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As the positional series comes to a close this week with relief pitchers, we’re changing up the format for the –Only Landscape pieces. Instead of looking at the closers, all of which will have value in “only” leagues, Keith Cromer and I decided it would be best to examine each team carefully and identify interesting deep targets that aren’t in line for saves right away. This was originally Keith’s brainchild, so if there’s credit, I’ll humbly accept, and if there’s blame, well, you know where to find Keith. Kidding aside, if this does go awry, Bret, (to paraphrase Animal House) you screwed up, you trusted us.

Baltimore Orioles: Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter
Despite being a setup man, O’Day is one of the best relievers in all of baseball. Over the last three seasons, he’s seventh among relievers (min. 150 innings) in ERA (2.05) and sixth in WHIP (0.94). He tied Andrew Miller and Brad Boxberger for the second highest earnings among non-closing relievers in standard 5×5 AL-Only leagues last year with $15, according to valuation expert Mike Gianella. He’s worth owning for the ratios alone, but he also makes for solid Zach Britton insurance because the Orioles don’t have many other options in the bullpen. They tried making Hunter the closer last year and it backfired in May when he allowed eight earned runs and 18 baserunners over 10 games. His ERA was 9.39 for the month, but he recovered to post a 1.83 ERA in 44 and 1/3 innings while in a lower-leverage role over the last four months of the season.

Boston Red Sox: Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica, Alexi Ogando
Tazawa’s ERA has fluctuated over the past three years, he’s posted a 25 percent strikeout rate and 1.19 WHIP over the last two. That solid production makes him the best non-Koji right-hander in the Boston bullpen. Edward Mujica isn’t much to beat out as he struggled mightily at the outset of last season allowing 10 earned runs in nine April innings before being banished to low-leverage innings. You can’t completely forget about Mujica, though, as he still has closing experience from the 37 saves he picked up in 2013 with St. Louis and he finished last year nicely with a 1.71 ERA in August and September. Alexi Ogando barely pitched last year due to an elbow injury, but if he’s healthy he has the potential to repeat his 2012, when he was used out of the bullpen almost exclusively and put up a 3.27 ERA with as many strikeouts as innings pitched.

Chicago White Sox: Jesse Crain, Nate Jones, Jake Petricka
This group contains a bunch of ifs and not much production, which is why GM Rick Hahn signed Proven Closer™ David Robertson over the offseason. If Jesse Crain and Nate Jones are healthy, maybe this is the year owners actually get something out of them, though it feels like both have been on the mend for years now. Jake Petricka picked up 14 saves last year as part of the revolving-door approach to the closer role last year, but he’s nothing special as a sinkerball pitcher without command or good secondary pitches.

Cleveland Indians: Bryan Shaw, Scott Atchison, Kyle Crockett
While Shaw might be overlooked because he’s the Indians’ setup man, he’s quietly been one of the best relievers in baseball for the last two seasons. In that time, Shaw’s 1.13 WHIP is 20th among all relievers (min. 120 innings). He earned $10 in standard 5×5 AL-Only leagues last year. Atchison’s entering his age-39 season, but he’s not done yet. He set career-highs in appearances with 70 and innings with 72 last year, not to mention the six wins, 49 strikeouts, and 2.75 ERA. You can do worse for $1. Crockett has a funky delivery and is especially tough on left-handed hitters as he held them to a .190 TAv while he was in the majors last year. He’s just a lefty specialist, but he’s a good one.

Detroit Tigers: Joakim Soria, Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque, Alex Wilson
Even though his brief time in Detroit was nothing short of a disaster, Soria still has the best track record of recent success in this bullpen. Alburquerque was due to have a season like last year once he stopped walking so many batters. After three seasons with a walk rate above 15 percent, he lowered it to nine percent last year and lowered his WHIP to 1.17. His combination of velocity and a wipeout slider has led to striking out over a quarter of the batters he’s faced each of the last two years. With his newfound control, he has a fairly solid floor for a middle reliever, but he’s unlikely to see high-leverage innings because of his manager. Rondon is coming back from having Tommy John surgery last March, and while there’s a vast range of outcomes for him this year, expect the Tigers to give him plenty of opportunities. Alex Wilson will have to fight to make the team out of spring training, but he was decent in limited time with the Red Sox last year.

