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The Relief Ace

If you stripped saves from relievers, who would be the best?

Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Something I frequently do is take all starters over 130 innings, and see who is in the top third strikeout rate, walk rate, and ground ball rate.  Being good at one of these, gives the pitcher something to lean on to help them avoid blow ups.  Everyone has experienced it, the starter who once a month goes 2ip, 6 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 9H, 4 BB.  They destroy the rest of your team's work, and you sit hoping your opponents will suffer through the same thing.

About a week ago, I wrote an article about relievers, and a commenter named Myrke asked why I was so adamantly against drafting "ace relievers".  It's really just a philosophy, but I firmly believe it, they don't return as much value as the other players you can draft at the same time.  What's more likely a reliever taken 80th overall becomes a top 10 player, or an outfielder taken 80th over all becomes a top 10 player, or the inverse, who is more likely to lose their job and be the #2000 player on the player rater?  To me the answer on who to invest in is clear.

So this weekend, I searched through relievers with qualified innings (I have no idea what that means, but it appears to be around 48+ innings this year).  There was a total of 137 relievers that qualified, and the results of seeing who was in the top group left me surprised.

What was interesting is that with starters, the guys who are in the top third of K/9, BB/9, and GB%, are all considered good at that aspect of pitching, the more of those above categories that you are good in, the more likely you are to safely be a net positive outing to outing, being consistently good is more valuable than being elite once in a while.  The pitchers who are in the top thrid essentially do everything they can to not ruin their starts.  Even if every start isn't something to write home about their lack of implosions, is what makes them so valuable.  With relievers the top group, the releivers who were in the top third of K/9, BB/9, and GB% only consisted of 3 relievers!  Those guys were studs last year, but here is the breakdown from group to group.

Tier 1:

Name

Team

IP

K/9

BB/9

LOB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

Zach Britton

Orioles

65.2

10.83

1.92

80.90%

79.10%

1.92

2.01

1.75

2.1

Jeurys Familia

Mets

78

9.92

2.19

89.40%

58.30%

1.85

2.74

2.55

1.6

Brett Cecil

Blue Jays

54.1

11.6

2.15

76.50%

51.60%

2.48

2.34

2.39

1.4

Two of the best closers in baseball, and a closer who lost his job here...  These players were out machines, dominating in all aspects.  The fact that there are only 3 arms who managed to be amongst the top 45 (third) of those three stats shows why many of these guys are failed starters.  They lack the characteristics to be well rounded, and typically rely on one dominating offering.  When you go down to the 2 category group, the players start piling up.

Tier 2:

