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Biggest Fallers of 2020 – Relief Pitchers

In an abbreviated 60-game season, a large number of relievers previously considered to be lockdown closers or dominant set-up men struggled consistently, ultimately resulting in a negative impact on their fantasy value.

As we previously did with RP risers, we will now look at the biggest fallers of the 2020 season as we gear up for 2021 drafts in the spring. Obviously, the 2020 season left relief pitchers with fewer total innings pitched and appearances. As a result, it should be cautioned that there is no exact science to determine whether diminished performance will continue into 2021, or how much the 2020 performances should weigh into current rankings/ADP. That said, we tried to flag those relievers whose decline in value (due to performance or bullpen situation) transcended their small 2020 sample size.

In addition and of note, we will not discuss those relievers who were out for a wide chunk of the season due to an injury (e.g., Kirby Yates, Roberto Osuna, and Ken Giles).

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Hansel Robles, Free Agent

Where to start? Well, in 2019, reliever Hansel Robles converted 23 of his 27 opportunities in his first season as a full-time closer for the Los Angeles Angels. He posted a 2.48 ERA and 1.02 WHIP through 72 2/3 innings pitched. Additionally, Robles established a career-best 5.7% walk rate to go with a 26.5% strikeout rate. Heading into 2020, Robles was certainly a top-20 relief option and carried a justified 172 ADP. Unfortunately for managers that rostered Robles, this author included, he followed up his 2019 breakout with an absolutely putrid 2020 campaign.

Robles finished his 2020 season with the Angels posting a 10.26 ERA, a 1.74 WHIP, two blown saves in just three save opportunities, and 10 walks in 16 2/3 innings pitched. He was removed from the Angels’ closer role early in the season. To say Robles failed to meet expectations in 2020 is an understatement.

Looking at Robles’ metrics, we see his regression was certainly supported and not just the result of small-inning sample size or a few individual game shellackings. Robles had an xERA of 6.82 and yielded an overall barrel rate of 14.3% which was in the bottom two percent of all of baseball. In addition, his walk rate, and xBA allowed were both in the bottom 15% of MLB.

Looking at the positives, and there were a slight few, although Robles’ fastball velocity was down almost two mph from 2019, his fastball spin rate was better than league average (though not as impressive as his 2019 fastball spin rate in 2019). Additionally, the exit velocity on Robles’ fastball was almost two mph less than in 2019, though it didn’t really translate to success (clearly) where his put-away rate on the fastball was almost identical to his 2019 totals.

The Angels non-tendered Hansel Robles on December 2 and proceeded to acquire Raisel Iglesias from Cincinnati five days later. Accordingly, this all but eliminates Robles’ fantasy value heading into 2021 drafts as reflected by his current 682 ADP.

 

Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies

Phillies reliever Hector Neris was coming off a 2019 campaign in which he converted 28 saves in 24 opportunities and posted a 2.93 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP, and struck out 89 in 67 2/3 innings pitched. Although his walk rate from 2019 was high, Neris still carried an ADP of around 150 heading into 2020.

In 2020, Neris reverted to his early 2018 form and managed just five saves in eight opportunities, posting an unsightly 4.57 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, and 13 walks in 21 2/3 innings pitched. As a result of his struggles, the Phillies were forced to remove him from the closer role and trade for Brandon Workman mid-season in 2020.

Looking at Neris’ metrics, his 2020 decline wasn’t as pronounced as that of Hansel Robles, discussed above. Overall, comparing Neris’ metrics to those in 2019, his numbers were relatively consistent with those from 2019. The main differences were his strikeout rate which was down from his 2019 total, a higher hard-hit percentage, and a 12.6% walk rate which was in the bottom 15% of MLB. Of note, Neris’ 2020 xERA was 3.92, his barrel rate actually declined by almost one percent, and his whiff rate was in the top three percent of all of MLB, though it didn’t translate to strikeout totals.

These numbers would suggest some positive regression for Neris in 2021. The question is, however, will Neris get that opportunity to positively regress as Phillies’ closer? In October, the Phillies declined Neris’ seven million dollar club option for the 2021 season. While he remains on the Phillies 40-man roster, and Brandon Workman is no longer with the Phillies, Neris still doesn’t currently have the closer job in Philadelphia. As a result, Neris holds little fantasy value at this point beyond a mixed league dart throw, as reflected by his current ADP of 332.

 

Brandon Workman, Free Agent

Speaking of Brandon Workman… the Philadelphia Phillies acquired Workman from the Boston Red Sox mid-season as a result of Hector Neris’ struggles. The intent was to fortify a struggling bullpen and install Workman as the primary closer for the Phillies. Unfortunately for the Phillies, Workman was terrible in Philadelphia (and not much better for the Red Sox before the trade).

