5 Sleeper Picks for 2018 – Relief Pitchers
In addition to listing our picks for sleeper players for the 2018 season, we will also include their average draft position (ADP) from Yahoo. This can help you plan for your draft by knowing where players are typically being targeted.
Sleeper Picks for 2018: Relief Pitchers
Brad Brach - BAL (ADP: 183.3)
Orioles' Zach Britton will be on the DL to start the season due to an Achilles injury. He is slated to return in May if everything goes well. Any team would be missing Zach Britton, as he has been one of the single best relief pitchers in the game over the last several years. Luckily, the Orioles have a solid bullpen that can hold down the fort while Britton is gone. That first man up is likely to be Brad Brach.
Brach has been solid-to-great every year for the past four seasons. Over that time frame, he has pitched over 60 innings every year, with an overall ERA under 3.00. His peak year came in 2016 when he posted a 2.05 ERA over 79.0 innings with 10 wins, as a reliever. He followed that up with a solid 2017, where his ERA raised to a still-strong 3.18, and he traded 10 wins and 2 saves for 4 wins and 18 saves.
Some might be wary that his FIP and xFIP were higher than his ERA last year, but this has been a pattern over his career: his career ERA is 3.00, his career FIP 3.68, and his career xFIP 3.86. Some pitchers are just able to out-pitch their fielding-independent numbers, and Brach seems like one of those guys. Brach should be the closer until Britton's return, which would equate to at least 2 months of closing opportunity, but it could be even longer if Britton's rehab goes longer. And as he has shown, even if he is not closing, he can provide value with his wins.
Luke Gregerson - STL (ADP: 238.8)
Luke Gregerson is with a new team this year, as he signed a 2-year, $11 million contract with the Cardinals this off season. Gregerson would have likely gotten more, but he had an ill-timed down year in 2017. In his entire Major League career, spanning from 2009 to 2016, Gregerson never had an ERA over 3.30, and he had a sub-3.00 ERA 4 consecutive times from 2011 to 2014. But in 2017, he posted what was by far a career-worst 4.57 ERA. But he seems poised for a bounce-back.
Gregerson is only 33, so he shouldn't be beyond his expiration date, and his stuff hasn't deteriorated beyond repair. Gregerson's sinker was actually up 0.1 from 2016, and his slider and change were also almost identical to his 2016 stuff. His pitch movement also seemed to stay about the same. The biggest difference in his stat-line was the homers he allowed. Coming into the season, he had a HR/9 of below 0.75, but in 2017 it was 1.92. While homers went up league wide, it is not likely that his HR/9 will stay that high. It seems to have been artificially inflated by a 23.6% HR/FB rate, well above his career average of 10.4%.
While Gregerson is starting to get older, and is coming off a bad season, he has a long track record of being good. His stuff seems to be as good as ever, and he is the closer for the Cardinals, at least in title. That means that he is in line for a lot of save opportunities, and he should convert a lot of them.
Kyle Barraclough - MIA (ADP: 245.3)
Barraclough is the first of three pitchers on this list that is not the official closer on his team, but has a chance to jump into that role. Barraclough has put up strong stats in his short career, including a bonkers 14.00 K/9 in 2016 that helped him to a 2.11 FIP. He followed that up in 2017 with a 3.66 FIP, but still got a solid 3.00 ERA out of it. Part of the reason he may have seen a drop in strikeouts is that he had a mid-season shoulder injury, which appeared to have caused a drop in fastball velocity. With an off season to recover, Barraclough's stuff should improve. The biggest hindrance that has kept Barraclough from elite status has been his walks. He owns a career 5.52 BB/9 (aka very bad), but on the bright side, it has gotten better every year of his career, dropping from 6.66 to 5.45 to 5.18.
Even with his great strikeout stuff, Barraclough is not a guy who would be a lights-out closer on most teams. But because he is on the Marlins, who will be fighting to keep out of 100-loss territory, he does not have a ton of competition. His biggest competition to the closer role is Brad Zeigler, but he looks to be in tough shape. First of all, Ziegler is 38, well past his prime. Second, he is dealing with a chronic para-spinal injury, which has caused him to miss several games. And finally, his stuff is declining fast, his average sinker going from 84.7 in 2016 to 83.5 in 2017. All that combined means that Ziegler may very well be out of the closer role before the end of April, if he even starts there to begin with.
Because of the team he is on, Barraclough is not likely to rack up 40-plus saves, but he does have the opportunity to get 20-30 if all goes well, and he should pitch to a solid ERA with a litany of strikeouts. Don't target him too early, but keep him in your back pocket to grab him in the last couple rounds, or off waivers if he doesn't get drafted.
Addison Reed - MIN (ADP: 236.1)
Addison Reed is another talented arm that is currently not in the closer role, but could likely be there before too long. Both he and his closing competition, Fernando Rodney, were signed to free agent deals with the Twins this off-season, and one of them is likely to become the full-time closer. The stats show that Reed should win the battle, even if Rodney has the head start.
Fernando Rodney has been around forever, and has racked up a lot of saves, but he is on his way out the door. At 41 years old, he is lucky to even be in the Majors in the first place, as he is defying the aging curve. Additionally, Rodney is seeing a drop in stuff. He has relied on the high-heat for most of his career, and that is starting to dissipate. He went from an average fastball of 98.4 in 2013, to 96.3 in 2015, to just 95.6 last year. That is still good, but if he sees a similar drop again this year, he could be below 95, which starts putting him in potential meatball territory. His hard sinker has seen similar drops in velocity.
On the opposite end, Reed's stuff has almost perfectly maintained itself, which makes sense, as Reed is only 29. His fastball velocity is within half a mile per hour of his 2012-2016 average, and while his slider has dropped a tick, it has gained horizontal movement and has maintained a similar effectiveness. And this is all without mentioning that Reed has simply been better than Rodney over the last several years. Last year, Rodney had a 4.23 ERA and Reed had a 2.84. Rodney has a K-BB% of 16.9%, Reed had a 19.9%. Reed has been able to pitch more innings each of the last 2 years. Reed should be able to take over the 41-year-old Rodney, and if you can get Reed in the last couple rounds or off waivers, he will be a great deal.
— Zesty MN Twins (@zesty_twins) February 27, 2018
Joakim Soria - CHI (ADP: 241.0)
While Soria does not officially have the closing job for the White Sox, he is believed to be the favorite for the position. Soria is coming off a interesting year where his stuff seemed very good (good fastball with movement, great changeup, 19.0 K-BB%, 2.23 FIP), but his results were less so (3.70 ERA, 7 blown saves). But he should be able to overcome this difficulties with just a little regression to the mean. Additionally, there is very little competition for Soria. The only other true candidates are Juan Minaya, who is not likely to win the job, and Nate Jones, who is recovering from nerve re-positioning surgery . Not even considering Soria's prolific relief work earlier in his career, Soria had a better 2017 than Minaya in all of the following stats: BB/9, HR/9, K/BB, ERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, GB%, LD%, FB%, Hard Contact %, Medium Contact %, Soft Contact %, O-swing%, Z-Contact %, Swinging Strike %, shall I go on? Jones may compete for the job later in the season, but will likely have to prove himself over again to get a shot at closing.
Even though he is older, Soria is just better than Minaya, and Soria should win the closer role. If that happens, Soria could compete for 30+ saves, and he could be a Top 15 closer. All of that for a guy you are likely to pick up in the last couple rounds, or that may even go undrafted.
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Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo
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