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March 7, 2014

TTO Scoresheet Podcast

Relief Pitchers

by Ian Lefkowitz, Ben Murphy and Jared Weiss

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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.

Rank

Age

Team

Player

1

26

ATL

Craig Kimbrel

2

26

CIN

Aroldis Chapman

3

26

LAN

Kenley Jansen

4

39

BOS

Koji Uehara

5

28

KCA

Greg Holland

6

24

SLN

Trevor Rosenthal

7

31

SFN

Sergio Romo

8

36

SDN

Joaquin Benoit

9

29

NYA

David Robertson

10

29

PIT

Mark Melancon

11

37

PIT

Jason Grilli

12

29

WAS

Tyler Clippard

13

39

DET

Joe Nathan

14

31

CIN

Sean Marshall

15

33

PHI

Jonathan Papelbon

16

23

LAN

Paco Rodriguez

17

27

OAK

Sean Doolittle

18

24

KCA

Kelvin Herrera

19

31

MIN

Glen Perkins

20

27

TBA

Jake McGee

21

28

MIA

Steve Cishek

22

32

TOR

Casey Janssen

23

28

ANA

Ernesto Frieri

24

26

ATL

Jordan Walden

25

25

ARI

Addison Reed

26

Grant Balfour

27

27

SEA

Danny Farquhar

28

30

SDN

Huston Street

29

31

OAK

Jim Johnson

30

27

OAK

Ryan Cook

31

37

ARI

J.J. Putz

32

31

BAL

Darren O'Day

33

28

PHI

Antonio Bastardo

34

32

LAN

Brian Wilson

35

23

MIA

Carter Capps

36

30

OAK

Luke Gregerson

37

38

TBA

Joel Peralta

38

27

TOR

Brett Cecil

39

25

CLE

Cody Allen

40

26

COL

Rex Brothers

41

28

BOS

Junichi Tazawa

42

29

NYN

Bobby Parnell

43

34

ARI

Brad Ziegler

44

29

PIT

Tony Watson

45

34

WAS

Rafael Soriano

46

28

SEA

Charlie Furbush

47

Fernando Rodney

48

26

CIN

J.J. Hoover

49

24

StL

Kevin Siegrist

50

27

MIA

A.J. Ramos

51

30

WAS

Craig Stammen

52

30

CIN

Sam LeCure

53

28

ARI

Josh Collmenter

54

25

TEX

Robbie Ross

55

34

TEX

Neal Cotts

56

28

ATL

David Carpenter

57

30

ANA

Joe Smith

58

33

SDN

Dale Thayer

59

29

ARI

Will Harris

60

26

TEX

Neftali Feliz

61

31

MIL

Jim Henderson

62

26

PIT

Justin Wilson

63

26

TBA

Alex Torres

64

28

KCA

Louis Coleman

65

Francisco Rodriguez

66

25

StL

Seth Maness

67

30

TOR

Steve Delabar

68

24

KCA

Tim Collins

69

29

MIA

Mike Dunn

70

29

CHN

Pedro Strop

71

28

ATL

Cory Gearrin

72

32

SLN

Jason Motte

73

26

WAS

Drew Storen

74

33

CHN

Jose Veras

75

27

BAL

Tommy Hunter

76

30

CIN

Jonathan Broxton

77

29

ARI

David Hernandez

78

31

ANA

Dane De La Rosa

79

35

SFN

Jeremy Affeldt

80

30

TEX

Joakim Soria

81

29

MIL

Brandon Kintzler

82

31

LAN

J.P. Howell

83

29

SFN

George Kontos

84

26

CLE

Bryan Shaw

85

33

SFN

Santiago Casilla

86

24

ATL

Luis Avilan

87

25

LAN

Chris Withrow

88

27

PIT

Vin Mazzaro

89

29

OAK

Dan Otero

90

30

TOR

Sergio Santos

91

26

NYN

Vic Black

92

28

DET

Al Alburquerque

93

30

MIN

Casey Fien

94

36

TBA

Heath Bell

95

31

CIN

Manny Parra

96

32

ARI

Joe Thatcher

97

38

CHA

Scott Downs

98

27

BAL

Brian Matusz

