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Relief Aid: Relievers to Target

These relievers are having sneaky good seasons.

Early in the fantasy season, relievers will be moved a lot. Managers trying to capitalize off early-season volatility leaves room to seize hidden value that might not have been seen before. It’s tough evaluating relievers early in a season, as it’s all small sample sizes, and one bad outing can throw off the way we see a pitcher. With that said, there are five relievers worthy of a deeper look and being rostered on your fantasy team, especially if you aren’t counting saves in your league. If you need some ratio help and don’t mind speculating on holds, let alone saves, these guys might be for you.

Note: All statistics listed in this article are reflective of the morning of Saturday, May 8th, the statistics do not account for any games played on May 8th.

 

Caleb Thielbar

 

You’re probably reading this and saying to yourself, “Who?” Fair. Caleb Thielbar was a reliever who pitched for three seasons and then suffered an injury in 2015 that kept him sidelined until last year. But Thielbar is much more than a great story. Thielbar is a left-handed reliever with some dirty stuff. He throws a fastball, curveball, and slider, relying primarily on the fastball and slider. He only throws his fastball at about 91 mph, but he has good command with the pitch, challenging hitters inside and in the zone with it. This is an issue I’ll get into, but the positive for Thielbar is he’s a strikeout machine early in the season.

In 12 innings pitched so far this year, Thielbar has a near-42% strikeout rate. Hitters won’t chase his stuff often but when they do, they only make contact about 47% of the time. Thielbar has an 18% SwStr and a 33% CSW to open the season. He throws a lot of strikes and can miss many bats. Among qualified relievers, Thielbar is seventh in K-BB% behind names like Aroldis Chapman, James Karinchak, Matt Barnes, and Liam Hendriks. That’s some pretty good company to keep early in the season.

When Thielbar doesn’t miss bats, he gets crushed. Exactly 50% of his balls in play this year have been considered hard-hit. That’s not always the best sign, especially considering he’s giving up a lot of home runs early in the season. I hope that his .440 BABIP and 25% HR/FB ratio end up coming down as the season goes on, and I do feel that’s a pretty good bet. He’s already been used in hold situations as he has two on the early season but his 22 strikeouts to two walks are good for an 11:1 K/BB ratio. He has a 1.50 SIERA this year and he’s gone six consecutive appearances without giving up a run. He’s trending in the right direction.

Thielbar may get some save opportunities with the inconsistency of the Twins bullpen and at the very least he could position himself into getting more eighth inning opportunities if he continues to put up K/BB numbers like that. In fantasy leagues that are head-to-head, Thielbar contributes a lot of value because of those strikeout and walk numbers. Even in a traditional league, he has value but even more so if you are playing category by category and are a fantasy manager willing to bite the bullet on saves.

 

Tyler Chatwood

 

Tyler Chatwood’s command always held him back, but a simplified approach seems to be doing him some favors in 2021. In the past, Chatwood had five pitches, including three different types of fastballs, that he relied on evenly. Now, he seems to be dumping the four-seam fastball to rely more on his cutter and sinker. He’s thrown 175 pitches this year and 156 of them have been either a sinker or cutter. It’s working though—Chatwood has a 24% SwStr on his cutter this year. Interestingly, Chatwood adjusted the spin direction on the pitch by about an hour of degrees and is seeing much better results with it.

Overall, Chatwood has a near-35% K rate this year, matched with a 50% ground-ball rate. With these types of numbers, it makes sense that he’s seeing good results early, allowing only one run in his first 11 innings of work. He has yet to give up a home run and has yielded one barrel on the year as well. In the past, his biggest struggles have been walks. However, he has a seven percent walk rate so far, which would be the lowest rate in his entire career. His zone% is the lowest it’s been in years, but he’s throwing more pitches around the strike zone and getting swings and misses, which is why you see a good strikeout rate.

If Chatwood can continue to miss bats while maintaining a sub-10% walk rate, he may be one of the best values in all of baseball. With injuries to other back-end relievers on the Blue Jays like Julian Merryweather and Kirby Yates, Chatwood is going to get plenty of opportunities for holds and potentially even saves. He’s gotten three holds in his last five appearances. His stock is going to rise quickly.

 

Kolby Allard

 

A former-Atlanta-prospect-turned-Texas-starter-project-turned-bullpen-ace, Kolby Allard has already gone through a lot of changes in his young career. The 23-year-old has a 3.56 ERA in about 15 innings this year. That doesn’t jump off the page at first, but that would be the lowest ERA in his career in a single season. He should get better than that as he has 2.55 FIP and 2.32 SIERA so that ERA is misleading to where he’s pitching at so far. He’s not being used as a one-inning reliever as five of his seven appearances have been for at least two innings. Multi-inning usage out of a reliever spot is big in non-save leagues where innings and strikeouts are worth a lot more.

