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2017 Breakouts Due for Regression - Relief Pitchers

By Keith Allison on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

2017 was a great season for those who follow the "Don't Pay for Saves" strategy. Actually, it's more than a strategy, it's a lifestyle. Corey Knebel blossomed into an elite closer, Fernando Rodney almost matched his age in saves, Brandon Kintzler/Sean Doolittle/Brandon Maurer/Felipe Rivero/Brad Hand all had over 20 saves, and even Bud Norris was relevant. It was a wild year for relievers and the closer carousel was spinning!

As we head into the fantasy baseball draft season of 2018, it's important to know which of the guys that stood up and took control of their respective bullpens (and desperate fantasy owners' hearts) should not be trusted to bring us the joy of an encore performance.

Fortunately for everyone, there really aren't that many phonies to worry about. But for you Non-payers for saves, as you get near the time to finally start filling out your RP spots late in the draft - beware of these three names that may look very enticing based on their 2017 stat lines.

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Last Season's Breakout Relievers Due for Regression in 2018

Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves

2017: 57.1 IP, 14 SV, 2.83 ERA, 1.10 WHIP

After struggling with command issues that led to a 6.05 BB/9 in 2016, Vizcaino finally looked like he was able to harness his overpowering "stuff" in 2017. He began the year as the setup man to Jim Johnson, but by season's end was the closer for the Bravos and without a doubt many playoff fantasy baseball squads. Not only did Vizcaino boast a double digit K/9 for the second straight year (10.05 in 2017) and a shiny 2.83 ERA, he also sliced his horrendous BB/9 almost in half - down to 3.30. So what's the man doing in this regression article?

The main concern I have with Vizcaino's outlook lies in his Batted Ball profile. He went from a 1.81 GB/FB ratio in 2016 all the way down to 0.85 in 2017. Among all relievers in baseball, his 45.3 FB% ranked 22nd highest. Sure that doesn't seem awful, but of the 21 RP that were ahead of him, only eight allowed a lower HR/FB%. Of those eight, only two allowed a higher Hard%. So bottom line up front (BLUF in the Army)... he was very fortunate to own such a high FB% and Hard% and walk away with just a 10.4% HR/FB.

Speaking of being fortunate, his BABIP and LOB% went from .333 and 65.2% in 2016, to .248 and 83.3% in 2017. Same pitch usage, same pitch velocity, same Contact rates - much different results. To further illustrate my skepticism,  his 2017 xFIP (4.21) was pretty much right on par with his 4.42 ERA from 2016.

Consensus ADP has Vizcaino being drafted 153 overall, and as low as 143 (RTSports). Let someone else pull that trigger on draft day.


Alex Claudio, Texas Rangers

2017: 82.2 IP, 11 SV, 2.50 ERA, 1.04 WHIP

No. I am not doing this again. A Texas Ranger closer seemingly coming out of nowhere that pitches to contact? Is he related to Sam Dyson? Claudio played the role of fantasy FAAB hero after Matt Bush lost the closer role, earning a team-high 11 saves down the stretch. He was even voted Texas Ranger Pitcher of the Year by the Fort Worth chapter of BBWAA. He is a true ground ball pitcher (66.7 GB%), and as you see pitched extremely well when the Rangers needed it most.

There isn't much in his underlying statistics that would scare anyone away, besides the 10th-lowest K/9 of all relievers in baseball. But Claudio has been able to create enough soft contact that he even benefited from an increase in Contact% last year. It seems too good to be true, and I just can't leave my closer's fate entirely up to BABIP, especially as we enter further into the launch angle research era. The main regression I see here is in fantasy relevance. I don't see a ground ball RP who pitched 82 innings holding off Jake Diekman and Keone Kela who combined for only half of that massive workload - and both own a career K/9 over 11.0.


Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers

2017: 67.2 IP, 9 SV, 2.66 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

This is the easiest one of the bunch for me. SP-Converted-RPs (or do I have that backwards?) seem to be trending in baseball currently with Wade Davis, Archie Bradley, Brandon Morrow, Alex Colome, Raisel Iglesias, and Brad Hand all making it look like the cool thing to do. But unfortunately, I think Ron Gardenhire and fantasy owners are in for a rude awakening with Shane Greene this season.

Like most other former starters, Greene benefited from an uptick in velocity which led to an increased K/9 (9.71), which ultimately led to a 2.66 ERA and nine saves as he finished 2017 as the Tigers closer. But obviously, since he is on this list, the velocity and strikeouts weren't the only thing that increased. His BB/9 rose up to an uneasy-feeling-in-the-stomach 4.52. Why didn't those extra base runners results in more runs you ask? That could be because his LOB% sky rocketed from 58.6% in '15 and 56.4% in '16 up to 84.2%, while his BABIP dropped from .325 in '15 and .327 in '16 down to .265. That doesn't sound sustainable to me. What else could go wrong? Well how about the fact that his HR/FB rate doubled? Not enough? His Hard% jumped to a terrifying 41.3% (12.3% drop in Soft% too) which ranked second highest in all of baseball. What do you think Luke Skywalker?


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