Over the course of the next few weeks we will delve into the depths of the bullpens to identify potential middle relief targets, specifically, those relievers who appeal to owners in leagues that reward “holds.”
Andrew Bailey | RP | BOS
The oft-injured reliever struggled mightily in his first season in Boston — albeit, in just 15.1 innings (19 appearances) on the hill. His contributions were limited due to a damaged ulnar collateral ligament the right-hander suffered in a collision with a Pirates’ base runner while covering first in Spring Training. Bailey returned to the bump in mid-August, but failed to impress. The 18.9 K% and 10.8 BB% posted in that short time were both career lows. His velocity was up, but Bailey couldn’t hit the first strike (55.4% F-Strike%), miss bats (6.8% SwStr%) or induce ground balls (32.7% GB%) at rates he was previously accustomed to.
Based on Bailey’s struggles, the Red Sox went out and acquired Joel Hanrahan — from the Pirates, ironically — to take over ninth-inning duties. Despite the acquisition, Bailey and the Sox agreed to a one-year deal in the off-season for the righty to return to the Boston ’pen. This will give Bailey the opportunity to perform in situations that aren’t as high leverage, which could boost his confidence and potentially his trade value. Early indications suggest Bailey may share the setup duties with Koji Uehara, who was also brought in this winter, giving him the opportunity to tally some holds. If Bailey is dealt to a team in need of a bullpen arm, his role could increase, subsequently boosting his fantasy value. For now, Bailey is nothing more than a late-round dart for deep mixers or AL-Only leagues that reward holds + saves.
Luke Gregerson | RP | SD
Gregerson returned to his normal dominant self last season after the aberration that was his 2011 campaign. The 24.5 K% didn’t exactly return to his close to 30% K% of 2009 and 2010, but he missed more bats than ever before (15.1% SwStr%). Additionally, he allowed just 7.1% of the batters he faced to reach via the free pass — the second fewest he’s allowed during his career. The right-hander has increased the amount of ground balls induced in each of the past four years; he peaked in 2012 with a 50.3% GB%.
Although his K% is heading back towards his career average and he is inducing more ground balls than ever before, Gregerson’s fastball velocity has dipped in each of the past four years. This could simply be a case of smaller sample, since he’s also thrown fewer fastballs in those years, but this could be something more. Our own Jeff Zimmerman found that there is a correlation between pitchers that throw a high percentage of curveballs and sliders and their likelihood to land on the disabled list. Well, in each of the years that Gregerson experienced significant success (‘09, ‘10 and ‘12), he increased his slider usage by about ten percent. Last season, he hurled the slide-piece 68.6% (!!) of the time. This could be something to keep an eye on.
Considering Gregerson would be a later round pick anyway, fantasy baseballers should still be looking to pounce on the right-hander if afforded the opportunity. He has 12 saves and over 100 career holds under his belt in four major league seasons. He will provide your team with elite ratios and a strikeout per inning pitched. The Padres may go back to Dale Thayer if the brittle Huston Street were to get bit by the injury bug again in 2013, but Luke Gregerson is the only other Friar reliever on my draft board in holds + saves leagues.
David Robertson | RP | NYY
Those who drafted or poached Robertson off the wire last season when Mariano Rivera tore his ACL shagging balls were seen skipping in fields of happiness with delicious microbrews in each hand. It was such a shrewd move, until of course, Robertson fell victim to an injury of his own. The Robertson owners quickly dropped their yellow fizzy brews and plowed through the dark and miserable fields to a remote location that provided their smart phones with one bar of cellular service just to learn their rival owner added Rafael Soriano, the closer who ended up the most saves in the Bronx in 2013 (and a new contract to boot!).
But in all seriousness, Robertson is one of the most elite relievers in the game today. He does walk a few too many batters (career 11.2% BB%), but his career 31.5% K% and 2.95 ERA (2.79 FIP) will be hard to find elsewhere. Additionally, the right-hander has 83 career holds and will be once again slotted in the eighth inning setting up for Hall of Fame closer, Mariano Rivera. If the elderly Rivera should not return to his pre-injury self, look for Robertson to get that ninth inning look he’s been longing for. Robertson is a top ten holds target for 2013.