Searching for Wins Among the Followers

Here’s how Justin Mason put it in last Friday’s edition of The Sleeper and the Bust:

 “This is one of the things people should really be thinking about, strategy-wise, the rest of the way…look for these opportunities where you can grab the follower in good matchups because as teams start to limit their guys…this is a time where you can really get some guys without going over any kind of starts limits.”

It can be challenging to figure out just who is most likely to come out of the pen as a first reliever. Luckily, I wrote some code that will help me track this for a piece I did on relievers following the starter. For this article, I’ve used that code to see which relievers come into the game directly after the starter most often on each of the teams that are very likely to clinch the playoffs and thus, rest their starters by limiting their innings. The idea would be to pick up these pitchers, especially if you reach your start limit early, in hopes of picking up an extra win or two. 

The list below shows teams that have over a 90% chance of making the playoffs according to our odds. From there, I looked at pitchers who have come in to replace the starter more than 10 times. It’s really anyone’s guess as to how many wins these pitchers will earn the rest of the way, I’m not going to try to predict wins among relievers at this point in the season. However, I was re-assured that the correlation between the number of times a pitcher has relieved the starter and the number of wins they have accumulated so far in the season is a promising .54. Here are the relief pitchers who may be able to get you a few more wins the rest of the way:

Followers and Wins, 2021
Name Team # of Games Appearing Directly After the Starter Wins
Jarlin García SFG 18 6
Zack Littell SFG 18 2
Jose Alvarez SFG 16 4
Dominic Leone SFG 13 3
Jay Jackson SFG 11 2
Brent Suter MIL 31 12
Brad Boxberger MIL 21 5
Blake Treinen LAD 19 5
Joe Kelly LAD 15 2
Jimmy Nelson LAD 13 1
David Price LAD 11 4
Ryne Stanek HOU 22 2
Bryan Abreu HOU 18 3
Brandon Bielak HOU 14 3
Cristian Javier HOU 13 0
Michael Kopech CHW 29 3
Garrett Crochet CHW 16 3
Evan Marshall CHW 13 0
Jose Ruiz CHW 11 1
A.J. Minter ATL 19 2
Luke Jackson ATL 18 2
Tyler Matzek ATL 15 0
Edgar Santana ATL 14 3
Jesse Chavez ATL 12 3
Josh Tomlin ATL 11 4
Codi Heuer – – – 15 7
Hunter Strickland – – – 14 3
Among all 2021 relief pitchers who appeared directly after the starter more than 10 times.


One thing to keep in mind, however, is that not all of the wins listed here are specific to the reliever’s appearance spot. For example, San Francisco’s Jay Jackson has accumulated two wins this season. One of those wins came as he appeared directly after the starter and one came from an appearance as the fourth reliever. Regardless, there is a connection between the number of times a reliever follows and the wins they earn, and at this point in the season, it is appropriate to target first relievers on these specific teams because we’re hoping they are taking on a heavier load, allowing the starter to limit his innings.

You may also notice Christian Javier and his zero wins. Javier actually has three wins on the season, but those came during starts and therefore are not reflected in the table above. It’s not an exact science, but the managers still (for some reason) won’t tell us who will follow, who will appear third, and who will close out the game before the game actually starts. So, we need to do some guessing.

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Joe Wilkeymember
1 year ago

“Regardless, there is a connection between the number of times a reliever follows and the wins they earn”

I mean, kind of? A correlation of 0.54 means an R^2 of 0.29, meaning the “appearing directly after the starter” variable explains less than 1/3 of the variance. You know what has a correlation of 0.58 with wins among this group? Hits allowed. Just because something has a high correlation doesn’t mean there’s a connection. I semi-understand the logic here, these are mainly your non-hold, non-save relievers, but pitcher wins (especially relief pitcher wins) are basically a dart throw.