Five Under the Radar Keeper Relief Pitchers in 2014
Other than the gold standard of closers (Kimbrel, Chapman, Mariano Rivera-retired), relief pitchers can break your heart. They turn it loose for an inning or two, blowing gas or off speed pitches that are nearly unhittable. Running it up there at 98 mph is all well and good, but there is usually a shelf life on the arm. A reliever’s life is never an easy one and so the best laid plans during a fantasy draft can go up in smoke half way into the season. Since relief pitching is such a risky proposition, it may be wise to invest a late round pick in one of these under the radar arms. The following pitchers meet this criteria because they are just emerging as a potential closer, either recovering from injury or next in line to finish games.
Melancon made the most of his opportunity during the playoff stretch run for the Pirates. Although he may be relegated to set up status this year, he is in prime position to reclaim the closer’s job if Jason Girilli breaks down or falters. That is not a huge stretch considering Girilli has been little more than a journeyman most of his career. Melancon has been around the block himself, but he has a recent track record of success posting an 8-4 mark with a sub 3 ERA for a woeful 2011 Astros club. He uses a sharp breaking ball that he can backdoor or finishes it down and out of the zone as an out pitch. Melancon was death to left handed hitters as they posted a meager .148 BAA and pounded the strike zone in save situations with 17K/1BB ratio. If the Pirates need him, he could succesfully fill the closer job.
Now that Indians have moved on from the 9th inning rollercoaster ride (aka Chris Perez), Cody Allen could and should be an upgrade as a replacement. Nothing is assured, asAllen will still have win the job this spring possibly having to fend of the veteran John Axford. Drafting Allen in the later rounds could yield big returns especially considering a dominate 11.3 K/9 in 2013. Success is not new to Allen - he posted a career minor league WHIP of .84 and a K/BB of 5.57, both elite numbers that are indicators of a successful relief pitcher. Look for the Indians to hang around the wildcard race again and provide plenty of save opportunities for their new closer.
It was only a couple years ago that Feliz was poised to join the upper echelon of closers. Unfortunately, Texas could not help messing with a good thing. Their experimentation with Feliz as a starter quickly sent him to DL with various arm issues and finally resulted in Tommy John surgery. The good news for Feliz and the Rangers is that most pitchers with TJS comeback to full strength and in some cases even stronger. Couple that with positive reports on his elbow rehabilitation to this point, and his winter work has him looking prepared for the spring. Pay attention to the velocity, because if Feliz is lighting up the gun in the mid 90’s range this spring you should make sure he is part of your draft plan.
How can you hear Farquhar's name and not think of Shrek? Seattle thought they were in good hands going into 2013 with Tom Wilhelmsen at the back end of the bullpen, but his inability to mix pitches consistently exposed him by midseason. Enter Farquhar, whose second half was promising enough to put him first in line to close in 2014. At least that seemed like the plan until the M's shelled out a two year deal for aging veteran Fernando Rodney. This could muddle things because Rodney will undoubtedly get first dibs on the closer role. That said, dont give up on the younger and potentially more dominant Farquhar. His 12 K/9 would get anyone excited along with a .176 BAA in save situations. Yes, Farquhar did end the year with a bloated 4.5 ERA which may raise some eyebrows, however, his August and September were solid as he settled into his role. Look for set up work early and save opportunities again later in the season
Starting as a position player, Sean Doolittle saved his arm from the rigors of pitching for years. The lefty has shined out of the Athletics' bullpen providing quality stuff and elite control. I was a little surprised to see the As splurge on Jim Johnson, as usually they turn to capable internal candidates to save money. While Johnson has signed on as the closer, his peripherals and lack of strike out stuff is atypical for a closer, and Doolittle continues to be groomed for a larger role. The fact he plays half his games in Oakland doesn’t hurt either, as pitchers can get a lot of cheap outs late in the game because there is so much foul territory. Doolittle could be a nice handcuff to Johnson and provide nice upside as a late draft pick.