MLB Short Season Strategy: Saves and Steals
Greg Jewett takes a look at how fantasy baseball players should be handling staying competitive with saves and steals in this shortened 2020 season
It’s been just over a week and it feels like a month for fantasy baseball owners. There’s been weather postponements, COVID-19 outbreaks, players suffering season ending injuries and opting out. And as the Carpenters said in their famous song, “We’ve Only Just Begun”. Starting with the toughest component so far this year, six teams will not play on Sunday due to the ripple effects of COVID: Miami, Washington, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Toronto. Both Eduardo Rodríguez (heart ailment) and this player opted out for the remainder of the season:
Cain’s the proud father of three young children, so no one blames him for putting his family first. One also hopes Rodriguez recovers from his heart ailment to return to the mound next year. There’s plenty of things bigger than playing a game. Trying to stay ahead of the curve, saves and stolen bases moved to the forefront of drafts in July with savvy fantasy players hoping not to waste waiver moves or FAAB capital on them. So much for those plans.
Before delving into strategy, this quote by Zack Greinke may be of service to all of us:
Zack Greinke had a perfect game for 5 1/3 innings. “It’d probably be more of a hassle than anything,” Greinke said last year. “A bunch of nonsense comes with it. I don’t think about no-hitters, ever.”
Making frantic waiver moves to procure a closer may be nonsense, but many will succumb to it. A slow start by a hitter may cause one to target a hot hitter. For instance, Colin Moran leads the majors in home runs with five. He owns a pull percentage of 70 (41.3 career) and a 62.5 home run per fly ball rate (13.3 career) this year but with more swinging strikes along with less contact. While Moran plays in the midst of his power peak at the age of 27, he’s bound to cool down. He hit 13 home runs in 466 at-bats in 2019 with five in 28 this year. Yes, he can still hit for power going forward but at what rate? How soon will pitchers adjust and move their offerings outside more so he rolls them over for ground outs? Paying top dollar for previous statistics can be fool’s gold in fantasy.
Entering game play on Sunday, there’s been 60 saves in 230 games started translating to an average of one save per 3.8 starts ahead of last year’s pace of 4.17 saves per start (1,180 in 4,858 starts). Enticing seeing more saves so far, however, here’s the top-10 closers by average draft position in July Main Events on NFBC:
- Kirby Yates 52.47 ADP (44 min, 70 max) - 2020 stats (1 loss, 2.1 IP, 15.43 ERA)
- Liam Hendriks 62.92 ADP (51 min, 75 max) - 2020 stats (2 saves, 3.1 IP, 2.70 ERA)
- Kenley Jansen 72.66 ADP (60 min, 87 max) - 2020 stats (1 save, 3 IP, 0 earned runs)
- Taylor Rogers 72.89 ADP (64 min, 84 max) - 2020 stats (3 saves, 3 IP, 0 earned runs)
- Ken Giles 80.11 ADP (69 min, 89 max) - 2020 stats (1 save, 1.2 IP, 10.80 ERA)
- Roberto Osuna 81.95 ADP (47 min, 119 max) - 2020 stats (1 save, 4.1 IP, 2.08 ERA)
- Brad Hand 84.29 ADP (68 min, 109 max) - 2020 stats (1 loss, 2 saves, 2.1 IP, 15.43 ERA)
- Aroldis Chapman 84.45 ADP (60 min, 109 max) - no 2020 stats (COVID-19)
- Héctor Neris 88.42 ADP (73 min, 112 max) - 2020 stats (0.2 IP, 0 earned runs)
- Edwin Díaz 94.18 ADP (68 min, 119 max) - 2020 stats (1 save, 2.1 IP, 7.71 ERA)
Not noted above, Ken Giles sits on the injured list with elbow tightness but hopes to return this season. Roberto Osuna left his outing on Saturday and headed to Houston for an MRI complaining about “arm soreness”. Here’s a look at the present bullpen situation for the Astros:
Small sample, but numbers are staggering. #Astros rookies (33.2IP) account for over half the innings pitched by the club this season (67IP).— Steve Grande (@AstrosGrande) August 1, 2020
That nine-man group of rookies owns a 1.33 ERA (5ER/33.2IP).