99

27

TEX

Tanner Scheppers

100

33

MIN

Jared Burton

101

36

SFN

Javier Lopez

102

31

CLE

John Axford

103

29

TBA

Brandon Gomes

104

28

CHA

Nate Jones

105

34

COL

Matt Belisle

106

30

NYA

Shawn Kelley

107

26

SDN

Brad Boxberger

108

26

TOR

Aaron Loup

109

30

WAS

Jerry Blevins

110

27

KCA

Aaron Crow

111

29

CLE

Vinnie Pestano

112

31

MIL

Tom Gorzelanny

113

23

DET

Bruce Rondon

114

35

PHI

Mike Adams

115

33

CIN

Alfredo Simon

116

38

SLN

Randy Choate

117

30

BOS

Edward Mujica

118

33

BOS

Craig Breslow

119

31

ANA

Sean Burnett

120

28

LAN

Chris Perez

121

31

LAN

Brandon League

122

27

SDN

Nick Vincent

123

37

NYA

Matt Thornton

124

32

SFN

Jean Machi

125

32

SDN

Tim Stauffer

126

29

COL

Boone Logan

127

29

ANA

Fernando Salas

128

39

LAN

Jamey Wright

129

29

BOS

Andrew Miller

130

28

CHN

James Russell

131

25

SFN

Heath Hembree

132

28

PIT

Jared Hughes

133

28

OAK

Evan Scribner

134

36

TEX

Jason Frasor

135

32

NYN

Scott Rice

136

30

SEA

Tom Wilhelmsen

137

41

COL

LaTroy Hawkins

138

Carlos Marmol

139

30

Ari

Marcos Mateo

140

27

MIA

Dan Jennings

141

27

PHI

Jake Diekman

142

30

COL

Wilton Lopez

143

28

ChN

Blake Parker

144

29

PHI

Brad Lincoln

145

26

PIT

Jeanmar Gomez

146

23

CHN

Arodys Vizcaino

147

26

PHI

Justin De Fratus

148

30

OAK

Jesse Chavez

149

34

CHA

Matt Lindstrom

150

29

ATL

Anthony Varvaro

151

28

DET

Joba Chamberlain

152

28

CLE

Marc Rzepczynski

153

28

MIN

Anthony Swarzak

154

26

CHN

Hector Rondon

155

29

CHN

Wesley Wright

156

31

MIN

Brian Duensing

157

29

ANA

Kevin Jepsen

158

28

BAL

Ryan Webb

159

31

CHA

Ronald Belisario

160

25

Sea

Yoervis Medina

161

27

PIT

Bryan Morris

162

27

Was

Xavier Cedeno

163

29

CIN

Logan Ondrusek

164

31

BOS

Burke Badenhop

165

Ryan Madson

166

23

DET

Ian Krol

167

35

HOU

Chad Qualls

168

28

CLE

Nick Hagadone

169

28

COL

Adam Ottavino

170

28

ANA

Michael Kohn

171

26

NYN

Gonzalez Germen

172

27

Min

Caleb Thielbar

173

28

HOU

Josh Fields

174

30

TBA

Cesar Ramos

175

23

SDN

Patrick Schuster

176

28

HOU

Chia-Jen Lo

177

32

HOU

Jesse Crain

178

29

CHA

Donnie Veal

179

28

Mil

Rob Wooten

180

30

WAS

Ryan Mattheus

181

26

TEX

Cory Burns

182

24

ChA

Daniel Webb

183

28

PHI

Jeremy Horst

184

29

ATL

Jonny Venters

185

28

BAL

Troy Patton

186

26

NYA

Preston Claiborne

187

28

WAS

Christian Garcia

188

30

TBA

Juan Oviedo

189

29

CLE

Josh Outman

190

28

BAL

Brad Brach

191

27

PHI

Michael Stutes

192

28

DET

Evan Reed

193

26

HOU

Kevin Chapman

194

32

TOR

Dustin McGowan

195

24

Min

Michael Tonkin

196

27

SEA

Lucas Luetge

197

30

TOR

Neil Wagner

198

27

NYN

Josh Edgin

199

29

Oak

Eric O'Flaherty

200

31

DET

Coke,Phil*

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.

