Spring Training Hot Takes: Mining for Saves
Greg Jewett takes a look at some MLB bullpens and looks to identify some potential save candidates to target.
While the list searching for saves could go on due to the volatility tied to the statistic, it is time to focus on a few options with hope for the eventual return of baseball. Bearing this in mind, as time drifts by a couple of pitchers continue to rehab from injuries which caused them to fall off the fantasy radar. However, reports suggest players will receive at least a weeks’ notice before the second phase of spring training ensues then at least three weeks of preparation prior to the truncated season beginning. This points to a start in late June or early July as the best-case scenario.
A sprint rather than a marathon may cause even more upheaval for fantasy baseball, especially in regard to FAAB money. Leagues without deep rosters will be subject to constant change due to injuries or time lost due to illness. Chasing saves remains a common theme every season and 2020 could be the wildest one yet. For those with patience, here is five names to potentially stash with varying degrees of save opportunities lying in wait.
Jordan Hicks , St. Louis Cardinals
Prior to any stoppage in play, Hicks focused on returning near the All-Star break scheduled for July 14th. Recent reports on Hicks confirm he has been throwing 30 pitch bullpen sessions during rehab from Tommy John surgery. Recency bias pushed Giovanny Gallegos up draft boards as the potential replacement for Carlos Martínez as the closer in St. Louis, but things can change quickly for relievers.
While Martinez heads back to the rotation, Hicks could resume his role as closer sooner rather than later with a delayed start to the major league season. Prior to his surgery last year, Hicks notched 14 saves with a 3.14 ERA, 3.21 FIP and 0.94 WHIP. Here’s a couple of examples of how nasty his pitches can be:
Sliders coming soon???????? Also my favorite pitch too???? https://t.co/CoZpQuDBrN— Jordan Hicks (@Jhicks007) April 27, 2020
Its well-known Hicks can ramp up his sinker to 100-plus MPH, upside lies in his ability to generate more strikeouts with a devastating slider. In 2018, Hicks’ slider recorded a 48 percent strikeout rate which rose to 57.1 last year. Of more importance, the slider owned a 57.8 whiff percentage and 26.7 put away percent. This improvement fueled Hicks’ whiff percentage to rise almost six points last season to 30.2 percent. Plus, Hicks generated more ground balls (67.2 percent) with a launch angle of negative 2.8 degrees on his batted balls allowed yielding a .167 expected batting average and .258 expected slugging.
Using Hicks expected ERA of 2.43 and his FIP of 3.21 as a scale of future performance hints at his upside. He still needs to reduce his walk percentage but with confidence and health, Hicks may return to closing games by mid-to-late July. One can target Gallegos for saves but should at least handcuff with Hicks. But, if reports surface Hicks could be ready to pitch in competitive games prior to the start of the season, his stock will continue to rise. Be ahead of the crowd. Especially if Hicks change-up continues to develop.
Aaron Bummer , Chicago White Sox
Already signed to a team friendly extension, Bummer thrived last year as a set-up reliever for the White Sox. Over the winter, his team added veterans to the rotation and lineup to make a run for the playoffs. With increased pressure to win, losing leads late in games will be less than advantageous. Alex Colomé struggled in the second half of last year recording a 3.91 ERA with a 1.58 WHIP over his last 25.1 innings with a paltry 28:13 K:BB and 4.47 xFIP.
As for Bummer, he appeared in 58 games last year spanning 67.2 innings with 27 holds and a save. His ERA finished at 2.13 with a 3.41 FIP and 60 strikeouts versus 24 walks. Although Bummer does not possess strikeout upside as a future closer, his ability to generate ground balls makes him similar to a peak Zach Britton-esque reliever. In 2019, Bummer yielded 175 batted ball events giving up only four barrels with a negative 3.4-degree launch angle on average.
A key to his success, adding a cutter to bore in on right-handed hitters. Bummer owned almost identical splits to left-handed hitters (.178/.215/.233) as to right-handed ones (.188/.299/.264). His cutter took a massive leap forward in strikeout percentage from 15.4 in 2018 to 47.2 last season (up 31.7 percent). He also increased his whiff percentage with the pitch to 47.2 percent while growing his already strong ground ball rate to 71.4 percent last year. This helped Bummer add to his weak and topped batted ball percentages while decreasing his barrel percent allowed.
