Bullpen Chart — 02/27/17

In standard fantasy baseball formats a reliever’s value is highly dependent on his role — only closers get saves, and only set-up men will get enough innings to justify a roster spot. The only reason for adding a different reliever is to speculate on a player’s future role as a closer. Speculative closer adds are well covered on the internet, especially after a closer has blown two or three saves in a row. So how do we stay ahead of our leaguemates in the race to finding the next closer?

The most straightforward approach is to look at the underlying peripherals of each closer’s skill in hopes of finding a player whose results haven’t quite caught up to their poor performance. FIP is an easy proxy for this and allows us to compare reliever performance in one easy to understand number. Many other factors are important to consider for fantasy purposes, and for projecting future success — K%, BB%, HR/9, LOB%, and BABIP are just a few that will highlight any pitchers whose true skill is better or worse than their performances to-date; but FIP is an easy to digest indicator that will direct our attention to future closer turnover.

So what are we looking for to find future closer-in-waitings? The first step is to find closers who are struggling, and then look for any bullpen-mates who are pitching well and deserving for a chance in the role. The chart shown below is the quickest way to accomplish these two steps. The relievers for each team are sorted and color-coordinated by their FIP. This first edition shows only qualified relievers in 2016, but mid-season updates will have total innings pitched to-date.

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While this won’t change our opinion on anything this early in the season, it is helpful to get a look at where the best bullpens in baseball could be. The Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Giants, Indians, Marlins, Orioles, and Astros are deep and have big arms in the back of their bullpens. On the flipside, the Twins, Diamondbacks, Brewers, Angels, and Athletics look to be the target of some early bullpen turnover. A few other interesting scenarios could emerge like the Cubs if Wade Davis doesn’t return to 2015 form, how tight is Ramos’ grip on the Marlins job with two other great options, and can Gomez (Phillis) or Watson (Pirates) hang on to their closers roles despite average 2016 performance?

A few of my favorite names that are supported by the table above:

Shawn Kelley — pitched really well in 2016, has the closers role heading into the year, and no immediate replacement in-house.

Hector Neris — the strikeout rate (11.43%) is worthy of a roster spot even if he never holds the closers role, but I wouldn’t bet on Jeanmar Gomez being able to repeat his 2016 performance. The job should be Neris’ within two months of the season.

Ian Krol — due to his age (33 years old), and the projected poor record of the Braves, I’m not sure Jim Johnson is long for Atlanta. Krol pitched really well last year and at 25 years old is one of my early favorites for closers-in-waiting.

I’ll be updating this table every few weeks to help survey the bullpen landscape and identify any future closers.

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