We are finally getting some baseball as teams are beginning their Spring Training this week. As we await the start of the regular season, there is no better way to close out The Fantasy Six Pack position previews than to take a look at the relief pitchers and the strategy behind drafting them.
There is a case to be made for and against any closer, but as a group, there is generally more stability and consistency and high-end value at the other positions. Taking a closer early means passing up on players who are in a better position to help your fantasy team. There are very few worth taking early and too much of their production relies on several factors such as talent, job security, managerial tendencies, and track record.
When you are drafting your fantasy team, your goal should be to take the best deal at each position. The biggest problem is that the majority of owners do not plan how to draft closers. This causes owner to panic, reach and overdraft closers all the time in drafts.
To assist you to be patient and not to panic during your fantasy baseball drafts, here is a game plan on the dos and don’ts in drafting your relief pitchers for the 2017 season.
2017 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview
How does the type of scoring- head-to-head vs. Roto-affect my draft strategy?
In head-to-head points leagues, I would want to draft my relief pitchers with my last picks of the draft. Closers only factor heavily in one category, saves. In a weekly matchup, the amount of innings and the impact that they will have on ERA and WHIP is very minimal. I understand that you will never get an elite closer using this strategy but you will have to trust that you will be able to find solid values down the draft board or on the waiver wire.
In points leagues, it doesn’t matter where the points and production from. In this format, I refused to pay for saves. I will need to be very savvy on the waiver wire especially in the first month or two of the season so I can grab an upcoming closer.
An example on how this strategy could succeed, the following relief pitchers were not their Opening Day closers for their respective teams in 2016:
- Sam Dyson, Texas Rangers: Finished with 38 saves and a 2.43 ERA.
- Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays: Finished with 37 saves and a 1.91 ERA.
- Seung Hwan Oh, St. Louis Cardinals: Finished with 19 saves and a 1.92 ERA.
On the other hand, in roto leagues, there are three elements that you must concentrate on to keep your team competitive:
I believe you have to draft at least two or even three late round closers on draft day, so you can avoid the in-season stress of the saves chase. You should be able to acquire saves easily enough without paying the price of the elite closers while targeting hitters and upper tier starters in the early rounds of the draft. It is hard to win a competitive roto league without grinding out some saves.
These pitchers will provide fewer innings but you can get great ratios and some cheap wins. Specifically, look for middle relievers with elite ERA, WHIP and a strong k/p.
Importance of rate stats
You need to focus your efforts in maintaining quality rate stats in ERA and WHIP.
This serves to remind all of the fantasy owners that before any draft to really get to know all of the rules of your specific league. It may change your draft strategy overall and certainly should direct you in specific picks throughout the draft.
Who Are These Dominant Closers That I Keep Hearing About?
If you wanted to be safe during the draft, you select a top-tier closer, a dependable, dominant in multiple categories closer that by selecting him and then waiting on a possible second or third RP later in the draft, you should be highly competitive in multiple categories. You should look to start drafting these top-tier closers in the seventh-eighth round.
Here are my nine dominant closers:
- Kenley Jansen, Dodgers: best in the biz, great ratios, tons of strikeouts.
- Aroldis Chapman, Yankees: dominant lefty who sported a 1.55 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 36 saves last season.
- Zach Britton, Orioles: ratios are on par with the top two but will not provide similar strikeout total.
- Mark Melancon, Giants: sub 3.00 ERA in three of last four seasons, dependable but limited in strikeout total.
- Edwin Diaz, Mariners: Stellar strikeout skills with a 2.79 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP last season.
- Roberto Osuna, Blue Jays: Solid ratios, strikeouts and save totals and has a ERA of 2.63 over his first two seasons.
- Seung Hwan Oh, Cardinals: Took over closer role during the summer and had an outstanding 1.92 ERA and 0.92 WHIP.
- Kelvin Herrera, Royals: Taking over the closer’s role this season; high strikeout guy.
- Cody Allen/Andrew Miller, Indians: BOTH are elite closers and shut the opposition down. Their roles cancel each other out for fantasy purposes, but it would be great to have either one.
Who Are The Top Starting Pitchers With Relief Pitcher Eligibility?
One guaranteed way to find hidden value in fantasy baseball is to find flexibility. If you can rely on a pitcher in multiple spots who are going to start every fifth day but can also be used as a reliever in formats, you can find immense value. Also, keep tabs on the number of starts that pitcher will have in a given week. Having someone in your RP slot who garners two starts in a given week gives you a potentially huge advantage.
Unfortunately, there are not many options but here are a few names to consider:
Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals
He is the stud of this category as he enjoyed career-bests in strikeout and walk rates as he finished with a 12-3 record and a 3.51 ERA. He is the Royals’ No. 1 starter and a top 20 pick in fantasy this season.
Mike Montgomery, Chicago Cubs
Montgomery is slated to be the fifth starter for the Cubs this season. He made just seven starts last season, but held his own, posting a 2.38 ERA and 1.178 WHIP with nearly a strikeout per inning.
Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles
Bundy showed flashes last season as to why he was a former No. 1 pitching prospect. He overcame injury issues to contribute in the starting rotation and finished with a 10-6 record and had 104 strikeouts in 109.1 innings. He will be interesting to watch this season especially if he can cut back on his homers (1.9 HR/9).
