RELIEVERS: Sleepers (value picks) for 2021

This week, this column examines some potential "sleepers", defined as relievers who quite possibly will deliver a large jump in value over their current price point.

Some low-hanging fruit between a 350 ADP and a 450 ADP:

ADP 350-450       Sv Hd IP xERA WHIP  K%  K-BB% HR/9 BPV  $  ADP
================  == == == ==== ==== ==== ===== ==== === === ===
J.Romano (TOR)     9 18 73 2.87 1.15  34    23   1.1 151   4 390
C.Martin (ATL)     6 18 65 3.12 1.00  28    25   1.0 167   3 408
Z.Britton (NYY)(L) 4 19 65 3.21 1.20  21    10   0.3  80   0 413
L.Sims (CIN)      11 15 58 4.02 1.29  30    19   1.2 104  -1 425
A.Bass (MIA)      17 14 65 4.05 1.20  20    12   0.7  83   2 439
T.Rainey (WAS)     4 14 58 3.15 1.19  36    24   1.2 139   1 449

Some of these arms have been examined in recent pen columns here. Jordan Romano (RHP, TOR) has a huge projected skill set and he will certainly pitch in leverage behind closer Kirby Yates (RHP, TOR) to start the season. Yates has a great skill set of his own, with a 195 BPV. For Romano to get into save chances, he will have to pitch to his projections and Yates will have to be injured or suffer some of the gopheritis that followed him until he went to San Diego. It seems unlikely. But it doesn't mean Romano won't have plenty of value. The Blue Jays will score runs in bunches playing in Dunedin, and will need help from the pen to win games. Romano can be expected to vulture saves, grab holds, and even a few wins in addition to that terrific skill set for your ERA and WHIP.

Chris Martin (RHP, ATL) is another huge skill set waiting to happen. He has been mentioned as "1B" to closer Will Smith (LHP, ATL), and may get some chances, given that Smith is a lefty and at times will be needed earlier in games. Usage is key here. If a more traditional set roles approach is employed by the Braves, you should expect Martin to get fewer saves. If the more modern, flexible, in-leverage approach is used, Martin should beat that projection of six saves. And the skills are tremendous and bankable, given his history.

Zach Britton (LHP, NYY) is an oddity in that he has never really been a strikeout guy (21% K%) or K-BB guy (10% K-BB%). But he sure does induce ground balls (0.3 HR/9). Britton will set up Aroldis Chapman (LHP, NYY) for the Yankees, but don't discount the fact that Chapman has missed some time each of the last three years. And when Chapman misses time, Britton closes. He is only projected for four saves this year—he should beat that number fairly easily.

Cincinnati is currently evaluating roles. Most prominent among the candidates are lefty Amir Garrett (LHP, CIN), who squeaked in above this list with a 331 ADP, and Lucas Sims (RHP, CIN). Garrett had a terrific 2021 and has the higher K%:

CIN               Sv Hd IP xERA WHIP  K%  K-BB% HR/9 BPV  $  ADP
================  == == == ==== ==== ==== ===== ==== === === ===
A.Garrett (L)     11 15 58 3.26 1.24  34    22   1.4 131   1 331
L.Sims            11 15 58 4.02 1.29  30    19   1.2 104  -1 425
S.Doolittle (L)    9 15 58 4.22 1.14  28    20   1.6 115  -1 656

Sims has been a spot starter/bulk reliever. If converted to back-end work, he could very well improve on his projected skills, given the shorter stints. The one thing that pops out here is that Sims is projected for a 1.2 HR/9, which is not great, but not as bad as Garrett's 1.4 HR/9. The other issue is that Garrett has mainly worked in setup when the inning has called for neutralizing a key lefty bat. Closing would require neutralizing all bats. While the Reds evaluate, you will want to watch the usage, too. If neither Garrett nor Sims emerges as "the guy", then there will be some mix-and-match to start the year. It is very doubtful that the saves will be split 11-11-9, and much more likely that one of these relievers takes and runs with the job. Sims is well-situated to be that guy.

Similarly in Miami, Yimi García (RHP, MIA) is battling with Anthony Bass (RHP, MIA) for save chances. García currently has a 412 ADP; Bass is at a 439 ADP. The difference here is in projected skills. García has a projected 4.53 xERA, 1.22 WHIP, 19% K-BB%, and 55% FB rate. Bass has a 4.05 xERA and 1.20 WHIP, but only a 12% K-BB%. García is an extreme FB pitcher and Bass is a ground ball guy. Bass certainly seems like the better bet, skills-wise, and you might get some sneaky value if you can roster him and he takes the role and runs with it.

