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Today and every Tuesday moving forward throughout the 2018 MLB season, we will take a deep dive into some of the lesser-owned relief pitchers on the market that are worth keeping tabs on.

This can be a good tool for those in deeper holds leagues, although any pitcher in a position to make a move on their respective team's closer job will get priority.

This week we will take a look at four relievers (under 20% owned on Yahoo) who are starting off the year nicely after down 2017 campaigns and one potential future closer.

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Under-the-Radar Relievers to Watch

Adam Ottavino, Colorado Rockies - 20% owned

Ottavino has seen his ownership numbers skyrocket after his fast start to the season, now being rostered in 1/5 of all leagues. Pretty crazy for a guy who held an ERA and FIP above five last season and isn't a closer or starting pitcher. You only have to go back to late 2016/early 2017 though to get a sense of the type of talent he is and can be. In six innings so far, he has allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out 11, easily the best numbers out there for any reliever right now. The success may be attributed to a slight uptick in velocity, but likely, it has to do with him scrapping his four-seamer and going with a mostly sinker/slider mix. Sure it's a small sample size, but the swings and misses are up a ton and his overall command has been outstanding. He's worked his way back into the set-up mix, and if anything were to happen to Wade Davis, could very well be next in line for saves.

Robert Gsellman, New York Mets - 5% owned

After struggling mightily in the Mets rotation last season, the team decided to transition him into more of a long relief role, with the hopes of finding their own Chad Green of sorts. It's looking to be a wise move by the team, as Gsellman has, for the most part, looked great coming out of the bullpen. His velocity is up 1.5 mph in the new role, and while I'd still like to see him throw his fastball a bit less, it does have its moments where it looks nasty at 95 with some serious arm-side run. I don't picture him getting to double-digit holds, especially if the team gets Anthony Swarzak back soon. He does have SP eligibility going for him, so if he can keep pitching like he has, he can help with ratios and K. Don't expect him to be Chad Green-good, but a poor man's Chad Green can still be useful in deeper leagues.

Jim Johnson, Los Angeles Angels - 3% owned

Johnson, now 34 (I honestly thought he was older), is also looking at a bounce-back season after a mostly disastrous 2017 which saw him lose his closing job with the Braves midway through the year. After a mostly successful 2016, where he ended the year as the Braves closer, 2017 wasn't all that different when you take a closer look. His batting average against and walk rate both were up, but other numbers were actually better, such as his 9.4% SwStr, which was his best since 2009. Johnson true ability is probably somewhere in between those two seasons, and if he can do that with the Angels, that could earn him some value in hold's leagues, with a non zero percent chance at save opportunities. So far on the year, he has only allowed one hit, one walk and one earned run over 6.1 innings while striking out seven, and may very well be next in line for saves if Keynan Middleton falters soon.

Justin Grimm, Kansas City Royals - 1% owned

I was certainly not expecting Justin Grimm to begin the year as the Royals primary set-up man in front of Kelvin Herrera, but so far Grimm has been holding his own allowing just one earned run over 4.1 innings. This could be a sneaky good add for those in deep holds leagues, as while he hasn't shown it yet this year, Grimm can miss bats at a fairly good clip and be a good source of strikeouts. The question is then, can Grimm keep his ratio's low enough to keep his role and contribute fantasy value. If he can get past the HR problems that plagued him last year (22.5 HR/FB%), I can see him getting back to being the effective reliever he was from 2014-2016. He had never had an HR/FB% higher than 12.1 since his first full season as a reliever in 2014 so I'll chalk up last years HR hike as just a fluke thing (or perhaps juiced baseballs).

Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays - 1% owned

Despite his struggles, don't expect Alex Colome to lose his job anytime soon. That being said, I truly believe Jose Alvarado will be the next Felipe Rivero. It may not be this year, but eventually, he will be closing out games for the Rays. He's one of those rare lefties who is much more effective against right-handed hitters (.180 wOBA against 81 batters) than lefties (.321 wOBA). Similar to Rivero early on in his career, Alvarado possesses great stuff (99 MPH fastball to go with a solid slider/curve mix) but has yet to turn it into a bunch of swings and misses and strikeouts. I expect that to come as he matures as a pitcher, but in the meantime, he is still being productive and getting outs, with just one earned run to his name and has continued his K per inning pace from last season. His more of a dynasty add/stash right now, but if Colome blows another save or two in the near future, don't be surprised to see the Rays turn to Alvarado in the 9th inning.

 

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