RELIEVERS: Walking through some LIMA picks in the Baseball Forecaster

2021 is here and we have no time to waste. A lot remains up in the air with respect to bullpens and free agents. But let's press onward and look at some LIMA picks from the 2021 Baseball Forecaster.

LIMA is a concept that goes back decades here at You can find a description here. We start with a list of LIMA grades "A" and "B+" pulled from the Baseball Forecaster--there are not very many:

LIMA A              BPV
===========         ===
S.Lugo (NYM)        156
W.Smith (ATL) (L)   154
T.May (NYM)         152
P.Johnson (SD)      136
S.Barlow (KC)       128
H.Neris (PHI)       128
A.Garrett (CIN) (L) 128

These are all projected as high-skills relievers, of course. What gives them a high grade is those skills coupled with an expected lower price tag and a growing opportunity. Of course, "growing" is a key word here. If the Phillies just come out and name Hector Neris (RHP, PHI) the closer today, his price tag will rise immediately. Then it is just the risk that Neris hits a rut, or has a breakdown, or someone on the team surpasses him, or the team trades for someone, or something else unforeseen happens.

As we dig into these guys, team context is everything. And of course, pen situations can change on a dime, particularly with so many roles still up in the air. In those cases, the best advice is the mantra to buy skills not roles. It doesn't work 100% of the time, but it often does. Cream rises to the top, even if you have to wait a few weeks for team decision-making to agree.

Here are the B+ grades:

LIMA B+             BPV
===========         ===
T.Rogers (MIN) (L)  156
G.Gallegos (STL)    156
J.Romano (TOR)      152
E.Clase (CLE)       144
T.Rainey (WAS)      136
E.Paredes (HOU)      80

That makes two pretty good lists, so let's take a look at a few of them.

Amir Garrett (LHP, CIN) has a real chance to grab some saves in Cincinnati. Yes, he is left-handed, and yes, Lucas Sims (RHP, CIN) has to be considered a co-favorite for saves right now, if not a tick ahead of Garrett:

CIN           Sv IP xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 ADP
===========   == == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===
L.Sims        18 73 4.09 1.30 11.0  2.6  1.2 419
A.Garrett (L) 16 58 3.26 1.24 12.4  2.9  1.4 452

These are two very good skill sets, but Garrett's projection is just better. The issue is really about how will he do against right-handers. Garrett is death on lefties with a .258 OPS against in 2020. But the .807 OPS against for right-handers could prevent him from owning the closer role outright. Expectations should be tempered to a mix-and-match set up with Sims and Garrett and even perhaps some of Michael Lorenzen (RHP, CIN) and Tejay Antone (RHP, CIN) mixed in at times. What you are getting here is terrific ERA/WHIP and maybe a handful of saves, so price it accordingly.

Prior to his suspension that cost him all of 2020, Emmanuel Clase (RHP, CLE) was described as a reliever who threw 100-mph bowling balls, with a great walk rate. That's about as good a description as you could want. But then again, Cleveland also has James Karinchak (RHP, CLE) and he's pretty good too:

CLE           Sv IP xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 ADP
===========   == == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===
J.Karinchak   28 58 2.55 1.07 17.2  3.5  0.8 109
E.Clase        4 58 3.14 1.10  9.3  4.6  0.8 457

As you can see, Karinchak is ridiculous with a 17.2 Dom. He walks a lot more batters than Clase, and that may be a batter's only hope. Clase is almost certain to start the season in set-up. But if you want a guy with a 3.14 xERA--and you should--Clase is currently running well under the radar at a 457 ADP. If something happens to Karinchak, Clase is the next-best skill set in this pen.

Kansas City has a LIMA entry and it isn't incumbent closer Greg Holland (RHP, KC). It is not flamethrower Josh Staumont (RHP, KC). It is Scott Barlow (RHP, KC):

KC            Sv IP xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 ADP
===========   == == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===
G.Holland     18 58 3.79 1.21 10.1  2.8  1.1 355
J.Staumont     7 58 4.79 1.50 11.5  2.0  1.6 429
S.Barlow       7 58 3.63 1.22 10.6  3.6  1.1 510

Holland is expected to start the year as the closer. But Barlow is the better skill set. Barlow has a slightly better DOM and a far better CMD ratio. Staumont will attract buyers, but that 2.0 CMD and 1.6 HR/9 will make consistency an issue and keep him out of the closer role. Barlow at a 510 ADP is a terrific buy, with a very likely opportunity for more than just the skills help in ERA and WHIP by mid-season.

The New York Mets have been a fun team to follow this off-season, adding LIMA "A" Trevor May (RHP, NYM) to its stable of relievers. Furthermore, it is expected that fellow LIMA "A" Seth Lugo (RHP, NYM) will slide back into his lethal pen role for 2021:

NYM           Sv IP xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 ADP
===========   == == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===
E.Diaz        26 73 2.55 1.19 15.7  4.7  0.9  81
T.May          5 65 3.00 1.08 14.0  4.0  1.4 492
S.Lugo         4 80 3.27 1.10 10.6  4.7  1.2 342

Look at these three skill sets. And the Mets are trying to add more--possibly Brad Hand (LHP, FA). As great as Lugo and May are--and a 4.0+ CMD ratio is great--Diaz would have to fail or get hurt to give up the closer role. Lugo has a 24% K-BB%. May has a 27% K-BB%. These are truly elite numbers that you want from a skills stand-point. But don't buy Lugo or May expecting a closer. Expect top-shelf ERA and WHIP and let anything more be extra.

