There were no lofty expectations when Dominic Leone, an undersized right-hander from Clemson, was selected in the 16th round of the 2012 MLB Draft. The minors are littered with freshly squeezed collegiate starters who fit Leone’s profile to a tee. The harsh reality is that most of them don’t ever make it or even come close. Leone defied the odds simply by making it to The Show last season. He didn’t just make the Opening Day roster, he thrived, quickly establishing himself as one of the best relievers in the Seattle Mariners bullpen in 2014.
In 2014 Clayton Kershaw had one of the greatest pitching seasons in recent memory. But in 2014, 16 relief pitchers pitched at least 40 innings and had an ERA lower than Kershaw’s 1.77. Of those 16 pitchers, 7 of them also had a higher strikeout per 9 innings than Kershaw. Now this isn’t to say that you should go out and take relief pitchers in the first round, but now with pitching deeper than ever, there is an opportunity to create a lot of the value you get from an ace starting pitcher for cheap with some overlooked relief pitching. Last year the poster boys for this strategy were Wade Davis, Ken Giles, and Dellin Betances who combined to throw 207.2 innings with a 1.21 ERA and 308 strikeouts. The deeper the league, the more viable this strategy becomes as closers and starting talent are stretched more thin (for example in a 20 team league, our rankings have your #5 starter as someone like Yovani Gallardo, if you aren’t already betting on prospects).
We are trying to get value and replace starting pitchers so lets start our search with some parameters:
No Current Closers: If you are going with this strategy, I would suggest emphasizing the top closers like Chapman and Kimbrel but you aren’t going to get any value on them.
You Need Innings: Charlie Furbush struck out 10.8/9 while walking only 1.9/9 last year, but he is a LOOGY for the Mariners and only pitched 42.1 innings over 67 games. That is just not enough to affect your stats.
Strikeouts, Strikeouts, Strikeouts: Relievers are walking small sample sizes, hopefully high strikeouts means good results, but at least with strikeouts you are banking on a skill that will help you even if it all falls apart.
Bonus Saves Aren’t Bad: If you are between a guy in the 7th or the 8th, go for the guy in the 8th. There is a better chance he gets that extra leverage chance here and there and steals you some wins and saves. Extra value is always nice.
Last week I kicked off a series of columns where I’ll take a look at players who are likely to go undrafted but who should have the attention of dynasty league owners during the spring and the early stages of the season. To recap, I think it is important to keep a scout team or watch list as a way to actively evaluate unowned players and get a jump on your competition in free agency.
The two classes of players I tend to watch are low-upside prospects on the verge of major league playing time and high-upside prospects in the lower levels of the minors. The former are a little easier to spot using depth charts and spring training reports, while identifying the latter requires reliance on scouting reports. I discussed some catchers to watch last week; this week I’ll take a look at three second basemen.
On February 23rd, a mere four days ago, the Boston Red Sox struck what was to many an unexpected deal with the latest Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada for 31.5 million dollars. It was known that the Red Sox would be in the running for Moncada but the need was simply not there in the same way as it was for the Yankees and Dodgers. The Dodgers refused to sign him until after July 2nd but were reportedly willing to go as high as 35 million and the Yankees felt anything past 27 million was too rich for their blood.
In getting Moncada the Red Sox keep him from a division rival and in my opinion this move vaults their farm system which was lacking impact talent at the top into the top three in all of baseball. The Yankees roster on the other hand continues to get older as their last four major free agent hitter signings of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Chase Headley have all been over 30 years old at the time of signing. The path to playing time would have been clearer had he ended up elsewhere but he is still worth chasing in all dynasty leagues.
Despite a record-setting payroll, the Los Angeles Dodgers abysmal bullpen ultimately destroyed their playoff hopes last season. Among the myriad of moves the overhauled front office made, led by former small market masterminds Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, formerly of Tampa Bay and Oakland, respectively, the most critical centered around rebuilding a pen that was among the worst in baseball a season ago. The Dodgers biggest offseason acquisition was 39-year old veteran Joel Peralta, whom Friedman sniped from his former employer in a November trade. Peralta was a savvy pickup, but Friedman managed to grab another reliever in the deal as well, one who might end up ultimately having a far greater impact for the Dodgers, and fantasy owners as well, a guy pretty much nobody has ever heard of, outside of the Rays hipster prospect scene (if that’s even a thing), Adam Liberatore.
The 28-year old southpaw was arguably the top relief pitcher in the Triple-A International League last season when he posted a 1.66 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP and 86 strikeouts in 65 innings with the Durham Bulls. Liberatore checks all of the boxes when it comes to “the trifecta” of core statistics fantasy owners should look for in a pitching prospect. He strikes out well over a batter per inning (11.91 K/9), significantly cut his walk rate (2.08 BB/9) and gave up just one home run all of last season.
We spent the better part of a month running through our consensus rankings and while it may seem like we discussed every relevant player for dynasty leagues, there are plenty of players we left out that are worth monitoring. Unless you’re in an extraordinarily deep league, you can build your entire draft board with our rankings but I’m going to spend the next few weeks talking about some players that you should add to your scout team or watch list as we wait out the arrival of Opening Day.
Maintaining a group of players you’re keeping an eye on, even if you don’t think they are draftable or ownable at present, is an important part of being a dynasty league owner. Being diligent about keeping a scout team allows you to get to the big league promotions and fast-rising prospects more quickly and cheaply than your league mates.
There are two classes of players I like to track heading in to a season. The first are high-floor/low-ceiling prospects that are on the verge of major league playing time. Expectations are often low for this kind of player because they rarely place on well-publicized prospect rankings. Opportunity is an important part of fantasy relevance and being prepared to evaluate a prospect’s first taste of the major leagues can provide an early buying opportunity. You’re unlikely to find a franchise cornerstone in this group but you can discover the kind of back-of-the-roster depth that is critical in dynasty leagues.
People no longer spend offseason staring out the window and waiting for baseball. Nowadays, we spend winter talking about projection systems, top prospect rankings, guys in BSOHL, and which breakout players from the previous season will come back down to earth.
Danny Santana has been a lightning rod of those discussions this winter. The 24-year-old shortstop is coming off a stellar rookie campaign where he hit .319/.353/.472 and 7 long balls in 430 PA while swiping 20 bases in 24 attempts in order to land at the 31st spot in our consensus shortstops rankings and 442nd in Bret’s top 500 overall rankings.