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Now that we have been around the diamond, the final piece of the puzzle is here, relief pitcher sleepers and busts. Things are just starting to ramp up for the upcoming Fantasy Baseball season. ADP data is starting to flow and the relevance will pick up as we inch closer to the start of Spring Training. There have been plenty of signings, but there are still many impact free agents looking for a home. The rumor mill is churning and the resulting trades will still alter the Fantasy landscape.

The So-Called Fantasy Experts crew has now ranked all of the positions, finishing off with relief pitchers this week. Earlier, we ranked catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, outfielders, and starting pitchers.

Relief pitcher ranks will greatly depend on your league settings. Is it a saves only league? Do holds count? Are wins and blown saves relevant? How many RP roster spots are there? These are all questions that need to be answered prior to selecting relievers. For our purposes, we assumed NFBC rules, where the relevant pitcher categories are wins, saves, ERA, strikeouts, and WHIP.

I have always been in the “Never pay for saves” camp. I would much rather bolster my hitting and starting pitching slots before grabbing my closers. The position is already so volatile so being active on waivers and getting bottom of the barrel closers is not that big of a deal. I do see the other side. Draft a couple high-end closers early and lock up a roto category while also providing a solid base for your ratios and strikeouts. I just do not think that the cost justifies the benefit. You can always find saves on waivers, while premier hitters and starters are rarely there.

Heading into the 2016 season, there will be several closers who did not have the role last year. Some of the roles are still undecided and you will need to follow the Spring Training reports to determine the winners of the coveted chair. One thing to remember is that closers on bad teams will still get saves.

We have covered sleepers and busts at first base, second base, third base, shortstop, outfield, and starting pitcher. Relievers provide an interesting twist, since their value is tied to their role. The sleepers and busts at relief pitcher are all about predictions over potential closer turnover. Let’s now see what the closer carousel holds.

2016 Relief Pitcher Sleepers and Busts

Sleepers

Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants

ERA
WHIP
K-BB%
BABIP
LOB%
LD%
GB/FB
HR/FB
Hard%
SwStr%
2015
2.98
1.06
26.5%
.331
72.7%
23.4%
1.41
6.5%
18.9%
16.7%
Career
2.57
0.95
23.6%
.265
77.7%
19.6%
0.93
7.9%
24.5%
14.1%

 

Sergio Romo has relied on his nasty slider to become one of the better relievers in all of baseball over the past few years. He has elite control and last year was no different as he posted his fifth consecutive season with a BB/9 under 2.0. In addition, last year he had the fifth best swinging strike rate and that allowed him to record an impressive K-BB% of 26.5-percent, good for eighth among relievers.

His 2.98 ERA appears to be inflated due to his sub 73-percent LOB% and his .331 BABIP, which was nearly 70 points greater than his career mark. He did allow a relatively high line drive rate, but his minuscule hard hit rate allowed seems to suggest a BABIP regression in 2016. He has closed before and his across the board numbers were better than the incumbent Santiago Casilla, except for a small ERA disadvantage which we previously discussed. Be on the right side of the Bay Area change and pick up Sergio Romo late.

Will Smith, Milwaukee Brewers

ERA
WHIP
K-BB%
BABIP
LOB%
LD%
GB/FB
HR/FB
Hard%
SwStr%
2015
2.70
1.20
25.4%
.329
77.1%
15.3%
1.18
8.9%
37.2%
15.2%
Career
3.96
1.37
17.1%
.329
73.0%
20.6%
1.21
11.7%
31.9%
11.6%

 

Now that Francisco Rodriguez has a Detroit address, the closer role in Milwaukee is up for grabs. It appears that the battle will come down to Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith, who were also the team leaders in terms of holds in 2015. I think Smith is the better option due to his ability to miss bats at an elite rate. Amongst relievers, Smith placed in the Top 15 in K-BB%, K/9, and swinging strike rate.

Jeffress has the advantage when you compare hard hit rate allowed, plus he adds the valuable trait of keeping the ball on the ground. That being said, despite the different batted ball profiles, they both had nearly identical HR/9 figures. When it comes down to it, Smith’s aptitude to rack up the strikeouts will mask his other flaws. Get jiggy with it by picking up Will Smith and dance your way to saves.

Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays

ERA
WHIP
K-BB%
BABIP
LOB%
LD%
GB/FB
HR/FB
Hard%
SwStr%
2015
2.41
0.94
27.2%
.276
78.6%
15.6%
0.85
7.3%
27.8%
12.3%
Career
2.77
1.02
23.8%
.276
78.1%
18.4%
0.97
8.0%
27.3%
12.0%

 

Over the past two seasons, Jake McGee has posted elite numbers regardless of his role. He continues to consistently post an elite K-BB% rate and last year was his fourth straight campaign above 20-percent, with three of the four being over 27-percent. He is tough to square up as he has never allowed a line drive rate above 20-percent and he has constantly allowed a sub league average hard hit rate.

