Fantasy owners who are already hurting for saves, as well as big league managers, are surveying bullpens for the next-in-line closer, or a future darkhorse candidate at the very least. Most changes in the closer role happen in the first few weeks of the season, so early statistics – fairly or unfairly – will have an impact on who might get an opportunity to close games.
So here at RotoExperts, we wanted to Scratch the Surface to find out which relief pitchers have excelled in several sabermetric stats thus far. While it is obviously very early in the season, we do see some statistical categories taking shape. Instead of looking at results, such as ERA, we revisited several measures utilized to identify filthy starting pitchers in an earlier column.
We took every pitcher who has not started a game this year and removed each team’s closer so we could examine key metrics for all other bullpen arms. We thought this might give us a glimpse at some pitchers not currently in set-up roles who might be factors in high leverage situations at some point. In some cases, we found potential gems; in other cases expected names rose to the top; a third scenario had a divided bullpen in which no non-closer stands out.
Statistics are through games of Monday April 15 and we ignored pitchers who had not accumulated at least 2 IP. Here are the metrics we used:
- K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings;
- Contact% – Percentage of swings resulting in contact (Leader is lowest percentage)
- SwStrk% — Percentage of all pitches that result in a swing-and-a-miss
- O-Swing – Percentage of pitches that are outside of the strike zone at which hitters swing. (Not total pitches, but those thrown out of the strike zone)
So what did we learn?
- We learned that despite the Carlos Marmol/Koji Fujikawa/Shawn Camp/James Russell talk in Chicago, they have a reliever who’s been very good in rookie Hector Rondon. The 25-year-old Rondon has struck out about a batter per inning in the Indians’ system. He’s a fastball/slider/change-up pitcher who averages just over 90 mph on his heater so far this season. It’s early but the Cubs might have a find here, either for their bullpen or their rotation (he was a starting pitcher throughout the minors). If they want to keep him in the pen, they may have the ability to trade other bullpen arms this season.
- Kelvin Herrera (who should be the official closer before you finish reading this sentence), Rex Brothers, Jordan Walden and Craig Stammen are the clear next-best in their bullpens.
- The Padres have a talented pen with Luke Gregerson, Dale Thayer (who has some closing experience), and Brad Brach.
- The Brewers might have options should Jim Henderson not succeed as closer. Burke Badenhop is whiffing batters, and both former closer Mike Gonzalez and Brandon Kintzler are missing bats.
- Trevor Rosenthal has clear closer stuff, but his overall results have not been great. Edward Mujica, a good-control, ground ball pitcher, has been mentioned as a potential closer should Mitchell Boggs continue to falter and if Jason Motte misses extended time.
- Should Jim Johnson falter in Baltimore, perhaps T.J. McFarland deserves a look. Pedro Strop is next on the depth chart but, at least so far, has not pitched well.
We know. Small sample sizes. Do we think Scott Rice is going to dominate the Mets bullpen? Of course not. But these measures are truer than something like ERA or wins/losses at this point in the season. Obviously these numbers will change, but some will stay put. It’s how these pitchers are performing; their managers are watching and may need a set-up man or closer at a moment’s notice.
How can I use this for my Fantasy team?
For now, use it to get familiar with new names. Moving forward, use it as a study guide. Track T.J. McFarland; see if Hector Rondon continues to display these skills through May. Follow these “skill” statistics as you might your scoring categories.
A few names on this list will surprise this year and become valuable assets to Fantasy owners. So keep watching and maybe grab them when a closer or set-up man goes down. Keep reading our Closer Confidential reports on Mondays on RotoExperts.com and you‘ll be a step ahead of your league mates in the all-important save category.