Name

Team

IP

K/9

BB/9

LOB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

CAT

Carson Smith

Mariners

70

11.83

2.83

78.50%

64.80%

2.31

2.12

2.36

2.1

2

Darren O'Day

Orioles

65.1

11.3

1.93

89.80%

35.10%

1.52

2.49

3.05

1.8

2

David Robertson

White Sox

63.1

12.22

1.85

65.70%

35.60%

3.41

2.52

2.27

1.8

2

Sergio Romo

Giants

57.1

11.15

1.57

72.70%

44.80%

2.98

1.91

2.42

1.8

2

Kenley Jansen

Dodgers

52.1

13.76

1.38

83.80%

35.20%

2.41

2.14

2.29

1.7

2

Hector Rondon

Cubs

70

8.87

1.93

80.10%

52.40%

1.67

2.68

3.03

1.6

2

Mark Melancon

Pirates

76.2

7.28

1.64

75.70%

57.50%

2.23

2.82

3.07

1.5

2

Keone Kela

Rangers

60.1

10.14

2.69

80.80%

50.60%

2.39

2.64

2.88

1.5

2

Luke Gregerson

Astros

61

8.7

1.48

67.90%

60.40%

3.1

2.86

2.71

1.2

2

Mark Lowe

- - -

55

9.98

1.96

82.40%

40.30%

1.96

2.57

2.83

1.2

2

Sam Dyson

- - -

75.1

8.48

2.51

75.80%

68.80%

2.63

2.94

2.83

1.1

2

Pedro Strop

Cubs

68

10.72

3.84

73.90%

51.30%

2.91

3.16

3.16

1.1

2

Pedro Baez

Dodgers

51

10.59

1.94

69.30%

37.60%

3.35

2.51

3.17

1.1

2

Tony Sipp

Astros

54.1

10.27

2.48

88.00%

38.80%

1.99

2.93

3.34

1

2

Ryan Madson

Royals

63.1

8.24

1.99

82.10%

55.00%

2.13

3.09

3.32

0.9

2

Joe Blanton

- - -

57.1

9.73

1.88

83.00%

48.40%

2.04

2.56

2.84

0.9

2

Yimi Garcia

Dodgers

54.2

10.87

1.65

73.50%

27.20%

3.13

3.04

3.43

0.9

2

Jeanmar Gomez

Phillies

74.2

6.03

2.05

76.50%

48.80%

3.01

3.25

3.98

0.7

2

Fernando Salas

Angels

63.2

10.46

1.7

64.80%

35.10%

4.24

3.15

3.23

0.7

2

Brad Ziegler

Diamondbacks

68

4.76

2.25

79.30%

72.80%

1.85

3.44

3.48

0.6

2

Alex Wilson

Tigers

67

4.97

1.34

81.80%

50.20%

2.28

3.54

4.17

0.6

2

John Axford

Rockies

55.2

10.02

5.17

74.00%

56.10%

4.2

3.57

3.74

0.6

2

Chad Qualls

Astros

49.1

8.39

1.64

67.90%

59.90%

4.38

3.52

2.99

0.5

2

Jonathan Papelbon

- - -

63.1

7.96

1.71

80.40%

49.70%

2.13

3.7

3.71

0.4

2

Franklin Morales

Royals

62.1

5.92

2.02

73.90%

49.50%

3.18

3.52

3.99

0.4

2

Jake Diekman

- - -

58.1

10.65

4.78

73.80%

56.40%

4.01

3.63

3.63

0.4

2

Seth Maness

Cardinals

63.1

6.54

1.85

69.00%

55.90%

4.26

3.78

3.53

0.3

2

Ryan Webb

Indians

50.2

5.51

2.13

71.70%

59.20%

3.2

3.77

3.64

0.1

2

Corey Knebel

Brewers

50.1

10.37

3.04

86.90%

49.20%

3.22

4.03

3.16

0.1

2

Here are 29 more relievers.  One notable fact is that every single player still has a WAR above 0, so if you can be a great player in two of my chosen categories, you're almost guaranteed to post a respectable season for your real team. The second fact is that only 5 of these relievers had an ERA over 4, so these guys as a group are very reliable when it comes to run prevention in general.  These guys are who you want if you hate your relievers blowing up your ERA and WHIP once a month.

Here are the one category stars:

