4 Underrated Relief Pitchers to Target in Drafts
Relief pitchers are the energy drinks of the pitching world.
Starting pitchers represent your classic beverages: various kinds of sodas, teas and spirits. Some give you a lasting jolt when you watch them (Max Scherzer/Noah Syndergaard/Chris Sale), some who’s discrepancy of talent and performance temporarily disorients you (Luis Castillo/Yu Darvish/Robbie Ray), and some lull you to sleep (Kyle Hendricks/Kyle Hendricks/Kyle Hendricks).
Then you have relievers, who give you a more intense jolt than elite starting pitchers but for a significantly shortened period of time. Relievers are even treated like energy drinks. A quick pick-me-up when you need it the most. Some teams try to only use relievers to get that jolt all game — but three or four in and they are regretting that decision — only to do it all over again the next day. Like energy drinks, there are two or three relievers who everyone considers the best — Edwin Diaz (Rockstar)/Aroldis Chapman (Red Bull)/Josh Hader (Monster) — and then there are a bunch of people who show up as “the next best thing” one year only to be forgotten the next.
Today, I’m going to sort through some of those not lesser-known relievers but lesser-utilized ones that will help jolt your staff into the playoffs without making you puke:
Dellin Betances, ADP 249
Help me understand something: I can either pick Jordan Hicks at 200 or Dellin Betances at 250?
I get it, Hicks can throw 104 mph. Hicks is only 22. Hicks might be a closer. But being a good reliever is not just getting saves: It’s having such good peripheral stats that you can pad your starters’ performances with low ERAs/WHIPs and high strikeout rates. Hicks isn’t any of that, and Betances is all of that. Let’s examine Betances’ past five seasons:
How is this man not picked before the 20th round? He’s half of a Cy Young caliber pitcher. He’s contributed roughly five wins, 22 holds, and eight saves per season. He’s recorded five straight 100-plus strikeout seasons with the best strikeout rate of any pitcher during that entirety of that period. He routinely has an ERA below 3.00, a WHIP below 1.13 — and he gets used more than almost any closer! In no rational world is Hicks worth more than Betances — even leagues where holds don’t matter. He is a better contributor in more categories, plain and simple.
Brad Peacock, ADP 298
My favorite kind of reliever is one who isn’t always a reliever. I like relievers who also qualify as starters because you can insert them in a starting pitcher slot 6.5 days a week because outside of Opening Day, how often do you have three or four starters going in the same day? It’s like having an extra reliever just rack up strikeouts, lower your ERA and WHIP, and potentially get you either a win or a save depending on the day. Brad Peacock is likely to win the fifth rotation spot for two reasons:
- He hasn’t allowed a run in eight innings of spring ball.
- The Astros know he can be transitioned back to long relief if Josh James or Forrest Whitley prove they are ready in a couple of months. Also, it is not out of the question that Dallas Keuchel comes back to Houston, bouncing Peacock out of the rotation by May 1.
Let me just show you what Peacock is capable of as a swingman:
The ERA and WHIP are nothing spectacular, but they are useful. The point is that Peacock will give you a great strikeout rate and plenty of innings and could give you a win, save, or hold on any given day. What do you care which? You’re putting him in an empty starting pitcher spot, right?
Seranthony Dominguez, ADP 252
If we were drafting cool names, Seranthony Dominguez would be a first-round pick. I’ve seen Dominguez pitch nearly a dozen times, and every time, I am disappointed. Not by his performance, but because when he walks to the mound, nobody knights him. They should in Philadelphia. Dominguez was the Phillies’ best reliever in 2018 and likely will be again in 2019.
Unfortunately, they signed David Robertson to the tune of $23 million for two years, so he’s likely to be the team’s primary closer at least for this season. What is interesting here is that every time Phillies manager Gabe Kapler is asked about his closer situation, he says he doesn’t have one, that both Robertson and Dominguez will be used in high-leverage situations, including closing out games. This intrigues me. Usually, when a team goes closer-by-committee, it is because they don’t have a good closer. The Phillies have two. I do believe they will operate this way unless either Dominguez regresses or Robertson starts to show his age.
That being the case, I believe you can expect to see Dominguez’s 2018 performance as a baseline for 2019:
What will be different in 2019? Probably more innings. There are a lot of high-leverage innings out there, and they will likely be split pretty evenly. I think you can also expect around 20 saves. I’m not sure about him getting better in terms of ERA because his elite WHIP suggests it will but his xFIP says otherwise. Still, the strikeout rate is closing in on elite, and it’s in line with his minor league history. There is no reason to believe that won’t stick or possibly improve considering his O-Swing% is above average at 29.6, as is his O-Contact% at 46.7. His Z-Contact percentages also indicate plenty of swings and misses. A reliever netting 16 to 20 saves who will contribute in all other categories (except wins and quality starts) is more valuable than his current ADP — by maybe 50 to 75 spots.
Jose Leclerc, ADP 128
I suppose I will throw one closer at you because that is probably what you came here for. It boggles my mind that Jose Leclerc is the 13th closer to come off the board. For somebody who might be the next Diaz and is assured the closer role at least to start the season, it is hard to see him being picked after the likes of Felipe Vazquez (ADP 90) and Wade Davis (ADP 119). Something we know about Leclerc: He’s comfortable in the closer role. How else would you explain his 2018 season:
Leclerc was a top-five closer in the final third of the season. Yes, he has a history of control issues. But to say a closer has control issues is like saying a five-tool prospect has swing-and-miss issues — they rarely come without them. Leclerc induces some of the softest contact in the league while also sporting one of the highest whiff rates. That is a deadly combination.
He’s struggled in spring, which may be why he isn’t being picked a high as he should, but he he has the talent to be right up there with Diaz.
(Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)