Also, because middle-relief pitchers tend to be volatile, this is one position where we don't recommend angling for an edge in performance. The primary factor for our relief depth is the ability to take the ball throughout the year in a major league bullpen. We tend to choose from the thinner bullpens, look for veterans who have burned through their options, and even go for the shinier names, which sounds like the most novice mistake you can make in other leagues and formats. Here, though, reputation goes a long way to surviving a 6.50 ERA in April to pitch another month. Joe Smith and Dane De La Rosa have very similar projections in PECOTA, for example, but Smith has the high profile name and the huge contract, and De La Rosa was recently pulled from the Indie leagues and cut by the Rays before finally establishing himself in 2013. When push comes to shove, it's De La Rosa who'd lose his job first in any bullpen shuffle, even if you expect the same performance from both pitchers over the long haul.

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.

To follow the TTO Podcast, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher, or follow @TTOScoresheet for more.

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6 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

John Carter

I have long advocated keeping a reliever or two who qualifies as a starter. Over the years, there have been fewer and fewer pitchers of that type. Whether it is because Scoresheet's Barton brothers have been stricter about it or the Major League pitchers have more tightly defined roles (or both) is besides the point. This year the American League is down to one really good 100% healthy such reliever - and he plays for San Diego: Alex Torres. You have Torres ranked 63rd, which makes sense strictly as a reliever. But, with starter status, he was drafted as a top 15 reliever (top 7 in the A.L.) in both of my leagues - round 19. I am wondering if that is worth bumping Torres that far up. Perhaps, these teams plan on using him as a 5th starter and use their real 5th starter as a mop up man.

Mar 08, 2014 09:56 AM
rating: -1
 
IanLefk
(85)

A good point. We talked about this on the podcast somewhat. It's never a strategy that we've pursued, and I feel as though the spring draft is a difficult time to implement it. I'm sure you know this, but by the time the supplemental picks roll around, it's more likely for good relievers to have starter eligibility, even in deep leagues. Then, you also have to draft a bunch of relievers or 6th starter types to eat the innings--again, it's doable, but I'm not usually comfortable coming out of the gate with this strategy.

With Torres specifically, it's hard for me to shake seeing him get battered around the ballpark yesterday. He's likely to be great, but with those occasional control issues, he's no sure thing to repeat his value even in PETCO. I'm not sure I'm comfortable building a draft strategy that's reliant on one player who isn't a star. As you implied, in the NL, where you have Carlos Martinez, Will Smith, Chris Withrow, Josh Collmenter, and Casey Kelly, it's easier. I'm sure you've noticed Neftali Feliz, but let me also recommend Jesse Chavez as a deep sleeper if you're pursuing this strategy, I like the odds he shaves half a run off his ERA this year.

Mar 08, 2014 11:28 AM
rating: 0
 
steve008

TTO Scoresheet is the only podcast that I listen to. Great job guys.

Mar 08, 2014 14:41 PM
rating: 0
 
doublesteel

Gents, your March 7th TTO SS podcast focused on relievers was quite useful to me in a year when I was Flat-Stanley-thin on picks, and I'm still studying your rankings against other indicators to weigh options at the tail end of my AL-only draft. The way you looked at thinner pens, whether guys are out of options, and that kind of thing for SS ranking purposes, with an eye to how those factors influence the oh-so-crucial IP counts, was outstanding. And it was fun to realize that one of you did Buddy Groom a favor by helping his wife avoid the embarrassment of failing to sell his cleats at that silent auction (for, as you put it, a steal of an opening bid). And, as I see he's left a comment here, I might as well thank John Carter for the great tips he shares with us on his Scoresheetwiz page.

Mar 20, 2014 01:01 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Thanks.

It's at: www.scoresheetwiz.com

Mar 20, 2014 10:15 AM
rating: 0
 
MaineSkin

It looks like Gonzalez Germen is now setting up Parnell who I think is broken. What's his success as a closer?

Mar 27, 2014 00:59 AM
rating: 0
 
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