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Relief Pitchers/Closers to Target/Avoid

There’s always value to be had at every position.  Below is my take on the relievers I want vs. the relievers I don’t.  As always, I’m not saying I would pass on the no players if they slip, and I’m not saying to overpay for the yes guys either.  These are just the relievers/closers that stood out to me based on a combination of stats, underlying predictors, and NFBC draft position.

Target

Craig Kimbrel – I briefly mentioned in our RP rankings that I’m as high on Kimbrel as I’ve ever been.  I think this will be one of the first years I actually get a few shares.  Last year he threw as hard as he’s ever thrown, and most underlying factors say he is the same pitcher he has always been.  Boston should be really good again, and they also have an awesome middle relief core to pass him the baton for many, many saves.

The only ding here is the minor injury risk which I’m not too concerned about given the consistently excellent velocity.  He has as good of a shot at 40+ saves as anyone in the field.  Kimbrel should also approach 80-85 strikeouts in his 60 or so appearances.  He is going almost 30 picks later than Jansen and Chapman, and he has a shot at equaling or even outperforming them.

Kelvin Herrera – This guy has arguably been the ace out of the pen in KC for years and did an admirable job filling in for the oft-injured Wade Davis in 2016.   There’s not much else to say here.  Herrera has been one of the best relievers in the game for a long time, and now has the opportunity to close.  Here are some obligatory stats from last year in case you missed it:

IP K/9 ERA FIP Avg Fastball
72 10.75 2.75 2.67 97.1

David Robertson – Don’t get me wrong; there is bust potential here, but it wasn’t long ago that “Houdini” was considered just outside of the then holy trinity of Chapman, Kimbrel and Jansen.  He has been giving up way too many homers, the pen outside of Nate Jones doesn’t do a great job of getting him the ball, and his team is in complete rebuild mode.

Still, he hasn’t lost much velocity over the past few years, still sitting around 92 MPH.  In addition, he managed 75 strikeouts and 37 saves in 62 innings. This is supported by a very respectable 12.4% swinging strike rate.  NFBC drafts see him go as the 16th RP on average.  That’s good value considering he is going directly after Familia – the same Familia who will likely miss the first month (at least).

If Robertson can get the homer problem back under control he has a chance to be near elite as he used to be.  And even if he gets traded, he figures to be the closer regardless of where he ends up.

Edwin Diaz – It seems that more people than I thought are onto my boy, Seung-hwan Oh.  Some are even onto this young gentleman, Edwin Diaz.  I still think you can mine value here in your average home league, and he is likely worth the 8th RP draft pick that he’s averaging in NFBC drafts.  Some quick stats to suggest why that is:

IP K/9 ERA FIP SV
51 15.33 2.79 2.04 18

This is all backed up by a blazing average fastball velocity of 97.3 MPH and a disgusting swinging strike rate of 18.5%.  And his 15.33 K/9 was tied with Betances for the best in the bigs.  The Mariners should give him a decent amount of opportunities as well even though they may be the odd team out in a competitive AL West.

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Wade Davis – I am a Wade Davis guy.  He and Betances were the first relievers to teach me that you can get away with starting guys like Tehran, Estrada, and even Bartolo Colon if you bolster their lackluster strikeouts with elite Ks out of the pen.   If you’re not familiar with this approach, go to Fangraphs and add the totals of Marco Estrada plus the totals of Davis’ heir apparent, Kelvin Herrera, from last year.  It is studly!  And better than that,  it’s cheap!

Back to Davis; he had some flexor issues which is always scary, yet he is currently the 9th overall reliever being selected in NFBC drafts.  That’s decent value for a guy that was in the conversation for RP1 last year.  This is especially true when you factor in that he just joined the defending World Series champs.  I don’t buy into the idea that the Cubs will score too many runs to give him save opportunities; Chapman got plenty of chances once he came over.  The Cubs will win a lot, and if Davis can stay healthy he should have ample save opportunities.

It’s also not like Davis was ineffective when he was on the field.  He still averaged 94.9 MPH with his heater, and below were his season totals:

IP K/9 ERA FIP SV
43 1/3 9.76 1.87 2.29 27

The K/9 dipped a bit, but again – if that’s what he has to offer in an injury plagued down year, I’m willing to gamble on that.

Jim Johnson – He started to look a lot like old Jim Johnson at the end of the year, maybe even better.  He’s my favorite of the bad, I mean… last resort type closers.  The Braves could be sneaky good this year, and the 2 year deal makes it seem like Johnson shouldn’t have to look over his shoulder at young guns Cabrera and Visciano.  And I’m definitely kidding when I call him bad, as here are some stats that highlight his second-half 33 ⅔ inning rebound:

K/9 GB% ERA FIP
10.96 53.5 2.14 1.99

I’ll sign up for that to some extent given the costs.  People may forget, but Jim Johnson was Zach Britton before Zach Britton.

Addison Reed – I love grabbing guys like this in roto leagues, especially deeper ones.  Worst case scenario, you get a half-dozen or so cheap saves in the early months.  Reed actually improved from his D-Backs days and should be a mainstay in middle relief with solid ratios and strikeouts even after Familia comes back.  In a best case scenario, he can snake the job from Familia.  

Familia has been abused due to overuse by Terry Collins, so a diminished performance isn’t a crazy prediction.  On top of that, he has had a few blown saves that leave a bad taste in Mets fans mouths despite the fact he has been excellent overall for the past two years.  As an added bonus, if you grab Reed and don’t have Familia, you might be able to trade him as the handcuff to the Familia owner.  This is an awesome way to get great value in a trade without giving up very much.

