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Fantasy Relievers on Non-Contenders: Royals

The Royals’ closer situation is distinctly different from those of the teams already previewed in this series on bullpens for likely non-contenders. The Marlins and Diamondbacks will almost certainly be auditioning relievers for various roles — including closer — in spring training. Will Smith figures to be the Giants’ opening day closer if he sticks around, but it seem likely he will get dealt. The same goes for the Orioles and Mychal Givens, and if they don’t trade their incumbent closer this spring, it could easily happen at some point during the season.

Wily Peralta would appear to be the Royals’ equivalent of Givens. He took over as the team’s closer shortly after Kelvin Herrera was traded to the Nationals in last June, and he converted all 14 of his save chances. But whereas Givens’ most likely path to losing his job is getting traded to a team that uses him in a different role, Peralta could get ousted as closer without leaving Kansas City. While he throws hard and, at least in 2018, got a lot of weak ground ball contact, there is little else in Peralta’s skill set that suggests he can be a consistently effective closer.
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Who Will Follow Dallas Keuchel’s Lightly Traveled Path?

As we anticipate Dallas Keuchel finding a new home this offseason, we should probably be wondering more about where he will be locating his sinker in 2019 than where his moving van is headed.

Sinker location has been key to Keuchel’s success, and his mostly-consistent five-year run has been nearly unique this decade. When he shaved more than two runs off his ERA from 2013 to 2014, Keuchel had a dramatic breakout that may have been most notable for what didn’t change. He didn’t throw substantially harder. He wasn’t notably better at throwing strikes or getting whiffs, chases or freezes. Keuchel did induce more grounders, but his biggest improvement came in his avoidance of hard contact. His rate dropped from 29.3 percent to 19.7 percent, and in the four seasons that followed, Keuchel continued to demonstrate that skill — as long as his sinker was down and away from righties.
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Fantasy Relievers on Non-Contenders: Giants

Whether you’re measuring by WAR, SIERA or saves plus holds, Will Smith and Tony Watson were the Giants’ most valuable relievers in 2018. (If we include non-qualifiers, Pablo Sandoval had the lowest SIERA, but I’m not going to dwell on this.) When you think about non-contending teams who don’t need the luxury of going into the season multiple top-flight relievers, the Giants should come to mind first. So it should hardly be surprising that Smith and Watson’s names have been popping up in trade rumors.

Several teams have contacted the Giants about both relievers, and with bigger names like Zach Britton, Andrew Miller and David Robertson recently coming off the board, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi recognizes that the duo could be a good fit for small market teams still looking for relief help. Even if the Giants dealt both Smith and Watson, they would have a plethora of lefties still in place to fill that need in their bullpen.
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Fantasy Relievers on Non-Contenders: Diamondbacks

Unlike the first two subjects of this series, the Marlins and Orioles, the Diamondbacks were contenders in 2018, at least until they went 8-19 in September. Now with Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin gone — and with A.J. Pollock presumably signing with another team — it’s hard to see them keeping pace with the Dodgers and Rockies.

That means the Diamondbacks could look to deal relievers at some point in 2019, making them one of those annoying teams with persistently fluid bullpen situations. Torey Lovullo has indicated that he is inclined to give Archie Bradley the first shot at being the team’s closer, though he also hinted that he may be quicker to make a change in roles if his closer struggles. Bradley had a difficult second half of 2018, compiling a 6.58 ERA and 1.54 WHIP, so even if the Diamondbacks are surprise contenders, there is no reason to think that he would be immune to losing the closer’s job if he actually won it coming out of spring training.
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Fantasy Relievers on Non-Contenders: Orioles

Plenty of teams are likely to enter 2019 with question marks at the back end of their bullpen, but the Orioles don’t figure to be one of them. Mychal Givens waited his turn to be their closer for three years, and after inheriting the role late in 2018, he did nothing to give new manager Brandon Hyde a reason to demote him.

