Young Openers or Middle Relievers?

There have been some really exciting starts from young pitchers so far this season. On Sunday, Michael Kopech pitched five innings, faced 18 batters, and struck out 10 of them. When I saw that he was starting in place of Lucas Giolito on Sunday morning, I totally rolled the dice and got lucky. Adding a young pitcher who I’ve been rooting for over the past few years and it paying off was great. But, I’ll admit, it made me feel a little empty inside.

As I stared at the tv and excitedly encouraged whiff after whiff I slowly began to realize that a win wasn’t going to be possible. I knew Kopech would be on a pitch count and I knew he wasn’t going to suddenly become a rotation mainstay, but I went for it anyway, dropping a set-up reliever in order to gain some strikeouts. I felt oh-so-sad when Tony La Russa effectively looked into the camera and told me not to get used to it. Monday morning had me reflecting, was it worth it? Which is better to roster, low-pitch count starters like Kopech or middle/set-up relievers?

To get a sense of what my categories would come out to if I had gone with one or the other, I collected data and followed some very specific parameters. First, for young starters, I looked at all pitchers under the age of 26 and their stats from starts only. Kopech has pitched in relief a few times this season, but I’ve only used his starts for this analysis. The same goes for all the other young hotshots on this list.

Next, I took those young starters and filtered them down to include only those with 10 innings or less. Brent Honeywell Jr. had 10.1 innings as of Tuesday afternoon and therefore was left off this list. Lastly, I sorted by ERA and looked at the top 10 performers. To make this drill down even more whacky, I took the top three and the bottom two from that list. Why? Well, you’re an informed fantasy manager and you pick the top talent, but having the freedom to claim picks 1-5 on the waiver is unrealistic, so I took some from the top and some from the bottom. Here they are:

Young Starters on Low Pitch Counts
Luis Patino TBR 0 0 0 1 1 2.2 0.00 21 0.38 1 0 0 3
Ryan Weathers SDP 0 0 0 2 2 9.1 0.00 21 0.54 3 2 0 9
Michael Kopech CHW 1 0 0 2 2 8.0 2.25 25 0.75 1 5 2 14
T.J. Zeuch TOR 0 0 0 2 2 8.0 4.50 25 1.25 3 7 4 3
Tanner Houck BOS 0 2 0 2 2 9.1 4.82 25 1.39 1 12 5 10
*Staring pitchers younger than 26 on low pitch counts (starts only)

Next, the relievers. This one is much more simple, don’t worry. I looked for relief pitchers who have pitched at least 10 innings as of Tuesday and removed those who are either closers or committee closers. I did the same ERA sort and plucked out the top two and bottom three.

Non-closer Relievers
J.P. Feyereisen MIL 0 1 0 12 0 11.2 0.00 28 0.94 7 4 0 11
Garrett Whitlock BOS 0 0 0 5 0 11.1 0.00 25 0.53 1 5 0 14
Tejay Antone CIN 1 0 0 7 0 13.2 0.66 27 0.73 6 4 1 20
Tyler Rogers SFG 0 0 2 14 0 14.2 1.23 30 0.89 3 10 2 9
Yusmeiro Petit OAK 3 0 0 12 0 14.1 1.26 36 0.84 2 10 2 9
*Non-closer relievers with at least 10 IPs

Finally, I took each group and calculated their totals and ratios to see which group Smalls’ S’mores (team name, never changing) would benefit from the most. The results seem pretty clear-cut:

Strategy Comparison
Non-Closer Relievers 0 4 63 2 0.71 0.82
Low Pitch Count Starters 9 1 39 0 2.72 0.96
* Starters younger than 26 with less than 10 IPs
*Non-closer relievers with at least 10 IPs

I’ve essentially cherry-picked the best relievers and young starters and assumed each player listed would be on my fantasy team. That’s not practical in most deep leagues where competing owners have had Kopech stashed for 3 years now. In addition, none of these relievers have been blown up in one inning yet, I chose those with the lowest ERA. Any one of them could come into a seventh or eighth inning and have a meltdown. One bad inning makes for bad ratios, but that can just as easily happen to a young starter.

This little experiment leads me to believe focusing on those low inning relievers could be more beneficial than the young exciting starters. The daily Bullpen Report and the awesome work Jason Martinez is doing with the closer depth chart will tell you each day which closers may need rest, giving you the opportunity to stream a set-up man and possibly adding much-coveted win or save.

Though Kopech’s incredible pitch movement had me greedy for more and more strikeouts and Luis Patino’s 75% slider whiff rate made me like —-, I’m leaning towards the numbers presented by these high-performing relievers, than the young blood. 

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HappyFunBallRonGTJolly Good ShowLightenUpFG Recent comment authors
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Agreed on the relievers, but a lot of them take their lumps eventually. Craig Stammen comes to mind, where he’ll give you 1-2 K’s easy each outing but, just when you start seriously thinking about whether he should be the closer or not, he blows up. Repeatedly. One has to really luck out and get guys they’re comfortable throwing out there often enough.

I would also be more comfortable setting and forgetting a solid reliever against a tough offense than throwing a rookie arm against someone like the Dodgers or Padres. That would be 5-6 innings lost for the week, whereas a good reliever will get his 4-5 innings regardless.