KEEPERS: 2017 Dynasty Reload—Relief Pitchers

This is the tenth and final installment of our annual off-season series aimed at helping keeper league (KL) and dynasty owners address needs over the next 3-5 years. Each week we examined a position, and noted players and prospects who 1) could be available in your league; and 2) we think have a good shot at earning double-digit R$ sometime between 2017 and 2019.

Stable, established contributors are more difficult than ever to acquire, be it by trade or off your league's free agent list. This is even more valid for rebuilders with little excess talent to barter, and particularly relevant with respect to position players in deeper leagues.

We've attempted to identify the best and most MLB-ready of both marginal producers and legit prospects with upside, some with little to no MLB track record. And of course context matters—in terms of opportunity, risk, health, age, price and productivity time-line. Our filter uses the following criterion:

  • Player must be growth-age—27 years old—or younger as of April 1, 2017
  • Player must have earned less than $10 in a 5x5 format during 2016
  • Player must have 100+ AB or 50 IP above A+, AFL experience, or 5 years in professional foreign ball

Links to previous positions:  C  |  1B  |  2B  |  3B  |  SS  |  AL OF  |  NL OF  |  AL SP  |  NL SP

Fueled by significant SP breakdowns and a general inability of the next prospect wave to step up, 2016 was the year of the reliever. As we noted in our 2016 season post mortem, more RPs than ever—including obscure names that weren't rostered or even considered in April—effectively logged big IP and K totals, helping set new MLB strikeout records. The positive results, along with the ongoing rotation shortage and accelerated closer-role volatility suggests that this trend will continue to become a bigger part of the game. In short, fantasy owners should all be on the hunt for the next Andrew Miller—or even the next Brad Hand.

The inherent volatility of limited-repertoire, control-or-stuff challenged pitchers and their huge inventory—not to mention the unpredictable timing as to when a starter might be moved to the pen with plus results—leave our projection tools and filters incomplete for the task at hand. Neither prior performance nor age are always significant factors. Like everyone else, we overlooked plenty of 2016 journeymen, late-bloomers and converted SPs whose skills and production were unpredictable during the pre-season—including the likes of Tyler Thornburg ($17), Chris Devenski ($17), and Ryan Dull ($13).

That said, five names from last year's piece that were eventually given ninth inning jobs—though the tenures (and seasons) of both Arodys Vizcaino and Cam Bedrosian were quickly torpedoed by injuries. And a sixth (Hunter Strickland) was handed an opportunity he couldn't convert. We'll continue to target skilled RPs with late-inning opportunities in shaky bullpens. And we'll now double-up in our focus on shaky rotations with good offenses in an effort to ID multi-inning bullpen strikeout (and win?) potential. But of course, this is just one point in time, and obviously the search is a year-long effort. Organization-wise, the most promising opportunities and/or roles likely to change or develop can be found in ARI, ATL, CHW, CIN, DET, LAA, MIA, MIL, MIN, OAK, PHI, PIT, SD, TAM, TEX and WAS.

This time last year, Kyle Barraclough (RHP, MIA) had lights-out stuff, but also a 32% GB% and a 6.7 Ctl (48% FpK) after his 24 IP MLB debut—along with a 4.9 Ctl in 147 minor league IP. In 2016, Barraclough has upped his Dom (14.0 Dom, 14% SwK) and shaved his Ctl down to 5.4—4.5 with a 62% FpK over 40 2H IP. At the same time, he's spiked his GB% to 52%, thereby limiting the potential damage of that still-excessive walk rate. Barraclough's $7 2016 was fueled largely by 113 Ks in 73 IP, and his second consecutive sub-3 ERA. It's still a small sample, but continued progress will bring save opportunities in the not-too-distant future. 

Cam Bedrosian's (RHP, LAA) tenure as closer in replacing injured Huston Street lasted less than a week before he went down with finger tendinitis—and then blood clots in his right armpit ended his season. Street enters 2017 with another year left on his contract and likely the closer job. But his performance and health over the past year and a half now suggests he's not long for the role. And Bedrosian's killer fastball/slider combination finally produced pre-DL numbers—1.99/2.94 ERA/xERA, 11.4 Dom, 3.1 Ctl, 49% GB% over 40 IP—that make him the heir apparent.

Following just six 2016 starts, Edwin Diaz (RHP, SEA) was moved out of the rotation and into the Double-A Jackson bullpen. Ten relief appearances later, he leapfrogged Triple-A into the SEA pen, seized the closer job in August and never looked back—posting a 2.79 ERA (52 IP), 18 saves and earning $9 in the process. His ownership of the ninth inning likely makes Diaz a tough get in your league. But if you can sew doubts about his inexperience, Diaz's high-90s octane, 15.3 Dom and 19% SwK along with decent control suggest he'll be a double-digit earner for years to come.   

