Imagine you could draft a pitcher who would give you 5+ innings per week of Cy Young numbers. Now imagine that you could get this pitcher after the 20th round in your draft. You can, if you draft elite non-closing relievers and combine their output. Earlier this week, I continued to make the case of why you should target relievers who are absolutely dominant but are not drafted in your league simply because they do not get saves, and combine their production as a cheap way to manufacture an elite starter. These combinations of relievers are named Delosh Betaders, after the best such combination in my lifetime: Dellin Betances and Josh Hader. Read the full case for employing this strategy in head-to-head leagues. In order for a combo to achieve this advantage, they have to meet the following guidelines:
|1. 3.30 ERA or less|
|2. 1.10 WHIP or less|
|3. 13+ K/9|
|4. 135+ combined IP|
If a pair of combined relievers meets these guidelines, it can tremendously affect your pitching categories (which is outlined in the post linked above). This strategy is so useful and sparsely used that you should be looking for any of these undervalued relievers. I am every year, and here are those who I think will help your bullpen in 2020.
Here we have the top choice for your draft. These combinations of non-closing relievers are the most likely to repeat their performance or improve. They are also the more potent relievers with high K rates and low ratios. Because of this, most of these relievers will be drafted, although not likely before the 20th round.
Combine what might be two of the best set up men in the league and you’ll get Nickovanny Andallegos. The duo of Tampa Bay’s Nick Anderson and St. Louis’ Giovanny Gallegos might have been the best non-closing reliever duo in 2019. Despite their significant value last season, both will likely have an ADP past 200! Can you believe that? How can they not be viewed as worth a 15-20th round pick when the two of them together produce this:
It’s important to note that the only reason why they aren’t picked higher is that they aren’t closers. If they were closers, with these numbers, they’d be picked by round 10. That’s more than 10 rounds higher! Instead, you can get these guys for the same price as a long-shot starting pitcher like Johnny Cueto. Which is a better use of those late picks?
Note: I’m putting these two first because they are the most likely pair to either maintain their production or exceed it. Yes, there are other single relievers who are more consistent, like Ryan Pressly, but these two together check all the boxes of both high-end strikeouts and very low ratios.
As of right now, Will Smith is the setup man for Atlanta. That will last until the very first time the Braves brass sees Mark Melancon pitch. You should take advantage of this very temporary role and draft Smith in rounds 15-20; he’s worth it anyway. With Smith, we will witness one of the tenants of the Delosh Betader strategy in real-time: A significant discount for a valuable pitcher based on role, and elite numbers across the board. Smith is so good that he might actually get more innings as a setup man than as a closer. Shouldn’t that make him more valuable? Yes. Does it? No, simply because he won’t get saves. In the meantime, feast your eyes on what these two can give you:
Here’s the thing: He probably will get saves. Smith will be the closer by the end of the year. He may not get 36 saves again, but 20+ is a near certainty. Who signs a dominant closer from just last season and supplants him for weak closer? Someone who gets fired — if they don’t rectify that mistake posthaste. We combine Smith with Pressly, also known as Ratio King (which I believe is a Counting Crows song), and we get Ry’all Smissly. While Smissly didn’t break the 120-inning threshold needed to be a Betader, that will change. Atlanta’s bullpen desperately needs a calming influence and Houston’s bullpen isn’t as stacked as it was in 2019. I wouldn’t be surprised if both pitchers saw more appearances this year.
Like Andallegos, Smissly is comprised by two pitchers who likely will be picked in your draft. Pressly will be picked in the last three rounds, and Smith, because of his high likelihood of being a closer, will be picked by round 17. Be the first to get these guys and watch your ERA drop a quarter run, your WHIP drop a tenth and your K/9 jump by a half a point each week.
Despite being second-tier relievers, this group is filled with potential top-flight Betaders. Any of these guys could make the jump in 2020 to becoming the missing piece in your bullpen. It’s also possible that a few of these guys could become closers by the end of the year, giving you even more value.
Let’s start with one of the more volatile pairings of the Choice group: James James. An amalgamation of uber-talented rookie James Karinchak and uber-confounding Josh James. What we saw from Karinchak’s debut at the end of 2019 was encouraging, with just one earned run in 5.1 innings and eight strikeouts. What else is encouraging about Cleveland’s future closer? How about a combined 21+ K/9 rate between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019? Featuring a two-pitch mix of an upper-nineties fastball and a curveball that looks almost like a slider got frisky with a split-finger. With some lateral movement, the pitch looks just like his fastball, then just falls off the table. So far, the results have been devastating:
|2018 (A, A+, AA)||48.2||1.85||1.35||81||15.1|
|2019 (R, AA, AAA, MLB)||35.2||2.52||1.04||82||20.7|
There have been control problems in the past, but can you argue with a 20+ K/9 and an ERA under 3? I can’t.
