Fantasy Baseball: Reliever Roulette

(Justin K. Aller / Getty Images)

(Justin K. Aller / Getty Images)

With Opening Day only a week away this makes for a great time to play a little game of reliever roulette. Moving forward, I will use this closer report/blog, if you will, as a way to provide updates on bullpen developments and how they impact our imaginary game. I’ll probably try to put out a post every couple of weeks, though the schedule will be fluid and may become more frequent depending on the news cycle. But that’s enough about the future; let’s start by seeing where things currently stand.

Below are my thoughts on those bullpen battles that have yet to be resolved. I’ve included my projection for which player will win the job as well as some analysis on the pitchers involved.

Atlanta

Favorite: Jason Grilli – Grilli pitched very well prior to getting hurt last season and has looked good this spring. He’s also 39 and in a contract year so chances are the Braves will try to move him prior to the deadline. However, that fact actually bodes well for him winning the closer job as the team may view it as a way to increase his value. Given these factors Grilli may only get 15-20 saves this season, but his strong peripherals make him a decent option in 12 team leagues and deeper.

Other Options: Arodys Vizcaino – Vizcaino impressed in a limited role in 2015, successfully converting nine of his ten save chances and earning a 1.60 ERA across 33.2 innings. He may very well be Atlanta’s closer of the future, but the team can save some money in arbitration by limiting his save opportunities this season. That said he’s the leading candidate to take over the job if Grilli gets traded mid-year.

Milwaukee

Favorite: Jeremy Jeffers – It seemed like Will Smith had this job locked up, but then he got a bit too aggressive trying to take off his shoes. No really, I’m serious. Jeffers was very effective in a setup role last year and has a tidy 2.43 ERA in 101 appearances for the club over the past two seasons. He also has a career SO9 rate of 8.6 so there’s plenty of value here. Granted the Brewers will likely only win 60 games, but I see Jeffers as a solid number three closer in 10 and 12 team leagues.

Other Options: Corey Knebel – While many feel that Knebel is being groomed to be the eventual closer, there’s no reason for the Brewers to rush that process. That said he’s a young power pitcher with a mid 90’s fastball and double-digit strikeout rate so it’s definitely worth keeping him on your radar. If he were to usurp the ninth inning role though I’d generally still have him ranked in the same area I currently have Jeffers.

Philadelphia

Favorite: Andrew Bailey – Bailey was an All-Star closer with the A’s early in his career, but injuries have limited him to just 52.2 combined innings over the past four seasons. He’s struggled with his control and health remains a major concern though it appears as if the Phillies are willing to give him the first crack at saving games. While Bailey’s always had a good strikeout rate, I don’t have enough confidence in his durability or consistency to recommend him as anything more than high risk, low upside gamble.

Other Options: David Hernandez – Hernandez actually broke camp as the favorite for the job before going down with triceps tendinitis. He’s back pitching now and is certainly still in the mix. If he does manage to regain the closer role I would prefer him to Bailey as he’s got a far more recent track record of being an effective reliever.

Tampa Bay

Favorite: Alex Colome – Colome really came into his own last season after the Rays moved him to the bullpen. In the 40.2 innings he pitched as a reliever he had an impressive 2.66 ERA and 9.74 K/9. Compared to the 4.70 ERA and 5.74 K/9 he had as a starter, it’s clear this was the right move. With Brad Boxberger out for at least two months, this gives the Rays a chance to see if Colome can handle ninth innings duties.

Other Options: Danny Farquhar – Although Farquhar does have some closing experience (he had 16 saves for the Mariners back in 13’), he’s not coming off a very good year. While his performance did improve considerably in the second half, he still finished the season with a messy 5.12 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. Farquhar is clearly a much better pitcher than those stats indicate, but he’s at best going to form a committee with Colome and is more likely to settle into a 7th or 8th inning role.

Toronto

Favorite: Drew Storen – The Blue Jays never seemed fully satisfied with their closing situation last year and traded for Storen in January. Storen was dominant for Washington prior to the All-Star break, but really struggled once the team acquired Papelbon and moved him to a setup role. However given that he was clearly displeased by the demotion, I fully expect him to return to form now that he should be back in his old position. His contract and Osuna’s experience as a starter, thus potentially making him more valuable in a role where he can pitch more frequently are also both factors in why I think Storen will win the job.

Other Options: Roberto Osuna – Osuna showed he was fully capable of handling the closing duties last season and he clearly has the talent to be shutdown reliever. That said he’s still only 21 with limited experience at the major league level. Further, he’s a converted starter and has publically stated his desire to pitch frequently, which makes me believe the team may prefer to use him in middle relief where he can give them more innings throughout the season. On the plus side if anything were to happen to Storen, Osuna would instantly become a top 20 option.

If you were wondering how the options discussed above stack up against one another, I would rank them as follows:

  1. Drew Storen (TOR)
  2. Jason Grilli (ATL)
  3. Alex Colome (TB)
  4. Jeremy Jeffers (MIL)
  5. Andrew Bailey (PHI)

On the Radar

Below are the names of a few other relief pitchers that I feel have a decent chance of grabbing the ninth inning role for their respective teams at some point during the upcoming season. Generally, these involve situations where the current closer is either a major injury risk or doesn’t have much perceived security in the role. Also of note, most of the guys I mention are dominant relievers that can actually already be rostered in deeper leagues as a way to manage ratios and improve strikeout rate.

Hunter Strickland (SF) – young power arm who gave up only 34 hits in 51+ innings in 15’. Santiago Casilla is 35 and has had a WHIP of almost 1.30 in two of the past three seasons.

Ryan Madson (OAK) – after missing the past three seasons due to injury, returned in 2015 and put together a dominant season (2.13ERA/0.96WHIP) pitching in middle relief for the Royals. Doolittle’s shoulder issues could resurface at any moment and Madson would be next in line.

Kevin Jepson (MIN) – went 10/11 in saves at the end of last season and there’s no guarantee Perkins will get back to his old self.

Jumbo Diaz (CIN) – J.J. Hoover and his 4.4 BB/9 over the past two seasons are not the long-term answer. Diaz had a 2.65 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 37.1 innings after the All-Star break.

Joaquin Benoit (SEA) – one of the most consistent and effective eighth inning guys in baseball. Meanwhile, Cishek blew more saves than he converted last season.

Kevin Quackenbush (SD) – regressed a bit last year after an impressive rookie campaign in 2014, but the skills are all there. Rodney is constantly on the verge of imploding and frankly may not have much left in the tank.

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