Motivation for who I choose to write about can come in all different places. This week, my motivation for revisiting non-closing relievers is the result of a tweet thread started by colleague Jeff Zimmerman. Jeff pointed out in his initial tweet that in 15-team Mixed Tout Wars, the median WHIP has increased from 1.24 in 2016 to 1.31 this season (as of June 26).
Rob Silver speculated that WHIPs and ERAs are up as a result of gamers chasing bad starting pitching to replace injured starters who are on the DL, and I think that’s a reasonable belief. My suggestion is to consider some of the following relievers instead of streaming mediocre — or worse — starting pitchers, especially if you’re in the middle of a logjam for points in ERA and WHIP in your roto league standings. The relievers below are listed in order of my preference for adding with the first reliever suggested my favorite option and the last my least favorite addition.
Tommy Kahnle (CHW): CBS – 13%, ESPN – 7.3%, Yahoo! – 16%
Among qualified relievers this year, Kahnle ranks tied with Dellin Betances for third with a 43.1% K%, and with just a 5.7% BB%, he checks in third in K-BB% (37.4%) behind only Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen. A .344 BABIP has prevented Kahnle from joining the truly elite relievers in WHIP, but his 0.96 WHIP is in the top 25 nonetheless. Circling back to his bat-missing prowess, the flame-throwing righty’s 17.0% SwStr% is tied for the eighth highest with Betances.
The 27-year-old reliever has allowed multiple runs in each of his last two appearances and runs in three of his last four appearances, but there’s little reason for concern. He’s continued to miss bats in that time frame and has issued just one walk in his last eight appearances. Remarkably, his excellent 2.30 ERA is actually higher than his fielding independent marks of a 1.26 FIP and 1.63 xFIP, and his 1.66 SIERA also sits well below his already fantasy-friendly ERA. The rebuilding White Sox have plenty of incentive to move current closer David Robertson, and with fellow setup man Nate Jones on the disabled list, Kahnle is the clear favorite for saves if Robertson is moved. Kahnle’s excellence is plenty of reason to own him even without the potential for saves down the stretch, but that save potential helps him top this list of non-closers who are worth rostering.
Blake Parker (LAA): CBS – 7%, ESPN – 4.1%, Yahoo! – 10%
Parker actually has a save this year, but with Huston Street and Cam Bedrosian healthy and team save leader Bud Norris nearing a return from the disabled list, the path to more saves is muddy. Sure, Parker could pick up more saves as the season marches on, but I wouldn’t suggest adding him with the expectation he’s a lock to do so. Instead, you should be adding him because he’s been downright filthy twirling a 2.06 ERA (1.37 FIP, 2.07 xFIP and 2.14 SIERA) and 0.94 WHIP with a 6.5% BB%, 37.0% K%, 14.5% SwStr% and 53.2% GB%.
The 32-year-old reliever pitched quite well in the Cubs’ bullpen in 2013, but he’s otherwise been ho-hum in the majors. What’s fueling his dominance? Well, it appears significantly reducing his curve usage in favor of a splitter he’s throwing 27.4% of the time this year is one of the major keys to his success. His splitter features a robust 26.9% SwStr% and hitters are chasing it out of the zone more than half the time with a 51.2% O-Swing%. It’s also responsible for a 63.6% GB% that’s helped Parker tally his new single-season career-high GB% of 53.2%. He’s been a monster this year, and the underlying numbers support his excellence.
Kirby Yates (SD): CBS – 0%, ESPN – 0.2%, Yahoo! – 0%
From a current Angel to a former Angel, Yates adds to the lengthy list of top-shelf relievers the Padres have produced in recent years. Yates made one relief appearance for the Angels after dominating at the Triple-A level in their organization to start the year, but he was DFA’d and then claimed off waivers by the Padres in late April. In 24 appearances for the Friars, Yates has totaled 23.2 innings in which he’s tallied a 2.28 ERA (2.76 FIP, 3.08 xFIP and 2.54 SIERA), 1.27 WHIP, 8.0% BB% and 36.0% K%. The 30-year-old reliever’s 35.2% K% for the full year ranks 18th among qualified relievers, but that actually belies his unreal 19.3% SwStr% that’s the third highest. Parsing an already small sample even smaller is dangerous, but over the last 30 days, Yates’ 45.8% K% ranks fourth highest among qualified relievers and more befitting for a guy whose 23.5% SwStr% is the highest mark in that time frame. His highest ownership rate at the three major fantasy baseball providers is 0.2% at ESPN, so he’s most likely available for free in your fantasy league.
Yusmeiro Petit (LAA): CBS – 5%, ESPN – 4.0%, Yahoo! – 4%
Chris Devenski has received justifiably received a lot of love as a multi-inning relief weapon, but it’s Petit, not Devenski, who leads relievers in relief innings pitched with 47.2 in 30 appearances. Petit has made 13 appearances that have totaled two innings or more this year and added six more appearances that have lasted more than one inning. In other words, Petit has recorded more than three outs in 19 of 30 appearances this year. He’s not just giving the Angels mediocre innings, he’s giving them high-quality innings with a 2.27 ERA (2.80 FIP, 3.89 xFIP and 3.15 SIERA), 0.90 WHIP, 6.0% BB% and 28.1% K%. Petit’s gone from a swingman to a multi-inning relief ace. On weeks when the streaming options are bad for starters, I’d much prefer grab Petit off the wire and hope he makes two to three relief appearances. Because of the way he’s used out of the bullpen by the Angels, he’s appeared in games on back-to-back days just three times, and he’s yet to make a relief appearance the day after going more than one inning.
Chad Green (NYY): CBS – 4%, ESPN – 1.3%, Yahoo! – 2%
Green’s been developed as a starter, but after making five starts at the Triple-A level to start the year, the Yankees summoned him from the minors to help their bullpen. He did make a spot start lasting two innings on June 11, but his other 13 appearances for the Yankees this season have come out of the bullpen. The 26-year-old righty is being used as a multi-inning weapon and has pitched more than an inning in 11 appearances. He’s posted a sparkling 1.98 ERA (2.66 FIP, 3.55 xFIP and 2.96 SIERA) and 0.77 WHIP with a 7.9% BB%, 32.7% K% and 15.1% SwStr%, but his 26.3% GB% provides some reason for pause pitching his home games at homer-friendly Yankee Stadium. Regardless, the other numbers are lights out, and as an added bonus in leagues that differentiate between starters and relievers, Green has SP eligibility thanks to starting eight games for the Bronx Bombers in 2016.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.