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The Relief has Arrived

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening – whichever is applicable to you. I can’t imagine having gone through life without a sibling. I have been fortunate enough to have both an older brother and sister. Some of the most enjoyable times in my life feature them in the center of it. In my earlier years my brother was, without a doubt, the coolest person I knew. Whatever he wanted to do I was 100% committed in doing. All I wanted was the opportunity to be by his side. I spent countless hours in his room, looking through the cardboard heroes from the sport I loved. It was that same room where I watched the ball go through Buckner’s legs, where Billy Squier was the baddest rocker of them all, and where I first realized there was a Miss January.

The moments I have had the fortune of sharing with my sister are equally as memorable. From impromptu pre-match interviews into the bathroom mirror, to delivering “Macho Man” approved flying elbows to the motionless stuffed bear lying on the ground. Our times together have been filled with so much laughter and pure joy. Over the last decade the stuffed bear has been traded in for a good old-fashioned board game. Trivial Pursuit has been the game of choice more often than not. Good food, a few drinks, and several hours having flown by. It’s such a simple equation – yet it is not done often enough.

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Over the last quarter century the bullpen has come quite specialized. The best arm pitches the 9th, the 2nd best sets things up in the 8th, and the one or two lefties are typically reserved for a big time LH bat. You have the lower-tier talent with a GB approach that are reserved for the much-needed double play. There is of course the designated long man whose primary goal is more about saving the bullpen. And finally you have the lowest of the low who are reserved for finishing those games that got out of hand.

What if I told you a revolution was coming? What if I told you a new niche of fantasy relevant options were waiting for you on the waiver wire as we speak. Best of all, that premium you pay for production doesn’t exist! While your recognize the value, far too many others are slow to embrace something that isn’t deemed typical.

Over the offseason I wrote a piece with the idea that more and more teams will begin to utilize multi-inning relief specialist. I’m not referring to the Erasmo Ramirez’s of the world. I’m referring to talented arms that have immense upside in terms of talent, but have little perceived value due to the fact they don’t have “the job”.

As you are reading this I’m sure visions of Andrew Miller’s postseason dominance has entered your mind. In the initial posting I may have even alluded to the fact that this could simply be a copycat approach given Millers success. With last seasons 70+ innings pitched and shattering of the 100 K plateau, Fantasy owners have already adjusted to Miller, and obviously embraced him given his status among the Top-15 relief pitchers this offseason – even without the 9th inning gig.

While the perception of Miller is that of the multi-inning option, I believe most would be surprised to know Miller went 2 innings in just 4 regular season outings last season. In fact Miller went beyond one inning in just 11 outings last season if you include the 4 outings mentioned prior. While 70+ IP with a sub-2.00 ERA and 126 K puts you on the fantasy map, this path to success will not necessarily be the same path to success of the potential impacts I have in mind.

Last season Brad Hand pitched in 89.1 innings and lead all relief pitchers in that category. In fact six relievers went over 80 innings. While that total has remained somewhat consistent, could it be possible that excess of 100 innings out of the pen is possible? Personally I think it’s only a matter of time. Last season the great Andrew Miller won 10 games out of the pen. Those 10 wins ranked among the Top-50 in baseball and was one more win than Chris Archer.

Is it possible that some relievers could approach Mike Marshall’s 15 wins in 1974? While that may be a bold statement, should the same recipe Marshall used (106 IP) become a reality, then I tend to believe that those 15 wins are, at the least, a possible outcome.

Load up your league pages, take a shot of something stout, and don’t bother asking yourself just what the hell you are doing. There’s a revolution coming – be a part of it before it was cool.




Raisel Iglesias: Reds

The first darn player and I’m already cheating. Sure Iglesias may be the “Closer” and likely not readily available on the wire, but how long will that be the case? A couple of bad outings, a few Drew Storen saves. This is to more so serve as a reminder of the type of unique talent Iglesias could offer. Two of his three Saves have been of the multi-inning variety. While this does tell me they have the most confidence in Iglesias, it also tells me the top priority is putting Iglesias against the best part of the lineup.

Naturally it can be difficult to predict just when that could be. Workload should not be a factor with 95 and 78 innings pitched the last two seasons, but one does have to question just how often Iglesias could be ready. If he could exclusively pitch multiple innings could he work 3 days a week? The stuff’s great, and the Reds Bullpen has limited bullets. Whether in the Closer role or not, Iglesias could offer a unique skill that few of his peers could offer in the same role.

Michael Lorenzen: Reds

I promise this isn’t a Reds preview posting; Lorenzen’s just another Reds bullpen arm I really like. In the two seasons prior to last year Lorenzen had pitched in 156 and 120 innings. While the Pen brought out the best in him, the fact that the workload is there shows me what he is capable of. As mentioned with Iglesias, the Reds bullpen has limited options. The starting staff as a whole doesn’t look like it will pitch deep into games often. This leaves Lorenzen with the potential for plenty of high leverage situations – the types of situations that could lead to a cheap win here or there.

Last season Lorenzen pitched in just 50 innings, but those innings came in the span of 35 games – of which, 15 were more than one inning of work. Prior workloads, precedents having already been set, and a budding skill set have me believing in Lorenzen’s value moving forward.

Chris Devenski: Astros

From a talent standpoint I really like Devenski. I feel the workload and skill set would be ideal for this role, but I question the Astros commitment to it. Unlike the Reds, the Astros have minimal issues in the bullpen leaving Devenski reserved for picking up the trash Charlie Morton   may leave or general extra innings work. I do feel Devenski is worth a stash if roster space permits, but in order for his value to be capitalized a rotation spot will likely need to come available.