Name

Team

IP

K/9

BB/9

LOB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

CAT

Cody Allen

Indians

69.1

12.85

3.25

71.10%

32.90%

2.99

1.82

2.83

2.6

1

Aroldis Chapman

Reds

66.1

15.74

4.48

88.50%

37.10%

1.63

1.94

2.49

2.5

1

Dellin Betances

Yankees

84

14.04

4.29

89.20%

47.70%

1.5

2.48

2.41

2.4

1

Ken Giles

Phillies

70

11.19

3.21

75.40%

44.80%

1.8

2.13

3.05

2

1

Trevor Rosenthal

Cardinals

68.2

10.88

3.28

85.90%

45.80%

2.1

2.42

3.19

2

1

Wade Davis

Royals

67.1

10.43

2.67

92.20%

38.40%

0.94

2.29

3.07

2

1

Andrew Miller

Yankees

61.2

14.59

2.92

84.30%

48.30%

1.9

2.16

2.06

2

1

Liam Hendriks

Blue Jays

64.2

9.88

1.53

72.30%

46.30%

2.92

2.14

2.8

1.5

1

Craig Kimbrel

Padres

59.1

13.2

3.34

80.60%

46.10%

2.58

2.68

2.46

1.5

1

Tony Watson

Pirates

75.1

7.41

2.03

82.20%

47.60%

1.91

2.84

3.6

1.4

1

Will Smith

Brewers

63.1

12.93

3.41

77.10%

45.80%

2.7

2.47

2.75

1.4

1

Kevin Siegrist

Cardinals

74.2

10.85

4.1

82.90%

31.10%

2.17

2.91

3.93

1.3

1

Roberto Osuna

Blue Jays

69.2

9.69

2.07

79.70%

34.30%

2.58

3.02

3.45

1.3

1

Josh Fields

Astros

50.2

11.9

3.38

69.40%

34.20%

3.55

2.19

3.33

1.3

1

Shawn Tolleson

Rangers

72.1

9.46

2.12

82.90%

42.40%

2.99

3.44

3.31

1.1

1

A.J. Ramos

Marlins

70.1

11.13

3.33

85.40%

43.40%

2.3

3.01

3.24

1.1

1

Junichi Tazawa

Red Sox

58.2

8.59

1.99

70.80%

40.30%

4.14

3.05

3.73

1.1

1

Travis Wood

Cubs

58

11.02

4.19

71.40%

38.50%

2.95

2.53

3.46

1.1

1

Drew Storen

Nationals

55

10.96

2.62

71.20%

38.40%

3.44

2.79

3.24

1.1

1

Francisco Rodriguez

Brewers

57

9.79

1.74

83.70%

46.40%

2.21

2.91

2.63

1

1

Shawn Kelley

Padres

51.1

11.05

2.63

75.40%

42.70%

2.45

2.57

2.91

1

1

Brad Brach

Orioles

79.1

10.1

4.31

82.20%

44.20%

2.72

3.47

3.61

0.9

1

Joe Smith

Angels

65.1

7.85

2.62

74.30%

52.10%

3.58

3.15

3.42

0.9

1

Zach McAllister

Indians

65

10.94

3.05

80.20%

44.40%

2.49

3.06

3.24

0.9

1

Juan Nicasio

Dodgers

56.1

10.22

5.11

74.20%

42.30%

3.83

2.85

3.9

0.9

1

Jeremy Jeffress

Brewers

68

8.87

2.91

81.70%

58.20%

2.65

3.22

3

0.8

1

Casey Fien

Twins

63.1

5.83

1.14

71.00%

36.60%

3.55

3.45

4.27

0.8

1

Fernando Rodriguez

Athletics

58.2

9.97

3.68

65.70%

39.20%

3.84

3.08

3.81

0.8

1

Hunter Strickland

Giants

51.1

8.77

1.75

79.20%

39.80%

2.45

2.9

3.35

0.8

1

Andrew Chafin

Diamondbacks

75

6.96

3.6

77.30%

58.50%

2.76

3.35

3.75

0.7

1

Antonio Bastardo

Pirates

57.1

10.05

4.08

78.50%

31.00%

2.98

3.33

4.27

0.6

1

Justin Grimm

Cubs

49.2

12.14

4.71

76.30%

45.00%

1.99

3.11

3.05

0.6

1

Will Harris

Astros

71

8.62

2.79

87.40%

51.10%

1.9

3.66

3.31

0.5

1

Glen Perkins

Twins

57

8.53

1.58

84.80%

33.70%

3.32

3.82

3.76

0.5

1

Dan Jennings

White Sox

56.1

7.35

3.83

68.20%

65.10%

3.99

3.47

3.62

0.5

1

Jake Petricka

White Sox

52

5.71

3.12

74.80%

65.20%

3.63

3.46

3.76

0.5

1

Brian Matusz

Orioles

49

10.29

3.67

79.60%

