RELIEVERS: Skill sets with the most swing in value

This week, this column looks at some relievers who are expected to go from negative value to positive for the balance of the season, and also some relievers who are expected to go from positive value to negative value for the balance of the season, based on HQ projections.

Here are some relievers with negative value at mid-June:

                    Sv  IP   ERA xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 BPV  $
==================  == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== === ===
Knebel (MIL)         6 13.7 3.95 2.71 1.02 12.5  2.7  2.0 135  -3
A.Miller (CLE) (L)   1 14.3 4.40 3.30 1.60 14.4  2.3  0.6 118  -9
F.Vazquez (PIT) (L) 12 26.7 4.72 4.38 1.58 10.1  2.0  0.3  64  -2
A.Reed (MIN)         0 33.3 3.78 4.57 1.35  8.4  2.8  1.6  77  -7
W.Harris (HOU)       0 24.0 4.50 2.88 1.33 10.9  4.8  0.8 164  -7
T.Hunter (PHI)       1 18.0 4.00 3.39 1.39  8.5  5.7  0.5 146  -8
Swarzak (NYM)        1  5.3 3.38 3.63 1.31 11.8  2.3  3.4  90  -9
K.Giles (HOU)       11 22.7 4.76 3.53 1.24  9.1 11.5  0.4 159  -2
R.Madson (WAS)       3 22.7 3.97 3.91 1.46  9.5  3.0  --  109  -7
Steckenrider (MIA)   1 31.0 3.77 3.53 1.26 11.6  2.9  0.6 112  -2

Seven of these 10 relievers with negative value-to-date have BPVs over 100. Houston closer Ken Giles (RHP, HOU) has a 4.76 actual ERA, but his 3.53 xERA, 1.24 WHIP and strong across-the-board BPIs point closer to pre-season expectations. Corey Knebel (RHP, MIL) has been shelved for significant time in the early going and is just getting his sea legs back under him after early gopheritis (2.0 HR/9) closing games for Milwaukee. Knebel has an actual ERA of 3.95, but the 2.71 xERA, 1.02 WHIP and huge DOM point to better days. Felipe Vazquez (LHP, PIT) has struggled as Pirates closer in 2018. The 4.72 actual ERA is worse than the 4.38 xERA, but the 1.58 WHIP and iffy 2.0 CMD ratio demonstrate some mechanical inconsistency that is suppressing his value.

Astros stud Will Harris (RHP, HOU) has a 4.50 actual ERA but a 2.88 xERA. Phillies reliever Tommy Hunter (RHP, PHI) has a 4.00 actual ERA but a 3.39 xERA. Uber-lefty Andrew Miller (LHP, CLE) returned for the Indians from injury to a 4.40 actual ERA, despite a 3.30 xERA. These are good skills relievers putting up good skills but abnormal strand rates. Year after year, actual ERA and xERA trend towards each other, where xERA is true to the skill set. Where the xERA is more than 0.50 different from the projected xERA, actual ERA and projected xERA trend toward each other. This is significant for Miller, Vazquez and Giles here.

Addison Reed (RHP, MIN) is something of an outlier for the Twins. His 3.78 actual ERA is not at all supported by a bloated 4.57 xERA and 1.6 HR/9. Thus, his terrible $-7 could actually be a whole lot worse. Anthony Swarzak (RHP, NYM) is only just back pitching for the Mets. Fewer than 10 innings is not enough to even make a judgment. A 3.4 HR/9 is not a great start, though. Ryan Madson (RHP, WAS) has a surprising 1.46 WHIP and 3.91 xERA supporting his 3.97 actual ERA for Washington. Drew Steckenrider (RHP, MIA) rolled early for Miami, had a very tough patch and now is rolling again. But the overall is a 3.53 xERA supporting a 3.77 actual ERA.