Other names to consider
Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks, Matt Andriese, Rays, Clayton Richard, Padres, David Phelps, Marlins, Jesse Chavez, Angels.
Player(s) On The Rise
Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals
Herrera will take over the Royals’ closer duties this season as Wade Davis got traded to the Cubs this offseason. He proved more than capable to take over the closer’s role while Davis was out with a forearm injury last season. Herrera converted 12 of 13 save opportunities and struck out batters at a 30.4 percent clip while putting up a 10.75 K/9 over 72 innings last season. He also reduced his walk rate by more than half, posting a 4.2 percent mark-down from 9.1 percent.
Currently, Herrera has an ADP of No. 13 among relief pitchers and I believe that is not high enough. Herrera is easily a top 10 closer and maybe even top 5 with his newly defined role and his continued development as a lights-out strikeout pitcher while also harnessing his control (1.50 BB/9).
Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
Edwin Diaz broke into the scene when he took over for Steve Cishek in August last season. He was dominant in his final two-plus months as the Mariners’ closer as he went 18-for-21 in save chances and ranked sixth in second-half K/9 (14.3). On the season, he finished with a 2.79 ERA and finished fourth among relievers with an 18.5 swinging-strike percentage.
Diaz is the real deal with electric stuff and will turn just 23 years old in March, his current consensus ADP at the relief pitcher position is No. 7. While I believe he will finish as a top 10 reliever, I also believe he will deliver numbers to vault him up a notch to a top five closer and top three is well within reach. Get him!!!
Player(s) On The Decline
Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
Good news about Kimbrel last season is that he converted 31 of 33 save chances. Now to the bad news, his 31 saves last season was the lowest amount of saves he has had in a season in his career, his 3.40 ERA last season was his first over a 2.58 ERA and he set career in losses (six) and walks per nine innings (5.1).
These are ominous signs for a pitcher on what looks likes a downward spiral in his status as an elite closer. He really struggled down the stretch last season as he surrendered six earned runs on three hits and issued nine walks over his last nine innings. There were rumblings within the Red Sox Nation that maybe they need to remove KImbrel from the closer’s role.
He had been mentioned as a top three closer before this past season. Currently, he has a consensus ADP of No.6 among relief pitchers. I would not touch him in the top 10!!! Kimbrel would be in my second tier of relief pitchers behind the likes of Cody Allen, Wade Davis, and Roberto Osuna.
The Red Sox are pretty excited about picking up one of the top breakout relievers of 2016 in Tyler Thornburg, and if Kimbrel’s struggles continue this season, and with the Red Sox built to win, I wouldn’t be surprised if Thornburg will be the reliever to own in Boston.
Huston Street, Anaheim Angels
Huston Street had a difficult and disappointing 2016 season, posting a 6.45 ERA, 1.93 WHIP and a 14/12 K/BB ratio over 22.3 innings while converting nine of his 12 save chances before undergoing season-ending knee surgery in August after missing five weeks earlier in the season with a strained oblique.
Assuming he is fully healthy coming into this season, Street is not guaranteed the closer role as he will have to battle Andrew Bailey and Cam Bedrosian for the Angels’ closer job in 2017.
Although he has had a track record of success as a closer as recently as the two previous seasons, which he recorded over 40 saves in each of those seasons. Street will be on a extremely small leash, and Bedrosian looks like the front-runner as he performed better than the rest of the bullpen last season. Please do not be the owner that pays for the recognizable name and drafts Huston Street.
Player(s) on the Horizon
Keone Kela, Texas Rangers
Kela missed a huge chunk of the 2016 season following right elbow surgery and wound up with a ugly 6.09 ERA. He came back late last season and could not find his groove and struggled.
Kela can help in the strikeout column as he has exhibited his strikeout ability (10.8 career K/9). While the Rangers do have closer candidates in Sam Dyson and Jeremy Jeffress, neither have really established themselves as the Rangers’ closer.
In 2015, he posted an outstanding 2.39 ERA and 68/18 K/BB ratio over 60 ⅓ innings for the Rangers. Look for Kela to establish a role in the bullpen and possibly given the opportunity to close due to injury and/or ineffectiveness to other candidates. Kela is definitely a player to watch during spring training as a darkhorse as he should be fully recovered from his surgery.
Player(S) To Avoid
Jeurys Familia, New York Mets
There is uncertainty regarding Familia’s status for the onset of the season as he faces some type of suspension from his domestic violence issue. The popular belief is that he will at least receive a 30-game suspension with Addison Reed taking over the closer role with the Mets. Reed was outstanding last season in the setup role as he finished 2016 with a 1.97 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and led the MLB in holds with 40.
I expect Reed will thrive in the closer’s role while Familia is serving his suspension, therefore creating uncertainty who will the closer be when Familia comes back as both relievers will probably have chances to close limiting both of their fantasy values.
Currently, Familia has an ADP of No. 15 at the relief pitcher position based on last season’s stats. His status for the onset of the season should make owners hesitant to draft him with the likes of Cody Allen, David Robertson, and Francisco Rodriguez still available. In addition, the Mets have to be concerned about Familia’s mental state. Reed out pitched him last season and they should be concerned about him melting down in two consecutive postseasons.
Familia is a player that I would avoid in my quest to fill out my RP slot especially early as I don’t want to deal with the unpredictability of this situation throughout the season.
Be sure to check out the rest of the 2017 Fantasy Baseball Position Previews.