Last season marked the end of an era: when a tremendously valuable property (Josh Hader) will be undervalued in most drafts. Now that he’s been a closer, there is no going back for Hader. It might also be when Dellin Betances broke down for good, thus putting an end to this article series’ combined namesake. But the strategy lives on. Even though we might have said goodbye to the best non-closing-reliever combo ever, there were still a number of relievers who staked their claim to be put in the “I told you so” column of your 2019 draft spreadsheet.
A quick primer to this concept that I explained better at the beginning of last season: If you combine two elite non-closing relievers in head-to-head leagues only, you get 5+ innings of Cy Young-caliber pitching a week (or 130+ total). 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|
Taking advantage of this strategy morphs two previously undervalued relievers into a spot starter who is just as good as many of the better starting pitchers in the league. And the best part is that these arms are hardly ever drafted. You can get half a Cy Young winner by combining your 24th- and 25th-round picks.
Before I post potential 2020 Delosh Betaders later this week, let me show you the kind of elite production you could have gotten this year—and the low-low price from which it came. As far as the state of Betaders go, it’s tough to swallow that we lost by far the best one (Hader/Betances), but we also lost other multiple year non-closing relievers to injury, closing jobs, or just plain regression. Brad Peacock, Chad Green, Corey Knebel, Lou Trivino, and Seranthony Dominguez are all off the list. Let’s take a look at who moved into their spots.
What’s amazing about Anderson is that he has basically been this good with only two pitches. It’s possible that he both regresses or improves in 2020. In truth, my hope is he’s the exact same pitcher. He’s one of the few relievers who hit the prestigious 15 K/9 ratio. And by “one of the few,” I mean he’s the only one who isn’t a closer. Gallegos is the opposite of Anderson. Doesn’t get as many strikeouts, doesn’t rely on elite velocity, and has three or four plus pitches. He also has much better control, which accounts for the near two-tenths lower WHIP. These two together were a good match to both lower your metrics and increase your Ks.
Look at those numbers! And everyone thought Chris Paddack was a steal in 2019. Considering Anderson was a rookie, his ADP was non-existent in 2019 and even now, he’s being taken in drafts after 200. The same could be said about Gallegos, whose value was basically nothing before last season. Even now, he’s probably taken around 200 because there is a long shot that he’s the closer at some point in 2020. Nevertheless, Andallegos basically provided Chris Sale‘s strikeout numbers but better ratios.
We move on to Ryam Presricks, the abomination that results from combining Ryan Pressly and Liam Hendriks. On his own, Hendriks has the ratios and the K rate to combine with almost any above-average reliever to create a Betader. Fairly mediocre the first eight seasons of his career, Hendriks has seemed to put it all together in 2019. It helps to find a surge in velocity, with his average fastball speed hitting 96.5—two miles per hour faster than any previous season. Hendriks leaned on that development, also hitting a career high in fastball usage. At the same time, Pressly has been a beast the past three seasons. He is probably the surest thing on this list when it comes to replicating his 2019 success. His K rate isn’t elite for a reliever, but when you combine his numbers with Hendriks’, you get 140 innings of better than Cy Young-quality output:
At 139 innings, that is more than five innings per week of the same output as Gerrit Cole. You could have gotten almost a whole quality start a week from two guys who weren’t even picked before 280 in drafts.
To drive the point home, we’re going to look at one more reliever combo that would have helped your bullpen better than any spot starter: Tomthy Kahgo. The rather extreme combination of two non-closing relievers who weren’t picked in drafts: Tommy Kahnle and Seth Lugo. With notable success just a few seasons ago, Kahnle’s elite velocity was back in 2019, and so was his production. Lugo, on the other hand, has fully embraced his role as a reliever. Not receiving a single start for the first time in 2019, his velocity has increased and so have virtually all of his pitch values.
These numbers look an awful lot like Shane Bieber‘s, but they could have been all yours for the final two picks of your draft. Or just by hitting the wire during the first month of the season.
I want to be clear: This is just a review of the relievers who were useful in 2019. I will be posting my predictions for 2020. You can look at my predictions from before the 2019 season to see what went right and what went wrong. The highlight was Rad Greensly (Green and Pressly), and some of the other picks were more avant-garde. I have learned from that mistake. I will not be making as many risky picks, although there will be some. Check out later this week to find out who.
The point of this article is two-fold:
- Draft the best relievers. Where it gets complicated is that most closers are not the best relievers. They just get drafted because it’s easier to say that getting a player who affects all stats is better than one who only affects 80 percent of them—but this is not true. In baseball, you can negatively affect your two of your team’s other stats (ERA & WHIP) and underperform in another (K), which is what roughly half of closers do on a weekly basis.
- When it comes to drafting elite relievers or inconsistent starters, draft two elite relievers and quit while you are ahead. You may not get as many innings, but you likely won’t need them because the ridiculous numbers relievers put up are not matchable by most starters, if any.
How can you magnify this advantage? Find elite non-closers who still have SP eligibility (Hader, Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock, etc). That way you don’t have to use a reliever spot in your lineup on one of your non-closers. Instead, they can fill in for empty starters spots on their off days.