Maybe it comes from being a fan of a low-budget club for all of these years, but I am very cheap when it comes to paying for relievers in fantasy baseball. You are not going to see me spending more than $15 to get a closer and if I spend more than $30 on relievers in a draft, someone has slipped something into my beverage of choice on that particular day. It is for this reason why I tend to first gravitate to middle relievers as I begin my draft plans for the upcoming season. You can have your sluggers and your rotation aces; give me a sexy strand rate or a large ERA versus FIP difference all day long!
Research will show you that approximately 30 percent of closers lose their job at one point or another in a season, and every season, closers appear out of nowhere to pile up saves. This past season, Fernando Rodney was the most shining example of this as nobody, and I mean nobody, saw him having a Dennis Eckersley-like season last year. He went undrafted in every expert league last year, but was a key part to a few titles of people I know. That said, there was nothing in Rodney's skill set that made him rosterable, even to people like myself who are always dumpster diving late in drafts looking for anything of value. After all, we're talking about a guy who was coming off a fourth straight season of high walk rates, and he had not seen a WHIP under 1.47 since the 2007 season.
Nobody can tell you with any level of certainty who will be the next reliever to pull a Rodney because what he did was as improbable as what Mike Trout did in his rookie season. Both feats of roto strength are going to spoil owners in 2013 as players that do just 75 percent of what Trout and Rodney did in 2012 will likely be less appreciated when in fact the performances are rather valuable.
These were the league averages for relievers in 2012 per FanGraphs:
Against those figures, let's look at five guys that I am very intrigued by for 2013. These guys may not necessarily pile up a ton of saves, but in AL-only or NL-only leagues, they do have some value if everything clicks. (Editor's Note: bolded numbers represent above average results, italicized are below average results)
Hisanori Takahashi - Cubs
Takahashi was an above reliever average in three different categories but a low LOB fueled by some home run issues did him in. His 5.54 ERA was much worse than his 3.93 FIP and the fact he gave up eight home runs in just 50 innings while pitching in pitcher-friendly parks is concerning. His 12 percent HR/FB was not that extreme, but a look back at 2011 shows he can keep the ball in the park if he cuts down on his flyballs.
Esmil Rogers - Toronto
The Rockies gave up on him and the Indians gladly took him on. He threw 53 innings for Cleveland last season, striking out 25 percent of the hitters he faced, walking just six percent, and had a 3.13 FIP for them in that time frame along with a 1.11 WHIP. His overall numbers are dirtied up by time spent in Coors Field, but Rogers quietly had a good season in relief for the Indians. Once he moved away from Denver, he found the strike zone at an above-league average rate and when he did go out of the zone, hitters chased at an above-league average rate. Additionally, the percentage of strikes thrown jumped from 58 percent in 2011 to 66 percent in his time with Cleveland last year.
Now, he's off to Toronto where he will compete with Steve Delabar, Casey Janssen, and a returning Sergio Santos for late-leverage opportunities. If he can retain the control he found in Cleveland, he could be very interesting.
Alfredo Aceves - Boston
As Eric Cartman would say, Aceves looked hella-bad in 2012. Yet, his K% went up four percentage points last season. He ran into some UGLY outings and some issues with keeping runners off base. In 2011, he left 80.1 percent of his runners on and had a 2.61 ERA. Last season, he stranded just 65 percent and his ERA came in at 5.36. Note, his FIP over the last two seasons has been 4.03 and 4.33. I am only considering Aceves for reserve round material in an AL auction, but this is a guy that has shown an ability to miss bats and an ability to throw strikes in the past. The question is, can he combine the two in the same season once again?
Mark Melancon - Pittsburgh
Aceves was bad, Melancon was worse, on paper at least. People will focus in on the 6.20 ERA and turn up their nose but let's not forget, this is a guy who gave up six earned runs without recording an out in mid-April before he was demoted. He threw in 41 games last year and gave up one or less earned runs in 35 of those 41 games. The issue was the 23 runs he gave up in the other five games which came in just 2.2 innings of work. He had 27 outings in which he didn't give up an earned run, but that 6.20 ERA will be tough to overlook. Focus on the low walk rate, the less than 50 percent groundball rate, and where his LOB% was, thanks to an inflated home run to flyball rate of 22 percent. Melancon absolutely will be better in 2013 and it isn't like Jason Grilli is a lock to hold the closer role for all of 2013.
Fernando Rodriguez - Houston
Control is his issue as he struggles to find the strike zone, but missing bats is certainly not a problem for him. Amazingly, he worked ahead in the count more often than not in 2012, but still walked too many hitters because command is an issue. The other problem is the long ball as he gave up 10 in just 70 innings of work. 2012 was his second straight season of striking out 25 percent of the hitters he faced and while his walk rate was below league average in 2012, it was an improvement over 2011. In Houston, he will have ample opportunity to prove himself and is worth a reserve round pick as you speculate on what may happen to the closer role in Houston for 2013.