Speaking of control problems, let’s talk about James. Hopefully, the Astros do not decide to try his hand at starting again, since he wasn’t a slam-dunk reliever. This is not a Chris Sale situation, where the guy came up as a reliever and just shut everybody down before moving into the rotation. No, James had his ups and downs, which can be seen easily by his monthly splits:
This is quite a roller coaster. When he’s at his best, James throws three quality pitches low in the zone and then busts you up and in with 98 mph heat. That’s the James we saw in May and June. In April he was battling injury, but that doesn’t excuse his late fall back into mediocrity. Still, as long as he’s a reliever, James has the chance to put up epic numbers. If you’re a gambling man, combine Karinchak and James, who will both be taken at the end of your draft, and hope for a 14 K/9 and an ERA at 3. You could get 140 innings of that here.
If Andres Muñoz’s arm doesn’t go the way of Joel Zumaya or Jordan Hicks, a combination of him and Seth Lugo will be fun to own. Muñoz, who can hit 103 on the radar gun, has already shown to be able to minimize his free passes just enough to be successful at the highest levels. He should get plenty of opportunities too, after coming up in 2019 and immediately earning high-leverage opportunities with 23 innings from late July through the rest of the season. He could push 55 innings in 2020 and would be first in line to take the closer’s job, should the Pads finally trade Kirby Yates like everybody seems to think they will. Muñoz had a modest K rate of 11.74 in those 23 innings. I expect that to jump at least one point this season:
We go from the fireballer to Mr. Reliable. Lugo finished his second consecutive season notching 80+ innings of a sub-3.00 ERA and around a 1.00 WHIP. We saw a jump in K/9 to 11.7 in 2019, which was very encouraging, in addition to cutting his walk rate significantly. These two combine to be a solid option for strikeouts and low ratios. You could also get 150 innings out of them.
I find it difficult to decide who I want to root harder for in Colvin Ginche. This is a combo of two relievers with middling velocity, but extraordinary results. Kevin Ginkel, who is likely to have a stranglehold on the setup job by the end of spring, works a fastball/slider mix with the very occasional changeup. In just under 25 innings with the Diamondbacks, Ginkel posted a 1.48 ERA, a sub-1.00 WHIP and a K/9 rate of 10.36. His strikeout results were much higher in the minors, as he posted a career K/9 in the minors of 12.95, with his most recent posts being much higher. Ginkel has been successful everywhere he’s been, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he took advantage of Archie Bradley’s mediocrity at some point in 2020 or 2021 and became the closer.
Colin Poche has been a reliever I’ve had my eye on now for three years. He’s just a conundrum. Despite sitting at 93 mph, his fastball grades out at a 70 because of some extreme deception in his delivery. Nobody really knows yet what Poche does to either hide the ball, or just make it hard to pick up, but it’s certainly working. Despite a mediocre finishing statline in 2019, if you look closer, you’ll see why I’m still high on him. In fact, Poche was pretty good as a rookie. Most of his troubles can be attributed to a homer barrage he suffered in July. The rest of the season he was everything you hoped he could be:
If you remove July from his 2019, Poche has a very respectable 3.40 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, and 49 Ks in 37.1 innings. Another thing to keep in mind is that Poche routinely worked more than one inning in the minors, and he racked up 51 innings in his rookie season pitching just four months. He could easily be a 70-80 inning pitcher with the Rays, potentially drawing opener gigs. I’m high on this guy.
Now we get to the wild cards. The following relievers have either had injury issues or regression issues, but are still capable of turning it around in 2020 or beyond. Of course, this list could also be extended to those who have appeared on it in previous seasons (Brad Peacock, Chad Green, Seranthony Dominguez, etc).
After a completely lost season in 2019, Betances is back in New York with the Mets. Yes, he’ll be 32 in March and just went through an injury gauntlet, but I’m not counting him or his career 14.66 K/9 out. If he’s got another season left, Betances could be the best non-closing reliever in the league. Another thing: He’ll be cheap. With Edwin Diaz on the roster, Betances has very little chance to close in 2019 or at all. Combine that with his recent injury woes and you can easily get Betances in the 21st round.
A sad story, Nick Burdi looked like his career was on track in April of 2019 after Tommy John just two years ago. A couple of rough appearances gave way to a two-week stretch where he through six scoreless innings, striking out 10 — only to suffer neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome. The upside for Burdi is very high. He has two plus-plus pitches with so-so control. Keep an eye on him.
Another extremely talented but oft-injured reliever is San Diego’s Jose Castillo, who boasts good velocity and two secondary pitches. The man gets Ks. That is all you need to know. Well, you need to know if he’s healthy too. Reports are he’s ramping up for spring right now, hoping to build off his 2018 debut where he K’d 52 in 38.1 innings with a 3.29 ERA.
Featured image by J.R. Caines (@jrcainesdesign on Twitter)