Fantasy Relievers on Non-Contenders: Orioles by Al Melchior December 21, 2018 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. Just as Givens did not get his chance to close until the Orioles traded Zach Britton and Brad Brach, the team has a few talented relievers who could prove to be effective closers if they could only get an opportunity. That opportunity just might come by midseason. Mychal Givens The good: Givens is highly reliant on his four-seam fastball (76.6 percent usage), but it’s been a good pitch for him. He has consistently thrown it for strikes and has been better than average at getting swings-and-misses with it (career 11.6 percent SwStr%). Since his debut in 2015, Givens has been among the best relievers at limiting hard contact, and he took that skill to a new level in 2018. His 26.3 percent hard contact rate was the 11th-lowest among qualified relievers, and he was especially stingy over his final 15 innings (19.4 percent rate), when he did not allow a single base hit on a ball in play. Givens’ command was impeccable, as he had the highest rate of pitches on the edge of the strike zone of any pitcher who threw at least 1000 pitches this past season (per Bill Petti’s Edge% tool). The bad: In Givens’ first full season back in 2016, he appeared to be on the fast track toward becoming a dominant closer, and only the presence of Britton seemed to be in his way. Since then, he has not lived up to the profile of a pitcher with a strikeout rate above 30 percent and a swinging strike rate verging on 15 percent. Givens’ slider has not been an especially robust pitch for whiffs, but his K% and SwStr% have still suffered as a result of him using it less than 20 percent in each of the last two seasons. The outlook: Givens may not get much attention in drafts prior to the later rounds, as owners have better options among closers for strikeouts, not to mention season-long job security. However, given how prevalent closer turnover and role-sharing is now, Givens could still produce enough to be a top 20 reliever with only three-to-four months worth of saves. Tanner Scott The good: If the hard-throwing lefty builds on what he accomplished in his rookie season, he could be ready to close very soon. Scott has thrown only a four-seamer and a slider in the majors, but the latter pitch is flat-out filthy. Last season, he threw it with an average velocity of 88.7 mph, and he ranked third in slider SwStr% — trailing only Ryan Pressly and Patrick Corbin — with a 29.0 percent rate (min. 200 sliders). Scott has had chronic issues with his walk rate, and while his 2018 rate of 11.7 percent was still elevated, it was a more than four percentage point drop from his mark at Double-A Bowie in 2017. With a 40.0 percent Zone%, Scott’s control was not abysmal, and he managed to get swings on 37.1 percent of his out-of-zone pitches. The bad: Command may have been a more serious problem for Scott than his control was. QOP Baseball ranked both of Scott’s pitches in the lower third in terms of location, which may explain why a whopping 27.5 percent of his batted balls were line drives. That played a major role in his bloated .380 BABIP. He also allowed five home runs in 29.2 innings against right-handed batters. The outlook: Of all of the potential in-house successors to Givens, Scott profiles the most like a traditional closer. With some improvements in his walk and line drive rates, he could be stud closer and a fantasy mainstay for years to come. He is not a bad reliever to stash, particularly in deeper formats. Richard Bleier The good: Due to his heavy reliance on a sinker, Bleier is extremely amenable to contact, but he has been extraordinary in his ability to avoid hard-hit balls. Last season, only three pitchers with at least 30 innings posted a lower strikeout rate than Bleier’s 11.3 percent, but only Framber Valdez and Edubray Ramos had lower hard contact rates than his 21.2 percent mark. The 31-year-old also has pinpoint control, so between a dearth of walks, an allergy to home runs (he has allowed six in 119 career innings despite calling Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium home) and a profile for a low BABIP, he has managed to record a 1.17 career WHIP despite his extreme contact-friendly tendencies. The bad: Committing to giving Bleier innings means taking a hit in strikeouts. Even if he stays healthy for a full season, you can’t count on him to provide even 30 Ks. Also, Bleier is coming back from surgery to repair a torn lat. He is expected to be ready for the start of the 2019 season, but it remains to be seen if he will have a setback or not be at 100 percent upon his return. The outlook: Because of the lack of strikeouts, there probably won’t be many fantasy owners rooting for Bleier to get save opportunities. The southpaw will need saves to have any sort of fantasy value, but it’s not entirely unthinkable that he could close out some games. Given the chance, he could be an effective closer in the Brad Ziegler/Alex Claudio mold. Paul Fry The good: Like Bleier, Fry is a left-handed ground ball specialist, but he is not as much of a soft-tosser. He gets a large portion of his grounders from his slider, who also serves as a good swing-and-miss pitch. His 22.6 percent strikeout rate in 2018 hardly made him stand out as a fantasy option, but it was a distinct upgrade over what Bleier offered. The best reason to consider Fry as a potential closer-in-waiting is that he was frequently entrusted in high-leverage setup situations within weeks of his June 29 major league debut. The bad: Oddly, Fry had worse splits against lefties than against righties. Left-handed hitters got on base at a .381 rate against him, and Fry’s ground ball rate against lefties was a pedestrian 45.9 percent. His sample of 63 plate appearances versus lefties may be small enough to be discounted, but he had similar issues over parts of three seasons spent in Triple-A. In each of those stops, he was worse at getting lefties to hit grounders, and in his last two seasons at that level, he had a higher WHIP against left-handed hitters. The outlook: Fry’s biggest advantage over his bullpen-mates (minus Givens) is his experience as a setup reliever, but Hyde may opt to use him differently than Showalter did. He could easily wind up in a long-relief or swingman role, which he frequently filled in the minors over the last two seasons. If he racked up enough innings and strikeouts in that capacity, Fry could have value in deeper leagues, even without getting saves. Cody Carroll The good: Carroll was part of the haul the Orioles received when they traded Britton to the Yankees. He made his debut a week after the trade against his former organization and pitched 17 innings over the season’s final two months. Carroll threw in the mid-to-upper 90s, and controlled his fastball well enough to throw 50.6 percent of those pitches in the strike zone. While still in the Yankees’ system, Carroll was above-average at inducing swinging strikes at both Double-A and Triple-A. The bad: Even though Carroll threw hard in his first exposure to the majors, he did not distinguish himself with his strikeout rate (19.1 percent) or his swinging strike rate (8.6 percent). Because he did not get many chases, he issued 13 walks in his 17 innings. Strong flyball tendencies also hindered Carroll, as he yielded six home runs. As a result, Carroll gave up a run per inning and posted a 2.00 WHIP. The outlook: Carroll appears to be a long-shot to close out games or to have fantasy value in some other capacity. However, his ability to throw gas and potentially tally up strikeouts should at least put him on fantasy owners’ radar.