With less than two weeks remaining on the schedule for spring training games, it’s time to start honing in on what beat writers say without saying in regards to upcoming roles for pitchers along with starting to track tangible data provided in spring statistics. There’s plenty of closer roles in the air as draft season approaches rapidly, so narrowing focus to discern targets will become a priority. In an effort to make drafting for the Fantasy Alarm family easier, here’s some old names along with some new ones in this week’s bullpen report.
Dominic Leone, St. Louis Cardinals
A familiar name for those who read the debut column back in February, Dominic Leone. He’s not only faring well in spring with eight strikeouts in his first six innings of work with three saves, but Leone seems to be gaining the trust of his new employers. In an article on The Athletic, Bernie Miklasz mused Leone would be the closer if spring ended now.
Leone recorded 81 strikeouts in 70.1 innings of work last year with the Blue Jays. He also finished with one save and 11 holds but climbed the ladder into high leverage at the end of the season due to performance. In the second half, he reached another level with a 39:5 K:BB in 30.2 innings, a 0.91 WHIP and spiked his ground ball rate to 52.1 percent compared to 31.7 percent in the first half.
According to Inside Edge, Leone pounded strikes to the inside of the strike zone holding hitters to a .103 average against which registered as the third best of 200 qualified relievers. On two strike counts, his swing and miss rate of 35 percent ranked 24th and his chase rate of 42.4 percent 21st among relievers.
Leone’s underlying statistics on Brooks Baseball also look impressive. Leone’s cutter, which increases his chances of success versus left handed hitters, generated a whiff per swing percentage of 44.66 percent and held hitters to a .139 batting average against. His slider dominated with a 60.42 whiff per swing rate and yielded a .202 average last season.
Overall, Leone finished 2017 striking out 29 percent of the hitters he faced. He’s carried over his strong finish from last year to the spring and if the Cardinals tab him as the closer, it’s a role he could thrive in. Many will speculate on Luke Gregerson since he owns closer skills in the past, but those looking for the closer with a chance to accrue the most saves with St. Louis may opt for Leone instead.
Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox
Remember when Joakim Soria arrived with the White Sox and many speculated after the trade he could be the closer? Many overlooked Nate Jones who seems to tease fantasy owners with his fastball and slider but checkered injury past. It’s a factor, but in terms of early spring returns, Jones holds the edge based on performance so far. To this point, Jones first four innings this spring produced five strikeouts, no walks, zero earned runs and a 0.50 WHIP.
Although the last full season by Jones dates back to 2016, he did record three saves during his 70.2 innings of work with 28 holds and a 2.29 ERA with a WHIP below one (0.89). His sinker averaged 97.38 MPH and his slider at 88.77 MPH carried a 52.3 percent whiff per swing rate on the season with a .094 batting average against.
Jones remains one year removed from striking out 29.2 percent of the hitters he faced and if he’s healthy, could be ready to ascend to the closer role, which many forecast last year. It’s been some time since Soria’s been able to be trusted as a reliever but he owns the higher average draft position to this point. However, Jones owns the better arsenal and if healthy, could be a very inexpensive source of saves for savvy owners willing to take on some risk in drafts. Also, those looking for a multi-inning reliever for strikeout potential can keep tabs on Chris Volstad who’s been lights out so far out of the bullpen for the White Sox.
Cam Bedrosian, Los Angeles Angels
Raise your hand if Cam Bedrosian burned you last year? Mine’s up as well. However, it takes resilience to succeed in fantasy sports and even though Bedrosian’s never finished at least 50 innings in the majors due to a litany of injuries, could this be the year? Plus, Blake Parker, who finished last year with the most save chances in the second half for the Angels, rough start to spring (18.69 ERA and 3.23 WHIP) opens the door for Bedrosian.
It goes without saying, Bedrosian did not pitch in full health last year. When looking at his velocity charts on Brooks Baseball, it’s apparent:
So far this spring, Bedrosian’s recorded six strikeouts against two walks during his four innings with no runs allowed and a 1.25 WHIP. If he’s going to emerge as the Angels closer, Bedrosian will need to regain the skills he displayed in 2016 and carry over some of the gains he exhibited last season. Although his ratio statistics increased last year, Bedrosian did increase his swinging strike percentage (12.9 percent), chase rate (31.9 percent) and lowered contact (71.1 percent) compared to his breakout in 2016.
But, Bedrosian will need to migrate back towards his excellent ERA- of 27 which he’s one year removed from in order to hold the closer role. Plus, there’s the Mike Scioscia factor. In spite of all of this, 2018 could be the year Bedrosian finally puts it together, even though he seems a bit off the fantasy radar. Speculation could pay dividends.
Chaz Roe, Tampa Bay Rays
Before one asks who’s Chaz Roe, take a look at the movement of this pitch, courtesy of MLB.com:
There’s a couple of things in play here. First, Chaz Roe will try to carve out a role in the fluid Tampa Bay bullpen and he’s out of options. Since converting to a relief role, he’s fared well and with the Rays Triple-A affiliate, he whiffed 39.8 percent of the hitters he faced prior to his promotion last year with 35 strikeouts in 21 innings.
After being called up, Roe recorded a 48.84 whiff per swing percentage with his slider. He’s too old to be considered a prospect, but as a reliever, Roe does possess some strikeout potential in deep leagues or American League only formats. Do not forget the Rays spent part of the off-season trying to trade Alex Colome.
Prior to delving into either pitcher above, the Athletics could enter the season without Jharel Cotton in the rotation as they try to keep rookie A.J. Puk in the minors to gain an extra year of control on his contract. With this in mind, the bullpen may need to do some heavy lifting at the onset of the season to keep them in games.
At a time when many teams do not want to expose weaker starting pitchers to teams a third time through the lineup, Oakland beefed up their bullpen signing Yusmeiro Petit as a free agent and trading for Emilio Pagan from the Mariners. Both provide the ability to work for more than one inning and remain effective. This will be a factor for them and fantasy owners looking to protect ratios and add some strikeouts to their fantasy staffs.
Starting with Yusmeiro Petit who made 32 multi-inning appearances last year along with one spot start for the Angels last year. His ability to absorb innings, keep the team in the game and pad ratio statistics as a reliever go vastly unnoticed. Petit won five games, saved four and recorded a hold in 14 games during his 91.1 innings last season.
WHIP and 101 strikeouts enhanced his value, especially in league only formats compared to a fifth pitcher who can exact much more damage with a bad start. As mostly a reliever, Petit increased his swinging strike percentage by two and reduced contact by five percent. There could be some regression coming, but his ERA- of 65 along with his FIP of 2.85 suggest it may not be as bad as the projections suggest.
Last, Emilio Pagan did not garner much attention as a part of the Ryon Healy trade to Seattle. However, he like many failed starting pitchers, transitioned well to the bullpen. Pagan’s second half 24.7 strikeouts minus walk percentage and 1.01 WHIP could play well as a second multi-inning swingman for the A’s to share the load with Petit. His slider produced a whiff per swing percentage of 35.6 with a .135 batting average against and paltry .067 isolated power allowed. He’s not overpowering by any means, but as a weapon to bridge the gap to high leverage innings, Pagan’s worth a dart throw in deep formats.
There’s still much to observe over the last two weeks of spring training and as situations emerge, be sure to check back prior to your draft or auction to sift through the closer situations.