A closer look at the players who've stood out on the bump and at the plate of late.
Fantasy baseball necessitates relying on small sample sizes for day-to-day or week-to-week decisions, despite the recognition that it’s not desirable. I’ve written about that phenomenon in this space before. It means fantasy owners must take a gamble that some short samples are real, as the strategy of fantasy baseball doesn’t allow long-term trends to develop before acting. Players simply aren’t available long enough for a wait-and-see approach.
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Examining a handful of relievers who could have considerable fantasy value even if they don't close.
Any time is a good time to check in on reliever leaderboards to try and spot a couple loose canons for hire off the ol' Waiver Wire, but I've always tended to gravitate towards this particular time of year for a more in-depth stock check. We've got a nice combination of half-season performance from some of the older-hat options along with some dynamic recent recalls sprinkled in, so it's a particularly fertile opportunity to add ratio support to your bullpen before the final push to most trading deadlines begins. The PITCHf/x leaderboards have glorious hallways in which to wander searching for sound investments, and to that end here's a sample of four relievers who've caught my eye as potential second-half assets in formats that value bullpen arms for one reason or another.
You might be better off letting someone else draft or buy these closers in your leagues this spring.
A bad hitter who bombs stings, but will likely stay in the lineup and give your fantasy team something. A bad closer will lose almost all of his value once he starts getting saves. Here are some relievers who run the risk of being that kind of pitcher in fantasy baseball.
Brad Boxberger, Rays
Boxberger is currently the 16th reliever coming off of the board in NFBC drafts, and the Rays reliever strikes me as the leading candidate among the top 20 to lose his closing job for performance-related reasons in 2016. Boxberger’s earnings in 2015 were masked by his shiny 41-save output, which was good for fourth overall. After putting together a sparkling 2014 season in which he struck out 42.1 percent of opposing hitters and held them to a .152 batting average against, Boxberger struggled with his command virtually all of the 2015 season, seeing his strikeout rate dip nearly 15 points to just over 27 percent and allowing baserunners by the truckload, as evidenced by his 1.37 WHIP. Boxberger’s high-wire act led to a 3.73 ERA, which could have actually been worse, as his 4.23 FIP and 4.63 DRA would suggest. Boxberger’s velocity dropped slightly in 2015, but along with the increase in his walk rate (just over eight percent in 2014 to almost 12 percent in 2015), he also saw his line-drive rate jump to a career-worst 21.3 percent (up from 16.7 percent in 2014) and watched his groundball rate tumble to 36.3 percent—also a career low.
Stacking up the bullpenners based on their values through the end of the 2018 season.
J.J. Jansons and I are taking turns doing the three-year rankings, and we’ve arrived at the last installment, relief pitchers. In case you missed any of the previous positions, you have some catching up to do:
Breaking down the bullpenners into fantasy-value-based bins.
It’s everyone’s favorite time of year! It’s when we rank fantasy relievers, with the full understanding that approximately one-fourth of closers will lose their jobs prior to the end of the season, so we can look back at this list in October and have a guffaw.
Saves are nice, but which relievers are worth circling on your draft sheets in leagues that count holds?
Imagine, being able to be magically whisked away to… Reliever Week! Hi… it’s… Reliever Week…
As another wise man from another 80s cult classic once said, no matter where you go, there you are. And, indeed, here we are in middle of everybody’s favorite week of the positional series. I guess I’ll start by reiterating a couple things I said in this very column last year: I wholeheartedly endorse the strategy of deploying multiple middle men in a given week to help balance out your back-of-the-rotation ratios, but I believe that attempting to project middle reliever performance pre-season is largely a fool’s errand, and there are more than enough pop-up arms in the course of a given spring to snag a couple with early FAAB dollars and go on about your business that way. Sure, there are a couple elite options who’ve proven durable and effective in the middle innings over multiple seasons (hello, Dellin Betances and Darren O’Day). But for every one of those there are a good half-dozen or more guys like Will Harris or Kevin Siegrist every year who go completely undrafted in virtually every format, then go on to post $10 or $11 seasons (as those two did last year, respectively). Joe Blanton? Yeah, he put up eight bucks last year. Think about him when your finger is hovering over the “DRAFT” button next to the picture of Setup Man X’s inevitably-goateed mug.
Our staff believes these bullpen arms could provide nice value on draft or auction day.
Given the risk with relief pitchers, you don’t want to draft a closer who will combust this year. Additionally, there are some nice sleepers out there who could emerge and grab the closer job at some point in 2016. Here are some relief targets for you to consider.
Cody Allen, Indians
There isn’t much disagreement about the top tier of relievers entering 2016. With Aroldis Chapman faded because of the 30-game suspension, Wade Davis, Craig Kimbrel, and Kenley Jansen are the consensus top three. It gets pretty murky from there, with another seven closers being selected between the 88th and 104th picks, according to NFBC ADP data. On the one hand, it’s not terribly instructive to quibble with ordering when the second tier is so tightly clustered; on the other, it’s difficult to understand why Cody Allen is the last name inside the top 10.
All you need to know about the senior circuit's high-leverage bullpen arms.
I wrote this article thinking that deep-league NL-only roto players already know who is closing for each team. I will mention the closer for each team as a reference, but I’ll spend more time talking about the non-closers in each bullpen.