A week ago, I wrote a piece titled The Curious Case of Delosh Betader explaining why taking advantage of the thin market of elite, non-closing relievers would gain you an advantage in your league.
Who is Delosh Betader? I’ll skip right over your questionable reading comprehension problem and just say he is a terrifying combination of Josh Hader and Dellin Betances. Instead of drafting a spot starter or a mediocre closer in Round 10 or later, you should draft elite non-closing relievers and use the five or six innings they give you per week to act as a spot start to lower your ERA and WHIP marks, and dramatically boost your K total.
When you think of Betader, you should think of Tenzing Norgay—the sherpa who helped Sir Edmund Hillary become the first man to climb Mount Everest. Few great achievements are accomplished alone—they need their Norgays.
I’m here to help you find your Norgay as you attempt to scale fantasy greatness. And as Miles Massey (George Clooney’s character in Intolerable Cruelty) points out: How do you spot a Norgay? You look for the funny names:
Why are you looking for the next Betader?
The current Betader is ready, willing, and comes at a discount! The Betader strategy is so little-used that the combined draft position for Hader (ADP: 100) and Betances (ADP: 270) is 185. Nobody should feel squeamish about getting the following production for roughly the same price as Jon Gray (ADP: 186) or Alex Wood (ADP: 193):
Not bad, right? It’s better than Jacob deGrom‘s historic season.
The beauty about this combo is it is the best possible outcome. Two high-volume, spectacular relievers who do not have any chance to close this season. Betances won’t close because he’s tried that before with disastrous results. Hader won’t close because Milwaukee has Corey Knebel—and the Brewers know how valuable Hader is in his current role. Why is it important that they don’t close? It means fewer innings and more attention. The last thing you want out of your relievers is hype—it makes them fly off draft boards earlier. Betances will turn 31 before the season, so this could be the last year he’s recommended, but it is still unlikely either Betader hemisphere sees a decline.
Rad Greensly is another holdover from last season. The repetition may be frustrating, but analysis usually changes from year to year because the top performers get noticed and are picked according to their correct value. That has not happened yet with elite non-closers (and for your sake, hopefully it doesn’t happen for a while). Like Betances and Hader, Chad Green, and Ryan Pressly have no hope of closing in 2019 as the Yankees and Astros have a number of options to try before these work horses.
I can’t decide between B.J. Mintcock or B.J. Peater for the combination of Brad Peacock and A.J. Minter (ADP: 202).
On the scale of drafted relievers, we’ve probably got two of the more drafted or owned here due to Minter’s potential to close and Peacock’s potential to spot start. I’d target Minter in the late teens of drafts. He’ll be valuable even if he doesn’t get the closer’s job, which I don’t think he will right away, because Minter is competing with Arodys Vizcaino, the Braves’ closer before his injury thrust Minter into the role in 2018. He’d have to outduel Vizcaino by a significant amount to win the job out of camp. That’s hard to do in the limited innings spring training provides—not that Minter isn’t capable.
With a mid-90s fastball, a low 90s cutter/slider, and a serviceable changeup, Minter has been successful at every level since being drafted in 2016. A back injury late in 2018 caused him to lose control, but that should not be a worry heading into 2019.
Even though he’ll turn 31 in a few weeks, Peacock has improved his strikeout rate in a relief role while bettering his walk rate. In 2017, when the Astros didn’t have a historic rotation, he garnered 21 starts. Then Houston added Gerrit Cole and got a full season of Justin Verlander, so it didn’t need Peacock to start in 2018.
He did get one start, and I think that number will climb this season because despite still having one of the deeper staffs, the Astros do not have five guys who demand a spot in the rotation like they did last season—and one of those who does will be hurt all year. This means Peacock could end up with the coveted SP/RP eligibility where he doesn’t take up a reliever spot and instead could fill in quality innings on days you have off. He can also start games for the Astros, pitch five innings, allow one or two runs, strike out seven or eight, and call it a day. Make no mistake: Both of these situations are a win for you.
