RELIEVERS: 2020 Sleepers

Today we are looking at sleepers. In this context, we define sleepers as someone who has skills or other factors that may improve their current role, and where there may be significant profit for the cost. There are always an abundance of these throughout the season in bullpens, and not always where the preseason projections point. But at this stage, preseason projections are what we have, so let's use them to see if we can identify some bullpens where someone may emerge. Let's start in Atlanta:

Braves manager Brian Snitker says that his closer going into 2020 is Mark Melancon (RHP, ATL). But lefty Will Smith (LHP, ATL), Shane Greene (RHP, ATL), and even Luke Jackson (RHP, ATL) have had success in the role. Let's look at the current projections:

ATL              Sv  IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9  G/F  BPV  $  ADP
============     == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===== === === ===
Melancon         20  65  3.37 1.32  8.5  3.8  0.6 58/20 128   2 234
W.Smith (L)      14  58  3.24 1.17 12.3  3.8  1.2 41/37 152   5 150
S.Greene         10  65  3.88 1.20  9.1  3.1  1.3 45/35 109   0 586
C.Martin          2  65  3.10 1.05  9.8  8.9  1.1 46/31 171   2 704
L.Jackson         0  58  3.29 1.29 11.0  3.1  1.1 52/27 132  -2 663

This is a nice group. Melancon is currently projected to take the bulk of the save chances, but Smith and Greene's projected save totals indicate more of a mix-and-match possibility, which the skill sets certainly support. You should expect Melancon to get most of the save chances early, with Smith as the key setup in leverage. Smith will get saves, but more in a vulture mode, at least in the early going. This can all change on a dime if Melancon has any hiccups. And if it does change, your sleeper isn't going to be Smith, with a current 150 ADP. It is the best skill set in the group, Christopher Martin (RHP, ATL) with a projected 3.10 xERA, 1.05 wHIP, 9.8 DOM, 8.9 CMD ratio (which is absurd), and 171 BPV. Martin is currently at a 704 ADP. But it is easy to envision scenarios where he is the highest earner in this pen in 2020.

Also give consideration to Luke Jackson (RHP, ATL), who was solid in the closer role before he got in a rut for a short period. Jackson is currently at a 663 ADP. Jackson's skill set is basically a right-handed Will Smith, a tick behind Martin. These are all good strong closer options, but good ERA/WHIP options, too. If the Braves take any period of time using a mix-and-match approach, you will see Martin and Jackson exceed their ADP value.

The Chicago White Sox have incumbent closer Alex Colome (RHP, CHW) back after a successful 2019 campaign. He is projected for all the saves, despite a 4.06 xERA. If he struggles at some point, who is the alternative?

CHW              Sv  IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9  G/F  BPV  $  ADP
============     == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===== === === ===
A.Colome         34  58  4.06 1.26  8.7  2.7  1.1 46/33  92   6 162
A.Bummer (L)      0  58  3.34 1.22  8.1  2.4  0.6 68/17  99  -3 581
Cishek            0  58  4.09 1.21  8.7  2.3  1.2 49/34  83  -2 649

Lefty Aaron Bummer (LHP, CHW) has the best skill set with a 3.34 xERA, 1.22 WHIP and 68% ground ball rate. He is currently running at a 581 ADP. Even if Bummer does not supplant Colome, he is likely to maximize holds, vulture some saves and wins, and pitch in leverage all season. Do not worry too much about handedness either. Bummer is harder on left-handed batters, but tough enough on right-handers—in fact, tougher on right-handers than Colome in 2019.

The other alternative is journeyman Steve Cishek (RHP, CHW). Cishek is not really all that different a skill set from Colome. He is just next in line, theoretically, if Colome struggles and someone else needs to fill-in. Cishek has a 649 ADP, currently. A lot of different things could happen here, and one can foresee the possibility that Colome gets hurt or has a bad stretch and Cishek grabs 15 saves.

Raisel Iglesias (RHP, CIN) began and ended 2019 as the Cincinnati closer, and goes into 2020 as the solid incumbent. But he wasn't as superb in 2019 as he has been—what's in store for 2020?

CIN              Sv  IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9  G/F  BPV  $  ADP
============     == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===== === === ===
Iglesias         34  65  3.62 1.14 11.1  4.0  1.4 34/42 137   9 150
Lorenzen          6  80  4.03 1.24  8.2  2.4  0.9 48/29  83   0 510
A.Garrett (L)     0  58  4.13 1.47 10.6  2.1  1.4 47/33  81  -8 704
Strop             0  58  3.64 1.24 10.7  2.7  1.1 50/34 112  -4 691
Stephenson        0  65  4.03 1.22 10.8  2.8  1.4 34/44 102  -2 629

That 150 ADP shows no fear, but that 1.4 HR/9 should give some pause. The skills are otherwise excellent. If Iglesias gets hurt or has a bout of gopheritis, the Reds have some alternatives. The most logic alternative is newcomer Pedro Strop (RHP, CIN). Strop projects to a 3.64 xERA, 10.7 DOM, 2.7 CMD ratio, 50% ground ball rate and 112 BPV. That is the second-best projected skill-set on the team, behind Iglesias, and Strop is currently at a 691 ADP.