Ross Stripling: Dodgers

Stripling was used as a swing-man last season, appearing in 22 games with 14 starts and 100 IP. I am not confident Stripling is the pitcher he has shown thus far, but from a situation standpoint he fits the part of what I’m looking for. The Dodgers rotation currently features both Ryu and McCarthy who have spent more time on the DL than on the mound the last two seasons. While I don’t feel this moves Stripling into the rotation, it does open the opportunity for Stripling to serve as a long-man when either of those players pitch in an effort to limit their workload.

Julia Urias is the likely replacement should either of them falter, but the same could be said for Stripling. Potential short starts and questions in the back-end of the bullpen give Stripling a multitude of avenues where fantasy value can be had.

Zach Putnam: White Sox

Unlike the aforementioned options, Putnam doesn’t have a track record of extended workloads. Since AA Putnam has been a bullpen only option. While his recent career hasn’t been that of a multi-inning guy, he did have a stint at AAA where he seemed to be stretched out to some degree. In four appearances this season, Putnam has went over an inning in three of those outings. The rotation is filled with question marks behind Quintana, and the Bullpen itself is lackluster once you go beyond Robertson and Jones. The scenario of Putnam pitching the 5th and 6th in ugly 7-6 ballgames certainly exist. Just how often will it present itself is the question.

Mike Montgomery: Cubs

Much like Devenski, Montgomery’s value will be tied to a rotation spot. While I love Montgomery’s makeup, the entire Cubs bullpen is beyond solid, and the status as the lone lefty slots him into that specialist role at this point. Montgomery isn’t the type of player I’d rush to get at this point, but if roster space isn’t a limitation the speculative add could pay a premium.  Montgomery is one Brett Anderson injury away from Top-40 SP potential.

David Phelps: Marlins

This will be Phelps’ 6th season in the majors. Over the last five he has been the definition of a swing-man appearing in 178 games and having started 64 of them. Good strikeout potential, but control has doomed him for the most part – the type of skill set which would suggest Phelps may be better for the bullpen. The back-end of the Marlins bullpen is filled with skilled options but the same cannot be said about the rotation.

Personally,  I’m not sure if one rotation piece would be better than a #3 on 75% of the teams in MLB. Combine these potential front end problems with good late inning options and you’re looking at plenty of 4th, 5th, and 6th inning outings leaving Phelps in a prime spot to vulture the necessary wins to make him and nice fantasy option.

Mychal Givens: Orioles

In 37 of Givens’ 92 games he has pitched more than one inning. Givens has also had those stretches with multiple outings within the same week. Control really hindered his potential last season in terms of stretching out further, but his 2015 numbers suggest there is another level to Givens – big K potential, a manager who is willing to be unconventional, and the same patch work rotation the O’s are known for. Combine this all together and the chances of adding some potential wins and innings to last season’s totals are entirely in play.

Archie Bradley: Diamondbacks

I wonder if those “Free Archie Bradley” signs exist? Wait, that may have been Free Trevor Bauer signs. Either way, all these years later I wonder if the humility of those have finally worn off? Coming into the season Bradley had appeared in 34 games at the major league level, all of which had been starts.

The Diamondbacks decided at the end of spring to shift Bradley into the bullpen. I don’t feel this was intended to be a permanent move, more so allowing Bradley to compete against quality bats in order to improve. Early indications have been very solid as Bradley has pitched in eight innings over four games and has yielded just 2 walks compared to 10 K’s to go with his shiny 0.00 ERA.

Despite being a starter throughout his career, Bradley has never managed to get his innings totals up consistently. He managed 182 innings last season between the majors and minors, but prior to that he  had not exceeded 100 innings since 2013. Many of the components for Bradley to succeed are in play. The Diamondbacks bullpen has the potential makings of a dumpster fire. Should they somehow hold it together the rotation features Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray, and Taijuan Walker. There may be some talent, but that talent level is equally matched with question marks surrounding it.

The odds are strong that either the pen or starting rotation (or both) will falter leaving Bradley to pick up and reassemble the pieces. With a new front office that seems to have an analytical lean, the 100 innings relief pitcher doesn’t sound all that crazy to me.

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When most envision siblings they picture two people roughly the same age. They picture all of these moments being shared together. In my case, the older siblings were around 15 and 18 years my senior. While my brother was the coolest person I knew growing up, the time I spent with the cardboard heroes was my way of bonding with him even if he wasn’t around. I watched the ball go through Buckner’s legs because he wanted to watch it. I know without a doubt that my passion for this sport has him to thank.

As for my sister, those moments spent “rastlin” the stuffed bear was typically followed with a “Are you ok?”, “What are you guys doing in there?”, “If you go through the floor I’m not picking you up!”.  Always looking after her baby brother she was. In many ways my sister was more like my mother; that still doesn’t change the fact that all those times spent at her home were any less memorable.

The Golden Era of the relief pitcher in fantasy is upon us.  Like siblings, the scope for potential fantasy value could have many variables. Not everything is planned. Sometimes things happen that alter the timeline. Sometimes it may be a 12 pack of beer and a special delivery 10 months later that puts a wrench in the idyllic sibling dynamic. Sometimes the change is an unconventional bullpen method on the biggest stage the game has to offer. Perhaps in the very near future the bullpen evolution will not be as uncommon.

 

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Josh Coleman
Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.

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