With another volatile season behind us, it’s time to take a look back and forward to determine some relief pitcher values for 2020. Matt Selz and I used this metric to measure relief pitchers effectiveness in high leverage in an effort to provide a baseline of data in regards to performance. There’s some surprises in the end of the year list, especially when seeing which reliever finished atop it. Here’s the link to the RP Metric for your perusal.
Since Boston stated they will not be active buyers in the off-season, this could make Brandon Workman a potential bargain in drafts due to his lack of overall saves but strong outings during the season. For instance, Workman did not yield a home run to the last 215 batters he faced in 2019. He won 10 games with 16 saves and 15 holds while striking out 104 in 71.2 innings. Workman also recorded the lowest slugging percentage against (.166) in the last 50 years besting Craig Kimbrel ’s .172 mark in 2012. In a season known for the best hitting environment, possibly ever in regards to home runs, Workman only served up one all year. Many will overlook him due to his saves total, but his breakout season gets reinforced by his underlying data.
Looking to the future, there’s going to be some trades this winter which will shuffle the deck in bullpen hierarchies. Plus, these relievers will highlight the free agency lists:
Will Smith (did receive a qualifying offer from San Francisco)
Not exactly inspiring, but one of these relievers should excite the saves chasers if he’s signed to be a closer for 2020. Yes, tossing out a teaser here. Not only can the relief pitcher metric deliver insight on which relievers rated the best last season, noting second half breakouts also narrows the field to identify potential bargains going forward. In 2017, Josh Hader burst onto the scene with a terrific second half and using his numbers in three categories from it, here’s a list of relievers who recorded numbers similar:
Hopefully the teaser from above can now be identified. There’s names one would expect on this list along with some surprises. It also shows how deep the Rays bullpen could be in 2020 with two pitchers on the list. Here’s a look at each of the relievers in the chart:
Nick Anderson , Tampa Bay - In 23 games with the Rays, Anderson recorded 41 strikeouts versus two walks with a 2.11 ERA. Yes, Emilio Pagán did well as the closer once ascending to the role, but this organization, more than almost any, shows fluidity at the position. Anderson will not be sneaking up on anyone in fantasy drafts, but for those looking for ratio control with upside at 20 or more saves in the later rounds, he’s your guy. Love Anderson in 2020. You heard me.
Liam Hendriks , Oakland - Those who subscribe to the fear of missing out credo benefited if they added Hendriks prior to him taking over as closer in Oakland last season. From June 21st forward, Hendriks led the majors with 25 saves. He racked up 124 strikeouts in 85 innings and finished second only to Hader in strikeouts as a reliever with 122 (Hendriks appeared as an opener). Of course, fantasy will push Hendriks draft price too high for many, but he seems less likely for a fall than his teammate Blake Treinen incurred.
Drew Pomeranz , Free Agent - If Pomeranz signs as a reliever, he will be on all of my teams. All of them. As a reliever, 18 of his 20 appearances were scoreless. In 26.1 innings, Pomeranz yielded 11 hits, three earned runs and four walks with 36 strikeouts. He saved two games with Milwaukee and during his career as a reliever, Pomeranz owns a 2.72 ERA with a 140:41 K:BB in 115.2 innings, a 1.09 WHIP and 3.22 xFIP. In September, Pomeranz four seam fastball racked up a 54.3 strikeout percentage, 2.9 walk rate and 44.6 whiff percentage. With his curve, Pomeranz recorded a .045 expected batting average, strikeout percentage of 50 and a 47.1 whiff rate.
Josh Hader , Milwaukee - We know he’s a stud. Hader tied Aroldis Chapman for third in saves with 37, ranked first among all relievers with 138 strikeouts in 75.2 innings. Also qualified for arbitration so his team will need to pay him and treat him like a closer. Draft with confidence.
Tyler Duffey , Minnesota - Terrific numbers above, but with Taylor Rogers entrenched as the team’s closer, it caps Duffey’s value to league only formats. But, he could get a couple of cheap saves in 2020 when Rogers needs rest.
Edwin Díaz , New York Mets - Burned so many owners in 2019, will he bounce back in 2020? Short answer, he should. But, from April 29th to the end of the season, Diaz recorded a 6.65 ERA allowing 35 earned runs over 47.1 innings. He finished with a career high in blown saves (seven) and home runs (15). However, Diaz also struck out 99 batters and his 3.07 FIP ranked 17th among all qualified relievers. For the risk averse, Diaz will be a tantalizing second closer in ADP with top-five upside at the position.
Luke Jackson , Atlanta - Ceded the closer role to Mark Melancon down the stretch. Jackson’s metrics outdistanced his final numbers. He performed much better as a reliever than a starter and could be successful in a setup role in 2020.
Tommy Kahnle , New York Yankees - Another bad decision by the Rockies front office letting Kahnle escape to New York. Kahnle made 72 appearances in 2019, 42 of them were hitless and scoreless. He’s an underrated cog in the Yankees bullpen but with Chapman back in the fold, saves will not come his way. Still useful in league only formats for ratio control.
Kevin Gausman , Cincinnati - Not sure if Gausman will be the Reds fifth starter or a reliever in 2020, but he made the list in the second half working 20.1 innings as a reliever with a robust 26.8 strikeouts minus walks percentage and 2.42 xFIP. If the team deals Raisel Iglesias , Gausman or Robert Stephenson (my preference) would be in line to potentially close. Stay tuned.
Oliver Drake , Tampa Bay - More Rays magic plucking Drake off of waivers. He did well with the team finishing with two saves along with a matching 3.21 ERA and xFIP. Too many arms ahead of him in the pecking order, and Anderson’s much better. But production does fall through the cracks in baseball. Why would a team like Miami not claim Drake? It’s silly.
Roberto Osuna , Houston - He’s the youngest pitcher to ever record 150 saves, notched 38 in 2019 leading the American League and will turn 25 in February. Rock solid as a reliever, just not easy to root for due to his past transgressions.
Will Smith , San Francisco - Not only does Smith enter the off-season with the qualifying offer clouding his future, owners need to heed his splits from 2019:
Smith, first half: 1.98 ERA, 53:8 K:BB, 36.1 innings
Smith, second half: 3.72 ERA, 43:13 K:BB, 29 innings
Dating back to June 29th of 2018, Smith’s converted 48 of 55 save chances and he went 6-0 in 2019 with 34 saves in 63 outings. Not saying to fade him, but there’s some concerns worth investing prior to 2020.
Be sure to stay with Fantasy Alarm with the addition of Adam Ronis to the team, plus the living baseball guide preparations taking shape. Chasing saves will never cease in fantasy baseball. With this in mind, here’s some things to ponder:
If Cincinnati trades Iglesias, target Robert Stephenson .
Not sure if Will Smith will accept the qualifying offer or enter free agency. Steamer muses Shaun Anderson will be the closer if Smith leaves. Can Anderson overcome his gaudy fly ball rates on the road? I believe in the talent, but there’s going to be some growing pains.
Keeper league owners and savvy drafters will take a chance on Hunter Harvey . Remember his name. Baltimore will stink, but Harvey could rack up 20 saves on a very bad team.
Thanks for reading and looking forward to another fantasy baseball season.
MLB.com - Game Notes