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David Robertson to the Phillies - Fantasy Impact

David Robertson became one of the highest-paid relievers this offseason after negotiating a two-year, $23 million deal to join the Philadelphia bullpen. Robertson has long been thought of as one of the top bullpen arms in the game, but recently has dipped in the fantasy world without a clear path to saves after a few seasons with the Yankees. With the White Sox in 2015 and 2016, he was the primary closer, racking up 30-plus saves in both seasons, showing the real world appeal. All of this means that this is a pitcher with clear fantasy value, even if his role if not yet known.

The early signs, according to Matt Breen of The Philadelphia Inquirer, hint that Robertson will be a match-up arm in the 7th and 8th innings to start the season. This could change, but owners should expect this heading into Spring Training at the very least. This is good news for Phillies fans, as the push to contention now is a bit closer with a strong bullpen, and this will play out well for fantasy owners too. After finishing with a record of 80-82, the Phillies should be expected to be in the hunt again, but the primary need entering this offseason, other than spending “stupid money,” was bolstering the pen. In 2018, this staff was 18th in gross ERA, 14th in WHIP, and 16th in HR/9. While one piece does not fix all those warts, with this quality arm added to Gabe Kapler’s arsenal, the stock of the team as a whole can only rise.  

In this article, the focus will be on the impact to fantasy stocks as a result of the Robertson signing, and what this might mean for those outside the bullpen as well. The one other thing to note is that the Phillies seem to be one of the teams willing to push the analytics to the field with Gabe Kapler, meaning changing bullpen roles. So, roles might be in flux, but quality is quality.

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David Robertson (RP, PHI)

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As mentioned already, Robertson is a great piece, but for fantasy value, could have ended up with a better chance at saves. Atlanta, for example, would have been a good fit, Cleveland even as well, would have made him the top arm in the pen. This means that owners drafting Robertson should not expect 30-plus saves, but still should not discount the opportunity if he pitches his way into it, or if/when others on the staff fade. Even with that in mind, for owners who punt saves, and shoot for ratios and wins out of the pen, this could be a top RP target on draft day.

With New York in 2018, Robertson pitched 69.2 innings with 11.76 K/9, and an ERA of 3.23. Even with the reliever’s sample size, the FIP was lower at 2.97. Add in eight wins, and Robertson was still a great arm to own. What makes him unique are the splits. Even as a righty hurler, he held lefties to a .172 average. His matchups with righties were good as well, with a slightly higher .185 line. The downside was that he gave up six homers to lefties, and only one to righties last campaign. Some of that can be tied to the short porch at Yankee Stadium, but still something to watch. Add to this that 2018 was one of his down campaigns concerning chase rate, as batters swing at four percent fewer pitches out of the zone, and the numbers look even better, as there was little damage to his overall productivity. If 2018 is the baseline, the only thing hurting the fantasy value is that there were better landing spots for saves.


Seranthony Dominguez (RP, PHI)

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Assuming that Robertson is not finishing games, the role seems to fall to Dominguez, who is interesting in his own right. After appearing in 58 games in 2018, with the Phillies, Dominguez looks to be one of the top arms in that pen as well, even if there was some variance in his success over the whole season. While saving 16 games, he did lose five games and posted a 3.41 BB/9 line. The ERA was stable at 2.95 and the stuff played up as well, at 11.48 K/9. Command was the main issue during his time in the minors, but 2018 was his best as a pro, averaging between one and three walks per nine based on the level.

If he can lock this in, the fastball is elite, with Fangraphs giving it a 65 grade. His second pitch is a slider, also rated as plus. He seems to throw a curve and changeup, but neither get even 50 grades from the scouts. If he is saving games, having Robertson means that there will be more opportunities, and therefore even more helium on the counting numbers. Also, if Robertson can spell him, there will be a shorter leash, limiting blow-up innings, or forced usage by the skipper. There is still development needed, but before the move, Rotoballer has him as the 15th reliever in fantasy drafts and this might push him up a spot or two.


Tommy Hunter (RP, PHI)

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Coming off a breakout 2017 campaign, Hunter was added to the Phillies pen with a bit of hype. Sadly, injuries and other struggles limited him to 64 innings in 2018. Adding to that, the K-rate was down from 9.82 K/9 to 7.17 K/9 with his new team. His ERA also jumped to 3.80 after a 2.61 mark in 2017. Regarding usage, Hunter bounced around, and even saved some games for Kapler, but also posted 12 appearances over one inning in length.

This means that he will grab innings when given the chance, but also might hint at a lack of other real arms in the pen with other struggles. Robertson allows Hunter to move to a sixth-inning role, with upside even in the middle relief innings. For owners playing in NL-only leagues, Hunter should be a target due to a bit more stability, as well as the multi-inning usage. He's not a strong play to help ratios, but this is the opportunity to steal a few wins and maybe even catch a rebound if his stuff can play up in a new role.


James Pazos (RP, PHI)

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As of right now, Pazos is not making the team out of Spring Training, but with the Robertson move, he is even further from a spot. With Robertson being a good lefty-matchup option who can also pitch a full inning, there is one fewer spot in the pen for a LOOGY.

Jose Alvarez should be the top option and even Adam Morgan, who is admittingly more of a long-relief option, can fill that role. As more of a deep-league impact, Pazos might have been interesting for the Ks, but now should move to undrafted even in NL-only leagues. This also means that drafting Alvarez might be a good move, but admittingly, the upside is not there for the role.


Phillies Starters

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Any time a team with winning aspirations can improve a bullpen, the starters get a bit of a jump. Aaron Nola had a great 2018 season but could be in line for even a few more wins this year, and this plays out for the other starters as well. Adding Robertson allows Kapler to go to the pen earlier, cutting down on extending starters past six innings, and while cutting into innings as a whole, should be a move that benefits the rotation overall.

The biggest beneficiaries are perhaps Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez, but looking to the young arms sitting at Triple-A, this removes one potential red flag from the stock at the starting position. The other thing for the starters is that if there is some regression coming, say from 17 wins back to 14, the addition in the bullpen can help stem that drop. When Rotoballer already has two of the Phillies staff ranked in the top 40 SP, keep an eye on others moving up the rankings.

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