Allard can do one thing well that you might notice will be a pattern for most of these pitchers: limiting his walks. Allard has walked just one batter out of the 62 he has faced this year. Even more impressively, he’s only had one 3-0 count all year. He’s only throwing a first-pitch strike about 56.5% of the time, which is below average but has risen in each appearance. If he continues to start out hitters with strikes, his strikeout rate could rise.

Allard has also struck out a third of the hitters he’s faced. A 19:1 K/BB ratio is going to make you a highly effective reliever no matter the length of your appearance. Add onto the fact that Allard is going to work more than the average reliever, he could be a great weapon for Texas and one of the best reliever candidates available in non-traditional fantasy baseball leagues. He’s still young enough that Texas could want to make him a starter at any time, but his future might be in the bullpen. He could become the bulk guy following an opener which may pick up a few opportunities for wins if they go with that strategy. He may also find himself pitching multiple innings deeper into games which could give some hold opportunities as well. Still, there will be plenty of strikeouts to be had with Allard.

 

John Curtiss

 

A former Rays reliever excelling outside of Tampa Bay? Never heard that one before! John Curtiss was traded from the Rays to the Marlins this past off-season and has been a force in Miami’s evolving pitching staff. Curtiss entered the day with a 2.87 ERA in 15.2 innings with a 0.83 WHIP. Curtiss has a simple approach, threw a fastball and slider the same amount of the time so that way nobody can guess which one is coming.  He uses his fastball all over the zone while keeping his slider primarily down and away from righties.

Curtiss carries a high zone rating, meaning he is more susceptible to better swings. He ranks in the bottom percentiles in most quality-of-contact metrics, which can come back to bite him considering he only has a 32% ground ball rate. Curtiss is saved by his zero percent walk rate. He doesn’t have a walk yet this year, literally! He has a 65.5% first-pitch strike rate and pounds the zone, attacking every hitter he faces.

It’s impossible to expect Curtiss to not give up a walk for the rest of the season, but he’s clearly got potential to give you a K/BB ratio over 10 this year. His ERA was under two before his not-so-great last outing and his SIERA is 2.07; he should bounce back just fine.  Curtiss doesn’t have any holds or save opportunities yet, but Miami may start using him in more serious situations, something that could help his value a lot. Keep eye on guys like Dylan Floro and Yimi García. The fewer late-game situations those guys are given, the more opportunities for Curtiss to get some holds or saves if Miami feels no one has earned the closer role.

 

Kevin Ginkel

 

Admittedly, I might be biased here because Kevin Ginkel was drafted out of the University of Arizona, my alma mater. Yet, the Diamondbacks reliever has been given what all of these guys deserve: late-inning appearances with the lead. Ginkel has six holds this season.  He doesn’t have a lot of competition in that bullpen outside of Chris Devenski and Joakim Soria so he’s going to get opportunities to set those guys up for saves pretty consistently. He’s got a 3.86 ERA after a supposed scoring change in his outing against Miami on Tuesday.

Unlike everyone else on this list, Ginkel is not a strikeout expert. While a 25.5% strikeout rate is nothing to sneeze at, he’s the only pitcher listed with a strikeout rate below 30%. He is capable of better as his first season in the big leagues he had swinging-strike rate closer to 15%. It’s fallen every year since likely due to using his slider as a pitch to contact more.

His slider’s zone rating and swinging-strike rate have dropped every year. Though he’s getting more movement on the pitch, he doesn’t have the same command with the pitch that he had before. He’s not able to make it look like a strike like he once did. That’s going to take some time in bullpen sessions to get his feel back with that pitch.

Ginkel specializes in getting weak contact. He’s 55th percentile in hard-hit rate and 83rd percentile in average exit velocity. This is resulting in a career-high ground-ball rate, a really good sign for him if he’s not able to get to achieve an elite level of strikeouts. Plus, as I already said, Ginkel is already receiving opportunities for holds. If guys like Soria and Devenski start to struggle, Ginkel could see some shots at saves as well. The Diamondbacks are playing above expectations and should revert to the mean soon. Soria and Devenski are also prime trade bait, which means Ginkel stands a chance of being the last man remaining in that bullpen. Out of everyone on this list, Ginkel is the one most assured to receive consistent chances at racking up fantasy value.

 

Photos by Russell Lansford and Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire | Design by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter and @caines_design on Instagram)

Max Greenfield

Former Intern for the Washington Nationals, now a Going Deep Writer analyzing the next possible breakout pitcher.

  • Ben Brown says:

    +1 for Caleb Thielbar, whose nickname is “Meat Raffle”

  • 001BEARDOWN says:

    Bear down!

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