Here’s how his arsenal works:
Aaron Bummer, 95mph Sinker and 90mph Cutter, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/l65l101mUt— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 28, 2019
If missing out on closers in a draft, see if there’s space for Bummer on a roster. He could be closing sooner rather than later if Colome carries over his struggles from last year. Chicago will keep him on a short leash with increased pressure to win in a shortened season.
Nick Burdi , Pittsburgh
Injuries seem to follow Burdi over his career. He seemed poised to become a part of the Pirates high leverage arms last year but crumpled to the ground during an outing leading to thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. Good news, Burdi returned to action this spring:
Nick Burdi, 100mph Fastball. ???????????? pic.twitter.com/GWPamtJzrM— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 26, 2020
And his slider from last year:
Nick Burdi, Filthy 90mph Slider. ???? pic.twitter.com/GaYhCPcJHY— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 14, 2019
During his brief stint with Pittsburgh in 2019, Burdi recorded a 17:3 K:BB in 8.2 innings with a bloated 9.35 ERA but an intriguing 1.83 FIP. When perusing his data on Statcast, Burdi’s weighted on-base average of .245 sits almost 100 points below his actual, so some bad luck skewed his numbers last season. Of more intrigue, Burdi owned a robust 54.7 strikeout percentage with his slider and 45.3 strikeout rate with his four-seam fastball. There is no guarantee Burdi will remain healthy which makes him a risky venture. However, the Pirates do not seem willing to contend this year and current closer will be a free agent at the end of the year so read what you want from beat writer Rob Biertempfel:
Many will focus on Kyle Crick but do not sleep on the upside of Burdi, especially in regard to strikeouts in the coming season.
Austin Adams , Seattle Mariners
Prefacing this with a warning, trying to predict saves by the Mariners comes with a bottle of Maalox, it is never easy. Adams rose in the pecking order last year but faced a late start to this year due to ACL surgery on his knee. However, he is already throwing and could be primed to return when baseball resumes. Combine this with the current cast of arms in high leverage for Seattle as a wild card option at best.
Taking the long view on saves, it’s either Adams or Brendan Brennan to eventually emerge in the ninth inning if Matt Magill struggles with health or performance. In 2019, Adams recorded 10 holds for Seattle with 53 strikeouts in 32 innings of work and an enticing 16.6 swinging strike percentage. His ERA of 3.94 gets skewed a bit by three outings resulting in eight of his 13 earned runs with the Mariners but the other 26 games yields a 1.55 ERA over 29 innings.
According to Statcast, Adams expected ERA of 2.99 and expected batting average of .175 provide some hope. His slider improved owning a 52.2 strikeout percentage and 48.4 whiff rate resulting in 48 of his 53 strikeouts. Here is his swing and miss chart from last year:
A key to his success will be positive migration to the mean with his fastball and taking a step forward in 2020. There’s a chance Adams could emerge as the top high leverage arm for Seattle, but it may take a wait and see approach on how his team trusts him when games begin.
Trevor Rosenthal, Kansas City Royals
Yes, Rosenthal burned many saves speculators last year with his abysmal performance in Washington returning from Tommy John surgery. Rosenthal’s inability to throw strikes led to more walks than strikeouts in 2019 causing his ratio statistics to balloon. Signed by Kansas City in the off-season reunites him with former manager Mike Matheny. Rosenthal notched 121 saves for him in St. Louis prior to his elbow injury.
This spring, Rosenthal threw heat with nine strikeouts, zero walks and allowed only three hits in five innings.
Trevor Rosenthal, Painting with Flames (101mph Fastball). ????????? pic.twitter.com/zKUpGoa4hP— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 4, 2020
Now, taking spring results as a signal of coming events can be misleading. As for Rosenthal, his history with Matheny combined with quotes saying the Royals may use matchups late in games with Ian Kennedy did not name the closer raises some speculation. Rosenthal could collapse during the regular season or he could carry over his strong start which won him a roster spot on the team to future saves. Another waits and see situation but one worth monitoring. Long term, either Josh Staumont or Tyler Zuber seem more suited to take over as closer but keep tabs on how the Royals handle high leverage early on.
There’s plenty more situations which bear watching in a truncated season, but this provides a baseline of relievers to target late in drafts or for deeper rosters. Be sure to stay with Fantasy Alarm to remain ahead of the competition.