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The Risers

Edwin Diaz, RP, Seattle Mariners

The young Mariners righty was one of my favorites this season, striking out tons of batters after his call-up in June before taking over closing duties in Seattle in August. While the saves he’ll get as the Mariners closer will be valuable in roto, the closer’s role might actually tamp down his strikeout totals, restricting his usage primarily to save situations and keeping him around 65 innings in 2017 rather than the 75-80 innings he might throw in a setup role. His 15.3 K/9 means he’ll pick up copious amounts of strikeouts regardless of his usage patterns, but he’d post more innings and more strikeouts if the Mariners used him more like Andrew Miller and less like Cody Allen.

Chris Archer, SP, Tampa Bay Rays

Yes, his 2016 season was a fantasy disappointment overall, mostly due to the rough rate stats he posted in the first half. His 4.66 ERA and 1.44 WHIP before the All Star break ruined the season for a lot of roto rotations, making it easy to miss his 3.25 ERA and 1.01 WHIP after the All Star break. He still brought the strikeouts, though, fanning 233 over 201.3 innings, good enough to tie Chris Sale for second in the AL behind Justin Verlander. His 10.4 K/9 was higher than Sale’s or Verlander’s, too. If he hadn’t pitched poorly enough to get pulled early from several starts in the first half, he might have been able to throw enough innings to challenge Verlander for the AL crown. The 28-year-old is reportedly on the trading block, so it’s not clear which team will be playing behind him while he racks up the strikeouts in 2017. If he can avoid the disaster starts that plagued him in 2016, he might be able to rack up enough innings to threaten the 250-strikeout mark wherever he pitches.

Hector Neris, RP, Philadelphia Phillies

Hector Neris developed a splitter last season and ended up throwing it nearly half the time. In the process, he turned from a fungible bullpen arm into a dominant reliever. He threw 80.3 innings, more than a closer’s share, which when combined with his stellar 11.4 K/9 allowed him to cross the century mark in strikeouts with 102. One of only seven relievers to strike out 100 batters of more in 2016, the 27-year-old is expected to be in the mix for the closer’s role in Philadelphia in 2017. Like Edwin Diaz, earning the closer’s role could have a negative impact on his strikeout total, as setup men are likely to throw more innings than closers in a traditional bullpen arrangement. And like Diaz, Neris should strike out batters at a high enough clip to guarantee good value regardless of his role.

The Interesting Cases

Drew Pomeranz, SP, Boston Red Sox

Drew Pomeranz has improved his K/9 each year in the majors, going from 6.4 in 2011 to 7.7 in 2012, 7.9 in 2013, 8.4 in 2014, 8.6 in 2015, and 9.8 in 2016. He was traded during the season from San Diego to Boston, going from one of the most pitcher friendly home parks in baseball to one of the least. He provided a lot of strikeout value last year in roto, but there are a lot of question marks heading into 2017. Is his newly established level of performance sustainable? How much will the move from the NL West and Petco Park to the AL East and Fenway Park impact his numbers? Will he hold up physically after throwing 170.7 innings in 2016, the first time in his six-year major league career that he managed to throw even 100 innings? The strikeout potential is there, but the 28-year-old lefty is far from a sure thing.

Brad Hand, RP, San Diego Padres

Before last season, Brad Hand’s career high K/9 was 7.4, set way back in 2012 in only 3.7 innings. In 2016, the lefty posted an 11.2 K/9, blowing away his previously established level of performance. He also threw 89.3 innings out of the bullpen for San Diego, more than most of the relievers you’ll find at the end of the draft or auction in deep leagues. That terrific K/9 combined with the high innings total allowed him to reach triple digits in Ks, his 111 strikeouts trailing only Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Kyle Barraclough. If Hand can carry his new level of performance into 2017 and if the Padres deploy him as often as they did last season, he could threaten the 100-strikeout mark again. Those are two big ifs, however.

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