In 2018, this is what Mintcock would have given you. I expect improvement for both.
This might be my favorite grouping for 2018-19. Combining who I think will be 2019’s Lou Trivino (Jose Castillo) with 2018’s Trivino (Trivino). Castino is an apt combination, with both being large individuals (both 6’5″, 225-plus lbs), and both relying on similar repertoires. Trivino and Castillo both have two great pitches, and those pitches do roughly the same thing. Anyone who played fantasy baseball last year knows what Trivino did:
That included a terrible ending to the season where fatigue set in—along with perhaps sequencing problems. Those problems are likely to be rectified in 2019 as Trivino has two elite pitches from a velocity standpoint alone in a fastball that can reach 100 mph and a cutter that can reach 93.
As we inch further down this list, there are more breakout/debut candidates. Castillo made his debut in 2018 for the Padres, posting a good-but-not-great line:
There is potential to grow. With a mid-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider, and above-average control, Castillo could finish 2019 closer to his 2.64 FIP. He could also see a lot more innings because of the lack of talent in the San Diego bullpen. Sixty innings pitched is possible if he continues to improve. This pairing has the potential for 130-140 innings. That’s what you want—as well as a K/9 around 11.5 to go with a sparkling WHIP that’ll come via each pitcher’s good control.
Now we can have some fun. One little-known fact about the Betader rule is that if two relievers have the same first name, you can flip it backward to make a better name. So here we are: combining my two favorite relief prospects: Zack Burdi and Zac Houston to get Kaz Hurdi.
Now, if everything goes right in 2019 for these two, neither will likely be eligible for this list in 2020. Houston will be closing for an awful Detroit Tigers bullpen, and Burdi will begin to fulfill his potential with the Chicago White Sox in the same role. For now, however, neither has the roles or roster spots to justify a selection in most fantasy drafts. If neither is called up after camp, they will both be up by the All-Star break.
Let’s start with the more hyped Burdi. A first-round pick out of Mississippi State by the White Sox, Burdi has been groomed to close. He’s got everything you’d want in a closer: an 80-grade, triple-digit fastball, a 90 mph slider, and even a third pitch (wow!) changeup that is actually useful. Unfortunately, he underwent Tommy John surgery more than a year ago and has been rehabbing since. He was recently shut down until spring training for “general fatigue,” but the White Sox have been adamant that he will be available for March games. Burdi’s minor league career has been a mix of above-average and great performances due to his injury history and only 60 total minor league appearances:
Keep in mind that WHIP and ERA both increased as a result of his short return from TJ, as well as his performance before getting the surgery, where he pitched through considerable discomfort. His K-rate also declined. It’s unlikely Burdi will be with the White Sox in April, but he should be on your radar in June.
Next up is Houston, who has seen considerably more time in the minors and has had better results, yet he’s not thought of as highly. Sure, he doesn’t have the tools Burdi has, but with relievers, you never know how their arsenal will translate in leverage situations. Houston has an above-average fastball, which sits around 94, and features a 50-grade slider, a decent curveball and a change that could be scrapped one day. He’s got a lot of sink on his fastball and a funky delivery that helps him play up his velocity with spectacular results:
|Combined Low A/A+/AA/AAA||141||1.57||0.96||220||13.85||70|
Like Burdi, there is a high walk rate here, but Houston has shined at every level. His 2018 season might have been his best yet, splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A, where he started to close for the first time. He posted a 1.63 ERA between the two levels with a 13 K/9 and a 0.96 WHIP. While Burdi might take more time to get to the bigs, Houston could be there in April, as he doesn’t have much to prove and has been consistently healthy. The only thing that could hold him back is a regression on that already high walk rate. If he can lower that below four per nine innings, he can be one of the better names on this list for 2019 and possibly 2020.
