Much of the talk in the early going of the 2019 season has been around the rise in power and the struggles of the starting pitchers, elite or otherwise. We know from a leaguewide perspective, pitching ERA is up significantly, yet strikeout and walk rates have remained relatively flat, but hard hit rates are off-the-charts. But what about for relievers? The answer is more of the same, only even more magnified, so whatever is impacting the starting pitcher performance is also impacting the reliever performance. Is it the ball? Is it warmer weather? Below is a comparison of the first 22 games of 2017-2019.
ERA - 3.86
K% - 23.5%
BB% - 9.5%
HR/9 - 1.0
FB% - 35.6%
Hard% - 30%
ERA - 3.97
K% - 24.2%
BB% - 9.9%
HR/9 - 1.0
FB% - 35.6%
Hard% - 32.7%
ERA - 4.43
K% - 24%
BB% - 10.3%
HR/9 - 1.3
FB% - 36.6%
Hard% - 36%
As you can see, ERA is up, but unlike the general trend in pitching, there's been a significant increase in strikeout and walk rates in both 2018 and 2019 versus 2017, while further changes to HR/9, flyball rate and of course, hard hit rate. This means that while it might be tempting to replace your middle-of-the-rotation starting pitchers with high usage relievers, you likely will face the same problems as your do with your current starting pitchers, only fewer innings to spread the blowups across.
Here's a look at some of the other bullpen-related news from the last week.
Around the League:
-The biggest news around the league was the placing of Arodys Vizcaino on the injured list and then the subsequent release that he would most likelyt miss the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. AJ Minter is the undisputed closer for now, but he also dealt with shoulder issues in spring training and has looked far from healthy in the early going. Minter's four-seam fastball velocity is down a couple ticks and he's throwing it less often, opting instead to use his change-up more frequently. Minter's contact% has sky-rocketed to 81% from 67% in 2018, and his swinging strike rate has plummeted to 9.5% and has a terrible 5:4 strikeout-to-walk rate through his first 7 games. There's a lot to be worried about here, but with the Braves bullpen in shambles, it might take the signing of Craig Kimbrel or a visit to the injured list to remove him from the role.
-The Mariners bullpen remains very much a committee, with Roenis Elias recording his 3rd save of the season earlier with week with Anthony Swarzak getting the call ahead of him. It seems like this will be the pattern for the Mariners this season, so don't expect anyone to completely run away with the job. Conner Sadzeck may also be in the mix.
-Ken Giles hasn't looked quite right over the last week and has allowed at least one hit in each of his last 5 games and walks in 3 of his last 5. Thankfully, the underlying numbers still look strong with a 16% swinging strike rate and 63% contact rate. Joe Biagini has been Giles primary set-up man and has been an excellent weapon out of the bullpen for the Blue Jays. Biagini's swinging strike rate has surged to 15% compared to 8% last year as a starting pitcher. Biagini has moved almost exclusively away from his four-seam fastball to higher usage rates of his cutter and sinker. Ryan Tepera also recently re-joined this bullpen.
-Mychal Givens finally got a save opportunity! Unfortunately, he blew it. Given their committee and the Orioles lack of save opportunities in general, this situation is probably best to avoid if you're trying to maximize the return from all your roster spots.
-David Robertson landed on the injured list for the Phillies, which is probably the best place for him considering how bad he has pitched to begin the year. Hector Neris made things interesting with his most recent save chance, but he was able to convert and looks to have a leg up on future save opportunities. As discussed last week, Neris possesses a skillset that should produce very good results for fantasy owners, if he can see regular save chances.
-What's going on with Raisel Iglesias? It was bad enough that the Reds weren't giving Iglesias all the save chances, but now the closer can't even get outs. Iglesias has given up runs in more than half his appearances this year, although his latest converted save came on Thursday when he pitched a clean inning and struck out the side. Iglesias has traded in some four-seam usage (which hasn't been effective) for more sinker usage early in the season (which still hasn't been effective, but more effective than his curveball). There's a slew of possible handcuffs in this bullpen, but the most interesting ones remain Amir Garrett and Robert Stephenson, although Jared Hughes likely remains in front of both for save chances, at the moment.
-Jose LeClerc has converted 3 straight saves, but he continues to look shaky. His swinging strike rate remains nearly nonexistent and he's giving up a lot of contact. Chris Martin has served as his primary set-up man, but he's working through struggles of his own. Shawn Kelley has a limited amount of closing experience and is a member of his bullpen. He's might best pick for who would see saves, if LeClerc were removed from the role (which probably won't happen until he hits the injured list or blows several consecutive saves).
-Jeremy Jeffress was activated from the injured list and has now thrown back-to-back clean innings. Craig Counsell has vowed to take it slow with Jeffress, but the manager would undoubtedly like to get Josh Hader back into the middle relief role where he can go multiple innings. Jeffress remains a solid bet to see saves at some point and remains a must add in leagues where he is available.
-Jon Heyman broke the news that Craig Kimbrel would be willing to accept a 3-year deal now. Keep an eye on the Braves and Brewers, but also don't write off the Red Sox, who would effectively pay him silly sums of money thanks to the luxury tax, but might be feeling the pressure after a sluggish start to the year.
Closer Tiers and Handcuff Grades:
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