After struggling in March and April, Ken Giles (RHP, HOU) finally settled down and in August, took the ninth-inning job for which he was acquired. A September to forget (7.15/3.65 ERA/xERA) and a 4.11 ERA for the season may have him on the block in your league. If so, Giles' 14.0 Dom, 20% SwK, 4.1 Cmd and 64% FpK suggest that this is a buying opportunity. 

Mychal Givens (RHP, BAL) was one of our above-the-cut picks from last year who had value ($7) in middle relief, thanks to 96 IP of a 3.13 ERA, 11.6 Dom and eight wins—the latter courtesy of a shaky Orioles rotation and run-producing lineup. As seen in season-long control volatility, Givens needs to develop more consistency. He also could stand to begin working on a groundball pitch over the long haul, though his stuff to date has held the HR ball in check. Givens is unlikely to find late inning work quickly in an excellent BAL bullpen, but what he does now keeps him roster-worthy while you wait.

Lefty Brad Hand (LHP, SD) upped his slider use, bumped his fastball velocity, tamed RHBs (.236 oppBA)—and came from out of nowhere to toss 89 IP of 100+ K ball and earn $9. This may be as good as it gets, but Hand's soaring strikeout metrics—from 6.5 Dom, 9% SwK in 2015, to 11.2 and 13% last year—suggest that we not bet heavily against a repeat. And despite his multi-inning excellence, a tenuous SD ninth inning suggests that saves aren't completely out of the question.

After missing most of the 1H with an oblique strain and struggled upon his 2H return, Corey Knebel (RHP, MIL) and his 4.68 ERA seems an unlikely above-the-cut entry. But despite wrestling with sub-par SwK all season, Knebel was able to post another double-digit Dom as his velocity crept back into the mid-90 mph range—and his 3.2 Ctl (64 FpK) over 28 2H IP showed promise. We're also looking at Knebel's historical pedigree, including a career 1.99 ERA and 13.0 Dom over 108 IP—as well as an open MIL closer role following the departure of Tyler Thornburg to MIL. Improved health and a modest breakthrough could yield immediate profit.  

In an effort to keep him healthy, Rasiel Iglesias (RHP, CIN) was moved to the bullpen following his return from the DL in late June And with a little help from his 2H H%/S%, Iglesias was able to post a 1.98 ERA, six saves, and a 54/19 K/BB over his final 50 IP to earn $9 for the season. He enters 2017 as the designated closer, though some of his 2H performance (3.77 xERA, volatile control and an inability to dominate LHBs) suggests caution, and Drew Storen waiting in the wings. But Iglesias also posted a 14% SwK and a 60% after June, ownership is part of the bet, and his stuff seems likely to play up in his new role with better health. We're buying.   

After posting a 4.52/4.16 ERA/xERA (70 IP) with 13 saves in 2016, Brandon Maurer (RHP, SD) is here above the cut courtesy of his closer role entering March. Maurer posted his best-ever velocity, a fine 9.3 Dom (12% SwK) and 3.0 Ctl (60% FpK)—and his 2H control metrics (1.5 Ctl, 69% FpK) were outstanding. But for the most part he remains consistent from month to month, lacks a strong GB tilt and doesn't dominate RHBs, who posted a .263/.292/.431 line against Maurer in 2016. On a rebuilder, Maurer could still get most of the saves and even improve his overall numbers a tad; we just wouldn't bet the farm on it.

Hector Neris (RHP, PHI) was another one of those where-did-he-come-from names in 2016, posting a 2.58/3.22 over 80 IP—complete with an 11.4 Dom (16 SwK), 3.4 Cmd and consistency until September, when the work load may have caught up with him. Minus this kind of a track record and a GB pitch, Neris has plenty to prove this year; whether he can maintain a 3.4 Ctl supported by a meager 52% FpK remains to be seen. But he earned $8 last year dominating hitters on both sides of the plate. And incumbent closer Jeanmar Gomez's mediocre skills and 2017 2H meltdown suggests that Neris could even find himself getting ninth inning consideration by Opening Day.  


Missed our cut, but worth watching:

Jacob Barnes (RHP, MIL): Another ex-minor league starter now showing big-time swing-and-miss / GB tilt out of the pen. Sore elbow shelved him in Aug, but MLB debut (2.70 ERA, 16% SwK, 62% FpK over 27 IP) was impressive. Opportunity-wise, he's in the right organization.  

