Pin the Tail on the RP

New rule changes coming up for 2020 will impact the way we draft relief pitching, and starting pitching for that matter, for the foreseeable future.  I’m referencing that any pitcher that comes into the game must face 3 batters. I’ll say that I’m pretty ambivalent towards this rule change right now. It could be good and it could be bad, but I lean more towards the good.  Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about it when we are drafting for 2019 unless you are in a keeper or dynasty league. Even in that case, I really wouldn’t alter your draft plans too much to try to plan for the future. Afterall, we are talking about relief pitchers that have a shorter life span than a bag Nacho Cheese Doritos at teenage sleepover.

If Starting Pitchers are like a wheel of roulette, then Relief pitchers are like a game of craps. You can either get rich quick or go broke trying. My draft plan for relievers is to either go for the 2 for $20 method in an auction or entirely punt the position and grab two guys for a buck. Then, I hope that chaos ensues in the closer roles and I can pounce on someone off the waiver wire.

One of the reasons that relief pitchers are so hard to draft is that a couple of bad outings can completely wreck their statistics for the year.  When that happens, the fans lose their minds and managers are pinned into a corner searching for answers. More so for RP than SP, I find that a low WHIP and high K/9 are good indicators of who is going to succeed and who will struggle from time to time.  When the game is on the line you want a reliever that strikes guys out and doesn’t walk batters. It’s really a pretty simple concept, except it’s extremely difficult to master.

Felipe Vazquez owns a career 2.83/2.77/3.26 line.  For reference, that’s ERA/FIP/xFIP (Where do I start a petition to list these three stats in unison like we do with AVG/OBP/SLG for hitters?)  He has blown a total of 11 saves throughout the course of career with 5 of those coming last year. The point here is that he’s pretty steady and he’s going off the board around pick 90, which is about 40 picks after the first closer off the board in Edwin Diaz.  Meanwhile, Vazquez has a sterling career 10.37 K/9 and 2.93 BB/9 to go with his 2018 season of 11.44 K/9 ratio with a 3.09 BB/9.

Last year, Will Smith came on to close in San Francisco and did a stellar job and is still the favorite to hold the closer role heading into 2019.  He finished the season with 14 saves in 53 innings with a 2.55/2.07/2.76 line. Again, that’s ERA/FIP/xFIP. He did blow 4 saves in his time, but he made up for that with a 12.06 K/9 with only a 2.55 BB/9.  Also, Smith has some nice underlying stats, but there are some concerns that he could struggle. In the 2nd half of last year, Smith’s ERA ballooned to 4.18 over 23.2 IP – largely due to his LOB% plummeting to 64.5%. The uncertainty surrounding his role and his 2nd half makes him relatively cheap coming off the board around the 190th pick.

Again, I’ve compiled 4 projection systems from Fangraphs (ATC, TheBat, Steamer, and DepthCharts) and did a composite of the projections. Then, I set the limit of innings pitched from 30 to around 100 to sift out starting pitchers that pose as relief pitchers.  I colored these with a red blue color scheme based on their ADP. If their ADP is high it will be in red and the later ADPs are in blue. Also, I’ve made the circles bigger based on the amount of saves the RP is projected for the 2019 season. Note: The Bat does not project saves. In this case, I have summed the total of saves and divided by 3.  

As you can see, you have Vazquez and Will Smith tightly paired together.  They both land in the upper left hand quadrant of the graph which indicates they both carry above average K/9 and below the average WHIP for all RP.  

Felipe Vazquez and Will Smith combined projections for 2019:

Felipe Vazquez            66          31 2.91     2.92 1.16 11.05 3.16 87.8
Will Smith            64          24 3.09 3.04 1.17 11.08 3.27 187.4
For the draft price of both of these closers, you can pair them together and get equally about the same type of production with one of them costing you far less than the other.  You’ll just have to hold on to hope that Will Smith can hold on to the closer role in SF.  It’s almost a certainty that by the beginning of May, we will start to see closer chaos and you’ll want to keep a close eye on closer situations throughout the league.


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