Michael Lorenzen (RHP, CIN) is projected for the six vulture saves, and if owners could get his incremental home runs as well, maybe he would be a solid sleeper at a 510 ADP. Lorenzen just has a 4.03 xERA and 8.2 DOM, though, and it is hard to get too excited about that skill set when so many others around the league are better. Likewise with Robert Stephenson (RHP, CIN) who finally took a big step forward in 2019 as a reliever. Stephenson is okay, but the 4.03 xERA and a 44% fly ball rate in Great American Ballpark is not what you want in a sleeper pick, even at a 629 ADP. Here, Strop is the clear option from the projections.

Tampa Bay has incredible bullpen talent. How will they use it? Is there an advantage to be grabbed? Nick Anderson (RHP, TAM) is the presumed closer.

TAM              Sv  IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9  G/F  BPV  $  ADP
============     == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===== === === ===
N.Anderson       20  58  3.17 1.10 13.0  4.9  1.2 29/44 170   8 236
D.Castillo        8  65  3.29 1.12 10.4  3.6  0.8 53/32 139   4 502
C.Poche (L)       4  51  3.81 1.10 12.9  4.1  1.1 20/63 144   0 675
P.Fairbanks       0  44  3.06 1.32 12.9  5.3  1.4 44/36 188 -12  --
J.Alvarado (L)    4  44  3.70 1.25 10.8  2.3  0.8 48/31  94  -4 590

It is easy to see why Anderson has the 236 ADP, with a 3.17 xERA, 1.10 WHIP, 13.0 DOM, 4.9 CMD ratio, and 170 BPV projected. The number of saves and usage are critical to his value, though. Saves tend to get spread around for the Rays. Last year, Jose Alvarado (LHP, TAM) was as dominant a closer as anyone early on, then he missed a little time and it took too long to get back on track. Alvarado is still around and still very nasty currently at a 590 ADP. Diego Castillo (RHP, TAM) filled in quite often as closer and fared well. His ADP is 502, despite projected 3.29 xERA, 1.12 WHIP, 10.4 DOM, 3.6 CMD ratio, 0.8 HR/9, 53% ground ball rate and 139 BPV. Castillo will vulture some saves, and quite possibly more than the projected eight.

But here is a burgeoning skill set you need to watch. Peter Fairbanks (RHP, TAM) is projected for an absurd line of 3.06 xERA, 1.32 WHIP, 12.9 DOM, 5.3 CMD ratio, and a 188 BPV. The only potential problem is the projected 1.4 HR/9. But a 188 BPV—that's the best in this entire column, even counting the incumbent closers, even counting Nick Anderson. Fairbanks doesn't even have an ADP listed as of this article, but don't expect that to last very long. Fairbanks is the kind of skill set worth taking a flyer, even in a pen as talented as the Rays pen.

The Rangers closer is Jose Leclerc (RHP, TEX). In 2019, he was the closer, lost the role, then got it back late in the year. He has a projected 13.0 DOM, but has some issues with walks and fly balls at times, which might open the door for others.

TEX              Sv  IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9  G/F  BPV  $  ADP
============     == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===== === === ===
Leclerc          19  65  3.74 1.20 13.0  2.5  0.6 34/47 104   5 174
R.Montero         2  58  3.77 1.17  9.8  3.0  1.2 43/35 109   0 637
B.Martin (L)      2  51  3.62 1.47  9.2  3.3  0.9 54/23 121  -7 751
C.Allen           2  15  3.89 1.20 11.4  3.2  1.2 34/47 120  -8 748
J.Nicasio         0  29  4.08 1.21  9.0  2.9  0.9 41/37  97  -7  --

One possibility is former Indians closer Cody Allen (RHP, TEX). Allen washed out with the Angels in 2019 and may not have anything left in the tank. But the projections are a 11.4 DOM, 3.2 CMD ratio, 1.2 HR/9, 120 BPV, albeit also with a 47% fly ball ratio (same as Leclerc). Allen is at a current 748 ADP as a non-roster invite. The skill set you probably should want in this pen belongs to Rafael Montero (RHP, TEX). Montero has a 3.77 xERA, 1.17 WHIP, 9.8 DOM, 3.0 CMD ratio, 1.2 HR/9, and 109 BPV. If Leclerc struggles at some point either with walks or fly balls or both, Montero looks ready to jump in and grab saves and he is easy to get at a current 637 ADP.

Next week, we look at gambles. Follow me @DougDennis41


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