Searching For Saves: With Emilio Pagan Traded, Could A “Sleeper” Emerge In Tampa Bay (Not Named Nick Anderson)?

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The Tampa Bay Rays have a history of rotating their closer, so just because Emilio Pagan thrived in the role in 2019 didn’t mean he was a lock to maintain it in 2020.  Maybe we didn’t expect a trade to San Diego, in exchange for OF Manuel Margot and a prospect, to create the opportunity but that’s what happened.  The Rays do have ample depth in their bullpen, and while it may seem obvious who the next up is there’s no guarantee.  Who should fantasy owners be targeting?  Who has the potential to grab the opportunity and run with it?  Let’s take a look at the three most likely options:

Nick Anderson – Right-Handed Pitcher

Anderson was good with Miami prior to the 2019 trade deadline, but he really stepped it up after the deal:

  • Marlins (43.2 IP) – 3.92 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 14.22 K/9, 3.30 BB/9
  • Rays (21.1 IP) – 2.11 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, 17.30 K/9, 0.84 BB/9

Obviously he benefitted from a 92.6% strand rate after the deal, his control likely will take a step backwards (though it won’t be a big drop-off, considering his 2.2 BB/9 over his minor league career) and there’s going to be the potential for home run issues (28.8% groundball rate overall).  With elite swing and miss stuff (19.3% SwStr%) home runs shouldn’t be a significant issue, because if you can’t make contact you can’t hit the ball out of the ballpark.

At 29-years old he also isn’t “young”, so the Rays keeping him out of the role in order to suppress arbitration also shouldn’t be an obstacle.  The Rays appear to have altered his approach, with his curveball usage going from 44.0% to 31.0% after the trade, and there’s every reason to believe that he could get an opportunity and thrive in it.

Diego Castillo – Right-Handed Pitcher

Castillo has shown that he can thrive in the bullpen for two straight years, whether it’s operating as an “opener” or late in games (he has 27 holds and 8 SV).  While his 3.41 ERA over 68.2 IP last season may not blow you away, the skills he showed were impressive:

  • Strikeouts – 10.62 K/9
  • Control – 3.41 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 56.9%

Maybe we can’t quite the buy the groundball rate, though a 45.3% mark in 2018 wouldn’t be anything to ignore (and he was over 60% in the second half).  People may point towards his struggles against left-handed hitters in ’19 (.271 BAA), but he owns a career .213 BAA vs. LHH so that shouldn’t be seen as an issue.  Considering there also could be improvements in his BABIP (.300 despite a 35.4% Hard%) and strand rate (73.6%), would it be surprising to see him take a step and emerge?  The Rays have already shown confidence in trusting him in the role, and if Anderson doesn’t claim the job Castillo isn’t far behind.  He won’t get as much attention, but he has just as high of an upside.

Jose Alvarado – Left-Handed Pitcher

Being left-handed could work against him, but Alvarado’s control has disappeared over the past two seasons:

  • 2018 – 4.08 BB/9
  • 2019 – 8.10 BB/9

An elbow issue may have contributed to the problems, and he was limited to 30.0 innings in the Majors.  He does generate strikeouts (11.70 K/9 in ’19) and generally enough groundballs (52.9% over his MLB career), though is that enough?  It’s possible matchups dictate giving him a few chances, but he’s not likely going to step into the role barring stumbles from the two above him on the depth chart.

Conclusion

The masses are going to lock in on Nick Anderson, and while he could get the first shot don’t overlook Diego Castillo.  You could argue that he’s just as likely to assume the role, and therefore could become the better buy in the later rounds.  It’ll be a situation that plays out this spring, and one fantasy owners will want to watch closely.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

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