TDG 2021 RISERS AND FALLERS: RELIEF PITCHING
This is a companion piece to our annual Top Dynasty League Relief Pitching series. The opinions below are our own and do not reflect the TDG consensus. Each of these players has fans among our colleagues.
Pitching is easily the riskiest position in all of dynasty baseball. But where there is a risk, there can be an immense reward. We live in a reactionary world where one dismal season or one stellar season can have a big impact on how a player is thought of in a fantasy baseball mind. In this article, we discuss a few pitchers whose rankings saw a sizeable jump for better or worse going into the 2021 season. I tried to avoid players who were/are injured as that, obviously, can greatly affect rankings.
RISER – JAMES KARINCHAK, CLEVELAND BASEBALL TEAM, (AGE: 25, PREVIOUS RANK: 26, CURRENT RANK: 4)
Karinchak was a player I wrote up in the Cleveland version of TDG’s Triple Play. I remember this because what I said was correct; had I been wrong I would have forgotten. The “best case” scenario has played out for the reliever as Brad Hand is now a Washington National and the closer gig in Cleveland is there for the taking. It will not be handed to him as he will need to compete and beat Emmanuel Clase. Karinchak is still the favorite going in, he’s being drafted as the 39th pitcher off the board in NFBC drafts, and he did nothing to hurt his chances with his 2020 performance.
We have still only seen 32.1 innings from him in the majors but what we have seen has been downright dirty. His career K% is 46.6% and he ended with a 48.6 K% in 2020 by striking out 53 batters in just 27 innings. Control was an issue for him in the minors and the 16 walks he allowed in 2020 will not be something that he can continue to do and still retain the closer role. Eventually, those walks will lead to runs and blown saves. The time to buy has passed, he’s ranked 4th at TDG for a reason, there is not much room to move up. His value is as high as it’s ever been, but all relievers hit bumps in the road. Wait for a couple of bad outings and see what his price may be. (Paul Monte)
FALLER – ROBERTO OSUNA, FREE AGENT (AGE: 26, PREVIOUS RANK: 2, CURRENT RANK: 23)
Seeing a relief pitcher plummet 21 spots in the rankings from year to year is not that shocking. Seeing a pitcher drop from the second-ranked reliever to 23rd is worrisome. At this time last season Osuna was getting ready to open a season that would bring jeers from the away crowds regarding a trash can. His season consisted of 4.1 innings and 54 pitches thrown before he was shut down. Obvious character concerns stem from his 2018 arrest for domestic abuse while with the Blue Jays. This may shrink his list of suitors, but Major League Baseball is a business and he is a talented pitcher. I’m confident he will find a home.
The bigger issue will be when he finds that home. Unless you are in a league that counts Holds, he may not find a team with a closer job right away. The elbow soreness ended his season, but he opted for rest and recovery rather than surgery. He will likely sign an incentive-laden contract so that he can prove that he is healthy. Role and health are what cost Osuna the 21 spots in the ranking ladder, not a horrible season. For fantasy purposes, we still have a very young closer with an excellent track record on the field. Avoiding Tommy John with a partially torn UCL will not be an easy task. He’s an easy add for me in a Holds league and still someone I will grab late in drafts and leave on the bench to see where he lands. (Paul Monte)
RISER – DEVIN WILLIAMS, MILWAUKEE BREWERS (AGE: 26, PREVIOUS RANK: NR, CURRENT RANK: 11)
And in the Brewers corner, measuring 6’2” and 200 lbs, hailing from St Louis Missouri. He’s the reigning NL Rookie of the year, 7th place finisher in the NL Cy Young voting, and recipient of an NL MVP vote. He’s the creator of the ‘Airbender’ and appears in a seemingly endless supply of @pitchingninja gifs – Devin Williams!
Seriously though, Devin Williams had a remarkable season and is the first relief pitcher in our consensus rankings who likely won’t get regular save opportunities, but we believe he’s just that good. ‘The Airbender’ is the aforementioned Rob “@PitchingNinja” Friedman’s nickname for Devin’s changeup, maybe the best pitch in baseball. Williams thew the pitch 52.7% of the time or a total of 227 pitches, and it was only put in play 21 times. The wOBA was .077, a 61.1 whiff%, and even a negative (-2) launch angle. While some pitchers try to limit spin on their changeup, Devin puts a 3:30 side spin on the ball, with 2850 rpm. This spin gives the pitch incredible movement, both vertical (40.9”, or 8.3” vs league average) and horizontal (18.1”, or 4.7” vs league average).
Devin was absolutely dominant in data recorded by Statcast, finishing in the 100th percentile in all of the following: expected ERA, expected batting average, expected slugging percentage, strikeout percentage, whiff percentage, and expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA). This helped him to an incredible roto stat line of 0.33 ERA (yes, he only allowed one earned run all year), 0.63 WHIP, 53 strikeouts in 27 innings.
While relievers ratios don’t normally move the needle on ratios that much in fantasy baseball, hear me out. If you play in a 1,500 innings limit league and had a new innings cap of 555 innings cap for the shortened 2020 season (1,500/162*60). Subbing in Devin Williams stats for a reliever with a 3.50 ERA would reduce a team ERA from 3.50 to 3.35. That’s an incredible improvement from a 27 inning change, and possibly an argument Devin Williams should even be in the top ten on our list. (Ken Balderston)
FALLER – ARCHIE BRADLEY, PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES (AGE: 28, PREVIOUS RANK: 17, CURRENT RANK: 29)
It was a bit surprising to see Bradley fall twelve slots from last year’s rankings. It’s true he had a rough time in Arizona where he was expected to run with the closer’s role, but only got 6 saves and put up a 4.22 ERA. He was then dealt to the Reds, where he did quite well despite not being the closer, with a 1.17 ERA and no walks, albeit in 7 2/3 innings. Maybe more surprising than where he’s ranked on this list is that Cincinnati non-tendered him, and ‘Hollywood’ signed a one year deal with the Phillies. He’s not expected to be handed the closer’s role, but it’s very possible he wins the spot from Hector Neris.
Looking back at Bradley’s career, the inconsistency of 2020 is mirrored in his career results. He’s had great seasons like 2017, where he received Cy Young votes despite being a setup man. Then followed that up with two seasons of a mid-three ERA and middling strikeout rates. Then the roller coaster that was 2020. The point being we don’t know what to expect from one year to the next. Reviewing our rankings, obviously, closers get a bump, but year over year the relievers who are stable and reliable get the most love. Rostering a middle reliever he needs to help in strikeout rates and ratios, but if there’s any doubt he might post negative value in those categories, the risk might be just too great.
This issue with consistency could very well affect the team’s decision to let Bradley close games too. I’m sure the Phillies want someone with consistency from one game to the next when the games on the line. This is to say Bradley is no sure thing to get saves at this point. I did mention he could end up getting the closer role, but looking at the relievers ranked between #19 and #40, it’s littered with guys who could emerge as the team’s closer this season. So while I was originally a little surprised to see Bradley slid on the list some, I think it’s actually quite warranted. (Ken Balderston)