Because fantasy owners are always chasing the save, I’ve identified a few situations where a setup man is pitching better than the closer. These setup men can be added both as a prospective source of saves and as a minor boost in the ratio categories and strikeouts. If you have a rotating spot at the bottom of your roster, these guys are candidates to fill it.
Evan Scribner, Oakland A’s
I’m starting with Scribner because the difference between his performance and that of his closer, Tyler Clippard, is the starkest. Clippard simply hasn’t been good this year. After having a strikeout rate of at least 26 percent for six straight seasons, Clippard’s 2015 strikeout rate sits at just 19.8 percent. And though Clippard struggled with control earlier in his career, he had a walk rate in the single digits for four straight seasons prior to this one. This year his walk rate is an ugly 12.3 percent.
His velocity started to slip a bit in his last couple of years in Washington, but he remained effective with a little less juice. His velocity has slipped another half a mile per hour this year, but that doesn’t seem like a significant enough change to be responsible for the entirety of his performance. Whatever the reason, we’re getting toward the point where Clippard’s struggles aren’t some small sample size anomaly. If there’s an anomaly, it’s that his ERA is 3.33 thanks to a strand rate and BABIP that are better than average.
Clippard’s struggles haven’t become a huge issue in part because of the bit of good fortune just mentioned, but also because the A’s haven’t provided many save opportunities to their closer. But at some point, Clippard’s underlying issues are going to be a problem. With Sean Doolittle back on the DL with the same shoulder that kept him out earlier in the season bothering him again, Scribner is the guy who should eventually benefit from a Clippard implosion or two.
Scribner has always displayed above average control for a reliever, but prior to last year his strikeout rate was decidedly below average. However, starting with nine appearances at the end of 2014, Scribner found some swing-and-miss stuff and took his control to another level. The strikeouts are coming from fewer fastballs and positive results on his slider and curve, as Podhorzer noted last month. The walks (or almost complete lack thereof) are coming from a newfound penchant for pounding the zone on the first pitch. After hovering around 60 percent in his first three seasons, Scribner’s first pitch strike rate has been near 75 percent the last two years.
Scribner is owned in just 2.9 percent of ESPN.com leagues, so he’s widely available for those looking for a future closer.
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
It hasn’t quite been a year since Romo ceded the closing gig in San Francisco to Santiago Casilla, but we’re coming up on a year in a few weeks. Since the switch happened, Casilla is 36-for-43 in converting regular season save opportunities. But in the past calendar year Romo has posted a K-BB% that is ten percentage points better than that of Casilla. As a result, his xFIP and SIERA are both about a run lower than Casilla’s.
To be fair, Casilla has been much better in terms of run prevention with an ERA almost two runs lower than Romo’s over the past calendar year. But, as you might expect, he’s had much better fortune on balls in play and with runners on base than Romo has. For their careers, their BABIPs and strand rates are very similar. And prior to this season, Romo has not posted below average marks in either of those statistics since 2009.
Given that Casilla has been fairly reliable for almost a year now, it may take a random run of bad luck for Romo to usurp Casilla. But a random run of bad luck is what cost Romo the job to begin with when 13 percent of fly balls left the yard on him last year leading to a 1.40 HR/9 that was significantly higher than his career HR/9 of 0.78.
Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals
I’ll be brief on Davis because his ownership percentage is already 63.7 percent in shallow ESPN.com mixed leagues. The odds are good that he’s not available in your league. But I couldn’t write a post with this premise and not mention how much Greg Holland has struggled this year.
After three straight years of dominant strikeout numbers, Holland’s 2015 strikeout rate of 22.4 percent is just barely above the league average for relievers. And not that great control has ever been his thing, but Holland’s walk rate is an unsightly 15.5 percent. You probably already know the reason for his struggles is significantly reduced velocity. His average fastball velocity is down over 2 mph from where it was last year and down almost 3 mph from where it was in 2012-2013. Some people have noted that he touched 96 mph in his last outing, but as you can see below, his average velocity has not improved as the year has gone on.
Again, Davis probably isn’t available to you, and he hasn’t even been as good as he was last year. But he has been much better than Holland, and you should hold on to him if you own him or acquire him if you can.