There are a lot of relief pitchers in baseball. Thousands of men have probably thrown a relief pitch in the major leagues in this century and thousands more will. In fantasy, the ones that matter are usually only the closers because saves is a "stat that matters" and hold is not. (Having a great closer is great, but just the arbitrary way of determining a save is more outdated than bell-bottom jeans. Actually, saves might be so outdated that they're "in" again. I can never tell, let me ask a hipster.)
As a Mariners fan, I've recently seen some movement in my hometown teams bullpen. Brandon League was demoted from the closer role, Tom Wilhelmsen will be getting ninth inning duties, and Steve Delabar was demoted for Stephen Pryor. The M's bullpen has been interesting this year, as League has basically been the worst out of all of them, and even the demoted Delabar had 31 K/7 BB in 24.1 innings, but also gave up 7 home runs. Pryor is one of the top relief prospects in our system and should be interesting but won't be getting saves any time soon.
Today I want to just take a brief look at some of the top relief pitchers in the majors this season that aren't collecting saves. Sometimes these guys are widely owned, sometimes they aren't, sometimes they become closers, and sometimes they don't. But it's always useful to keep an eye on them because this is where future closers come from. These names aren't all unknowns, but I want to talk about them anyway. That's my right!
And if I don't mention a guy on your team that you think I totally overlooked, throw it in the comments. Like I said, there are a ton of relief pitchers out there. I can't know all of them! To make it simple, here are the top 5 non-closer relievers in baseball based on xFIP with a minimum of 10 innings pitched. (The only "closer" in the top is actually Sean Marshall, who gave way to Chapman for the most part.)
Aroldis Chapman, Reds (Cheating since he was moved to closer)
There are a few guys in baseball right now putting up crazy numbers. Josh Hamilton. Bryce Harper for a teenager. Stephen Strasburg not missing a beat after Tommy John. None of them are as ridiculous or as crazy as Aroldis Chapman.
Like I said, not all of the guys I will name are unknown and Chapman was one of the most high-profile IFA signings ever, but we have to take a moment to appreciate what he's doing. 26 innings, 44 K, 8 BB, 7 hits, 1 R, 0 ER, .68 FIP, 1.60 xFIP, 1.5 fWAR. He does all of that and he only throws two pitches. His 1.5 fWAR is the same as Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson, and more than most pitchers have done in 2-3 times as many innings.
I was just telling a friend that Chapman was so good that I'd be afraid to ever move him out of the setup role but over his last four appearances he has three saves and a win.
Now, will the Reds ever be able to get six or seven innings out of him? It would be difficult to do for a guy that currently only has a fastball and a slider, and he uses his fastball 86.4% of the time, to be nearly as effective as a starter no matter how good his fastball is. At his worst, Chapman should be a dominate closer. At his best, he might "only" be the next Mariano Rivera. This could be the beginning of a beautiful career.
David Robertson, Yankees
2.51 ERA, 1.84 FIP, 2.02 xFIP, 15.07 K/9, 3.77 BB/9 in 14.1 innings. The sample size is small but Robertson has been even better than he was last year by advanced metrics, and he posted 2.8 WAR last season, huge for a relief pitcher. Currently on the 15-day DL. Rough season for Yankees relief pitchers.
Andrew Miller, Red Sox
2.38 ERA, 2.32 FIP, 2.05 xFIP in 11.1 innings.
It's early yet, but nice to see Miller finally put up any innings of not-totally-sucking in the major leagues. In 11 AAA innings this season, he struck out 18.82 per 9 (with over a walk per inning!) but he's been strong in a small sample for Boston. There's still a chance Miller makes something out of his career as a reliever
Sergio Romo, Giants
0.61 ERA, 2.20 FIP, 2.09 xFIP in 14.2 innings
Another reliever bites the injury dust. Fortunately, he should be back this weekend. More fortunately for the Giants, their bullpen has been solid without Brian Wilson. Santiago Casilla has 14 saves. Clay Hensley has a 1.77 ERA. But Romo has 20 strikeouts in 14.2 innings with 8 hits allowed and is still the best of the bunch, I'd say. He just doesn't close.
Tim Collins, Royals
2.42 ERA, 2.41 FIP, 2.11 xFIP in 26 innings
Jonathan Broxton beat out Greg Holland for the closer gig, but Collins has been better than both. 26 innings, 38 K, 7 BB.
I know what you're saying... "Almost All of these guys are left-handed." But Collins isn't a LOOGY. He has 55 PAs against RHB and 49 PAs against LHB and the lefties actually have a .667 OPS against compared to a .515 OPS against for righties.
I'll wrap it up there. Theme: Almost all left-handed. I think Collins and Chapman could be very special closers. I think that Romo already is. I am curious about the long-term prospects of Robertson. I have no idea, little faith in Miller but he was such a good prospect once that he still makes you curious.
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