FanRag Sports Fantasy Baseball Guide 2017: Relief Pitchers buyer-beware

August 4, 2016: Chicago White Sox relief pitcher David Robertson (30) delivers a pitch during a regular season game between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers played at Comerica Park in Detroit, MI. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

We asked our fantasy staff which relief pitchers they would caution against drafting at their current ADP. Here’s what they had to say. And remember, if you missed our Top-45 relief starting pitcher rankings, you can catch them here.



Al Melchior: It’s easy to see why Roberto Osuna has been welcomed into the realm of elite closers by fantasy owners. His heater touches triple-digits and he owned the 14th-highest whiff rate among qualifying relievers last season. He is a strike-thrower extraordinaire. Osuna also doesn’t allow many hits on balls in play (career .247 BABIP), which has helped him to compile a career 0.93 WHIP. These are the things that have made him the eighth-highest drafted reliever, according to FantasyPros composite ADP data, just behind Craig Kimbrel and just ahead of Edwin Diaz.

One factor contributing to Osuna’s 15 percent whiff rate is his high fastball spin rate, which clocked in at 2458 rpm last season. That, in turn, also contributed to a 47 percent fly ball rate, which was the 10th-highest among qualifying relievers. In his rookie 2015 season, Osuna paid for his fly ball tendencies, allowing 1.4 homers per nine innings and a bloated .227 Iso at Rogers Centre. Somehow, last season those marks fell to 0.5 and .089, respectively.

Given that Osuna still had Rogers Centre for a home, his ability to keep fly balls from turning into extra-base hits there was curious. That is especially so, since Osuna was actually worse overall last season at preventing hitters from pulling flies or hitting them for hard contact. The pull rate on fly balls served up by Osuna increased from 24 to 32 percent, and the hard-contact rate went up from 32 to 34 percent.

We have already seen what happens when Osuna is not able to keep the ball in the park. Over his final 19 appearances last season, he allowed five home runs over 20.1 innings, with a .208 Iso and a 4.87 ERA. He also blew four of 13 save opportunities during that span. I’m not saying we should expect Osuna to be at his worst for a full season, but he is vulnerable enough that he could give way to Joe Biagini, who proved to be an intriguing closer-in-waiting last season.

Osuna is not a bad closer to have, but he’s an expensive one given his ADP. He is riskier than Diaz, Kelvin Herrera and Alex Colome, all of whom are being drafted later on average. Osuna is also not beating those cheaper closers in terms of upside, so there is no need to reach for him.

October 18, 2016: Toronto Blue Jays Pitcher Roberto Osuna (54) pitches in the ninth inning during ALCS Game 4 between the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre in Toronto ON. Toronto won the game 5-1 to remain in the series down 3-1.(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

Jim Finch: A.J. Ramos doesn’t have a bad ADP (128), and it’s not like owners are rushing out to get him. That said, he is not someone I would advise drafting.

Part of this is skill-related. Outside of his 2015 season, Ramos has produced a WHIP of 1.23 or higher. That ballooned up to 1.359 last year. Walks are his Achilles heel. Again, outside of his 2015 season (3.33 BB/9), Ramos has posted BB/9 numbers of 4.84 (2013), 6.05 (2014), and 4.92 (2016). Those walks are very reminiscent of my arch nemesis, Fernando Rodney (another pitcher to avoid altogether).

Those walks are an issue because the hard-hit rate is on the rise, up to 32.5 percent last year. In addition, the strikeout rate dropped last year below 20 percent. Combine that with a 40.2 percent fly ball rate and you’ve got trouble. Last year, Ramos experienced extremely good fortune with a league-leading HR/FB ratio (1.6). He was lucky in 2014 as well (1.8 HR/FB) and in 2015, when there was no luck (9.4 percent), he posted the best walk rate of his career.

Ramos can be dominant when it comes to strikeouts (career 10.39 K/9). But what happens when some of that luck runs out? What happens if that control worsens just a hair? The WHIP is barely borderline acceptable. We accept an ERA above 3.00 from David Robertson because of the strikeouts and WHIP. If his WHIP were elevated we would be discussing him as well. This is something I’m sure the Marlins have discussed internally as well, which brings me to another reason to avoid him.

In 2015, Carter Capps was turning heads, and there was discussion of him replacing Ramos in the ninth inning. Fortunately for Ramos, Capps was traded to the Padres and he was granted a stay of execution. Last year, Kyle Barraclough turned in a Dellin Betances-type season, and the rumbling has begun again. Additionally, David Phelps stepped up in a big way, and the Marlins signed former Diamondbacks closer Brad Ziegler. Ramos now has a number of pitchers with whom to compete.

Now consider that Ramos received a $3 million bump in salary — up to $6, 550,000 — and he still has another year of arbitration eligibility to go. We all know the Marlins don’t like to shell out money if they don’t have to, and they were already looking to replace Ramos when he was just a $3 million man. That additional money just adds fuel to the fire.

Ramos may start the year as the closer, but there is a good chance he will not finish with the job. Even if he is traded, if that team has an established closer his value drops. And, if the stars align and that home run and walk issue converge, not even the spacious Marlins Park will save him. Ramos is going off the board between David Robertson and Francisco Rodriguez – take one of them instead.

July 15, 2016: Miami Marlins Pitcher A.J. Ramos (44) [9683] pitches in the ninth inning during a MLB game between the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, MO. (Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)

Greg Jewett: Despite a rough 2016, David Robertson’s early ADP does not reflect much value. Representing the top of the third tier, being picked around 125th overall and the 16th relief pitcher off the board in NFBC drafts, Robertson could prove very risky at this price. His season last year did produce 37 saves, but at a cost.

For the second consecutive season, Robertson’s strikeout rate decreased; more disturbing, his walk percentage more than doubled from 2015 to last year. One would think his spike in WHIP would be attributed to a high BABIP, but his .307 total represents less than 10 percent over league average. What accounted for the rise in WHIP and ERA? Traffic.

As alluded to above, Robertson seemed to conquer the high walk rates from his first three season in which he reached at least 12 percent between the years of 2009-11. From 2012-15, Robertson only allowed a walk rate above 7.7 percent once, when it ascended to 8.9 percent in 2014. Last year, it grew to 12 percent once again, which resulted in a career-worst 1.36 WHIP and matched his career-high in FIP at 3.58.

While a chance for a bounce-back does exist within his swinging-strike percentage, which remained in line with 2014, can Robertson overcome putting runners on base via the strikeout? Comparing last year to 2014, Robertson traded line drives for fly balls with much worse results. Due to the volatility of his walk rates over the last few years, buying a full return to his pre-2016 levels may be premature. Another factor could be his velocities, which need to monitored this spring.

Here’s his career velocity chart courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net:

Beyond worrying about recent performance, Robertson will be closing for a team in the midst of a rebuild with a better pitcher who recorded better peripheral statistics setting him up. There’s a reason many fantasy owners target Nate Jones late in drafts for save upside later this year. Jones should be on deep-roster league radars for this purpose alone. Trading Robertson before the season may be unlikely unless an injury occurs to a contending team’s bullpen.

However, by the All-Star break, Robertson may not only be traded, but find himself on a team in which he will work as a set-up pitcher rather than closing out games. While this may not be a bad thing for Robertson the baseball player, it will directly impact anyone who drafts him as a first or second closer for fantasy.

When more reasons point to avoiding a player rather than targeting him, the risk outweighs the reward. Due to the trends above along with his team’s situation, David Robertson will not be a player on any of my rosters this year.

Statistical Credits: Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, hosted.stats.com

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