Middle Relief Targets

With most teams planning to limit the innings their starters throw, there are going to be a few middle relievers who bridge the gap to the seventh to ninth-inning guys. Because most starters will not go five innings, these bridge relievers will have the chance to accumulate a few Wins while hopefully providing decent ratios. Here are some targets.

Every season, some middle relievers go off accumulating half dozen Wins and Saves, great ratios, and over 100 strikeouts. They are more valuable than most starters and closers. The deal is that no one has a clue which middle reliever it will be, but whoever rosters them will be loving it. I decided to query a target list.

And it’s just a list to start with. I took all pitchers who:

  • Averaged over 1.10 IP and fewer than 3.0 IP last season.
  • Projected for fewer than 5 Saves and games started.
  • Projected for 10 or more IP.
  • Ranked by projected Stearmer ERA.
  • Included bullpen depth position (i.e. 1 = closer, 2 = 8th inning, etc).

What I found were two pitcher classes to target. The first were closers in waiting like Aaron Bummer and Seth Lugo. They averaged over 1 IP last season, but have now moved into the setup man role. The other group is the two-inning relievers who bridge the gap and vulture off of a  Win or two. Both could be valuable.

Middle Relievers Ranked by Projected ERA
Name IP/G GS IP ERA WHIP SV K/9 Depth
Aaron Bummer 1.2 0 24 3.43 1.31 1 9.4 2
Oliver Drake 1.1 0 20 3.44 1.21 0 10.4 5
Framber Valdez 2.7 2 24 3.45 1.32 0 9.9 7
Chad Green 1.3 0 22 3.50 1.08 0 12.0 4
Drew Pomeranz 2.3 0 21 3.55 1.22 0 10.8 4
Stephen Tarpley 1.2 0 17 3.66 1.40 0 8.9 6
Ryne Stanek 1.2 0 24 3.76 1.26 2 10.9 2
Seth Lugo 1.3 0 24 3.77 1.20 1 9.8 2
Jimmy Nelson 2.2 0 10 3.87 1.25 0 9.1 8
Ross Stripling 2.8 4 32 3.92 1.22 0 8.3 7
Matt Strahm 2.5 0 20 3.94 1.20 0 9.4 5
Anthony Banda 1.3 0 13 3.95 1.29 0 9.2 8
Cody Reed 2.0 0 11 3.96 1.34 0 9.2 8
Trevor Cahill 2.8 1 20 4.01 1.32 0 8.3 6
Brett Martin 1.2 0 25 4.01 1.35 0 8.6 3
Genesis Cabrera 1.5 0 11 4.08 1.32 0 9.2 9
Scott Barlow 1.1 0 24 4.09 1.32 0 9.8 2
Bryan Abreu 1.2 0 20 4.13 1.38 0 10.8 4
Lucas Sims 1.8 1 18 4.13 1.26 0 11.0 6
