by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Obviously we have not turned the page to 2019 so a lot of time remains between now and Opening Day, with a slew of free agents still looking for work. When it comes to bullpen construction, which always seems to be a work in progress, in some cases it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly who will be manning ninth inning duties.
For rebuilding teams it’s always possible that they jettison what appears to be the top option in their bullpen as they look to acquire future assets. For the San Francisco Giants (Will Smith) and Texas Rangers (Jose Leclerc), rumors persist that they could be moved at some point during the offseason.
What about a team like the Miami Marlins, who are unlikely to add to the bullpen via free agency or trade? They’ve already sent Kyle Barraclough packing, and that leaves Drew Steckenrider as the most likely candidate to assume the role though Adam Conley could also find himself in the mix. For those searching for saves, assuming no further maneuvering, who is the better option? Let’s take a look:
He brings obvious strikeout stuff, with an 11.60 K/9 over 99.1 innings in the Major Leagues. Armed with a fastball that averaged 95.21 mph last season, that’s the pitch that he generally leaned on as he threw it 76.36% of the time. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to produce using it that much, and considering the pedestrian control (3.76 BB/9) and lack of groundballs (33.9%) you would think that it’s only a matter of time before things go south.
We saw signs of the issues in the second half of ’18, pitching to a 4.91 ERA over 22.0 IP as his strikeout rate fell (9.82 K/9) and the home runs piled up (2.05 HR/9). That’s not to say that, at 28-years old on Opening Day, he can’t figure it out and develop into one of the elite relievers in the game. That said are you willing to bank on what essentially amounts to a one-pitch pitcher to consistently get the job done?
While the left-handed pitcher, in his first season after converting from a starter, ended with a 4.09 ERA the upside was obvious. His 8.88 K/9 and 3.20 BB/9 don’t seem impressive, but a 14.5% SwStr% and 33.9% O-Swing% show that his stuff plays up well come out of the bullpen.
His fastball, which averaged 90.13 mph as a starter in 2017, jumped to an average of 95.81 mph. That helped both his changeup (28.71% Whiff%) and slider (16.80% Whiff%) play up that much more. With that arsenal he proved capable of getting right-handed hitters out (.228 BAA) and obviously should see his strikeout rate rise significantly (10.80 K/9 prior to the All-Star Break).
Couple those marks with the potential for even better control (2.08 BB/9 in both May and June) and the upside is significant.
Steckenrider is going to be the pitcher who grabs more attention, but when looking at the numbers it’s obvious that Conley could evolve into the significantly better option. Barring other changes to the bullpen and it’s makeup, for those who don’t like paying for top-end closers he’s a name to target and has the upside of a Top 15 option (if not more).
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
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