March 7, 2014
TTO Scoresheet Podcast
BP Fantasy closes out positions with reliever week, the position pretty much everyone considers a necessary evil. If not just plain evil. In this week’s podcast, linked at the end of the article, we spend some time discussing relievers. Not a ton of time, because there’s really not too much to say. We also take some reader questions. And have a pretty interesting discussion on when (if ever) it is OK to lose a trade, which we think will be worth your time to check out. We also spend some time discussing the lower tiers of starting pitching, which is relevant to your Scoresheet bullpen, for reasons we explain below. We’ve also updated our ranking list for all positions.
Here’s how we rank relievers. And read on for reliever strategy, picks, and more.
One of your humble authors (and if you listen to the podcast, you’ll have a pretty good idea which) attended an Orioles game maybe eight or nine years ago in which the players’ wives were holding a silent auction. The usual bric-a-brac was up for bidding, with each player donating an item such as a jersey or glove, and most of the wives were standing by their hubby’s donation. All of the tchotchkes were going for way past anything resembling a reasonable amount (although happily, it was for a good cause). All, that is, except for a pair of Buddy Groom’s cleats, signed by the man himself. No one had even signed up for the opening bid of $50, which was probably $100 less than the retail cost of the shoes. Obviously we had no choice but to throw down a bid. We will never forget the look on Mrs. Groom’s face: sheer joy, mixed with a little relief and excitement. It is the same look we imagine on the faces of the significant others of the relievers we take in the waning rounds of a Scoresheet draft.
All of which is an incredibly roundabout way of saying that relievers in Scoresheet are relevant and useful in ways not seen in almost any other form of fantasy. The catch, however, is that you really want the 2002 Buddy Groom with an ERA of 1.60, and not 2003’s Buddy Groom with an ERA 4.5 runs higher. And as you probably know, given how few innings they throw, relievers tend to be extremely volatile, and it can be foolhardy to try to predict that volatility with any precision.
Investing a lot into your bullpen is one sound strategy, but if you don't feel as though you have the picks or the personnel to develop a strong bullpen, being the last to take relievers is probably preferable to reaching for "solid" choices. Because relievers are so volatile, and because in Scoresheet, a rough outing in April can affect you in the September playoffs, it's probably best to not get too attached to any particular reliever, especially after the first batch are gone.
Our pref list blends SS/SIM figures and other projections and modifies them subjectively by playing time; as such, they're even more volatile than lists at other positions would be. Especially towards the end of the draft, we recommend paying attention to noises about playing time and evaluating accordingly; it's good to check Google News or a similar reader on any pitcher you're about to draft, to get a sense of where they fall in the pen. Even having a job is no sure sign you should draft a player; just the sign that a player is competing for a position suggests that they are fungible due to perceived performance or contract status. Despite this, you'll probably experience the pain at some point of drafting somebody only to see them cut the second week of April.
There are only a few situations where a bullpen can truly be an asset for your scoresheet team. The ancient masters teach of a strategy known as Bullpen of Doom, wherein several useful picks in the middle of the draft are dedicated to relievers, typically while elite closers and setup men are available for the plucking. An owner with most of his starting lineup can choose, then, to sacrifice depth on offense or in the rotation to build a formidable bullpen that’s capable of locking down leads on a regular basis. It’s a dangerous strategy to attempt because relievers are volatile creatures and depth is critical to avoid seeing “AAA” show up on your weekly results, but when well executed—especially on a team that gets lucky with health—it can propel a team well beyond expected Pythagorean win-loss records by closing out and winning more than your share of close contests.
Because of pitcher volatility, it's difficult to find "sleepers" in the relief draft. We'd never recommend traditional relief prospects. We like C.C. Lee or C.J. Riefenhauser, too, it's just that we can find the same value in a supplemental draft during the season. Better still is speculating on major league relievers in hopes that they find solid footing in the bullpen. Brad Boxberger and Heath Hembree were pushed down our rankings a little because they're competing with others for a bullpen job; they have the most talent in the competition, so it's worth a late round speculation pick, especially if sources say they may have a spot locked up when you do draft them in a few weeks. You may also want to bet on health risks such as Jason Motte or Jonny Venters. Losing a third of a season for a non-keeper is difficult enough to sink them down our lists, but if you're a near-lock playoff team, you may want to draft these guys late with September in mind. More traditional sleepers include Robbie Ross and Vic Black. While their youth would ordinarily scare us off them, they each are in pretty good situations and have upside potential. Lastly, you may want to mine the Rule Five Draft, either late in the game or in the first supplemental. The Rule Five Draft exposes players to the majors before they're ready, but it shackles them to the major league roster. These players, no matter how bad, are better than Pitcher AAA. This year, there are a couple of interesting candidates. Marcos Mateo is an older player who may have found himself after an injury, and could be on the road to breaking out with the Diamondbacks. Patrick Schuster is looking to stick as the last man in the Padres bullpen, which is always the source of a great home ERA. Either could be a fine end-game pick.
We also want to briefly touch on back-end starters. In case you missed it, check out last week’s article on starting pitchers and the accompanying podcast. We also wanted to point you to the PITCHf/x leaderboards here at BP. They are an invaluable resource for digging deeper into pitches and projecting what might happen this season. We talk about them a little on this week’s podcast and we’ll no doubt return to them again and again.
As we mentioned, you want to take many SPs, probably more than you think are necessary. Pitchers get hurt, break down, or turn ineffective with such frequency that you want to make sure you have your innings covered. With some luck, however, that means you’ll have more starting pitchers racking up innings than you can fit in your rotation. You can shunt those pitchers into the bullpen for long relief and mopup duty, just like a real big league manager, only without having to deal with anyone’s feelings. As a present for reading the whole article, here are a few more names to consider.
Jon Niese is under appreciated as a back end option for a Scoresheet rotation. Amongst pitchers that are reasonably ranked outside the top 100 at the start of the year, few pitchers seem as likely to break into your playoff rotation. After posting two straight years of quality run prevention, Niese is poised to establish himself as a pitcher expected to reliably throw at least 180 innings of 3.60 ERA or better.
It's beginning to appear that Jenrry Mejia is going to dubiously fall out of the rotation in favor of Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan, but Mejia is the one to speculate on, especially for teams not expecting to contend this year. Mejia is trying to thread a tricky needle, establishing himself before star prospects Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard (among others) are ready to take a spot in the Mets' rotation, but the upside he demonstrated at the end of 2013 is worth a pick, especially when the downside is a likely setup-level reliever.
He’s got many warning flags, but that just means you might be able to pick up Drew Pomeranz at a bargain. Most projection systems have him comparable to Jeremy Hellickson, who is likely to go way earlier in your draft. If Pomeranz can land a rotation spot, maybe he can figure things out for good and live up to those projections. Good teams trading him away is worrisome, but good teams trading for him is less so.