Searching for This Year’s Devin Williams

What relievers could help your fantasy team without getting saves?

Relievers who don’t get saves often don’t get attention in most leagues, much to my chagrin. I just want everyone to start good pitchers, but every year I see fantasy owners trot out mediocre guys to chase saves at the expense of both their ratios and their mental health. Fortunately, the FrankenAce strategy can change all that. Our own Alex Fast started to note the dilution of saves a couple of years ago, and we see year after year relievers who are virtually free on draft day and even the first month into the season who have the ability to really help your team. Devin Williams‘2020 season is a prime example of that. What team wouldn’t be helped by four wins, 53 Ks, and otherworldly ratios across 27 IP (which was the shortened season equivalent of about 70 IP)? If you’re a fantasy manager who missed out on closers or who spent a mid-round pick on Kirby Yates, Nick Anderson, or Trevor Rosenthal, you should be paying close attention to the guys on this list. Who might be sitting on your waiver wire right now who could be turned into a FrankenAce? I’m typically looking for four things for guys on this list:

  1. Not currently in the conversation for saves
  2. Strikeout upside
  3. Multi-inning potential
  4. Largely ignored or unowned in standard 5×5 leagues

Not all the guys on this list will hit all four of my criteria, but each will hit at least three of four. The first guy, however, might just be the perfect FrankenAce candidate.

 

1. Kendall Graveman, SEA

 

Another transitioned starter has refined his pitch mix and turned into an extremely effective reliever? It’s a tale as old as time and Graveman is looking like he’s going to do just that this year. In his first appearance, his sinker was even faster than in 2020 and touched 99. Even in a vacuum, this type of movement in on the hands to righties is pretty nice.

But we saw Graveman do something he’s not done before; pair that faster, more active sinker primarily with a slider. Watch the movement on this slider that, out of the hand, looks to be going in about the same place as the sinker above.

Individually, these pitches have really solid movement and velocity. Pair them together and you’ve got the makings of a really great season. The Mariners have already shown a willingness to let Graveman go multiple innings and I think this combination of pitches will allow him to continue to generate weak contact and rack up the Ks. Of all the guys on this list, I think Graveman has the most potential to be the guy we look back on as the ideal FrankenAce from 2021.

 

2. Garrett Crochet, CHW

 

An electric arm with room to grow, Garrett Crochet is one of just three players since 2000 to bypass all minor league levels and debut directly in the majors and deservedly so. His arm is ready and he doesn’t have the same control problems a lot of young arms have. He has yet to walk a batter in 8.1 major league IP. A lot was made of his fastball velocity last year, but don’t be surprised if it takes a step back this year as he focuses on staying fresh for the long haul of the 162-game season and tries to work multiple innings. The thing to look for with Crochet this year is his breaking stuff. He threw 85% fastballs in his six-inning cup of coffee last year, something that was never going to continue. If he’s going to have success and rack up the strikeouts needed to be a great FrankenAce, it’s going to be on the back of his slider.

It dives to the back foot of righties and, if he places it consistently, could be a source of a lot of swings and misses for him. There are some concerns about how Crochet will hold up over the entire season and the White Sox may take a very conservative approach with him. Steamer has him projected at just 51 IP. Keep an eye on that fastball velocity as the months go on. As long as it’s staying in the 97/98 range and he’s locating the slider, I’d roll with him.

 

3. Duane Underwood Jr., PIT

 

This might be a surprising name to some on this list, but Duane Underwood Jr. has shown flashes of potential ever since converting to a reliever in the Cubs organization. A career K-BB% of 21 is unfortunately paired with a career hard hit % of 49%. Ouch. He can strike guys out and limit walks, but he has given up way too much hard contact in his career to be effective. I’m encouraged this year by a potential drop in usage of his four-seamer in favor of a new, spinnier changeup.

Look at that horizontal movement! That movement will, in theory, not only help him miss more bats, but also miss more barrels. This seems to be something he worked on as all of his pitches have added horizontal movement versus their 2020 equivalent so far. The results? Well, it hasn’t worked yet. He’s helped himself by striking out seven in 4.2 IP thus far, but ten of the fourteen balls in play he’s allowed so far have had an exit velocity over 95 mph. If the changeup and reduced usage of his fastball don’t reduce hard contact, maybe they can help him get more balls on the ground. Repeating his 41% fly ball percentage from last year with those kinds of exit velocities will eventually be disastrous. The pieces are there, but Underwood is likely the riskiest on this list.

 

4. Connor Brogdon, PHI

 

Connor Brogdon made his debut in 2020 and continued to strike guys out at a high rate just like he had done in the minors. Seventeen strikeouts in just over eleven innings of work will certainly start opponents to start to prepare for you, though. He has decent velocity on his fastball, but his swing-and-miss pitch is this changeup that breaks like a slider.

Even though J.D. Davis didn’t offer at that one, that’s a great 0-2 pitch that will generate a lot of swings and misses over the course of a year. Brogdon also went more than one inning often in the minors and four out of his nine appearances last year, so I think he could definitely be a 75 IP guy if he breaks out. Keep an eye on his fastball velocity throughout the year and make sure it stays in the 95 mph range. As long as it’s there, I think he provides solid innings in a much-improved Phillies bullpen.

 

5. Ross Detwiler, MIA

 

Ross Detwiler is not the same Toby he was three years ago. His new slider he introduced last year was actually pretty effective across 19.2 IP last year and sports some really good vertical movement when it’s on.

