Two weeks ago, we introduced the term "SPARP" to the Fantasy playing masses. It was basically an easier way to describe the fine/shady/impure art form of using a starting pitcher in a relief pitcher spot. I personally hate the practice -- it skews the value of closers and gives pitchers like Freddy Garcia value where there should be none. But I don't make the games. And it's foolish to stubbornly refuse to use the SPARP strategy in a league where it's legal, because you'll most likely lose a few games to teams streaming two-start SPARPs ("TSSPARPs") [Note: the "T" is silent] where closers should normally be.
Still, this is a strategy that plenty of Fantasy players embrace, so I figured the time has come for a bizarro Bullpen Report, where we begrudgingly give some sort of value to the various SPARPs out there.
This is against everything I stand for, but I live to serve.
How dominant has Iwakuma been this year? He currently has 44 more points than Jason Grilli, who has 25 saves, a 1.10 ERA, and 14.9 K/9. Ignore the little blue "cold" icon next to Iwakuma's name. He is a stud as a starter and borderline otherworldly as a SPARP.
In spring training, Shelby Miller was locked in a battle for the fifth spot in the St. Louis rotation. Now he's the third-best relief pitcher in Head-to-Head points formats, trailing Grilli -- who, remember, is having essentially the same season as the guy who finished eighth in MVP voting last year (Craig Kimbrel) -- by just six points.
SPARPs you can start ... as starters!
Of this group, Cashner is probably the most stable of this group in terms of staying power. There will eventually be a crunch when Michael Pineda and Jake Peavy return from injuries for Phelps and Santiago, respectively. But Cashner may be the least intriguing of this second tier of SPARPs, at least until his strikeouts come back.
Phelps' overall numbers won't blow anyone away, but of his nine starts this season, five of them have featured Phelps allowing two or fewer runs. And if you discount his first stretch-out start (four earned runs) as well as the two late May starts where he was struck in the arm by a line drive (four earned runs) and the following start where he may have still been feeling the effects of getting beaned (four earned runs), Phelps looks even better. [Note: Yes, I sweat Phelps, but he needs at least two more normal starts allowing four earned runs before I give up on this extenuating circumstances excuse-making exercise]. In his minor league career, Phelps started 90 of the 91 games he appeared in, producing a 2.51 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and a solid 7.6 K/9. I think the more he starts, the better his numbers will be.
Santiago, meanwhile, requires far fewer contextual explanations for his case as being used in non-SPARP situations. As a starter, Santiago has a 3.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and a 10.4 K/9. His ERA, WHIP, K/9 and pretty much every other measurable statistic are better when he's starting (as opposed to RPARPing). And his sample size gets a little bigger when you consider Santiago's four-start run at the end of 2012, when he put together a 1.86 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in four starts. His value may come from being RP eligible, but Santiago can be started in most formats as an actual starter and should deliver decent value back to his owners.
After a nice start to the season -- one that vaulted him to the 13th spot (currently) among RPs -- Kyle Kendrick has seen things take a somewhat ugly turn. In his last seven starts, Kendrick has a 4.91 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. I suppose you can stream him depending on the opponent, but I'm leaning more toward the "leave him on the wire" side of things, as this latest version of Kendrick seems more in line with what we've seen through his career.
Wade Davis, meanwhile, is a pitcher I would drop Kendrick for. I've heard all the arguments against Davis -- his velocity is down as a starter, he found his niche in the bullpen last year, he generally just isn't that good -- but I like Davis. Maybe it took him some time to adjust to starting, maybe he just had some kinks to work out early on. But in his last three games, Davis has a 2.04 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings. He has six games of six or more strikeouts in his 14 starts this season, a surprisingly high number considering his drop in velocity. Davis is a former top 20 prospect who never really struck a lot of batters out but had the potential to deliver low ERA and WHIP. As a regular starter, he's got some trust issues. But as a SPARP who could replace a shaky Jose Valverde for an owner in a Head-to-Head points league, he's worth the gamble. Over the last 14 days, Davis is the 10th-best reliever.
|1.||Esmil Rogers, RP, Blue Jays||23|
|2.||Joaquin Benoit, RP, Tigers||13|
|3.||Junichi Tazawa, RP, Red Sox||9|
|4.||Alfredo Figaro, RP, Brewers||9|
|5.||Steve Cishek, RP, Marlins||7|
|6.||Kevin Gregg, RP, Cubs||6|
|7.||Greg Holland, RP, Royals||5|
|8.||Oliver Perez, RP, Mariners||5|
|9.||Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers||4|
|10.||Jose Veras, RP, Astros||4|
First off, let's just address the obvious -- the Rangers have way too many SPARPs on their roster. It's at four right now (counting the injured Ogando and sometime-starter Josh Lindblom), but there's always the chance they stretch out Robbie Ross, who was a starter throughout the minors, at some point this season, too. The issue with the various options the Rangers offer is that none of them are can't-miss options in the RP slot. Alexi Ogando was close earlier in the season, but he's been battling shoulder issues and might slide back into the bullpen when he returns. Grimm and Tepesch have been too inconsistent for anything more than two-start consideration in deeper leagues, but only in weeks when they have solid matchups.
The interesting SPARP here is Chad Gaudin, who is currently sporting a 2.83 ERA over 47 2/3 innings pitched. In three June starts, though, he has a 4.24 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, with 12 strikeouts in 17 innings. Of course, that was all before his start Thursday, during which he was hit by a line drive. We weren't sure of his status at the time this column was published. For what it's worth, though, in his career Gaudin has been a pretty pedestrian starter, according to the numbers -- a 4.70 ERA in 78 starts. But part of Gaudin's value is his swingman flexibility, and a good chunk of those starts came as a spot starter or getting stretched out. In the right situation and with the right pitching coach -- and in that spacious home park -- Gaudin might be a nice two-start SPARP in NL-only leagues for as long as he remains in the rotation. Just make sure to watch his injury status through the weekend.
SPARPs on the scrapheap
Tyler Lyons was a borderline candidate for the NL-only category because he's had flashes of good this year. But I had the opportunity to pick him up in a 24-team Head-to-Head points format, where starters are scarce, and I passed. The corresponding move would have been to release John Axford. That exercise was kind of telling in what I thought about Lyons. A few more uninspiring starts from Lyons and he could be sent down for Michael Wacha. Because of that, I'm not really willing to add him in even the deepest of Fantasy leagues.
Honorable Mention SPARPs
Cingrani and Smyly are currently relievers in starters' bodies. Both have been relegated to bullpen roles, but both seem like the obvious candidates for the next open rotation spot. While Cingrani is the more high-profile of the two, Smyly can offer a very low WHIP and some high strikeout totals. Why he's stuck in relief in favor of Jose Alvarez remains a mystery, but I have a hunch Alvarez will get a couple turns in place of the injured Anibal Sanchez while Smyly stretches out and gets ready to take over the spot. Owned in 24 percent of leagues, if you missed out on the Cingrani rush, Smyly makes for a stellar speculative alternative.
And let's not forget …
I threw Bundy and Myers in here just because they, at one point, were considered top SPARP options, before injury struck and their futures became far more vague. Bundy now looks like another September call-up for the bullpen -- if he can overcome his forearm injury. Myers, meanwhile, has just started playing catch and doesn't have a timetable for a return. When he does make it back, he'll have to contend with an out-of-nowhere Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir and possibly Trevor Bauer in order to reclaim a rotation spot. While they may have a bit of value in some formats, I think it's safe to drop both of these pitchers in single-season leagues.
There you go. SPARPs. We shall never speak of this again.
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