Bullpen Report: March 23rd, 2018

A Trip through the Relief Pitcher Rankings

No matter where one stands in regards to tiers, it helps streamline cumulative rankings in an effort to streamline assessment of a position. When trying to predict closers, well, do not. There’s going to be volatility, pitchers will get hurt or lose the role due to performance which proliferates the need for this column to run daily each week of the 26-week marathon of the fantasy baseball season.

Trying to make sense of Paul Sporer, Jeff Zimmerman, Al Melchior, Ben Pasinkoff, Keith Farnworth and my ranks seems surreal. But with the last few days of drafts looming, it’s time to figure out who to target in spite of several teams yet to announce their closer. Yes, looking at you Arizona, Texas, St. Louis, Baltimore and the Angels, with the mercurial Mike Scioscia. Agree or disagree, if one feels strongly, go with your gut. Our rankings posted yesterday and can be found here. With deference to the rankings, the tiers formed from the adjusted average to sort out the arms.

Tier One

In a mirror image of last year’s average draft position at relief pitcher, there’s a clear cut three atop the list. Kenley Jansen’s the gold standard of closers and because of it, his price continues to rise as a result. Craig Kimbrel came at a discount last year, but striking out half of the hitters he faced last year prevents a repeat. Figuring out why Aroldis Chapman’s yet to record a 40-save season seems confusing but he’s either battling an injury or control issues which sometimes caps his value. He lost the job for a short time last August but responded with 17 strikeouts over 12 innings against two walks in September to punctuate his upside. Chapman seems to represent the implicit volatility and unpredictability of the position.

Tier Two

Speculators rejoiced last year when Felipe Rivero ascended to the closer role for the Pirates. Rivero admitted to wearing down at the end of last year but he still provided 21 saves with a 1.67 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. With little competition in the Pirates bullpen along with the knowledge to handle him with more care, Rivero’s in a nice spot but pay for a migration of his ERA towards his FIP this year. Corey Knebel represents strikeout upside leading relievers with 126 last year but it’s accompanied by a 12.9 percent walk rate. He ascended the bullpen hierarchy with a checkered injury past but excelled as a waiver wire hero last year. Roberto Osuna’s never recorded a WHIP over one during his first three seasons as a reliever. He did battle mental health issues, kudos to him for admitting them. However, he accounted for a league leading 10 blown saves. For those looking to speculate, Osuna’s underlying statistics from 2017 mirror or rank better than Kimbrel’s from 2016 prior to his bounce back. Just saying.

Tier Three

Raisel Iglesias settled into the closer role even though the Reds used him in many multiple inning save situations. This seemed to wear him down at the end of the season. Despite this, Iglesias increased his swinging strike percentage by over two points, reduced contact and cut his ERA- on the season making him a terrific target if passing on the top two tiers. Will the real Ken Giles please stand up? He excelled in the second half with the fourth best strikeouts minus walk percentage (31.3) of qualified relievers, a WHIP below one (0.96), a minuscule ERA- of 28 and a 1.19 ERA. Then Giles cratered in the playoffs reminding many of Brad Lidge. He could be great or displaced in a deep Astros bullpen.

It seems like Edwin Diaz walks the line, but he’s only 24 and could be on the precipice of a career year. If he achieves this, look out. Although Brad Hand still flies below some radars, not so with this savvy group. Hand’s one of three relievers to record at least 100 strikeouts in each of the last two seasons. Yes, reports suggest he will not work exclusively in the ninth inning, but his ratios and elite strikeouts means Hand could still be a discount. No one seems to target Cody Allen yet he’s saved at least 30 games over the last three years. He also slightly increased his swinging strike and chase rates while cutting down on contact last year.

Tier Four

Welcome to the Jungle, but it’s not fun and games. This tier starts the roster with risk labels. It seemed like Sean Doolittle would ride the wave of his 21 saves in 30 innings as a National last year to the closer role, but new manager, Dave Martinez, seemed to suggest the bullpen could be fluid to open the season. Wade Davis will head to the thin air in Denver one season after his fly ball rate ebbed back towards his 2015 number, with his home runs per fly ball percentage spiking last year and in another loaded bullpen.

His replacement in Chicago outperformed him in the second half of last year with a higher strikeouts minus walk percentage (23 versus 16.4), ERA- (51 versus 65), WHIP (0.91 versus 1.29) and one more inning pitched. Yes, Morrow, with health could be a better pick here than Davis. Hector Neris whiffed 68 hitters with his split-fingered fastball, but still struggled with hard contact and home runs for a white knuckle ride for his owners. Alex Colome relies on his cutter but could be trade bait by the trade deadline and his underlying statistics hint at more regression this year.