Brad Hand has not pitched well working with reduced velocity and James Karinchak looking poised to usurp the ninth inning if Hand cannot turn his season around. Kirby Yates inflated ERA could be due to mechanical flaws he’s addressing, stay tuned to see if it occurs but be sure to roster Drew Pomeranz just in case. Punctuating the point, the top 10 closers in the biggest money drafts in high stakes leagues own a cumulative 11 saves so far.
Also, announced on Sunday morning:
Staying on top of the news cycles along with monitoring how badly Hansel Robles looks with his fastball three MPH below last year, things change on a dime in 2020 fantasy. With this in mind, one should be bidding on Carlos Estévez , Jairo Díaz , Rafael Montero , Jonathan Hernández , Keynan Middleton , James Karinchak, Cole Sulser, Taylor Williams , Trevor Rosenthal , Nick Burdi , Jeremy Jeffress and Rowan Wick .
Not even mentioned yet, Craig Kimbrel sports this wonderful note so far in 2020:
Craig Kimbrel allowing multiple HR— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 1, 2020
With Cubs: 4 times in 25 games
Prior to that: 1 time in 542 games
On his last outing, Kimbrel yielded the following exit velocities: 104.9 MPH, 104.7 MPH, 102.6 MPH, 102.4 MPH and 101.8 MPH. Checking my notes, this does not bode well. Kimbrel’s hitting 97 MPH on the radar but if no one swings at his curve, he’s tossing batting practice in high leverage.
Long story short, roll with the punches and try to stay ahead of the game when adding potential closers. Do not just get the flavor of the week with bullpen committees in Seattle, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Texas and potentially for the Angels if they move Robles out of the ninth inning.
This category will not be sitting on many waiver wires with one exception. It’s worth noting Tommy Pham leads the majors with five steals, more than 23 major league teams entering game play on Sunday. In fact, the go-go Padres lead the majors with 14 steals, almost doubling second place Seattle (eight). When trying to mine this category, there’s two options. Add Myles Straw and swallow the fact he may not garner many at-bats, but he’s stolen three bases in only seven plate appearances, good for tying for third in the majors right now. Or, get ancillary pieces of San Diego or Seattle. Trent Grisham may be on a few waiver wires (42 percent owned in Yahoo leagues), Shed Long Jr. , Tim Lopes, J.P. Crawford (if his ankle injury is not serious) and even Dansby Swanson or Teoscar Hernández . Plus, monitor if the Marlins promote Monte Harrison after they return from their COVID-19 hiatus.
Due to the compressed season, fantasy owners usually should not look at the standings until a month in during a 162-game season. But this year heightens attention on all categories, injuries and staying ahead of the competition. More starters will stretch out but noting how Mike Minor continues to struggle working with reduced velocity, the leash may get shorter. Try not to panic and remember the SMART system made famous by Fantasy Alarm members Rick Wolf and Glenn Colton. This year add fluidity to it. It feels like the theme song for fantasy owners in this sprint will be the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” when determining if it’s a slow start or just a small sample size slump.
Be sure to stay with Fantasy Alarm to remain ahead of the competition and heed all the data provided by the beat writers to make salient decisions, not rash ones. For what it’s worth, buying the Teoscar Hernández and Trent Grisham breakouts, like how Dansby Swanson continues to produce and wary of Moran. Plus, full buy on the Corey Seager rebound:
Barrels this year— Max Goldstein (@MaxSportsStudio) August 2, 2020
9 Corey Seager
9 Minnesota Twins’ offense
9 Texas Rangers’ offense
9 Cincinnati Reds’ offense
7 Houston Astros’ offense
7 Cleveland Indians’ offense
7 Washington Nationals’ offense
3 Arizona Diamondbacks’ offense
Be well and stay safe.