Philadelphia has been busy too, adding Archie Bradley (RHP, PHI) and Jose Alvarado (LHP, PHI). But the LIMA "A" here is holdover Hector Neris (RHP, PHI):

PHI           Sv IP xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 ADP
===========   == == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===
H.Neris       25 65 3.46 1.22 11.9  3.1  1.3 312
A.Bradley      5 65 3.73 1.26  9.8  3.2  0.7 444
J.Alvarado (L) 4 58 3.70 1.22 10.2  2.4  0.8 655

Neris is the projected closer. He probably deserves a mulligan for 2020 because he started the season with COVID at exactly the wrong moment, had to jump in before he could ramp up, and ultimately was so bad that he lost the closer role--again. But the imports were as bad or worse and now there are new imports to try to sort through.

Archie Bradley (RHP, PHI) and Jose Alvarado (LHP, PHI) have both been closers in recent years and have solid projected skill sets. Neris still has a better projected skill set, though, and a good spring will probably win him the role. His price is depressed mainly because he has lost the role in-season twice now, and so his reliability is not at all in line with his projected skill set.

There is also the risk that the Phillies will keep adding from the free agent ranks and come over the top with a bona fide named closer. But for now, Neris at a 312 ADP with the likelihood of saves and his skill set makes for a terrific LIMA buy.

Toronto has been searching all off-season for bullpen upgrades, so expect changes. But Jordan Romano (RHP, TOR) was a wunderkind in 2021 before he suffered a finger strain that cut his 2020 short. He is a LIMA "get" whether he is the closer or not, but currently, he has to be considered the favorite:

TOR           Sv IP xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 ADP
===========   == == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===
J.Romano      14 65 2.86 1.15 12.2  3.3  1.1 234
R.Dolis       12 58 4.00 1.31  9.9  2.5  1.2 417

Romano has the clearly superior skill set, yet the projections for saves are evenly split between Romano and Rafael Dolis (RHP, TOR). The ADPs don't believe it either, with Romano running well ahead of the other two at a 234 ADP. And it should be. The risk here is much greater that the Blue Jays buy a closer late over the idea that Bass or Dolis will outperform Romano. The risk makes Romano a very nice LIMA buy. (Since publication, the team added Kirby Yates (RHP, TOR). While Yates is healthy, expect him to close).

Washington closer Daniel Hudson (RHP, WAS) is getting the projected saves, but LIMA buy Tanner Rainey (RHP, WAS) is already being taken ahead of Hudson in early 2021 drafts:

WAS           Sv IP xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 ADP
===========   == == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===
D.Hudson      28 65 4.72 1.38  9.4  2.4  1.5 355
T.Rainey       5 58 3.15 1.19 12.9  3.0  1.2 319

From a skills standpoint, this is a no-brainer. And even with Hudson as the incumbent with the projected saves, buyers are sliding Rainey up. As they should. Rainey does have command flare ups from time to time, but this projection is rock solid and at ADP 319, you should buy this skill set. The saves will come sooner than later.

You yourself can easily do these same kinds of analysis. Go into the projections, sort the spreadsheet by team, then saves, then holds. Select the team(s) you want to examine, eliminate the rest, take the relievers with the best four or five projected xERAs and at least 40 projected innings, and see what you can dig out from a cheap skills standpoint. When you find relievers who have the best skills in a pen and a reasonably significant role but are not yet in the saves mix, that is where you can take a discount and buy upside.

Putting LIMA aside for the moment, there is a lot that can upset the apple cart for closer roles, too. Look at these remaining free agents:

FA            Sv IP xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9 ADP
===========   == == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===
B.Hand (L)    32 65 3.30 1.06 12.2  4.6  0.7 139
A.Colome      23 58 3.97 1.14  8.1  2.6  0.6 160
T.Rosenthal   21 58 3.37 1.22 13.0  2.9  0.9 171
K.Yates       14 44 2.74 0.98 13.3  5.4  0.8 217
M.Melancon    26 65 3.86 1.35  6.9  2.6  0.7 289

The skills are relatively pretty good. But also look at these ADPs. Buyers expect Brad Hand (LHP, FA), Alex Colome (RHP, FA), Trevor Rosenthal (RHP, FA), and Kirby Yates (RHP, FA) to land closer roles. On your lists, you might want to re-order them, though. For example, Colome's skill set is nowhere near as good as Yates's skill set and without a known team, the saves projections are pretty much just a placeholder. Since publication, Yates is now a Blue Jay (see above).

Even Mark Melancon (RHP, FA) is seen as have enough of a shot to get a 289 ADP. The point is, even if you think your January selections are safe, it may well be that they are not if one of these skill sets comes in over the top. And that is beyond the typical annual turnover for closers in-season.

Next column we check in on Arizona, Detroit, Oakland, Texas, and St. Louis because there are buying opportunities in these pens. Follow me on Twitter. @dougdennis41

Click here to subscribe

  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.