35.20%

2.94

3.58

3.94

0.5

1

Blake Treinen

Nationals

67.2

8.65

4.26

70.80%

62.70%

3.86

3.49

3.31

0.4

1

Joakim Soria

- - -

67.2

8.51

2.53

86.40%

42.30%

2.53

3.71

3.57

0.4

1

Luis Garcia

Phillies

66.2

8.51

5

78.30%

63.00%

3.51

3.69

3.57

0.4

1

Ryan Mattheus

- - -

56

5.95

2.89

67.60%

52.70%

4.02

3.58

4.02

0.4

1

Jose Alvarez

Angels

67

7.93

3.09

72.20%

51.00%

3.49

3.6

3.9

0.3

1

Jim Johnson

- - -

66.2

6.75

2.7

69.50%

61.50%

4.46

3.73

3.73

0.3

1

Anthony Bass

Rangers

64

6.33

2.81

67.50%

48.50%

4.5

3.73

4.03

0.3

1

Jumbo Diaz

Reds

60.1

10.44

2.69

75.30%

43.70%

4.18

3.8

3.2

0.3

1

Jonathan Broxton

- - -

60.1

9.4

3.28

69.70%

52.80%

4.62

3.65

3.24

0.3

1

Tommy Hunter

- - -

60.1

7.01

2.09

71.00%

44.90%

4.18

3.83

3.89

0.3

1

Pat Neshek

Astros

54.2

8.4

1.98

73.40%

32.00%

3.62

3.94

3.93

0.3

1

Jared Hughes

Pirates

67

4.84

2.55

81.70%

63.70%

2.28

3.81

4.1

0.2

1

Bryan Morris

Marlins

63

6.71

3.71

76.30%

60.50%

3.14

3.64

4.01

0.2

1

Hansel Robles

Mets

54

10.17

3

65.50%

32.80%

3.67

3.91

3.79

0.2

1

Zach Putnam

White Sox

48.2

11.84

4.44

76.40%

43.90%

4.07

4.1

3.44

0.2

1

Robbie Ross

Red Sox

60.2

7.86

2.97

74.80%

49.70%

3.86

4.02

3.64

0.1

1

Mike Dunn

Marlins

54

10.83

4.83

72.90%

38.70%

4.5

3.89

3.92

0.1

1

Christian Bergman

Rockies

52.2

4.96

1.71

75.20%

40.10%

4.1

4.33

4.4

0.1

1

Josh Collmenter

Diamondbacks

52.1

5.16

2.41

92.30%

35.40%

1.89

4.09

4.74

0.1

1

Brad Boxberger

Rays

63

10.57

4.57

78.30%

36.30%

3.71

4.26

4

0

1

Pedro Villarreal

Reds

50

5.22

2.16

75.50%

42.30%

3.42

4.43

4.59

0

1

Yusmeiro Petit

Giants

70

7.33

1.8

79.40%

31.30%

3.47

3.96

4.26

-0.1

1

Evan Scribner

Athletics

60

9.6

0.6

74.30%

39.40%

4.35

4.33

2.83

-0.1

1

George Kontos

Giants

73.1

5.4

1.47

86.90%

42.70%

2.33

4.02

4.01

-0.2

1

J.R. Graham

Twins

59.2

7.54

3.17

65.50%

50.00%

5.13

4.68

4.17

-0.2

1

Zach Duke

White Sox

60.2

9.79

4.75

80.70%

58.30%

3.41

4.62

3.59

-0.3

1

Brandon Gomes

Rays

59

6.71

2.29

76.30%

35.40%

4.27

4.76

4.73

-0.4

1

Brian Duensing

Twins

48.2

4.44

3.88

73.40%

51.30%

4.25

5.02

5.11

-0.4

1

Jean Machi

- - -

58

6.52

3.41

66.40%

48.60%

5.12

4.67

4.35

-0.5

1

Fernando Rodney

- - -

62.2

8.33

4.16

71.90%

50.60%

4.74

4.92

4.37

-0.7

1

Scott Oberg

Rockies

58.1

6.79

4.78

74.10%

54.00%

5.09

5.76

4.74

-0.9

1

This is why these players are relievers.  The best arms in fantasy baseball were the top 3 players in this group.  This group is also the most prone to shifting from this section, down to the masters of none.  Pitchers who have truly elite strikeout rates, but nothing else, can't survive as starters because they simply throw too many pitches per inning.  As their velocity declines, or they have less movement, they lose their one skill they've always leaned on.  These pitchers go from hero to zero quickly.

And now, for the true masters of none, Tier 4:

