Don't sleep on the fantasy baseball value of Seattle's bullpen

Scott Pianowski
·5 min read

For whatever 19 games means to you, the Mariners are off to a strong start. They’re 12-9 for the first three weeks, tied for first in the AL West. This record comes despite a modest plus-one in run differential; we could spin that as good fortune, a wink from the kismet gods.

Or we could take a different angle. Let’s credit the Seattle bullpen. In honor of Mariners relief legend Bill Caudill, let’s inspect.

Putting the Mariners relievers under the microscope

Although the Seattle rotation has been mediocre (4.64 ERA, 19th in the majors), the relief work has been outstanding. The Mariners on call have a 2.62 ERA, third in baseball. There’s been an odd split to this effectiveness; Seattle relievers are hard to hit (.172 average against) but friendly with free passes (30 walks over 68.2 innings). But a 1.03 WHIP looks pretty on the page, and several of these Seattle relievers offer fantasy value for you and me.

Kendall Graveman is my preferred option in this group, off to a near-perfect start (8.2 scoreless innings, 2 BB, 10 K). Ordinary as a starting pitcher for several years, he’s turned into a 96.5 mph dragon in relief, pouring in heat and a power sinker. Graveman has bounced around a variety of roles this year; he has two saves, two holds, a win. He worked the seventh Thursday at Boston, nailing a perfect inning while the game was tied (two strikeouts, 12 pitches, 1-2-3). I think the Mariners view him as the wipeout option here, and fantasy relevance is sure to follow, even if manager Scott Servais never picks one dedicated closer.

There’s still time to grab Graveman. He currently rosters at 46 percent.

Rafael Montero is the biggest name from this group, and he’s grabbed three quick saves, though there are reasons for concern. His suggested-ERA (4.35 FIP) is almost two runs higher than his front-door number (2.61). His walk, strikeout, and velocity readings are all moving in the wrong direction from last year; 7.8 K/9 is very low for a reliever, especially if you’re walking 3.48/9. On the plus side, he’s limited hard contact (his line-drive rate is an absurd 4.2 percent), and it’s allowed him to work out of trouble. He was crisp Thursday, a scoreless inning on just 14 pitches.

If I rostered Montero, I’d take those three saves and the deceiving ERA and head to market. I see blowup potential here, and this could be a team where no one gets to 25 saves.

The rest of the relievers are the wild bunch, the guys succeeding despite lofty walk rates. Kenyan Middleton has a couple of rogue saves, but he’s walked five against five strikeouts. I’ll always run from that ratio. Will Vest has allowed just one run over his 10.2 innings, but again, it’s too many walks (six, versus nine strikeouts). Casey Sadler has the same storyline: 2.35 ERA, five walks, nine strikeouts. At least lefty Anthony Misiewicz (1 BB, 5 K) is having no trouble finding the zone.

Vest, the former Detroit farmhand, could be worth a look in hold formats. He’s also the reliever with the highest inning upside. And the fact that Middleton often works late in games can’t be discounted; in some deeper formats, we have to chase after every save, no matter the looming downside.

Mitch Haniger gets his groove back

Mitch Haniger’s three-run homer broke open Thursday’s win, capping another outstanding day for the Seattle right fielder. Haniger added a couple of walks, scored two runs. He’s slashing .316/.349/.605 on the year (with five homers) and looks like one of the steals of the season. He’s scored 15 runs, driven in 17.

Haniger was a late-blooming All-Star in 2018 before injuries wrecked the last two years. The Yahoo draft community was cool on Haniger this spring, pushing his ADP around 235. Some leagues viewed Haniger as a wait-and-see bench option, while others didn’t touch him at all.

Statcast data validates Haniger’s fast start — his batted-ball profile suggests a .303 average and .599 slugging. We’ll take that anywhere we can get it. Haniger’s walk rate is below average but it’s not for a poor approach; he’s around the mean in chase rate and his hard-hit rate is above average. Haniger knows what he’s doing at the plate.

If I were walking into a mixed-league redraft today, I’d be looking at Haniger in the Round 9-11 range. He can be a fantasy staple all year.

Touted prospect Alex Kirilloff gets his chance 

It’s been a rough go for the Twins lately. COVID issues wiped out the final two games of the Angels series, then Minnesota lost three straight to the rampaging Athletics. The defense has been messy, the hitting erratic. Alex Colome hasn’t looked right at all. And now Miguel Sano (hamstring) is headed to the disabled list.

Perhaps Alex Kirilloff can take this sad song and make it better.

Kirilloff, a 23-year-old outfielder, is one of baseball’s top hitting prospects (MLB.com had him No. 26 into this season; Baseball America slotted him No. 18). He’s slashed .317/.365/.498 through three minor-league seasons, topping out at Double-A. The Twins had him around for two brief games earlier this month.

Kirilloff gets scouting praise for his heady approach at the plate and his line-drive bat. He’s shown power from pole to pole but never had a true homer spike in the minors; this is the type of thing you’d expect to develop as he feels his way through the majors. He’s already dealt with some injuries — Tommy John surgery back from his pitching days in high school, and a wrist issue two years ago — but none of that figures to be a long-term problem. Perhaps Kirilloff will hit enough in this audition to stick with the team all year.

Plausible upside is present, so deeper-league gamers want to act. Kirilloff currently is rostered in 20 percent of Yahoo leagues.