Ranger Suarez 1.3 1 22 4.14 1.34 0 7.5 4
Ryan Helsley 1.5 0 22 4.15 1.34 0 9.3 3
Noe Ramirez 1.3 0 17 4.17 1.26 0 9.5 5
Marcus Walden 1.1 0 19 4.18 1.36 0 8.2 5
Wilmer Font 1.8 0 12 4.18 1.22 0 10.2 7
Jonathan Loaisiga 2.1 4 34 4.18 1.28 0 10.0 8
Clay Holmes 1.4 0 11 4.20 1.50 0 8.5 8
Conner Menez 2.1 2 14 4.22 1.38 0 9.3 14
Casey Sadler 1.4 0 16 4.24 1.32 0 7.8 6
Rafael Montero 1.3 0 22 4.26 1.33 0 9.7 2
Sean Newcomb 1.2 3 29 4.26 1.37 0 9.0 7
Erik Swanson 2.1 1 25 4.28 1.23 2 9.0 3
Zack Littell 1.3 0 17 4.29 1.31 0 8.7 6
Robert Stephenson 1.1 0 19 4.31 1.33 0 10.6 5
Jimmy Cordero 1.2 0 14 4.31 1.44 0 8.6 7
J.B. Wendelken 1.2 0 13 4.32 1.35 0 9.0 7
Touki Toussaint 1.7 1 12 4.34 1.40 0 9.3 10
Matt Hall 1.4 4 26 4.35 1.39 0 8.5 12
Hunter Wood 1.3 0 16 4.35 1.29 1 9.0 6
Brent Suter 2.0 1 26 4.37 1.28 0 7.9 2
Chris Devenski 1.1 0 22 4.37 1.25 0 9.6 3
Robert Gsellman 1.2 0 15 4.38 1.38 0 8.0 7
Jon Duplantier 2.4 1 16 4.38 1.43 0 8.9 8
Mike Mayers 1.2 0 17 4.39 1.31 0 8.5 6
Nestor Cortes 2.0 0 11 4.39 1.31 0 9.0 8
Corbin Burnes 1.5 3 30 4.40 1.36 0 8.9 7
Phil Maton 1.2 0 12 4.41 1.33 0 8.9 8
Josh Staumont 1.2 0 11 4.42 1.47 0 10.3 8
Michael Lorenzen 1.1 0 24 4.47 1.39 1 8.3 3
Scott Oberg 1.1 0 24 4.47 1.41 2 8.2 2
Josh Osich 1.2 0 10 4.50 1.37 0 8.2 10
Ben Heller 1.2 0 10 4.50 1.38 0 9.7 9
Sam Gaviglio 1.8 0 22 4.52 1.30 0 8.0 3
Chris Stratton 2.2 1 20 4.55 1.40 0 7.7 5
Robbie Erlin 1.5 2 14 4.59 1.39 0 6.6 15
Cody Stashak 1.4 0 15 4.60 1.26 0 8.8 7
Matt Wisler 1.2 0 13 4.62 1.29 0 8.3 8
Thomas Pannone 2.0 0 10 4.64 1.31 0 9.1 8
Luis Cessa 1.9 0 14 4.65 1.37 0 8.4 6
Paul Blackburn 2.8 1 12 4.66 1.40 0 5.9 11
Junior Guerra 1.2 0 24 4.68 1.40 1 8.4 2
Austin Brice 1.2 0 11 4.69 1.37 0 8.1 8
Walker Lockett 2.5 1 10 4.70 1.38 0 6.6 14
Jonathan Holder 1.2 0 12 4.70 1.33 0 8.8 7
Michael King 2.0 1 11 4.72 1.35 0 7.1 12
Gregory Soto 1.7 0 19 4.74 1.51 0 8.3 5
Jesse Chavez 1.6 0 18 4.75 1.38 0 8.1 5
Jose De Leon 1.3 1 12 4.76 1.42 0 9.7 12
Miguel Castro 1.1 0 21 4.83 1.50 0 8.2 4
Josh Tomlin 1.6 0 10 4.96 1.29 0 6.6 9
Tyler Clippard 1.2 0 20 5.04 1.35 0 9.0 5
Enyel De Los Santos 2.2 2 15 5.16 1.44 0 7.6 18
Shelby Miller 2.3 1 11 5.30 1.53 0 7.5 13