He is a lefty, but his career splits actually show that he is tougher on right-handed hitters, allowing a .187 batting average to righties and a .222 batting average to lefties. For what it is worth, he has closed before and succeeded when he has been called upon. He would clearly be next in line should current Rays closer Brad Boxberger either falter or get traded. Bide your time and your patience will be rewarded if you wait on Jake McGee.

 

Busts

Shawn Tolleson, Texas Rangers

ERA
WHIP
K-BB%
BABIP
LOB%
LD%
GB/FB
HR/FB
Hard%
SwStr%
2015
2.99
1.15
19.8%
.294
82.9%
20.7%
1.15
12.3%
32.0%
10.2%
Career
3.17
1.21
15.5%
.270
81.8%
19.8%
1.03
10.8%
31.9%
10.3%

 

Shawn Tolleson had a good season last year. He posted 35 saves and he didn’t even inherit the closer role until late May. Despite the strong year, he faded a bit down the stretch. Also, in the most important games of the year, the playoffs, he didn’t even get the call to close out a game when a save opportunity presented itself. There are also plenty of solid choices to close if the Rangers decide to go in another direction.

Keone Kela and Sam Dyson would be the top choices as they both had arguably better seasons than Tolleson in 2015. The main issue I have with Tolleson is that he gave up plenty of hard contact coupled with a relatively high fly ball rate, which resulted in a HR/9 mark of 1.12. This is a toxic recipe for any pitcher, especially a closer. Tolleson may start the season as the man in the ninth, but I do not think he will finish the year that way. Fade the Ranger and find a more secure sheriff to rack up saves.

Brad Boxberger, Tampa Bay Rays

ERA
WHIP
K-BB%
BABIP
LOB%
LD%
GB/FB
HR/FB
Hard%
SwStr%
2015
3.71
1.37
15.5%
.292
78.3%
21.3%
0.85
13.2%
30.1%
12.1%
Career
2.94
1.20
20.8%
.275
82.1%
18.1%
0.92
14.3%
26.8%
12.8%

 

Brad Boxberger led the AL in saves last year with 41. However, when you compare his stats to 2014, he took a dramatic turn for the worse across the board. His K/9 rate fell from 14.5 to 10.6, his BB/9 jumped from 2.8 to 4.6, his ERA went from 2.37 to 3.71, and his WHIP ballooned from 0.84 to 1.37. He continued to have trouble with the long ball as he posted his third consecutive season with a HR/9 mark greater than 1.20. He also faded as the year went on, with his second half splits being materially worse than the first half.

In fact, for the season as a whole, he had the highest ERA and WHIP for any closer with more than 25 saves. To make matters worse, as we mentioned earlier, there is even a very capable backup waiting in the wings to steal away the coveted ninth inning role. Pass on the current Tampa Bay closer and avoid the inevitable changing of the guard.

Jonathan Papelbon, Washington Nationals

ERA
WHIP
K-BB%
BABIP
LOB%
LD%
GB/FB
HR/FB
Hard%
SwStr%
2015
2.13
1.03
16.9%
.258
80.4%
15.3%
1.42
11.3%
29.9%
12.4%
Career
2.35
1.02
21.7%
.275
80.1%
18.3%
0.92
7.2%
25.3%
13.3%

 

Papelbon has managed to remain an effective closer despite his age and declining abilities; however, I am not sure how much longer it will continue. His 2015 season was filled with concerning developments, the least of which was the altercation with Bryce Harper. Consider the following stats and the associated career rank: worst strikeout rate, second worst K-BB%, second worst HR/9, and second worst hard hit rate allowed.

Despite all of this, Papelbon still managed to post a solid 2.13 ERA even though the various ERA estimators ranged from 3.14 to 3.71. In other words, he got lucky. Drew Storen was lights out prior to the Papelbon trade and he showed that he is more than capable to successfully handle the closer role. Do not make the same mistake the Nationals did, and do not add Jonathan Papelbon to your team.

 

The sleepers mentioned should help you even if they are not finishing games off in the ninth. Suppressing your ratios and piling up strikeouts have a lot of value, especially in leagues with an innings cap. Even though this completes our sleepers and busts series, don’t worry, as we will be back with plenty more content to get you ready for the upcoming Fantasy Baseball season.

Data courtesy of www.fangraphs.com

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