Houston Astros: Chad Qualls, Pat Neshek, Josh Fields, Tony Sipp
Even with Qualls’ 19 saves to just his four, Sipp posted higher earnings in standard 5×5 AL-Only leagues last year ($10-$9) thanks to a career-best 0.88 WHIP and 63 strikeouts. Fields’ 2.09 FIP was 10th in all of baseball last year among relievers (min. 50 innings), but he posted an ERA above 4.00 thanks in large part to his 60 percent strand rate and .343 BABIP. Even with all of that bad luck, Fields was able to manage a 1.23 WHIP and he could do much better than that if his BABIP allowed normalizes. Neshek dominates right-handed hitters, holding them to a .178 TAv last year. Last year was a career year for Neshek and he was rewarded with a $12.5 million contract; he’s a solid setup man.

Kansas City Royals: Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar
Davis was on the New God Flow last year, earning $20 in standard 5×5 AL-Only leagues. In addition to his outstanding 0.84 WHIP, 1.00 ERA, and 109 strikeouts, he also had nine wins. Davis was the best reliever in all of baseball and while it’s tough to swallow paying for non-closer relievers, he’s worth it. Davis might not win nine games again, but the ratios and strikeouts are going to be there. Herrera is a great third wheel to have in the bullpen as he earned $10 in standard 5×5 AL-Only leagues last year. Just maybe don’t let him bat in the World Series. Hochevar is a guy to keep on the watch list as he returns from Tommy John surgery.

Minnesota Twins: Casey Fien
Fien has been an above-average reliever since coming to the Twins in 2012. In 160 and 1/3 innings over the last three years, he’s had an ERA+ of 115 and K:UIBB ratio of 156-to-24. His 1.09 WHIP over the last two years puts him 18th in all of baseball among relievers (min. 120 innings). Fien’s FIPs have been below 3.50 each of the last two years, but his ERAs have been above 3.90 because his strand rates have failed to top 70 percent. With some luck, he could lower his ERA drastically.

New York Yankees: Andrew Miller, Adam Warren, David Carpenter
Assuming Dellin Betances is the Yankees’ closer, Miller is one of the best non-closers in all of baseball. He held batters from both sides of the plate to a sub-.200 TAv last year on his way to earning $15 in standard 5×5 AL-Only leagues. Warren was a pleasant surprise for the Yankees as he upped his strikeout rate and cut into his walk rate last year. He was much better against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .220 TAv and his 2.92 FIP backs up the 2.97 ERA. Carpenter has posted FIPs of 2.94 and 2.83 the last two years and is a good bet for around 70 strikeouts.

Oakland Athletics: Tyler Clippard, Ryan Cook, Dan Otero
Clippard is a strikeout machine who’s very tough to hit as each of the last four seasons his strikeout rate has been above 25 percent and his AVG allowed has been below .200. He’ll get the first chance at filling in for Sean Doolittle in the closer’s role. Cook will look to regain his ’12-13 form this year after starting last season on the disabled list and showing diminished stuff. Otero is merely a sinkerball pitcher, but he eats up innings with solid ratios and managed to win eight games last year.

Seattle Mariners: Danny Farquhar, Tom Wilhelmsen, Yoervis Medina
It wasn’t that long ago that Wilhelmsen was the Mariners’ closer, but he rebounded nicely in a set-up role last year. He introduced a cutter and held left-handed hitters to a .199 TAv. Wilhelmsen will continue to have value in AL-Only leagues if the gains he displayed hold. Farquhar is the eighth inning guy and would likely take over for Fernando Rodney if needed. He has a 30 percent strikeout rate since coming to Seattle in 2013 to go along with solid ratios. Medina has a power arm and a good sinker, but he still walks too many batters.

