Do Not Draft: Relief Pitchers

Hello and good morning! Hopefully you’ve all started your day off on the right foot. If not, maybe this can lighten your mood! Today we’ll be discussing relief pitchers (RP). When it comes to drafting relievers/closers it’s basically a crap shoot. There are many different tactics that can be used on draft day.

One strategy to roll with on draft day is to grab the best RP options as soon as you can. Another option could be to draft RP late, but making sure you at least land a team’s closer. RP seems to be a revolving door throughout the season. Looking at it with that aspect, you can whiff when drafting a RP and still be alright through the waiver wire. If you’re in a H2H category or roto league you might want to focus a little more attention on the relievers and closers you draft; points leagues can be taken a little more lightly.

As I was trying to put this list together for today I had a bit of a hard time specifying certain arms. I generally “roll with the punches” when it comes to closer on my rosters. I like to have one real solid closer, then piecing the rest together carefully.

Last year five teams won less than 70 games (White Sox, Tigers, Phillies, Reds, Giants). The most saves any of those teams had on the entire season was 33. Only the Reds and Phillies had players with more than 15 saves (Iglesias and Neris). Pecota projections currently have four teams finishing with 70 or fewer wins this season (Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Marlins). The closing situation on each of these teams only leaves me comfortable with rostering Brad Brach.

Alright, now that we’ve covered a bit of a wider range, I’ll narrow it down a little for you from what remains.

Alex Colome, Rays

Now that the Rays have been quiet for roughly two weeks, it seems Colome is staying put in Tampa Bay. There’s nothing wrong with being in Tampa, but they might not put a great product on the field, which could see him get much less than the 53 opportunities he got last year.

His number of save chances last year is one of the reasons he was the 13th ranked RP last year in standard ESPN leagues. Colome led the bigs last year with 47 saves. I just don’t see something like that happening again this year.

One glaring stat that raises questions heading into 2018 is the dip in strikeouts last year. Colome began closing games in 2016 and had a K/9 of 11.2, which translates to 31.4%. Last season he saw his K/9 number dip back to that of when he was starting, 7.8, or 20.6%. The drop in strikeouts without seeing a conceivable drop in velocity is concerning. It could just be due to his change in pitch selection, but if that continues it’s worrisome. In conjunction with his K/9 dropping, his BB/9 went up nearly a tull point, 2.38 in ’16 to 3.11 last season.

Colome is currently going as the 14th RP off the board at pick 122. I have him ranked as the 20th RP, which would place him about 30 picks later. Numbers are trending towards Colome fooling fewer batters the longer he’s been in the roll, and that’s only been for two seasons. Colome saw a decline in both the chase rate and swinging strike rate of hitters.

Bottom line with Colome: he’s going to be a closer and seems safe in keeping his job. He’ll get you saves as long as he’s with the Rays, but nobody knows how long that will be or how many opportunities he’ll get. If he gets moved those save chances could go by the wayside. Go ahead and pass on Colome, unless he’s around late in your drafts. You’re going to have guys available after him that can get you better stats and more points per game (Andrew Miller, Sean Doolittle).

Corey Knebel, Brewers

Okay, before you roast me on this one, hear me out. Corey Knebel currently has an ADP of 73, which puts him around the turn of rounds 6 and 7, the fourth RP off the board. That seems entirely too high for a guy coming off his only worthwhile fantasy season of his career. For instance, I have him ranked #10, which would put him coming about 4-5 rounds later, no problem.

One thing that catches my eye with Knebel is his ridiculously high walk rate. His walk rate the last two seasons has been north of 4 per nine innings, which puts his career number north of 4 also. His walk rate has risen each year since his debut in 2014, 7.7% to 12.9%. Giving away free bases at the end of games can lead to blown saves and losses too easily. Knebel only had 6 blown saves last year, but if the walk rate doesn’t get figured out that number could grow in 2018.

Knebel’s batted ball numbers from last year catch my eye a little bit too. His previous three seasons prior to 2017 saw him as more of a ground ball pitcher having nearly 50% of the balls put in play being on the ground. In 2017 he saw the numbers flip. Last year his numbers profiled as a fly ball pitcher, 45% of balls in play came through the air. Playing half his games in the hitter-friendly Miller Park – I don’t want my closer to be a fly ball pitcher.

The strikeout rate of 41% last season doesn’t seem sustainable. Prior to last season he was only striking out batters 27% of the time. One thing that could have contributed to that is the rise he saw in swinging strike percentage. Knebel was getting roughly 8% swinging strikes and last year that rose up to 14%. Batters also chased pitches outside the strike zone 6% more often than in previous years (29% compared to 23%).

Bottom line with Knebel: he could provide you with a nice source of saves in roto and category leagues, but he’s just not worth taking so early in drafts. You can get the same kind of output later down the draft board from a guy like Brad Hand, being taken almost fifty picks later.

Kelvin Herrera, Royals

Kelvin Herrera doesn’t hold any appeal no matter the team he’s on. Yes, being a part of the Royals isn’t doing him any favors, but that isn’t the only thing holding him down. He’s likely going to be on the move at some point this summer and he likely won’t be going from one closer gig to another.

First things first. Herrera only has 62 career save chances in his seven-year career. Through those 62 chances he’s only converted 43 of those, which is just under 70%. No thank you. I can’t forget to mention he’s coming off arguably his worst year of his career.

Herrera is coming off a season in which we saw him post a 4.25 ERA and a WHIP of 1.34. These numbers are well above his career norm (2.86 and 1.15). A lot of that could be attributed to the increase in home runs he gave up last year as well as the increase in free passes he surrendered (I believe walk issues was mentioned with another pitcher in this article). Herrera saw his HR/9 climb from 0.75 in ’16 to 1.37 last season and his BB/9 went from 1.50 in ’16 to 3.03 last season. If that doesn’t correlate to a rise in ERA I’m not sure what will.

Kelvin Herrera also saw his strikeout numbers dip last year and his batting average against numbers go up. These are both more concerns on why to steer clear from him come draft day this year. Herrera had a fine 8.4 K/9 last season, except the previous year it was up to 10.7. The batted ball numbers, combined with the average against of .252 show he wasn’t fooling many last season.

Bottom line with Herrera: he’s going to get save chances by default in Kansas City, but a move elsewhere would likely see him return to a set-up role. Owning Herrera in a set-up role is fine if your league rewards holds, but even then you can do better. Herrera has a current ADP of 196, but there are plenty of guys behind him with more upside I’d rather start the season with – see below.

Let’s roll the dice – guys to take a late round flyer on

  • Addison Reed, Twins
  • Tyler Lyons, Cardinals
  • AJ Ramos, Mets

All three of these options are currently listed as their team’s primary set-up men. Another thing they all have in common is they could all be closing for their respective clubs by the end of May. Reed has the highest ADP of the three of these guys at 276, which might still be a little high, but if you’re looking for someone at the end of your draft, try and nab one of these guys, or at least keep tabs on them once the season gets under way.


Now that I’ve given you my side of the outfield position, let’s hear yours! Leave your fantasy questions in the comment section below or on Twitter, @KennyGarvey. Catch you next week as I give you my eagerly anticipated “Do Not Draft” list of outfield options!


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Kenny Garvey

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I'm from eastern Iowa, yes there are more things than just corn here. I'm a baseball nerd. If there's a game televised you can bet I've got it on! Family and baseball keep me sane. Fantasy baseball far outweighs fantasy football, no doubt about it!

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