It’s still early to make this conclusion, but he’s also dropped his sinker usage dramatically so far in favor of more swing-and-miss pitches like his curveball and changeup which shows he might be chasing strikeouts a bit more than he has in the past. This version of Ross Detwiler could be able to do something we never thought was possible in his days bouncing around as a back-of-the-rotation/long relief guy: post a strikeout rate in the mid-to-high 20s. Pair that with his control and starting experience allowing him to go multiple innings if needed and you have a potentially valuable piece of a fantasy staff.

 

Other Under-the-Radar Names to Consider

 

Here are some quick hitters on guys who don’t quite fit the criteria I was looking for, but could still provide solid production for next to nothing:

  • Aaron Slegers was quietly really solid in Tampa Bay last year and is throwing with some increased velocity. He’s not a velocity guy per se, but hey, it can’t hurt. He’s slotted himself into the 7th inning role for the Angels and should provide solid ratios and holds even if he doesn’t have the strikeout potential of these other guys.
  • Hansel Robles might make his owners from 2020 hiss and recoil from their screen upon seeing his name, but he has his velocity back after a dip last year and he seems to be avoiding throwing too many four-seamers to lefties, something that killed him last year. He looks to be close to his 2019 self when he posted a 26% k-rate and a 2.48 ERA across 72.2 IP and can settle comfortably into a middle innings role in a deep Twins bullpen.
  • J.P. Feyereisen had questions about whether he’d make the Brewers’ Opening Day roster and he seems to have not only done that, but also carved out an important role for himself in this deep bullpen. He had an extremely impressive spring and regularly pulled multi-inning stints in the minors. They’ve got him throwing his slider more so far this year, which should generate more K’s, but we’ll need to keep an eye on his control.
  • Kevin Ginkel is a name you might remember from a lot of sleeper lists last year. There’s still very much a void in the back of the Diamondbacks’ bullpen and Ginkel certainly has the talent to fill it. Will his walk rate come back to bite him again? Will J.B. Bukauskas come up and steal the show before Ginkel can establish himself? A lot remains to be seen, but his 2019 stint shows his potential.
  • Codi Heuer is one of about five guys from the White Sox bullpen I feel like I could have put on this list. I’m not sure if the strikeouts will be quite where they were last year because that sinker seems designed to saw off bats rather than miss them. Still, he should be really effective on a solid team.

 

Looking for more? Check out Paul Sporer’s article as he put out a similar piece (with different names!) just hours after this one.

 

Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Eric Dadmun

Eric is a Core Fantasy contributor on Pitcher List and a former contributor on Hashtag Basketball. He strives to help fantasy baseball players make data-driven and logic-driven decisions. Mideast Chapter President of the Willians Astudillo Unironic Fan Club.

  • Avatar JR says:

    I’ve been debating between Graveman and Kopech but now I notice you don’t even mention Kopech here…

    What’s the reasoning for not including Kopech? He’s looked awesome out there so far.

    • Avatar Eric Dadmun says:

      Kopech was definitely one of a handful of White Sox who could have been included. Ultimately, I decided to focus on guys who would likely be in the bullpen all year and who had slightly lower ownership percentages. Guys like Tejay Antone and Tony Gonsolin (once he comes off the IL) could also fit this bill, but they’re generally more owned and will likely spend some time as starters as well this year.

  • Avatar Max Posner says:

    Dope article. I picked up Graveman in a holds league yesterday and I’m hoping he’ll help the rates as well. Did you consider Lucas Sims for the list? He hasn’t pitched more than an inning yet, but he’s a former starter and his breaking ball will miss bats.

    • Avatar Eric Dadmun says:

      Lucas Sims is a great arm to have, but I consider him as in the conversation for saves in Cincinnati. Amir Garrett’s L/R splits will catch up to him if deployed as a traditional closer, so I’m fairly confident Sims will get saves at some point over the summer.

  • Avatar Manley Ramirez says:

    Fantastic stuff.

  • Avatar JT says:

    Any updated thoughts on Graveman after seeing him pitch tonight? Looking for a quality long middle reliver to pad ratios, vulture wins, and nab some holds. Please rank Graveman, Antone, Loaisiga, Kopech and Crochet. Thanks!

    • Avatar Eric Dadmun says:

      I’m thinking he must not have been feeling the slider in the bullpen because he did not want to use it much. Granted, he faced several lefties, but he hung one to Abreu that could have been hit harder. It’s worth monitoring to see how often he feels comfortable with that slider, but I’m pleased he was able to get out with 0 ER even if some luck was involved.

      I’m going to go Antone, Kopech, Graveman, Crochet, Loaisiga. Volume is a big consideration here as Antone and Kopech are projected for considerably more innings than the other three since they’re expected to join the rotation at some point. I’m putting Crochet over Loaisiga because the latter has been using the sinker as his primary fastball which returned just an 8% SwStr rate last year and I’m not sure if the increased use of the changeup pushes the strikeout rate up enough. He should be solid, but I think his strikeout rate might stay in the low-to-mid 20s while Crochet could settle in the low 30s.

  • Avatar VeryStableRob says:

    How are you feeling about Chris Rodriguez? He’s one that I’ve been considering…

    • Avatar Eric Dadmun says:

      Obviously, there are lots of caveats to any analysis because we have so little data on him. He’s clearly got great stuff, but I see some things that make me want to watch from afar for now. Three walks in 4.2 IP and two homers in Spring along with a few pitches that were way off make me wonder about his control. Does he sometimes hang breaking balls that get hit hard? What’s his walk rate going to balance out at? Of course, there are the workload and injury concerns as well. The Angels are going to be very cautious with him. He’s faced some good lineups, though, and limited hard contact despite the five hits, so there’s definitely reason to be excited. I just see a decent amount of risk there, too.

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