The HQ projections for these relievers over the balance of the year point to much brighter days ahead:

                    Sv  IP   ERA xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 BPV  $
==================  == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== === ===
Knebel (MIL)        24  38  2.84 3.17 1.21 12.6  2.9  0.7 132  12 (+15)
A.Miller (CLE) (L)   3  25  2.16 2.31 1.04 14.4  4.0  0.7 187   5 (+14)
F.Vazquez (PIT) (L) 22  42  3.21 3.26 1.19 10.3  3.2  0.6 124  11 (+13)
A.Reed (MIN)         8  42  3.21 3.79 1.12  9.0  3.8  1.3 113   5 (+12)
W.Harris (HOU)       0  34  2.38 2.98 1.09 10.3  4.3  0.8 150   5 (+12)
T.Hunter (PHI)       2  42  3.21 3.23 1.14  9.2  4.8  0.9 139   3 (+11)
Swarzak (NYM)        2  38  3.08 3.47 1.16 10.0  3.8  1.0 131   2 (+11)
K.Giles (HOU)       16  34  2.65 3.00 1.12 11.6  4.4  0.5 158   9 (+11)
R.Madson (WAS)       3  34  3.18 3.23 1.12  9.0  3.8  0.5 127   4 (+11)
Steckenrider (MIA)   7  42  3.00 3.39 1.21 11.6  3.2  1.1 127   6  (+8)

All 10 of these relievers are trade targets, with a change in value across the balance of the season projected between $+8 and $+15. Those are significant dollar amounts. Knebel, Miller, Harris, and Giles have the best projected xERAs at 3.00 or lower. Projections expect Vazquez to be a solid closer for the balance of the year as well. Hunter, Madson and Steckenrider are all projected to have superb BPIs across the board. Steckenrider is expected to vulture some saves as well. It would not be a surprise for Hunter to also vulture some saves in Philadelphia as the season wears on. Even with a Sean Doolittle (LHP, WAS) injury, Washington's acquisition of Kelvin Herrera (RHP, WAS) puts Madson farther away from vulturing saves.

Swarzak is projected to repeat last season now that he is going for New York. But it remains to be seen whether he will pitch to these BPIs or whether he will struggle with HR/9. The lone skill set of this grouping that has a xERA over 3.50 is Reed. Reed is projected to have a decent DOM, CMD ratio and WHIP, but also allow 1.3 HR/9. Reed's actual ERA is projected a half-run lower than the projected xERA. Reed's projected xERA is more in-line with his current ERA. What you might see from Reed is no improvement from his current situation, making him a bit more of a risky buy. His one saving grace in the projections is the view that he will be a significant vulture of saves. That is probably not a c outcome unless everyone else falls down in the Twins pen.

The closers here should come at a discount, if you need one. If you have the chance to include one of these non-closer relievers as a throw-in to an otherwise balanced trade, do it. The upside should improve your ERA/WHIP at a minimum just as the hotter weather is wreaking havoc on team ERA/WHIP for rosters who have gotten away with mediocre starters for too long.

Now let's see the flip-side: relievers who have provided positive value but are projected for negative value over the balance of the season. Here are the values at mid-June:

                    Sv  IP   ERA xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 BPV  $
==================  == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== === ===
D.Winkler (ATL)      0 28.3 1.59 2.74 0.85 12.1  4.8  --  165   6
J.Jimenez (DET)      1 33.3 2.16 3.75 1.05  9.7  4.5  0.3 132   5
J.Hicks (STL)        1 35.0 2.06 4.04 1.09  7.2  1.5  --   35   3
Ottavino (COL)       1 28.3 0.95 1.85 0.64 14.3  4.5  0.3 202  12
C.Bradford (SEA)     0 26.7 2.36 3.67 1.05  7.4  3.7  1.4 108   3
J.Miller (WAS)       0 10.7 0.00 1.16 0.19 17.7  --   --  328   6
E.Goeddel (LA)       0 20.0 0.45 3.94 1.25 10.4  2.1  --   74   1
Jeffress (MIL)       3 33.7 0.53 3.01 0.77  8.6  2.9  0.3 110  17
S.Carle (ATL)        0 33.7 2.14 4.18 1.10  6.4  2.4  0.5  64   4

These relievers all have posted sub 2.50 ERAs for the early part of the season and as a result, have positive dollar value. Justin Miller (RHP, WAS) managed a terrific 17.7 DOM and no walks or runs in his first 10.7 innings with a microscopic 0.19 WHIP and a 328 BPV for Washington. Adam Ottavino (RHP, COL) is just returning from the disabled list to a sub 1.00 ERA and 0.64 WHIP with a 14.3 DOM and 202 BPV for Colorado. Dan Winkler (RHP, ATL) has been strong for Atlanta with a 1.59 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 12.1 DOM and 165 BPV. These are the best skills sets of the bunch.

