RELIEVERS: 2020 Gambles

This week, the column looks at gambles--the relievers you will roster because of the initial role despite some weaker skills. We filter for gambles by saves, primarily, and then for poor xERA or repeated injury or some other reason that the reliever is rostered with added risk.

It seems obvious in 2020 to start in Colorado with "named closer" Wade Davis (RHP, COL). Davis was not good in 2019 and is not very likely to be any good in 2020, either. In fact, his BaseballHQ.com projection is downright putrid and because of it, the projection anticipates his failure and spreads out the saves:

COL                   Sv Hld  IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9 G% F% BPV  $ ADP
===================== == === ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== == == === == ===
W.Davis                9   7  44  4.74 1.48  9.6  2.0  1.2 38 40  56 -8 515
S.Oberg               14  10  58  3.93 1.29  8.4  2.5  0.8 52 27  89  2 261
J.Diaz                11   7  58  4.44 1.43  8.2  2.1  1.2 49 32  70 -3 502
C.Estevez              7  10  58  4.25 1.36  9.2  2.8  1.1 41 37  96 -4 731

Davis is the named closer, but don't fall for it. Rostering Davis for any cost at all is a gamble. His ADP is just 515 and his projected value is $-8. That's bad. Scott Oberg (RHP, COL) has a 261 ADP and a $2 value, so buyers think he is going to replace Davis sooner than later. Oberg has the better xERA and WHIP for sure. But don't sleep on Carlos Estevez (RHP, COL) who has the higher Dom that Bud Black wants (9.2) better Cmd, decent enough HR/9 for Colorado, and best BPV (96). Estevez can be had at a 731 ADP and is at least as likely as Oberg to save games. Projections currently have it Oberg, then Jairo Diaz (RHP, COL), then Davis, then Estevez. But Estevez is not that far away from saves, given the other skill sets.

The Los Angeles Angels have incumbent closer Hansel Robles (RHP, LAA) at a 171 ADP. That means buyers have some confidence. But Robles is projected for a worse xERA, worse Dom, worse Cmd ratio, high flyball rate and worse BPV than penmates Keynan Middleton (RHP, LAA) and Ty Buttrey (RHP, LAA). Is Robles as safe as a 171 ADP suggests? Here are the projections:

LAA                   Sv Hld  IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9 G% F% BPV  $ ADP
===================== == === ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== == == === == ===
H.Robles              34   4  65  4.14 1.20  9.4  3.0  1.1 37 41  99  9 171
K.Middleton            4  18  58  3.95 1.34 10.7  3.5  1.7 38 41 125  0 622
T.Buttrey              2  18  65  3.58 1.28 10.1  3.3  1.1 48 31 126 -2 608

Middleton and Buttrey do not have a lot to separate them, except projected HR/9, where Buttrey has a nice advantage 1.1 to 1.7. Otherwise they are both solid skill sets expected to out-pitch Robles. This makes Robles a small gamble. On the one hand, he has the role. On the other hand, a 4.14 xERA is a little shaky and with nice skill sets behind him, it won't take much of a stumble for a new manager to replace him. Joe Maddon likes to tinker, anyway, so expect more of a spread for saves here. If you pay for Robles, make sure you understand that it is a risk that could be avoided with other closers at slightly easier to obtain ADPs.

Seattle has a mess of a bullpen. Matt Magill (RHP, SEA) was cut mid-season by Detroit but enters 2020 as the Seattle closer. Expecting that to hold up all season is quite a gamble. Here are the projections:

SEA                   Sv Hld  IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9 G% F% BPV  $  ADP
===================== == === ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== == == === === ===
M.Magill              15   3  58  4.23 1.33  9.5  2.9  1.4 37 39  97   1 415
Y.Hirano               2   9  51  3.88 1.25  9.7  3.1  1.4 45 36 112  -4 667
W.Y.Chen (L)           2   6  51  4.96 1.57  7.8  2.8  2.1 37 40  79 -12 --
D.Altavilla            2   3  22  3.65 1.32 11.9  2.6  1.2 44 36 114  -6 750
A.Adams (IL)           0   9  36  3.15 1.28 12.3  2.9  1.0 53 29 137  -6 746

Nothing to exciting in this pen, and that is how it played out in 2019 as well, with a lot of mixing and matching and role changes with no consistency. This might be a pen best avoided altogether. Buyers might try their luck with Yoshihisa Hirano (RHP, SEA) who has a sub-4.00 xERA, better WHIP, too many home runs at 1.4 HR/9, but no worse than Magill, at a 667 ADP. But even that is quite a gamble, with no guarantees. Dan Altavilla (RHP, SEA) doesn't look any worse than Hirano at ADP 750. In fact, Altavilla has a better Dom, which could catapult him up the chart. The best skill set here is going to start the year on the IL, Austin Adams (RHP, SEA). This skill set is strong across the board and costs almost nothing. But you need a roster slot to stash him in while you wait for his return, and you cannot be sure what will happen in the interim or even whether Adams will not have a setback. Anything you do here has to categorized as a gamble.