Carter Capps – For deeper leagues, Capps is worth a speculative pick.  He was disgusting with the Marlins and could easily take the closer gig if he comes back healthy and/or Maurer falters.  He is nasty enough on stuff alone, but he adds to that with a gimmicky (bull s!#t) delivery.

Kyle Barraclough – Maybe the best name in baseball.  You don’t even need a nickname.  He’s awesome to boot. Barraclough has a chance at stealing the closer gig since the Marlins inexplicably hate A.J. Ramos.  David Phelps is great as well, but I’m still hopeful the Marlins wise up and he ends up in the rotation at some point.

Even if he doesn’t get many, or any, save chances, the bear claw will have value.  Last year he struck out 113 guys in 72 innings.  Again, add that to a starting pitcher with strikeout deficiencies and it really shores him up.  I mean, even on the high-end this is applicable.  If you add him to Johnny Cueto you might be better off than if you spent the second round pick on Scherzer.



Avoid

Zach Britton – He’s great! I’m not worried that he is going to stink or anything, but he’s coming off one of the best relief seasons ever, and the price is simply too high for me.  The 89% strand rate suggests there is room for some negative regression even though I still expect him to be really damn good.

In addition to the likely regression, he also doesn’t strikeout as many people as Jansen and Chapman do.  Part of why those two are worth reaching for is that they can prop up a starting staff with strikeout deficiencies.  Britton struck out 69 guys in 67 innings. That’s fine, but for me – that’s not worth a top 50ish pick.  To put it in perspective, Chapman struck out 21 more guys in 9 less innings.  Or even go down a tier and see that Edwin Diaz struck out 19 more guys with 15 fewer innings.

If Britton falls for some reason, grab him.  If not, maybe let someone else pay for the career year and the slight K deficiency (by elite closer standards).

Ken Giles – He is one of my three or four favorite relievers in the league.  So why is Giles on this side of the list?  It’s simple really; he was supposed to be a top-5 breakout reliever last year, and that didn’t happen.

Giles is great, but I don’t trust his manager.  He also has occasional problems with the long ball, and the pen behind him is absolutely stacked.  It’s not hard to envision him losing his job to Will Harris, or Luke Gregerson stealing the job back again if he falters.  I still love Giles and hope he finally breaks out like he should – I’m just not willing to pay for the risk a second year in a row.

Sam Dyson – Everything I said about Giles goes double for Dyson.  Matt Bush and Jeremy Jeffress lay in waiting to snake the job from him.  Dyson is a ground ball machine (65.2% GB rate) and a very effective reliever in spite of the lame 7.04 K/9.  If he runs into some bad luck as ground ballers sometimes do, or maybe he goes through a patch where opponents are able to lift the ball into the dry, Texas air, it’s not hard to picture that this might usher in the Matt Bush era.

Brandon Kintzler – He’s fine, and if he comes to you for free (which he mostly is right now), then fine, take him.  Still, Kintzler is a below average reliever on a below average team.  Unless you’re REALLY desperate for saves, I’d honestly rather gamble on upside middle relievers like Kyle Barraclough or Matt Bush.

Fernando Rodney – In the words of my editor, “F*#k Fernando Rodney”.  I got lucky with a few free shares of the first half fluke fest last year, but not this year.  The guy is a disaster, and he is now in hitter friendly Arizona on what projects to be a really bad team.  Avoid.

Neftali Feliz – This guy is younger than you think at 28 years old, but I still don’t trust him.  He had a renaissance last year with an uptick of 2 MPH on his fastball, back up to 96.1 MPH.  He also had a legit swinging K rate of 14.2% .

The FIP and xFIP, 4.52 and 3.72 respectively, tell you that there’s some hair in the pudding, or maybe fly in your soup if that’s a more normal, but similarly disconcerting food metaphor.  The guy gave up 10 bombs in just 52 innings.   He did that in cavernous Pittsburgh and will now call Miller Park his home.  Combine all of that with a rebuilding, likely very bad Brew Crew supporting cast, and I don’t like his outlook.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d take him over Fernando Rodney, but he’s being viewed as a sleeper by a lot industry analysts.  I’ll take a firm pass for now.

Hector Nerris – I like Nerris…  a lot.  Unfortunately, the Phils are not committing to him just yet.  He should post some decent K stats by year’s end, but he’s a top-30 RP currently in NFBC drafts; that is too high for a handcuff on a likely bad Phillies squad.

Would it really surprise you if Jeanmar Gomez kept the job all year again?  He really only had one bad month, even though I don’t buy the underlying stats.  And from there, would it really surprise you if they first gave Joaquin Benoit a shot?  Benoit is actually good and could definitely keep the job.  So again, I like Nerris just fine, but you can’t waste a top-30 RP pick on a guy like this.

*****

I hope this helps you guys mine some value at the position and maybe even avoid a landmine or two. Definitely consider combining the high K closers and middle relievers with effective starters with lower K rates like I had suggested too.  This is a strategy that is starting to catch on in Roto and Category leagues because it is really effective.  It can allow you to spend a few more high-end picks on hitting without losing too much on the pitching side.  

 

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Mike Sheehan
Comedian, Powerlifter, and most importantly a Cum Laude graduate of the fantasy baseball school of hard knocks. Double major in points and categories with a minor in roto. Happy to be doing my Postgraduate work here at the Fantasy Assembly.
Mike Sheehan

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