Name

Team

IP

K/9

BB/9

LOB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

Justin Wilson

Yankees

61

9.74

2.95

74.90%

43.80%

3.1

2.69

3.12

1.5

Blaine Hardy

Tigers

61.1

8.07

3.23

75.10%

39.00%

3.08

2.89

4.08

1.1

Addison Reed

- - -

56

8.2

3.05

76.90%

43.10%

3.38

3.03

4.04

1

Sean Gilmartin

Mets

52.1

8.77

2.92

79.00%

46.20%

2.58

2.52

3.66

0.9

Tom Wilhelmsen

Mariners

62

8.71

4.21

76.10%

42.10%

3.19

3.33

4.22

0.8

Kevin Jepsen

- - -

69.2

7.62

3.49

81.90%

45.70%

2.33

3.54

4.04

0.7

Kelvin Herrera

Royals

69.2

8.27

3.36

78.10%

44.70%

2.71

3.44

3.82

0.6

Daniel Hudson

Diamondbacks

64.1

9.23

3.22

67.80%

42.50%

4.06

3.57

3.69

0.6

Michael Blazek

Brewers

55.2

7.6

2.91

76.60%

47.40%

2.43

3.17

3.85

0.6

Cesar Ramos

Angels

52.1

7.39

2.58

79.80%

47.10%

2.75

3.02

3.79

0.6

Brandon Maurer

Padres

51

6.88

2.65

70.90%

47.70%

3

3.31

3.85

0.6

Randall Delgado

Diamondbacks

69.2

9.17

4

82.10%

43.50%

2.84

3.78

4.06

0.4

Joaquin Benoit

Padres

65.1

8.68

3.17

85.90%

46.30%

2.34

3.75

3.69

0.4

Carlos Torres

Mets

57.2

7.49

2.81

65.30%

48.30%

4.68

3.53

3.71

0.4

Burke Badenhop

Reds

66.1

4.88

2.71

71.40%

46.70%

3.93

3.74

4.67

0.3

Huston Street

Angels

62.1

8.23

2.89

80.40%

34.50%

3.18

3.73

4.14

0.3

Al Alburquerque

Tigers

62

8.42

4.79

74.40%

48.30%

4.21

3.75

4.07

0.3

Arquimedes Caminero

Pirates

74.2

8.8

3.5

76.00%

47.60%

3.62

3.8

3.77

0.2

Tyler Clippard

- - -

71

8.11

3.93

81.00%

21.20%

2.92

4.28

5.3

0.2

Blaine Boyer

Twins

65

4.57

2.63

77.00%

47.60%

2.49

4

4.36

0.2

Bryan Shaw

Indians

64

7.59

2.67

81.10%

45.80%

2.95

4.01

3.72

0.2

Carlos Villanueva

Cardinals

61

8.11

3.1

80.50%

42.40%

2.95

3.74

4.06

0.2

Kevin Quackenbush

Padres

58.1

8.95

3.09

69.70%

43.60%

4.01

3.56

3.69

0.2

Christian Friedrich

Rockies

58.1

6.94

3.86

68.10%

47.40%

5.25

4.04

4.37

0.2

Santiago Casilla

Giants

58

9.62

3.57

84.30%

46.50%

2.79

3.63

3.46

0.2

Luis Avilan

- - -

53.1

8.27

2.53

71.90%

48.00%

4.05

3.66

3.5

0.2

Steve Geltz

Rays

63.1

8.38

3.55

68.00%

31.70%

3.84

4.19

4.55

0.1

Luke Hochevar

Royals

50.2

8.7

2.84

76.50%

37.20%

3.73

4

4.19

0.1

J.J. Hoover

Reds

64.1

7.27

4.34

78.90%

40.10%

2.94

4.47

4.62

0

Edwin Jackson

- - -

55.2

6.47

3.4

67.90%

41.10%

3.07

3.82

4.47

0

Steve Cishek

- - -

55.1

7.81

4.39

73.60%

46.10%

3.58

3.86

4.33

0

Justin De Fratus

Phillies

80

7.65

3.6

66.20%

44.00%

5.51

4.28

4.46

-0.1

Chasen Shreve

Yankees

58.1

9.87

5.09

89.90%

46.00%

3.09

4.92

4.23

-0.2

Danny Farquhar

Mariners

51

8.47

3

65.10%

38.50%

5.12

4.6

4.02

-0.2

Neal Cotts

- - -

63.1

8.24

3.13

86.30%

37.20%

3.41

5

4.31

-0.4

Craig Breslow

Red Sox

55.2

6.79

3.4

76.10%

34.90%

4.53

5.2

5.04

-0.6

Alexi Ogando

Red Sox

65.1

7.3

3.86

83.30%

42.10%

3.99

5.32

4.54

-0.9

Plenty of these relievers had poor seasons, or are your standard mop up man.  Santiago Casilla and Huston Street being in this group was surprising, and honestly makes me think the next set up men to research are Fernando Salas, Joe Smith, and Jose Alvarez on the Angels and Hunter Strickland and Sergio Romo of the Giants.

So with a further look, I think I've truly settled on my stance of, don't pay up for relief aces.  If one of the top tier is on your team, or about half of the guys from the second tier, you can plan on owning them into 2017 comfortably, otherwise, they are the ultimate trade chip.  A relievers value is fickle because their success is tied to their team.  Starters and hitters, both can control more of their own destiny, making them more predictable.  These players value changes on a dime, and frankly, it's a game of hot potato that too many owners want to partake in.  Take advantage of the market, deal your perceived star reliever now, and enjoy your profits down the road.