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The early days of draft season typically result in volatile ADP data, as values adjust rapidly to a growing sample size. Eventually, players fall much closer to their intrinsic worth as fantasy owners become inundated with news, analysis and pundit commentary.

So, I'm here today to serve as another voice to the copious reams of information flooding your fantasy brain. Sleepers and busts are fun articles to write because they are extremely subjective. Many variables affect my opinions on players and while most are defended by logical reasoning, behavioral psychology undoubtedly comes into play. (Cut to Sam Dyson owners nodding glumly). The purpose of this commentary isn't to make your decisions, but rather provide a different perspective that may fine-tune your strategy.

Today we discuss AL relievers. Many fantasy owners associate saves as the most important category for relievers. In truth, RPs have structurally lower ratios and higher strikeout rates than starters. Relievers can contribute meaningfully in most categories and inappropriately overvaluing saves risks overpaying for guys that are mediocre and could ultimately lose their job.

Editor's Note: Stay on top of our MLB off-season news and fantasy analysis all year round. Read our daily fantasy columns about MLB prospects, dynasty outlooks, player outlooks and much more. It's always fantasy baseball season here. Let's Go!

 

Undervalued AL Relief Pitchers

ADP data courtesy of NFBC and based on all players, not just the American League.

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees (ADP 65)

Aroldis Chapman is currently going 20 picks after Craig Kimbrel and 30 after Kenley Jansen. This disparity seems unreasonable. The markdown in Chapman's value appears tied to disappointing 2017 results in ERA (3.22), WHIP (1.13) and strikeouts (12.34 K/9) which were all off career norms. He also missed a month to injury resulting in only 22 saves. Chapman's K/9 on a down-year was still 12th among all relievers. His 14.85 K/9 since 2010 ranks better than any other RP during that period. The high ERA last year was impacted by an unlucky BABIP of .296 (career .282), unusually low LOB% (71.7% vs. 80.4%) and a rough stretch in August. Still pumping heaters over 100 MPH with fastballs and sliders grading above-average, I'll buy Chapman at this massive discount to his tier-1 counterparts.

Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics (ADP 193)

We transition from the elite Chapman to real value plays. Based on current ADP, there is a 72-pick dearth of AL relievers between Alex Colome and Blake Treinen (however, several NL relievers find themselves in this range). After an awful start in Washington, Treinen found new life in Oakland. He registered a 2.13 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with the A's while collecting 13 saves and five holds, blowing only three chances. Treinen was officially anointed the dagger-man in the ninth and faces little resistance for opportunities in 2018. His strikeout profile is inferior to the top relievers (8.0 career K/9) but he gets guys out (3.49 xFIP) and brings the power fastball-slider combo we like in late-inning guys. The marginal stepdown in wow-factor between Colome and Treinen makes RP worth waiting on in favor of other pressing needs like backend starters (i.e. Rich Hill) or shoring up your offense (Adam Jones).

Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles (ADP 218)

Brad Brach is set to be the O's primary closer at least until Zach Britton returns around the All-Star Break. Brach has impressed in his career, posting a 3.00 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 9.66 K/9. His break came last year when Britton (again) was injured and picked up 18 saves along with nine holds, offset by six blown saves. Brach mixes a mid-90s fastball with a changeup and slider and has earned every right to slam the door. His late-round ADP protects from the value dilution he'll suffer upon Britton's returns, whenever that happens. Turnover in fantasy baseball is usual so locking in a probable profit for half the season seems logical. Even if he loses the gig In July, Brach's durability (200 appearances since 2015) should preserve his strikeout and ratio contributions.