Here are a few thoughts on several of the pitchers.

  1. Aaron Bummer: For the manager who drafted Alex Colome and wants a middle reliever, Bummer is a great option. The owner gets both a great pitcher and a closer handcuff.
  2. Oliver Drake: Drake has been getting almost no love (745 NFBC ADP), but the skills are elite, especially for the Rays fifth bullpen arm. He threw two or more innings nine times last so he could be the first reliever in.
  3. Framber Valdez: For now, Valdez needs a few injuries to start, so he could fit right in as the bridge for the Astros fourth and fifth starters.
  4. Chad Green: Green was one of those “hot” middle relievers, but his star has fallen (626 ADP). He’s talented yet still further enough down in the Yankees bullpen pecking order to possibly vulture some Wins.
  5. Drew Pomeranz: His time with the Brewers (15.4 K/9, 2.39 ERA, 2 Saves) is what owners are hoping for from a middle reliever. As seen by his ranking, Pomeranz can be good, but there is no reason to pay up for him. Any of the other top options will work.
  6. Stephen Tarpley: Hard pass here. Steamer expects some huge walk (5.5 BB/9) and home run (2.2 HR/9) regression. No way am I rostering a pitcher who needs to improve both ratios.
  7. Ryne Stanek: At one point, Stanek was in the running to be the Marlins closer but a back injury set him back. Stanek is a master of all traits going from starting to opening to relieving. While I’m not gung-ho about the Marlins chances for many wins, the profile is perfect.
  8. Seth Lugo: He could eventually close for the Mets so a decent handcuff for Edwin Diaz owners.
  9. Jimmy Nelson: There is some history of him being good and the strikeouts (10.6 K/9) were high last season. The walks (7.0 BB/9) and homers (1.6 HR/9) were also up. Maybe he’ll make some improvements, but I’m not taking that chance.
  10. Ross Stripling: He needs to be owned in every league and his draft cost will jump if he becomes a second starter. I expected to see him higher on this list, but the ERA hit because the NL is added a DH brought him down.
  11. Matt Strahm: He’s got the capacity to start, but is in the bullpen where he can air it out. With the limited innings from the Padres … sign me up.
  12. Anthony Banda: I’m not sold on the talent or role. I’ll pass on him in a draft but would roster him if his future clears up.
  13. Cody Reed: I’m interested. Not as much as some of the other arms, but he was borderline dominant in 27 IP last year. A ~10 K/9, >70% GB%, and a decent walk rate. The failed starter is used to going multiple innings, so I’ll keep him on a watch list to see how he’s performing and his role.
  14. Trevor Cahill: Boring. He’s moved into more of a mop-up role.
  15. Brett Martin: Few skills.
  16. Genesis Cabrera: Too many walks to be interesting.
  17. Scott Barlow: See Genesis Cabrera
  18. Bryan Abreu: I’m very interested to see his role. While he struggled as a starter, he was lights out in the bullpen.
  19. Lucas Sims: 5.49 career ERA. Pass.
  20. Ranger Suarez: I like him as an option with the chance he moves to the starting rotation, especially if he drops the four-seamer (3% SwStr%). His other pitches standout (sinker: 68% GB%, change: 17% SwStr%, slider: 12% SwStr%).
  21. Ryan Helsley:
  22. Noe Ramirez
  23. Marcus Walden
  24. Wilmer Font
  25. Jonathan Loaisiga
  26. Clay Holmes
  27. Conner Menez
  28. Casey Sadler
  29. Rafael Montero: After struggling for years, he’s turned around his career as a reliever. A higher chance for him to get Saves than vulture Wins.
  30. Sean Newcomb
  31. Erik Swanson
  32. Zack Littell
  33. Robert Stephenson
  34. Jimmy Cordero
  35. J.B. Wendelken
  36. Touki Toussaint
  37. Matt Hall
  38. Hunter Wood
  39. Brent Suter
  40. Chris Devenski: Was great in 2017 but has struggled since then.
  41. Robert Gsellman: Was interesting … once.
  42. Jon Duplantier
  43. Mike Mayers
  44. Nestor Cortes
  45. Corbin Burnes: His talent and production as been all over the place. There is a chance he goes 50/50 fastball-slider and becomes a Patrick Corbin clone.
  46. Phil Maton
  47. Josh Staumont
  48. Michael Lorenzen: The projections aren’t buying that his 2019 soft contact is a skill.
  49. Scott Oberg: Colorado pitcher facing the DH … pass.
  50. Josh Osich
  51. Ben Heller
  52. Sam Gaviglio
  53. Chris Stratton
  54. Robbie Erlin
  55. Cody Stashak
  56. Matt Wisler: Got to respect a 70% slider usage.
  57. Thomas Pannone
  58. Luis Cessa
  59. Paul Blackburn
  60. Junior Guerra
  61. Austin Brice
  62. Walker Lockett
  63. Jonathan Holder
  64. Michael King
  65. Gregory Soto
  66. Jesse Chavez
  67. Jose De Leon
  68. Miguel Castro
  69. Josh Tomlin
  70. Tyler Clippard
  71. Enyel De Los Santos
  72. Shelby Miller

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Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Nick Burdi is a forgotten name who should be on people’s watchlists. He had a 9.35 ERA but only a 1.83 FIP last year for the Pirates before he got hurt and missed the rest of the season (only 8.2IP but still). And if you take out his last outing where he got hurt, his numbers are a 4.32 ERA, -0.15 FIP, 50% K rate and 20.1% SwStr%. He was also fully healthy during the original spring training and reports had him routinely hitting triple digits with his fastball.