lucky BABIP and strand rate. These are cause for concern, but they’re not major red flags. First, he’s been a ground ball pitcher for two of the last three seasons, so even a higher than average HR/FB is going to be mitigated by a 50% ground ball rate. The grounders can also help explain the high strand rate, by inducing more double plays. It’s likely his BABIP corrects some, which may increase his WHIP and ERA, but not by extreme amounts. His walk rate is okay but not elite, at 2.8, and his K/9 was “only” 8.6 in 2015, which is down from the last two seasons (9.1, 10.9). He’ll be a solid option in the pen, but he won’t be a top-5 non-closing RP.
In 2013 he posted a crazy K/9 but had a bad ERA for a reliever. In 2014 the ERA was great, but he lost his strikeouts. It seems 2015 was a compromise on both, and he did improve his K/9 to 8.3, but it’s not the elite level he had in 2013. He increased his first pitch strike rate, but his walk rate has been stagnant, if not slightly rising (3.4 in 2015). He’s good but not great. What may help you is the fact that he shows up in a lot of games, reaching 70+ games the last two seasons. If you need to fill in some innings he’ll be better than most, but his skill set isn’t as strong as other setup men.
Another failed starting prospect who found success in the pen. After moving to reliever, his K/9 and BB/9 spiked, though his first pitch strikes and swinging strikes don’t necessarily back them up as sustainable. His GB% and FB% flip-flopped from the first half to the second half, and the higher FB% after June is a bit worrisome, especially given his second half HR/FB of 12% is high for a reliever. As a former starter, he may get a chance to go multiple innings, but he didn’t get the chance in the second half. The jury’s still out on his effectiveness in the bullpen, but he’s worth a flier.
Brach has a good chance at 80+ IP given his ability to go multiple innings the last two seasons. He also showed a spike in strikeouts for 2015, reaching 10.1 K/9. If he can keep most of that improvement, as well as his new higher GB%, then he could match or exceed his 2015 ERA and WHIP. The potential issue here is a low first pitch strike rate and a high BB/9 (4.3). Control is always something I’m critical about for relievers — perhaps it’s related to my being a Cubs fan and watching Carlos Marmol for too many seasons. Add in a HR/FB that is okay for starters but not good for relievers, and there’s some cause for concern. If you’re trying to match a starter’s IP by using two relievers, he’s an okay second piece due to the multi-inning factor, but I’d want someone with a bit more certainty to pair with him.
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