Dellin Betances, New York Yankees (ADP 278)

The fixation on saves is weird. I professed my bewilderment recently but will reiterate it here. Dellin Betances has been near automatic in his career (2.29 ERA, 2.42 xFIP, 1.04 WHIP) and since 2014 has the highest K/9 amongst all pitchers at 14.44. Yet, we find him buried in drafts behind questionable-at-best closers like Blake Parker, Fernando Rodney and Shane Greene. The primary risk of drafting for saves is the risk of demotion, which Betances is completely immune. Betances is basically a free option for strikeouts, ERA and WHIP at his current cost. If you need more convincing, he's amassed 12 wins and 31 saves over the past three seasons. Betances atypically struggled at points last season but the larger body of work speaks for itself.

 

Overvalued AL Relief Pitchers

Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP 78)

Roberto Osuna is a notch below exceptional closers like Kimbrel and Chapman. Unfortunately, here he falls victim to circumstance. For his part, Osuna is a five-pitch guru with an awesome career 6.15 K:BB. However, it's tough justifying his ADP when players like Dallas Keuchel, Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera hover around. Cody Allen 20 picks later offers a similar return proposition for cheaper. Osuna also admitted last year to having anxiety issues off the field which could be a red flag for an immensely stressful position. That could be unfair, but I'm not sold on taking a tier-2 closer early when there are plenty other positions to fill. Perhaps Osuna makes the leap this year and crushes it, if he does I'll apologize to anyone that trolls me.

Ken Giles, Houston Astros (ADP 97)

Ken Giles emerged last season with a 2.30 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and converting 34-38 save opportunities. He parlays a high-90s fastball with a killer slider and his career 12.39 K/9 personifies the closer role. So why the hate? If we had to nitpick, he benefited from a.290 BABIP and 82.8% LOB% that were favorable against career levels. His 2017 postseason was also horrific (11.74 ERA, 2.22 WHIP, three HR allowed in 7.2 IP). But the argument against Giles is his ADP. Like Osuna, there's too much going on in the top-100 picks to give serious consideration to non-elite relievers. Plenty of attractive position players and mid-tier starters lurk. If you're desperate for closers, Cody Allen's ADP is 94 and he has a longer track record. At this price, I'd defer to saves zealots and take my chances later in the draft.

Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP 121)

Even though he's several rounds behind Osuna and Giles, the case against Alex Colome is more compelling. It's February and the Tampa Bay Rays have waved the white flag. While that alone doesn't obliterate Colome's value (he picked up 37 saves for a 68-win team in 2016), saves look to be the buoy for his current ADP. Colome has a subpar career K/9 of 7.99 and a high 3.14 ERA for a reliever (3.96 xFIP). His LOB% in 2017 ranked 106th among RPs at 72.4%. His fastball is average and a strong cutter is his only other pitch. After a breakout 2016, his numbers deteriorated across the board in 2017. Hitters appear on their way to deciphering Colome. Players like Blake Treinen 70 picks later could provide a much better risk-adjusted return.

Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers (ADP 242)

It's difficult to scream overpriced for a guy barely on the draft board. Shane Greene is no penthouse flat, but his Tigers have the worst odds to win the American League by a mile. Greene, a former starter, has 11 career saves to his credit and a 4.84 ERA. He's improved his velocity since becoming a full-time reliever in 2016 but his efficiency metrics remain mediocre (1.29 WHIP, 2.36 K:BB). Greene was named the team's closer with a resounding "it's his job to lose" endorsement. For a team that may have few opportunities for wins, manager Ron Gardenhire could ultimately take a situational approach in the late innings instead of putting blind faith in a player with no resume.

 

Closing Time

Draft philosophy on closers is as polarizing as any topic in fantasy sports. I believe it's important to target one top-level closer to anchor your roster, but if that doesn't work out, saves are not worth chasing. Managers rotate relievers constantly and turnover at closer is systemic. Brandon Kintzler, Corey Knebel and Bud Norris were all guys delivering precious saves for cheap last season. Even short-term injuries are chances to pick up spot RPs for a couple weeks. Be attentive on the wire. When looking at relievers, don't get enamored by the save. Weighing their impact in other categories is critical in receiving a sustainable return on investment.

 

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