Tampa Bay Rays: Brad Boxberger
What’s in the Box?! Well, last year it was a $15 reliever in standard 5×5 AL-Only leagues. He made adjustments with Rays’ pitching coach Jim Hickey and dominated left-handed hitters, holding them to a .161 TAv. He had a ridiculous 42 percent strikeout rate and fanned 104 batters last year. He’s in the same tier as Wade Davis and Andrew Miller as the best AL non-closers.

Texas Rangers: Tanner Scheppers, Shawn Tolleson
Believe it or not, but Tolleson was tied with Neftali Feliz for the second highest earnings of any Rangers pitcher in standard 5×5 AL-Only leagues last year with $8. He had an 87 percent strand rate to thank for outpitching his 4.23 FIP as he posted a 2.76 ERA. There aren’t many other options in the Texas bullpen, though, and he was a decent source of strikeouts as he set down 69 batters on strikes last year. Scheppers is coming back from elbow inflammation, but if healthy he’s the one to own in this bullpen.

Toronto Blue Jays: Aaron Loup, Steve Delabar
Loup is better against left-handed hitters as he held them to a .195 TAv last year, but he’s not just a lefty specialist. He led the Blue Jays with 71 appearances in 2014, and it’s not uncommon to see him pitch multiple innings. Delabar’s control betrayed him and he logged more innings in Triple-A than in the majors last year, but it was just two years ago that he made the All-Star team. If he were to bounce back, he could be a major weapon in the eighth inning.

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BERSMR
3/04
I've been reading a number of articles recently mentioning that Josh Fields was unlucky last year. While that is one possible explanation, a closer look offer the alternate hypothesis that he was either injured or suffered mechanical breakdowns during two brief periods of the season, with how likely those situations are to recur having a lot to say about his outlook for this season.

Fields did well the first few weeks of last year, and then between April 23 and May 6 he pitched in 5 games, managing 3 innings pitched, 14 hits allowed, 14 earned runs, 3 walks and 4 ks. He was sent to the minors at that point and upon returning approximately 10 days later, pitched well all the way until August 7 when he put up another clunker 5 game stretch: innings pitched, 9 hits, 8 earned runs, 5 walks and 5 strikeouts.

Other than those two stretches he was brilliant throughout last seasonr-- 47 2/3 IP, 27 hits, 5 earned runs, 9 walks and 61 strikeouts. Although, other than that nasty incident at the end, I hear that Ms. Lincoln really enjoyed the play.

Okay, maybe I am falling into a fallacy of trying to ascribe meaning to events that were luck driven, that Brock Holt was "really" a better player during his hot streaks last year than during the rest of the season, but I don't think so. If it was just bad luck, why would it all have been so concentrated into these two periods where he seemingly couldn't get anyone out and his peripheral stats were so much worse than the rest of the season. I don't know what was wrong during those periods, but it sure seems like something had to be.

I don't know if this makes me want him more or less, but in any event this is how it happened.
bhalpern
3/04
That sounds a lot like Jim Johnson's 2013. 12 ER in 6 games from May 14-26, then 4 straight with 1 ER each from Aug 9-16. 7 ER the rest of the season.
ChiSoxWS2005
3/04
No love for the Angels?
NShlain
3/04
D'oh. That's my bad, I actually like their bullpen too.
jonathanroman
3/09
So who should be added from the angels? ?
NShlain
3/11
Joe Smith and Michael Morin
mlsgrad99
3/04
Thanks for this. Makes hunting for potential saves at the end of an AL-only draft a little easier.
pigbird
3/07
I really appreciate this post. I'm in a 10-team AL only league. I'm thinking of going with 6 starters, 1 good closer, and two excellent non-closers.

By spending $1 each on the two non-closer relievers, I get cheap help with the ratios and a pile of extra cash to spend on the 6 starters and my hitters. I'd also hope to get another closer, either by promotion of one of my guys or off of waivers.

Any thoughts on whether this is a viable strategy?
NShlain
3/11
It's a potentially viable strategy, just stick to $1 on those non-closer relievers, you don't want to be paying for those guys. Also be ready to pick up starters on the waiver wire during the season, you'll want to mix and match during the season so you don't fall behind in K and W.