This is a pie-in-the-sky situation. Two pitchers on the verge of defining their roles, Colin Poche and Josh James (ADP: 260), will likely be on MLB rosters at the end of spring training. The problem with Poche and James for our purposes is that they did so well in the Hader bullpen role in the minors in 2018 that they are being considered for rotation spots in 2019.
It’s likely that James starts the season in the Houston rotation, considering how he finished 2018 and how great his stuff is. He seems to be getting better every day now that his sleep apnea problem has been solved. A simple corrective surgery and wearing of a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine helped James gain more than five mph on his fastball (he now averages 97 mph) and were responsible for the following improvements from 2017 to 2018:
|2017 Texas League (AA)||76.0||4.38||1.46||72||8.53||32|
Quite the turnaround for the 1,006th pick in the 2014 draft (34th round). James also went from starting in half his appearances in 2017 to starting in more than 85% of them in 2018 at higher levels. It seems clear that the Astros want to see what they have in James in 2018 and will likely start him, but I’d like to see him in a Peacock role. There, he would start occasionally and be a reliever. This would maximize his fantasy value, where he’d likely maintain an insane K/9 rate, and a lower WHIP and ERA than if he started full time. This way James would also qualify for SP and RP slots, a valuable designation for relievers, as you do not have to take out closers to play them.
Let’s move on to Poche. I just want to say, I love this man. It will be a shock if Poche does not come out of the Grapefruit League with a spot on the Tampa Bay roster. Simply put, there is no way he should be as good as he is. His fastball sits in the low 90s and his curveball is solid—and that’s it! Sounds dubious, I know, until you see the jaw-dropping results:
|2017 (A & High A)||49.0||1.25||0.97||81||14.48||19|
|2018 (AA & AAA)||66.0||0.81||0.70||110||15.0||19|
Having not seen him live, I will say I can only guess by what I’ve seen through videos. His delivery doesn’t appear deceptive from center field cameras. So Poche must have a legendary ability to hide the ball either behind his head or elbow—and my guess is that his fastball also has unique movement. Those are the only explanations a guy with average stuff can lead the minors in K/9 for two straight seasons. He also has an impeccable walk rate (lower than 3.0) for a reliever.
Poche is also on the perfect team to utilize his ability. Tampa Bay relied on “opener” pitchers more than any other team in the league in 2018. These relievers would start the game with the plan of only seeing the lineup once. Poche is the perfect pitcher for this—a deceptive lefty who can pitch significant innings at the beginning of games some days, in the middle some days and near the end other days. He could see 100 innings, and if his delivery is anywhere near as deceptive as it has been in the minors, we could see a reliever approach 200 strikeouts. Is it time to wake up?
Let’s end this on a practical note—with one last established duo: Adam Ottavino (ADP: 251) and David Robertson (ADP: undrafted). Robertson is slated to back up the exceptionally named Seranthony Dominguez in Philadelphia. This might be enough to push him completely out of drafts for the first time since 2013, but I doubt it. He’s a reliever with a name most managers still know, and the 24-year-old Dominguez is young and not yet experienced enough to last for an entire (half) season of disappointment for a Phillies team that is going all-in 2019. If things go wrong, Robertson could close by June.
On the other end, Ottavino still is without a team. If he signs with the Cardinals, Cubs, Red Sox, Angels, or Rays, he should no longer be considered, because he’ll likely be a closer in 2019. If he signs with almost anybody else, he’s a setup man and ripe for the non-picking. For two pitchers likely selected in Round 20 and beyond, you could get the following production if they perform anything close to what they did in 2018:
Do those numbers look similar? They do if you had either Noah Syndergaard or Chris Sale, as they landed comfortably between the two. Can you imagine getting this kind of weekly help for your staff for the same price that you would pay for Garrett Richards (ADP: 285) or Jeff Samardzija (ADP: 283)?
Average draft positions taken from the Pitcher List mock drafts this offseason.
(Photo by Justin Paradis)