TDG 2023 RISERS AND FALLERS: RELIEF PITCHER
Every year, we at the TDG office identify Risers and Fallers from our consensus rankings. But how did we get here!? And what’s real and what’s noise? Well, the Gurus are here to help. In each “Risers and Fallers” article, the Gurus will take you on an explanatory journey as to why these two players have seen a fortunate rise, or an unfortunate turn toward their demise. Thanks for reading!
RISING: FÉLIX BAUTISTA, BALTIMORE ORIOLES (AGE: 27, CURRENT RANK: 7, PREVIOUS RANK: Unranked)
Félix Bautista’s journey in professional baseball has been rocky. Originally signed in 2012 out of the Dominican Republic, Bautista pitched in the DSL for the Marlins in 2013 and 2014 before he was released in 2015. He signed with Baltimore prior to the 2016 season and slowly climbed the minor-league ladder before debuting in Baltimore in 2022. And what a debut it was!
Bautista spent the entire 2022 season in Baltimore and ended the season as the O’s closer. He pitched 65.2 innings with a 2.19 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. He struck out 88 batters over those 65.2 innings and walked only 23. He won four games, saved 15 games, and also tallied 13 holds. He was in the 84th percentile for average exit velocity, 97th percentile for strikeout percentage, and 92nd percentile in whiff percentage. In other words, he dominated.
The domination was not surprising. Bautista’s fastball averages 99.1 MPH. Batters hit a measly .202 against the fastball and slugged .342. As far as nastiness goes, Bautista’s four-seamer earned the highest grade on the Stuff+ metric. Unbelievably, his splitter is even better! Batters could barely touch the split-finger, batting only .087 against it and slugging .185. By September, Bautista was throwing the splitter 38.2% percent of the time, earning whiffs fifty percent of the time. Using Stuff+, Bautista’s split-finger was the second nastiest splitter thrown in 2022.
To go from a hard thrower with no control (14.59 BB/9 in 2014!) to dominant closer is nothing short of amazing. Bautista did show signs of wearing down in September, giving up earned runs in three of his final seven appearances, including four earned runs against the Astros on September 24. The O’s placed him on the injured list on October 3 with left knee discomfort. He had been unsurprisingly shut down as the 65.2 innings were the most that he had pitched since 2017.
Going into 2023, Bautista will once again find himself anchoring the bullpen in Baltimore. The ingredients for another dominating season are there. As a team, Baltimore is up and coming, with a number of highly regarded young players on both sides of the ball. He pitches in a good park; the new dimensions of Camden Yards suppress offense. And Bautista has a full off-season to prepare for the closer’s role where he is considered one of the game’s young stars. Dynasty owners who claimed Bautista were rewarded and Bautista should be a gift that keeps on giving in 2023 and beyond. (The Roto Red)
FALLING: ALEX REYES, LOS ANGELES DODGERS (AGE: 28, CURRENT RANK: Unranked, PREVIOUS RANK: 22)
Alex Reyes has always spewed potential, but to say that he has had trouble staying on the field would be an understatement. The list of injuries is extensive: shoulder in 2015, Tommy John in 2016-17, right lat in 2018, pectoral in 2019, shoulder in 2020, and shoulder again in 2022. Despite debuting in 2016 with the Cardinals, he has only pitched 145 innings. In those 145 innings, he has pitched to a 2.86 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, mostly due to walking 6.02 batters per nine innings.
Even with the injury concerns, Reyes has remained on dynasty players’ radars because of the quality of his stuff. At his best, Reyes has a four-pitch mix with a fastball that can hit triple digits and a plus curveball. In 2021, Cardinals fans finally got to see Reyes over a full season when he threw 72.1 innings with 29 saves. He walked too many batters, but he also struck a lot out and he limited hard contact. Reyes did not end the 2021 season as the Card’s closer, but his productive season led to plans to stretch him out as a starter for 2022. Unfortunately, Reyes tore the labrum in his right shoulder and had surgery in May without throwing a single pitch.
Going into 2023, Reyes has a shot at redemption. He was signed by the Dodgers on a one-year deal and that is as good a landing spot as a pitcher can ask for. It is reported that he should be back before the All-Star break. With a number of talented relievers on the Dodgers roster, there is no responsible way to project fantasy relevance for Reyes, but with Reyes’s raw stuff, never say never. Reyes may have fallen off our rankings, but he may never fully fall out of our hearts, as he will likely be a watch-list candidate for dynasty owners ready to buy back in on a pitcher with closing experience, a high strikeout rate (30.4% in 2020-21), and devastating stuff for the Dodgers player development to work with. (The Roto Red)