Fantasy baseball managers still have good reason to ask questions about which pitchers will save games for roughly half of the major league teams this week, and the closing situation with the Seattle Mariners is certainly one of them. Last season, the Mariners boasted one of the better relief corps in the sport, finishing sixth in bullpen ERA, with RHPs Paul Sewald and Andres Munoz leading the way. Not surprisingly, both are among the top 20 relief pitchers in ESPN ADP.
Sewald, 33, saved 20 games and permitted a stingy 32 base hits in 64 innings, good for a .146 batting average against. A league-leading and borderline historic .159 BABIP certainly played a role, but Sewald has now thrived two seasons in a row — and he should again. Munoz, 24, had the better statistical (though not necessarily fantasy) season, striking out 96 hitters in his 65 innings with a 2.49 ERA, but he had only four saves. He did, however, earn himself 22 holds.
Who will close for Seattle this season? We generally recommend trusting skills over roles for fantasy purposes, and we like Munoz better, but with ESPN’s new standard format this season rewarding two points for holds (five points for saves), it might not matter so much. Sewald outscored Munoz using this system last season, 295-255, but this is not predictive information, either. Munoz is rostered in more leagues today, going three rounds earlier in drafts.
Now that holds matter in ESPN leagues, one could feel free to invest in both of these terrific pitchers on a fantasy team and feel positive about it. Perhaps the saves split will be more balanced this season, or maybe Munoz will dominate and take most of them. Perhaps someone else (Penn Murfee, Matt Brash?) will reach 20 holds and, with an excellent strikeout rate, pile on the fantasy points as well. We spend considerable time guessing about saves — sometimes it really is a guess — but now with holds, just target top relief pitchers — and Seattle boasts several of them.
Munoz was one of the top relievers in one of my recent drafts, as a dozen potential save options were among our myriad keepers, but nary a Mariner. Munoz went off the board early in the draft. One round later, I went with Sewald, which might have raised a few eyebrows. Holds are not a category there, but really, give me double-digit saves and other solid numbers (ERA, WHIP, strikeouts) and I would be pleased with either pitcher. The best pitcher doesn’t always earn the saves.
Regardless, I find it interesting how fantasy managers make decisions among unclarified bullpens, occasionally trying to figure out a manager’s motive. Minnesota Twins RHP Jhoan Duran, who I think we all agree is a potential star, was the first relief pitcher off the board in this weekend draft. (Again, plenty of save choices were already kept.) RHP Jorge Lopez, who actually might be Minnesota’s closer, was not chosen at all. Oh, I would go with Duran, too, but Lopez had a great season himself. Hmm.
Looking at ESPN ADP, only 14 true relief pitchers (excluding starters such as Spencer Strider, who also happen to qualify) are rostered in more than 50% of ESPN standard leagues. That is less than half of the big league teams. It allows for serious speculation, but my recommendation in ESPN points leagues is not to waste much time guessing about saves for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies or Chicago White Sox, for example. Invest in good relief pitchers like Evan Phillips and Seranthony Dominguez and, if you really desire saves, see who gets them over the next fortnight and pounce in free agency.
Random thoughts on relief pitchers
Presumptive New York Mets closer David Robertson is the most-added pitcher in ESPN leagues over the past seven days, though the team has not officially announced that the ninth inning is his with RHP Edwin Diaz (knee) out for the season. I can’t see Robertson being bypassed for RHP Adam Ottavino or LHP Brooks Raley at this point, but who knows for sure. Perhaps a bad AL team trades their closer to a good NL team this week. These things can happen.
Diaz and White Sox RHP Liam Hendriks (lymphoma) are intriguing dynasty/keeper picks, though they are in far different situations. We presume Diaz will return to full health and close for the Mets next season, and we would likely rank/project him well. There are some recent reports that Hendriks might pitch this season. However, we don’t know, and perhaps neither does he or the team. Still, it is OK to speculate positively.
Any concerns we might have had a few weeks ago with Baltimore Orioles RHP Felix Bautista (knee/shoulder) are over with now. Bautista started throwing in spring games late, but once he did, he was unhittable, with eight of his 11 official outs coming via strikeout. There is no timeshare there! Invest with confidence!
We presume the Atlanta Braves will go with LHP A.J. Minter to save games with RHP Raisel Iglesias (shoulder) on the IL, although former Detroit Tigers RHP Joe Jimenez has closer experience as well. Iglesias has fallen far in ADP, however, and perhaps too much so since he might miss only a week or so, and Minter is even going earlier in some drafts. Is this wise? Well, Minter is awesome, but avoiding Iglesias is not so wise. He could miss just two weeks of April and still save 30-plus games for an excellent team, but if Minter holds 30 games, he could end up as a top-10 reliever himself.
Off the radar
A friend asked recently for a list of “off the radar” setup relievers who might not necessarily accrue saves or holds but might pile on the strikeouts and thrive in terms of run prevention. Sometimes we just need good, safe innings, and I will try to highlight these pitchers here in my weekly Tuesday blog.