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Fantasy Baseball ADP Reflections - Relief Pitchers

We’re still awaiting concrete news on how a 2020 baseball season will look like (if it does exist). Different possibilities have surfaced in recent days which includes an option of multiple doubleheaders being played every week. It’s still far too early to tell how serious or plausible this is but should it come to fruition, no position will be impacted in fantasy more than pitching, especially closers.

If every day had doubleheaders, in theory, a closer would lose half of their potential saves due to managers very rarely using the same pitcher in both games of doubleheaders. Of course, this is all just conjecture and even in normal seasons, there are no guarantees when it comes to closers and saves.

That shouldn’t stop us seeking potential value in drafts by seeing which relievers have thus far been overvalued and undervalued in drafts. Here we will take a peek under the hood of the numbers for some relief arms and any information we have which could potentially impact their fantasy value.

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Overvalued – Will Smith, Atlanta Braves

With an ADP on NFBC of ~169, Smith is being taken as the  62nd pitcher on NFBC drafts (as of 903 live drafts) and is the 16th reliever drafted. The mid-tier of relievers being drafted 10 spots before and after Smith consists of Brandon Workman, Alex Colome, Hansel Robles, Jose Leclerc and Archie Bradley. The difference between Smith and the rest is that Smith is the only one without the closer's role. Below are the projections for each of the six relievers (ADP data is taken from NFBC).

Brandon Workman 160.37 66.0 97 2.61 1.16 27
Alex Colome 160.65 64.0 57 3.95 1.19 31
Hansel Robles 168.09 67.0 88 3.21 1.11 29
Will Smith 169.16 67.0 93 2.86 1.05 12
Jose Leclerc 174.33 67.0 97 3.68 1.28 30
Archie Bradley 176.13 70.0 84 3.69 1.30 28

Smith compares favorably to the others on the list apart from the saves and if you’re using a mid-round draft pick on a reliever, you’re going to want elite strikeout or ERA numbers if you aren’t getting the saves. Smith’s numbers are very good but not elite.

When the Braves signed Smith to a three-year deal worth $40 million, the expectation was that Smith would take over the closer role, a source of issue for the Braves in 2019 when 11 different players recorded a save and none exceeded 20. Mark Melancon took over the role late in the season and kept it despite some wobbles but Brian Snitker looks set to keep the veteran as the closer over Smith.

With the new rules of three batters faced minimum for pitchers, it’s not clear how each manager will utilize his bullpen but Smith is currently the only definite leftie in the Braves ‘pen with Grant Dayton the other likely southpaw. That suggests Smith may be used in a more match-up based scenario to face opponents left-hand hitters in the biggest spots. His career splits favor him against lefties but the numbers are still very good against right-handed hitters.

vs L 149.2 231 .224 .277 .352 .276
vs R 261.0 263 .245 .320 .403 .311

Smith will be a much better real-life pitcher than a fantasy option. In leagues which include holds, Smith is a valuable asset but in standard leagues, Smith is being drafted as closer yet he doesn’t have that role. Of course, we see every year that closers struggle and lose the role and FAAB and waivers are actively used to pick up closers.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith does end up with more saves than Melancon but at his current ADP, I’m not taking that chance on Smith. Should the league implement multiple doubleheaders each week, Smith could be used as a game two closer when Melancon has been used in game one which helps his value, but again that speculation at this stage isn’t worthy of taking him at his current ADP.


Overvalued Honorable Mention – Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox

As the above table shows, Colome’s ERA and strikeouts do not compare very well against the similarly drafted relievers. With the White Sox looking to challenge for a playoff spot in a somewhat weakened division, it’s unlikely Colome has a long leash and lacks the swing and miss stuff that’s so sought after in the closer role.

His 2.80 ERA last year might make it seem like Colome will succeed as a closer this year, but his 4.38 SIERA suggests otherwise and the White Sox have other options (Steve Cishek and Aaron Bummer especially) ready to step into the role.


Undervalued – Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays

Giles’ current ADP is ~130, leaving him outside the top tier of relievers being drafted. The thing is, Giles absolutely belongs in that top tier and it can be argued he is actually a top-3 closer.

Take a look at Giles’ Statcast profile and this should highlight how good Giles was last year;

Giles was in the 95th percentile or better among all pitchers in the three expected outcomes (xBA, xwOBA and xSLG). Giles also was in the 94th percentile for fastball velocity (96.9 MPH average) and 99th percentile in strikeout rate (14.09% K%).

Being the closer for the Blue Jays is holding Giles back a bit as they’re in such a tough division (not including the Orioles), but they do have a much-improved lineup with young exciting players and have enough pieces to play .500 baseball for the season. That should equal enough save opportunities to be worthy of his ADP alone.

If you take a look at his numbers since reaching the Majors, you’ll see impressive seasons with a couple of duds. A little deeper dive will show sustained excellence.

2014 45.2 1.18 1.51 38.6%
2015 70.0 1.80 2.80 29.2%
2016 65.2 4.11 2.48 35.7%
2017 62.2 2.30 2.81 33.6%
2018 50.2 4.65 2.96 25.0%
2019 53.0 1.87 2.49 39.9%

SIERA is a more detailed measure of a pitchers’ performance and if it is 2.90 or below, it is considered excellent. Below 3.25 is considered great. Giles has therefore been excellent for five of his six years in the Majors and still great in his worst statistical season.

There’s nothing to suggest Giles won’t put up outstanding numbers again and if he was on a better team, there wouldn’t be nine relievers being drafted in front of him like there is now. Giles also has that seemingly important closer experience managers look for (more than they should I might add), with 114 career saves to his name.

If we do see numerous doubleheaders played to complete a full season, the value of the upper echelon of closers will diminish somewhat with teams reluctant to use someone twice in one day. It’s unlikely the Blue Jays will win both games in their respective doubleheaders very often (unlike the better teams) so his value won’t diminish quite so much.


Undervalued Honorable Mention – Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

Like the Blue Jays, the Texas Rangers should be better this year than the 2019 version. Last year, saw Leclerc lose the closer role before winning it back which resulted in just 14 saves by season’s end. I don’t foresee Leclerc losing the role again this year.

His walk rate is a bit high (career 14.8% BB%) to be confident in him, but his strikeout numbers help offset that significantly with his career 33% K%. Leclerc’s Statcast profile from 2019 is similar to Giles’ too with outstanding expected outcomes all being in the 90th percentile of better.

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