Carter Capps (RHP, SD): Still recovering from TJS performed in March 2016, but had been ridiculous—16.8 Dom, 26% SwK, 8.3 Cmd, 1.16 ERA—in 31 IP during the prior season. Could return and be in the SD saves mix quickly.

Mauricio Cabrera (RHP, ATL): Raw talent in a good situation, posted 2.82/4.54 ERA/xERA with 49% GB% in 38 IP MLB debut. Needs to improve 7.5 Dom and 4.5 Ctl, but velocity averaged 100 mph, and 12% SwK looks promising.

JT Chargois (RHP, MIN): Career 1.95 ERA, 10.6 Dom and plenty of ground balls (3 HR allowed) in 111 minor league IP. Didn't fare nearly as well in 23 IP MLB debut until outstanding Sept. Another high-90s mph guy on a team looking for late inning options.

Carl Edwards (RHP, CHC): Control still a work-in-progress (3.5 Ctl, 56% FpK in 36 IP). But 13.0 Dom (18% FpK) and 50% GB% are things of beauty. In outstanding pen, he's not a ninth-inning threat until further notice.

Michael Feliz (RHP, HOU): 95 Ks in 65 IP (13.4 Dom, 14% SwK) to go along with a 2.70 xERA points to a bright future... if he can alleviate a HR problem that fueled a 4.43 ERA and a problematic 51% 2H FpK. With progress here, he has the makings of a dominating multi-inning force.

Joe Jimenez (RHP, DET): Youngster with classic late-inning fastball/slider combo has yet to make MLB debut. But he finished in Triple-A after roaring through three levels in 2016, posting a 1.51 ERA and 78/17 K/BB over 54 combined IP. Organization, opportunity are pluses.

Keone Kela (RHP, TEX): Struggled in 2H return following surgery to correct elbow impingement; shaky control, GBs down, HR up. But mid-90s velocity, Dom and SwK remained intact. If healthy, still a worthy closer-of-the-future speculation.

Derek Law (RHP, SF): Solid MLB debut—2.13/3.24 ERA/xERA, 5.6 Cmd, 50% GB% over 55 IP—for minor league closer, with good FpK, SwK support. Bright future, should compete for 2017 setup role.

Michael Lorenzen (RHP, CIN): Move to pen produced velocity, Dom GB bumps and a 2.70 ERA over 43 IP in workhorse 2H performance, setting up expectations. Absence of huge strikeout metrics (8.6 Dom, 10% SwK) tempers our enthusiasm. But together with 2.3 Ctl and 63% GB%, we might be underestimating him below the cut.

Trevor May (RHP, MIN): Fashioned awful 5.27 ERA (3.57 xERA) in 43 IP prior to being diagnosed with stress fracture in his back. If he can stay healthy and cough up a few less HRs, 12.7 Dom, 3.5 Cmd, 140 BPV look closer-worthy from here. Particularly in ninth-inning-challenged MIN.

Edubray Ramos (RHP, PHI): Promising MLB debut—3.83/3.75 ERA/xERA, 3.6 Cmd, 110 BPV from hard-thrower, in organization whose late innings look unsettled. Could take a while but he's worth handcuffing to Neris. 

Felipe Rivero (LHP, PIT): Lefty who can handle RHBs (.204 oppBA) needs to improve upon 3.9 Ctl and establish more consistency. But 10.8 K, 15% SwK and 96 mph are impressive. His 77 IP suggest bullpen workhorse in the making.

Bruce Rondon (RHP, DET): Rebound included career-best numbers across-the-board that included 3.8 Cmd, 16% SwK and 130 BPV while still throwing high-90's gas. Control still fuzzy and GB%/HR trend is disturbing. DET closer role could be up for grabs by year-end if not sooner.

Shae Simmons (RHP, SEA): Return from TJS took longer than expected for one-time ATL closer-in-waiting. GB% and velocity were fine, now has to regain dominance he showed throughout minor league career. Part of a talented SEA pen, immediate role and value looks uncertain.

Will Smith (LHP, SF): Another lefty who has dominated RHBs for the past two seasons. Walks have been a problem but FpK trend is more promising. With double-digit Dom and outstanding SwK for four consecutive seasons, needs health and innings for first $10 season.

Hunter Strickland (RHP, SF): GBs spiked, but across-the-board performance slide from last year's cover lands him below the cut now. Couldn't run with 2H closing opp we'd anticipated, converting just two of seven save chances. Still has value, but ninth inning suddenly looks far away.

Arodys Vizcaino (RHP, ATL): Was running with closer role over first couple of months before oblique and shoulder injuries intervened and effectively aborted his 2H. Health is obviously an issue. But when he was right, SwK, Dom, GB% and high-90's velocity were untouchable.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.