Lagging skill sets are owned by flamethrower Jordan Hicks (RHP, STL) who has a 2.06 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, despite a 4.04 xERA, 1.5 CMD ratio and 35 BPV for the Cardinals. Shane Carle has a sparkling 2.14 ERA and 1.10 WHIP for Atlanta despite a 4.18 xERA, 6.4 DOM and 64 BPV. Erik Goeddel (RHP, LA) has a 0.45 ERA and 1.25 WHIP despite a 3.94 xERA, 2.1 CMD ratio and a 74 BPV for the Dodgers.

So skills-to-date point to continued success for Ottavino and Winkler, it is probably too early to tell with Miller, and Hicks, Carle and Goeddel all appear to be smoke-and-mirrors. The rest are in-between. Joe Jimenez (RHP, DET) has solid BPIs for the Tigers but at a 3.75 xERA, not a fully supported actual 2.16 ERA. Jeremy Jeffress (RHP, MIL) vultured some saves for Milwaukee when Corey Knebel (RHP, MIL) was out and has been strong with a 3.01 xERA, but the 0.53 actual ERA is not supported by the skills. Likewise, Chad Bradford's (RHP, SEA) 2.36 actual ERA for Seattle is not fully supported by the 3.67 xERA.

The extent of the expected regression can be seen in their HQ projections for the balance of the year:

                    Sv  IP   ERA xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 BPV  $
==================  == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== === ===
D.Winkler (ATL)      0  42  3.86 4.10 1.29  8.6  2.4  1.3  77  -3  (-9)
J.Jimenez (DET)      1  38  4.26 3.99 1.32 10.0  3.0  0.7 103  -5 (-10)
J.Hicks (STL)        1  42  4.29 4.93 1.50  6.9  1.4  0.9  17  -8 (-11)
Ottavino (COL)       0  30  3.60 3.56 1.23 10.8  2.6  0.9 103  -2 (-14)
C.Bradford (SEA)     0  30  4.50 4.79 1.60  5.7  3.2  0.9  78 -11 (-14)
J.Miller (WAS)       0  30  5.70 4.27 1.33  6.6  4.4  1.2  99  -8 (-14)
E.Goeddel (LA)       0  17  6.88 5.40 1.76  6.4  1.5  2.1  22 -15 (-16)
Jeffress (MIL)       1  34  3.44 3.62 1.24  7.7  2.2  0.8  81   0 (-17)
S.Carle (ATL)        0  34  5.56 5.02 1.56  5.8  1.8  1.3  41 -14 (-18)

Jeffress, Jimenez and Ottavino are expected to have the only sub-4.00 xERAs over the balance of the year. Jeffress, Ottavino and Winkler are expected to have the only sub-4.00 actual ERAs. WHIP under 1.30: Jeffress, Ottavino, Winkler. So if you are planning to eat the regression on these relievers instead of trading them at their peak value (which is recommended), try to at least own Jeffress, Jimenez, Ottavino or Winkler, who are projected to have solid BPIs. Even then, we are talking about a projected change in value over the balance of the year between $-9 and $-17.

Conversely, you should worry if you own Hicks, Bradford, Goeddel or Carle, because their projected BPIs are sub-par. Hicks has sexy velocity, but that projected 1.4 CMD ratio, 4.93 xERA, 1.50 WHIP and 17 BPV makes him a hot potato trade candidate. You can market his velo and current numbers, but you need to move him before his numbers go south. It will be far harder to trade Bradford, Goeddel or Carle. You are going to have to see if there is a place for one of them on another team and accept far less than you might wish. But you will want to move them off your team sooner than later, given the projections.

Miller is a wait-and-see guy. The projected DOM looks low, but the Cmd ratio is superb. The 5.70 projected actual ERA is not supported by the 4.27 xERA and 1.33 WHIP. And so far, we don't have enough innings in 2018 to understand what he is going to do going forward, given the vast differences between his start and his projection. Assuming that he will be closer to his 4.27 xERA, that is still over 4.00 for a middle reliever. You can probably do better elsewhere. And like Hicks, Miller might be tradeable right now, but it seems less likely to last.

Next week this column looks at the BPV leaders as we enter July.


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