Tanner Rainey (RHP, WAS) is one last large skill set in this range for Washington. He is behind Brad Hand (LHP, WAS) for saves, and Hand is very good. But Rainey has a terrific skill set, so if something happens to Hand, Rainey will be in for saves. In the meantime, this elite skill set is going to help with ERA and WHIP and holds, and will vulture some saves and wins as well.

Beyond a 450 ADP, chances may feel a bit further away. But trust that the skill sets will find a good role. Here are some of those that catch the eye:

ADP 450+           Sv Hd IP xERA WHIP  K%  K-BB% HR/9 BPV  $  ADP
================   == == == ==== ==== ==== ===== ==== === === ===
P.Fairbanks (TAM)   7 14 65 3.06 1.23  35    25   1.0 151   2 476
E.Clase (CLE)       4 21 58 3.13 1.10  26    21   0.8 146   1 512
T.Scott (BAL)(L)    8 13 73 3.62 1.36  28    16   0.7  95  -2 642
V.Gonzalez (LA)     0 14 58 3.19 1.14  27    22   0.8 154  -1 714
P.Johnson (SD)      2  9 58 3.42 1.12  35    25   0.8 137   2 715

The Rays do not use just one reliever. And as good as Nick Anderson (RHP, TAM) and Diego Castillo (RHP, TAM) are, Peter Fairbanks (RHP, TAM) is an elite skill set as well. In fact, projections give Fairbanks a 3.06 xERA and 151 BPV, while Castillo is at a 3.44 xERA and 119 BPV. Both terrific, but Fairbanks is expected to be better. It would not be a surprise to see Fairbanks grab a larger share of saves while providing elite-level ERA and WHIP. If you are in saves + holds leagues, Fairbanks is a great buy.

This time last year, a scout said that Emmanuel Clase (RHP, CLE) "throws bowling balls." But then Clase lost the year due to suspension and now re-sets for Cleveland. James Karinchak (RHP, CLE) remains as perhaps one of the best three skill sets in any pen. But Terry Francona stated that he may not use Karinchak purely in a saves role, but more flexibly in leverage. Clase would be a logical saves option when it isn't Karinchak. For NFBC leagues, Clase at a 512 ADP is practically free. He could deliver high value if he finds himself grabbing a greater number of saves.

Baltimore lefty Tanner Scott (LHP, BAL) is likely to be the best option behind Hunter Harvey (RHP, BAL) for saves. Harvey was shaky last season, and he is projected to be a far-lesser skill set for 2021 as well:

BAL                Sv Hd IP xERA WHIP  K%  K-BB% HR/9 BPV  $  ADP
================   == == == ==== ==== ==== ===== ==== === === ===
H.Harvey           13  8 65 4.26 1.29  22    15   1.5  92  -4 389
T.Scott (L)         8 13 73 3.62 1.36  28    16   0.7  95  -2 642

The trick for Scott is that he has to walk fewer batters. The 1.5 HR/9 for Harvey means that he very well could fail in the role, sooner than later. Scott is best situated to step in. This is probably a pen to avoid altogether if roles do not quickly solidify. If you own anyone in this bullpen, Scott is your guy, particularly at a 642 ADP. He may not be worth owning if he can't grab saves, unless you are in a saves + holds league. But you have to assess it quickly, and if it looks like he will grab some saves, grab him.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are well-situated with lots of depth behind closer Kenley Jansen (RHP, LA). If Jansen hits a rut and needs to be replaced, there are several options: Blake Treinen (RHP, LA), Corey Knebel (RHP, LA), Brusdar Graterol (RHP, LA) and Victor González (RHP, LA). There is nothing bankable about that many options, particularly with Jansen, who remains rock-solid in front of them (Jansen: 3.44 xERA, 152 BPV). But of those remaining options, the lowest ADP belongs to González (714 ADP), and the best xERA (3.19) as well. The best projected skill set at the best price—what's not to like? Just make sure you don't factor saves into a purchase price, and you are likely to get some value from González, who otherwise is an elite skill set on a great team.

Another great skill set is Padres reliever Pierce Johnson (RHP, SD), and yet, that team's depth makes him entirely free as well, at a 715 ADP. In fact, there are five(!) Padres relievers going ahead of Johnson. Accordingly, there is very little chance he will grab saves, and he will have to fight for a leverage role. But the skills are elite and he should be situated to grab holds or vulture wins, as well as provide ERA and WHIP help.

Next column we examine "gambles", defined as relievers who carry a large amount of risk at the current price point.


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