Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Report: March 4
Steve Pimental goes around the league, highlighting bullpens of note and potential closers to add to your fantasy baseball rosters.
I usually tend to wait on closers when it comes to fantasy drafts. That doesn’t mean I ignore the position altogether, but most teams will have their first closer before I do. Most teams will probably have their second closer before I get my second, as well. There are a couple of reasons I like to wait. For one thing, I’m usually confident in my ability to find players late in drafts or during the season who can get me saves while not killing my numbers in the other categories. Another reason I often wait to take closers is that the position can be awfully volatile from one season to the next.
As Justin Vreeland pointed out in his Drafting Closers article in the Draft Guide, four of the top five closers in ADP last season disappointed their fantasy owners. Even Kenley Jansen had a down season by his standards. Of course, the same volatility that can make the top closers unreliable can also work in our favor when it comes to finding values later in the draft. With that in mind, let’s look at four potential bounce-back relievers for 2019:
Ken Giles – This is one instance where I have to disagree with Justin Vreeland. He picked Ken Giles as a closer to avoid in his aforementioned Closers article, but I am not so sure. Giles had his worst MLB season in 2018, but he still managed to hit all of Howard Bender’s Pitching Category Targets. Giles’s 7.57 K/BB rate in 2018 (by far the best of his career) ranked third in MLB among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched. Giles had a career-low strikeout rate in 2018 but matched it with a career-low walk rate. Giles may no longer be an elite strikeout pitcher, but I’m okay trading some strikeouts for a lower ERA and WHIP as well as increased job security.
In 2018, Giles had a .331 BABIP, a career-low 63.4 left-on-base percentage and an 11.3 HR/FB rate. The BABIP and HR/FB rate were the second highest of his career. I believe those numbers were fluky and not part of a larger trend. He bounced back from similarly bad numbers in 2016 to be one of the best relievers in baseball in 2017, and I have no reason to believe it will be any different this time around.
Corey Knebel – Knebel probably performed the worst out of the top-five closers in ADP last season. He suffered a hamstring injury early in the season and eventually was demoted in favor of Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress . On the plus side, Knebel was lights-out in September, throwing 16.1 scoreless innings to end the season. When the dust settled on the season, Knebel had a 4.00 K/BB rate, which was much better than his 3.15 rate in 2017. In hindsight, we probably should have been more leery of spending a high pick on someone who had a 4.74 BB/9 and a 91.9 LOB% in 2017. That being said, Knebel had a 3.03 FIP last season and he has a 3.15 ERA for his career. That’s probably how we should view him going forward while also keeping in mind his elite strikeout rate. It seems clear Milwaukee wants Josh Hader to throw multiple innings, so the battle for saves probably comes down to Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress . In four seasons prior to 2018, Jeffress had never posted a K/9 above 9.0, so I’m a bit skeptical he can hold off Knebel for the closing gig.
Cody Allen – Unfortunately, I can’t chalk Cody Allen ’s numbers up to bad luck like I can with Ken Giles . In 2018, Allen had his worst K/9, BB/9 and HR/9 since his rookie season. He allowed a career-high 50.6 flyball rate and a career-high 38.4 percent hard-hit rate. I’m just not convinced the skills that made him an above average reliever for five seasons have suddenly evaporated. At the very least, Allen should be good enough to keep the closer job considering he shouldn’t have much competition. If he returns to his previous form, he would be a steal at his current ADP.
Greg Holland – Unlike Ken Giles , whose numbers were actually worse after he left the Astros (mostly due to home runs), Greg Holland was much better after the Cardinals designated him for assignment and he signed with the Washington Nationals. Holland had a 7.92 ERA and 4.56 FIP in 25.0 innings with St. Louis and a 0.84 ERA and 2.97 FIP in 21.1 innings with Washington. Holland saved 41 games as recently as 2017, and outside of that one year in Colorado, his HR/9 has been under 0.50 every season since his rookie year. Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo spend all of 2018 letting Brad Boxberger close games while he allowed two better relievers to work earlier in games. If he does that again, I suspect Holland will be just good enough to rack up saves without killing your ERA and WHIP.