It is even worse in San Francisco where the current candidates have projected xERA over 4.30. It seems most likely that none of the current top candidates can hold the closer role for very long and that some unknown will shine in the early going and replace any of them. Here are the current projections:

SF                    Sv Hld  IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9 G% F% BPV  $ ADP
===================== == === ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== == == === == ===
T.Watson (L)          11   6  58  4.39 1.34  8.1  2.6  1.1 44 35  84 -2 518
T.Gott                 3   9  58  4.35 1.36  8.5  2.6  1.4 44 36  88 -5 749
S.Anderson             2   0  73  4.71 1.37  6.9  2.2  1.2 40 32  56 -7 467

Shaun Anderson (RHP, SF) had some saves in 2019 and that is why his ADP is 467. But the skills simply are not there, making him a huge gamble and likely wasted roster slot. Old lefty Tony Watson (LHP, SF) is still around and is favored by the HQ projection with 11 saves--perhaps 15, now that the projections are updated. That is because there is no one else. Watson at a 518 ADP is a gamble, too. There are better skill sets to own at that ADP and you cannot count on even 15 saves here. Trevor Gott (RHP, SF) might be a little better than Watson and the price is certainly better. But no team is really looking for Gott to close games. Gott is a reliever who ends up with saves when everyone else falls down. Here, that might well happen. But don't roster Gott with any expectations. Anything you do here is a gamble, and frankly, you could roster all three of these relievers and watch a different guy win the job by mid-April. Best to shop elsewhere entirely, but keep an eye on this situation for FAAB opportunities to arise.

One such possible scenario is that Kevin Gausman (RHP, SF) proves once again that he cannot be a useful starter and falls into the pen. Gausman was terrific in the Reds pen late in 2019. He likely would have better skills than any other candidate for the Giants and could take over the job--provided that he failed as a starter first. It is easy to see a scenario where the Gausman owner rostered him as a starter, got killed in April, chucked him into the free agent pool, only to see someone else grab him as a reliever and in short order, watch him become the closer. There are other scenarios as well.

Washington is the last situation to examine as a gamble. Lefty Sean Doolittle (LHP, WAS) has long been a favorite in this column with huge Dom and Cmd ratios, despite frequent injuries. Last year was a bit of a step back, skills-wise. Doolittle can still get people out. But the likelihood of another injury is pretty high--higher than with most other closers. The HR/9 projection is not rosy, particularly with a 53% flyball rate. The Dom is still 10.0, but diminished. The xERA is over 4.00 at 4.10. And there are now other non-terrible relievers:

WAS                   Sv Hld  IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9 G% F% BPV  $  ADP
===================== == === ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== == == === === ===
S.Doolittle (L)       28   8  65  4.10 1.09 10.0  4.8  1.4 29 53 130   8 205
D.Hudson              10  13  73  4.37 1.21  8.8  2.5  1.0 38 41  80   1 337
W.Harris               6  21  65  3.14 1.09  9.7  4.4  1.0 52 26 144   3 587
T.Rainey               2   8  58  4.27 1.57 11.8  1.6  0.9 53 30  46  -7 716

The skills gem in this grouping is Will Harris (RHP, WAS). While the pecking order may appear for now to be Doolittle, Daniel Hudson (RHP, WAS) and then Harris, it would not take very much at all for Harris to leap-frog both of them. Doolittle is an injury gamble and a home run rut gamble. Hudson is a skills-challenged gamble. Yet Doolittle is at a 205 ADP and Hudson is at a 337 ADP. You should prefer Harris and that elite skill-set longer term, at a 587 ADP. And don't forget Tanner Rainey (RHP, WAS) who could close if he could fix his Cmd ratio to go with that 11.8 Dom.

Next week, it is relievers to buy at or under $1 in the BaseballHQ.com projections. Follow me @dougdennis41


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