With the Phillies, Workman converted only five saves in eight opportunities, lost four games, allowed four home runs in 13 innings pitched, and yielded a 6.92 ERA and 2.46 WHIP. Overall, for the 2020 season, Workman posted a 5.95 ERA, a 6.61 xERA, a 2.24 WHIP, and allowed 13 walks in 19 2/3 IP. He is currently a free agent and the chance of him signing with a club to be their primary closer is a tenuous proposition, at best.

Unlike Hector Neris, his metrics would not suggest any potential for positive regression (again, notwithstanding the small 2020 sample size). Among other poor metrics, Workman was in the bottom seven percent in all of MLB in barrel rate, and in the bottom three percent in all of MLB in hard-hit rate in 2020.

It remains to be seen where the 32-year old lands this offseason. As stated, however, it would be unlikely he assumes a closer role with any club, given his putrid 2020 performance and limited career history as a closer. Appropriately carrying an ADP of 600, Workman should be largely ignored in most fantasy formats heading into 2021.

 

Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos endured a peculiar 2020 campaign. Heading into 2020, Gallegos appeared to be the best option to close games for the Cardinals. He was coming off a breakout 2019 campaign in which he struck out 93 batters in 74 innings pitched and posted a 2.31 ERA and 0.81 WHIP supported by a 27.6% K/BB rate. As a result, he had an ADP of 206 in 2020. Unfortunately, due to a delayed arrival in summer camp due to travel issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and a groin injury in mid-September, Gallegos managed to pitch just 15 innings in 2020.

A limited sample size coupled with the fact that manager Mike Shildt utilized Gallegos infrequently as closer and part of a committee with Alex Reyes, Ryan Helsley, and Andrew Miller, adversely impacted his fantasy value. Not surprisingly, Gallegos managed just four saves (in four opportunities) with a 3.60 ERA, a 0.87 WHIP, and 21 strikeouts in those 15 IP.

Gallegos’ 2020 numbers were certainly solid and his performance was supported by a 2.06 FIP. His inclusion in this list of fallers is premised upon his usage, as opposed to his 2020 performance which was consistent with his 2019 breakout. The Cardinals appear to be content using Gallegos as a situational stopper and not as a bona fide closer. Gallegos will maintain his value as a solid relief option in leagues that reward holds, but his ceiling in saves-only leagues is limited.

By no means should Gallegos be ignored in those leagues, since he should get some save opportunities unless the Cardinals install Reyes, Helsley, or Miller as a full-time closer or trade/sign another option. That said, his current ADP of 264 is a step down from his outlook heading into the 2020 season as a result of how the Cardinals will likely utilize his services in 2021.

 

Will Smith, Atlanta Braves

In 2019, Atlanta Braves reliever Will Smith converted 34 of 38 save opportunities as the closer for the San Francisco Giants. Smith posted a 2.76 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, and struck out 96 batters in 65 1/3 innings pitched amounting to a career-best 37.4 strikeout rate. Heading into 2020, the Braves made a surprising move and signed Smith to a three-year deal. The general belief was that Smith would close for the Braves or, at the very least, share closing duties with Mark Melancon. This resulted in a 2020 ADP of 134 for Smith. Suffice it to say, Smith failed to live up to expectations and his lofty ADP.

First, Smith had a delayed start to the season due to his testing positive for COVID-19 and he did not join the Braves until August 6. Once he did come back, home run issues that plagued him in 2019 (a career-worst 20.4 HR/FB rate in 2019, despite overall effectiveness) reared their ugly head. Smith yielded seven home runs in just 16 innings en route to posting a 4.50 ERA, a 5.01 xERA, and zero saves in just one opportunity. His poor performance was supported by an overall 15% barrel rate, an overall launch angle of 22.2 degrees yielded, and a 45% hard-hit rate which was well above the league average of 34.9%. It was no surprise that he was prone to the home run and posted a horrific 7.38 FIP in 2020.

Looking forward to 2021, while Brian Snitker will utilize Smith in the later innings, it is unlikely he will be installed as closer if Mark Melancon returns. Additionally, even if Melancon does not return, Shane Greene may very well be next in line. While Smith’s current ADP of 263 represents a massive fall from his pre-season ADP in 2020, it still is quite high. The previously discussed Melancon has an ADP of 254 and Giovanny Gallegos, who has a higher ceiling and better path to some save opportunities in 2021, has an ADP of 264. As it stands now, Smith is really nothing more than a handcuff for Melancon, and a tenuous one at that given the likely 2021 closer pecking order in Atlanta.

Other Notable Fallers: Sean Doolittle (WAS), Michael Lorenzen (CIN), Carlos Martinez (STL), Matt Barnes (BOS), Dellin Betances (NYM).



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