This is not to say that determining Givens’ value in preparation for draft day will be easy. He compiled a 2.25 ERA and an 0.63 WHIP after becoming the Orioles’ full-time closer, and he could be a valuable fantasy closer if he maintained that role for an entire season. With the Orioles poised to fall out of the AL East race quickly, he would be one of the team’s most sought-after trade targets prior to the trade deadline. Givens would be a great compliment to an incumbent closer on a contending team.
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Fantasy Relievers on Non-Contenders: Marlins

With New Year’s Day rapidly approaching and Pitchers-and-Catchers-Report Day less than eight weeks away, plenty of closer situations are still in flux. Potential contenders like the Cardinals, Phillies and Twins have reportedly been in the closer market and look like strong candidates to add to the back ends of their bullpens. Rebuilding teams are less likely to do so. If anything, they could be sellers in the coming weeks.

So while teams that are long shots to contend in 2019 may not have their bullpens completely set just yet, they are more likely to ultimately settle their closer situations by turning to in-house options. It is premature to speculate on the value of someone like Jordan Hicks, who could inherit the Cardinals’ closer role, but could also find himself setting up for a free agent signee like Zach Britton. It is not too early, though, to start scoping out the fantasy value of potential closers for non-contenders.
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Which Statcast Measures Correlate Best with Pitcher HR/FB and BABIP?

Note: As was the case in a previous analysis of Statcast measures and their correlation with power metrics for hitters, I owe a debt of gratitude to Alex Chamberlain. He did a lot of heavy lifting for this column, running the correlations and discussing interpretations with me.

It won’t be the first or last time, but I did a silly thing on Twitter. In announcing a pick for the Pitcher List Experts Mock, I decided to tout the player I chose by citing one of his achievements, as captured by a Statcast metric.

(Justin, by the way, made his pick very promptly.)
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Are We Wrong to Overlook Lance Lynn?

Even though this year’s Winter Meetings were slow prior to Thursday’s three-team deal involving the Mariners, Indians and Rays, the Rangers’ signing of Lance Lynn has yet to receive much attention. Lynn’s $30 million deal over three years pales in comparison on an annual basis to the contracts recently inked by Nathan Eovaldi, J.A. Happ and Charlie Morton. Given Lynn’s 4.77 ERA compiled with the Twins and Yankees in 2018, it’s no surprise that Lynn is drawing less interest than his free agent counterparts in the real and fantasy worlds.
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Al Melchior’s Early Mock Favorites

Soon enough, we will be mocking liked we’ve never mocked before, practicing for our real drafts that are now a mere three months away. Like many in the industry, I embarked on my mock drafting almost immediately after the season. I was fortunate to have taken part in Justin Mason’s 2 Early Mocks, and since then I have participated in a mock draft for Lindy’s and the ongoing Pitcher List Experts slow mock (I have made 18 picks out of 23 as of this writing).

Already, it is becoming apparent that I have a few favorites who I am targeting. There are 10 players who I have picked in at least two of the three drafts, and five in particular strike me as good values if their early mock draft positions hold steady into the real drafts come March.
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A Closer Look at Jose Ramirez’s and Alex Bregman’s Power Potential

I recently wrote about Statcast measures that were highly correlated with power metrics, such as HR/FB and ISO. The research confirmed that several Statcast measures could be useful tools for identifying undervaled power sources. One factor I ignored in that analysis was pull rate, but in taking a belated look at it, I found that one of the apparently strong relationships gets notably weaker when we control for a hitter’s pull tendencies.

In general, exit velocity on flyballs and line drives turned out to be strongly correlated with ISO for hitters with at least 150 batted ball events in 2018. However, when you isolate the top 10 percent of the sample in terms of pull rate, the relationship is still meaningful, but it’s not quite as strong. That could have implications for how we view two of last season’s top power hitters, Jose Ramirez and Alex Bregman.
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