The 30 Gassiest Relievers – Ridiculously Early Results

Welcome to RotoNotGraphs. Despite the whimsical title, we have an actual topic to discuss today – who is throwing very hard?

Relievers who throw very hard tend to be candidates to perform well. Not always, but more than sometimes. While we don’t have enough data for any of our pet statistics, we do have velocity readings. They may not be a perfect representation of a pitcher’s average velocity, but they should be in the neighborhood.

As I’ve discussed many times throughout draft season, any strategy built around punting starting pitching must lean heavily on reliever input or luck. I hate relying on luck; you should too. You probably won’t be able to rely on ace closers all season long, so part of success will be finding and using elite set up men and middle relievers. Time to break out the list.

Reliever velo

Swinging strike rate is not predictive at this stage of the game, and I’ve excluded all strikeout and walk data simply to avoid confusion.

There are four different buckets of players on this list. Some have no track record, some have a very short track record, a bunch are closers and setup men, and the final group are four guys who I call “weird.”

Big Guns

A full 11 of the 30 pitchers on this list fall into the closers and setup men bucket. You might have the opportunity to grab Jake McGee, Pedro Strop, Joaquin Benoit, Wade Davis, or Tom Wilhelmson. You might not have that opportunity. I find Davis to be particularly useful because he has SP eligibility. That can let you use an extra reliever in the right situation.

Almost Established

I consider six guys to have short track records. They’re a couple good months from joining the setup men above. Jake Diekman is the iffiest of the group, he’s a lefty-on-lefty guy who occasionally loses his control. He can absolutely slaughter lefties, but he has a pretty big split. I don’t like to lean on LOOGY’s if they aren’t used very well.

Kevin Siegrist is probably very similar to Diekman, except we know that the Red Birds will pull him at the first sign of right-handedness. He did handle righties well last season, so he could develop into a full inning reliever.

The other four are righties: Carlos Martinez, David Carpenter, Chris Withrow, and Yoervis Medina. Martinez and Carpenter are actually setup men, which makes them better fantasy targets. Withrow’s pretty far from high leverage work, which can actually be a plus if you’re not trying to get holds. Medina’s a bit buried on the depth chart too.

Who?

Another six fit in the no track record bucket. Dellin Betances has been a prospect for a thousand years, so it’s nice to see him throwing stanky gas out of the pen. He’s a potential high leverage arm.

Jeurys Familia has a bit of the same feel as Betances. I feel like I’ve known his name for five years and I don’t follow prospects that  closely. The Mets pen is a shambles, so a good month from Familia could see him in high leverage games.

Evan Reed has the high score on this list. The Tigers could use some bullpen heroes with Bruce Rondon out for the year and Joe Nathan a risk to catch a case of old. His track record is erratic and I can’t add anything else. His velocity alone makes him somebody worth tracking.

Bryan Morris has more of a track record than the rest of this group. He rolls a lot of ground balls and his velocity is up 1.5 mph in this small sample. He needs to add strikeouts to be a fantasy hero.

Jeremy Jeffress has trouble staying on the mound. He’s been around forever but has failed to establish himself. This is his fifth try in the majors.

Pedro Figueroa doesn’t look like a riser. His big fastball is accompanied by suspect control and a mediocre strikeout rate. He couldn’t crack the A’s pen so he’s in Texas now.

Weird ones

Last but not least are the four weird ones. Let’s discard the two least interesting. Carlos Marmol strikes out a lot of batters, partly because he walks nearly as many. Pass. Juan Gutierrez has been bouncing around since 2007, but his big fastball isn’t enough to stick full time.

That leaves Matt Albers and Justin Grimm. Albers has been in the bullpen since 2007. This is his age 31 season, yet in his first two appearances, he’s posted the highest velocity reading of his career by 2.5 mph. He’s coming off two decent seasons with bad peripherals. Perhaps the new found heat will lead to better peripherals. He’s worth watching.

Grimm is a typical rotation to bullpen transition story. He’s also seen a 2.5 mph increase in velocity and he has some secondary tools. He’s a dark horse to steal saves later in the season. Like Davis, he has SP eligibility.

Concluding Thoughts

If you’re short on starting pitchers, be sure to pair your waiver pick ups with relievers. This strategy necessitates some extra work in identifying bullpen breakouts. In the very early going, there are a few interesting choices out on the wire ranging from Siegrist to Grimm.




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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, MLB Trade Rumors, and The Fake Baseball. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.

11 Responses to “The 30 Gassiest Relievers – Ridiculously Early Results”

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  1. Darren says:

    Albers was nasty last night vs yanks. Does a 2.5 mph increase on fastball at age 31 seem suspicious?

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  2. cnote66 says:

    Excellent stuff — hopefully you can keep this article going all year.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Yea I’ll be checking in periodically, and eventually I can use better stats for evaluation than just velocity.

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      • Noonzeo says:

        maybe a GRAPH of velocities on RotoGRAPHS?

        Also I thought the best predictors of future closers are past experience and velocity? More is better but only if it’s useful predicting future success.

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  3. Reynold says:

    Really good stuff, especially for deep leaguers. Do not get this anywhere else.

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  4. C-Town Hitmen says:

    Where does Daniel Webb rank? I read he throws gas….

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  5. nitros says:

    Really enjoyed this article. Extremely helpful.

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  6. pirates hurdles says:

    Probably missed due to the 16 inning affair, but Justin Wilson averaged 96.0 on his heater from the left side.

    Bryan Morris’s uptick in velocity continued in his 2nd appearance, also in that game, quit encouraging.

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  7. Brad Johnson says:

    And Jeremy Jeffress bites the dust

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