Tier Five

Two bounce back candidates headline this tier in Kelvin Herrera and Mark Melancon. Herrera’s velocity on the rise this spring using Jeff Zimmerman’s excellent spreadsheet provides optimism. With some positive migration of his home success at home and the ability to get left-handed hitters out, both cratered last year, he could be a steal at his present price point. For Melancon, it’s all about health. If he can hold up in back-to-back outings and regain his ground ball tilt, a bounceback seems probable.

After failing miserably as the closer in Washington, Blake Treinen rebounded following his trade to Oakland. In the second half, Treinen saved 13 games with an ERA- of 50, a strikeouts minus walk percentage of 19.2 and could be an under the radar closer to target in this range. Brad Brach finished with one of the biggest difference splits (21) between his high and low rank. Much of this depends on the health of Zach Britton along with his timeline to return. This seems like a pick your gut spot.

Jeurys Familia will need to rekindle the bite in his splitter and hope his numbers migrate back towards his three year averages and not the abomination he turned in last year. Seeing how he attacks hitters will go a long way towards determining if he can finish the year as the Mets closer. Arbitration, losing the chance to return to a starting role someday and how the Diamondbacks seem to be compiling relievers seem to hint the team wants Bradley as the multiple inning high leverage reliever. Add in the humidor to help defray Bradley’s struggles with hard contact and paying for him to lead his team in saves seems too risky at his price.

Tier Six

Remember when one needed to target Andrew Miller to get a reliever to help manage ratios and boost strikeouts? Welcome to a new age of bullpens with three of the above relievers of the same ilk. Chad Green whiffed 103 last year, Peacock will serve as a reliever and spot starter for the defending World Champions providing strong ratio statistics. Dellin Betances reports being happy and motivated which should pave the way for another triple digit strikeout season.

Detroit’s Shane Greene lands in this tier as the only one closing but flies well below the radar. He saved nine games during his last 21 appearances last year with a 2.49 ERA and 23 strikeouts. This spring, Greene’s whiffed 10 versus two walks of his 21 batters faced for a 47.6 strikeout percentage. He’s not going to enter Kimbrel’s range for strikeouts, but Greene as a late round dart for a first half of saves makes sense, especially if taking a shot on Zach Britton to take over in the second half.

Since there will be much speculation from this point on, here’s the last three tiers with some relievers highlighted after.

Tier Seven

Tier Eight

Tier Nine

Intriguing battles exist within these tiers. Will Brad Boxberger closer, potentially Yoshihisa Hirano (not ranked) or Bradley? Even though Brad Ziegler will open the season as the closer for Miami, Kyle Barraclough’s ranked higher. Should Drew Steckenrider be overlooked in this conversation? It’s apparent if the Marlins can get a half season of Ziegler in the ninth, they’ll deal him to a contender and decide between their two young guns. Do not forget Steckenrider.

Texas announced Alex Claudio will play the part of the extinguisher and his ability to work more than one inning with his low pitches per inning rate, makes Keone Kela interesting. Of course, maturity and health issues muddle Kela’s upside. Still banking on him to take over the role eventually, how long he holds on could be like a rodeo ride.

Skills over role comes into play this time of year when speculating on saves. Luke Gregerson’s done it before but with a rising ERA and fraying arsenal plus health questions, stashing Dominic Leone makes sense. Leone broke through in the second half of last year with a 33.3 strikeout percentage and ground ball rate over 50 percent. He uses a cutter and slider to generate strikeouts with a 14.5 swinging strike percentage and 35.8 chase rate.

Will the White Sox use Joakim Soria as the closer to open the season to build his trade stock while they give Nate Jones time to hone his arsenal? Our group seems split on which arm to own. For upside, A.J. Minter struck out 26 while giving up only two walks during his 15 inning debut last year looking dominant. Vizcaino puts too much traffic on the bases and if he slips, Minter’s primed to ascend to the closer role if he establishes he can work on back-to-back outings. Minter’s small sample yielded an eye popping 18.2 whiff per swing rate. Mercy.

Last but not least, for those not looking to pay full price for Andrew Miller can look at Josh Hader. As a reliever last year, Hader racked up 68 strikeouts in 47.2 innings fueled by a 17.3 swinging strike percentage. Only Chad Green and Craig Kimbrel struck out more hitters in the second half than Hader’s 55 in 35.1 innings.

Be sure to check back all season to read the work of all the contributors to the bullpen report. It’s an honor to work with them and soon enough, everyone will be on the chasing saves train.

Avid fantasy baseball player and writer. You can find my work here chasing the next save or as the lead fantasy analyst on Fantasy Alarm. Any questions, hit me up on the Twitter machine, @gjewett9

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Surprised to see Kanhle missing. Skeptical of his breakout or of his value in that insane Yanks bullpen? fwiw he prob won’t see a BABIP of .358 against again