David Phelps has always been a jack-of-all-trades type pitcher, the prototyical swingman, who could work as a spot starter or long reliever. Phelps’s mediocre velocity, hovering around 90 MPH, always limited him to that sort of spot duty. At times, he would look great and give you something to dream on, but over the long haul that velocity would become his undoing and hitters would catch up to him.
Last year though, Phelps underwent a significant change during his time in the bullpen. His fastball velocity ticked up over 93 MPH (up over 3 MPH) and he was able to keep that velocity when he started games for the Marlins towards the end of the season. In fact, all of Phelps pitches enjoyed an increase in velocity. Predictably, this increased his effectiveness as both a starter and a reliever:
As a reliever:
As a starter:
Most fantasy owners were disappointed with the word that the Marlins were going to attempt to keep Phelps in the bullpen in 2017. A potential breakout starter for fantasy owners was lost. Possibly…
With a rotation presently consisting of Wei-Yin Chen, Edinson Volquez, Dan Straily, Tom Koehler and Adam Conley, it is not difficult to imagine a path for Phelps to find his way into the rotation before long. While preferred, a spot in Miami’s rotation is not Phelps’s only path to fantasy relevance.
Last year, prior to entering the rotation, Phelps was one of the Marlins’ primary set-up man. He managed to chip in four saves along with his ratio-helping work. A.J. Ramos is a very good reliever, but he almost lost his job to Fernando Rodney last year and in addition to keeping perhaps their best starting option – Phelps – in the pen, the Marlins also added Brad Ziegler. Although this may indicate a lack of faith in Ramos, the Marlins’ bullpen has become increasingly crowded with Ramos, Phelps, Ziegler and Kyle Barraclough. Having both Ziegler and Kyle Barraclaugh in the same pen clouds the chances that Phelps can seize the closer role even if Ramos does falter.
So his path to starting is presently blocked by an underwhelming collection of starters and although his closer is on shaky ground, there is a collection of arms fighting for that 8th inning role, how does Phelps find his way to fantasy value without a role change? What makes him worth drafting aside from the potential to excel in a role that he does not currently possess?
In today’s baseball world of increasing specialization, I would argue that David Phelps could become an Andrew Miller-lite, akin to what Rasiel Iglesias was for much of last year – a multi-inning reliever, who could give his team close to 100 innings out of the pen. That multi-inning relief role seems to align with the Marlins starting rotation, which is unspectacular to say the least. They will need someone to be a bridge for for the sixth and seventh innings in most games and that could be Phelps.
If this is his job, Phelps could truly excel. Consider that Phelps pitched 72.1 innings facing a batter for the first time in any given game, in any given role (be it starting or relieving). In those 72.1 innings, Phelps struck out 98 hitters – that is well over 12 K/9. If he was a full-time reliever and approached 90 innings – he threw 86 last year, at that strikeout rate, Phelps would contribute 123 strikeouts to his owners’ bottom line. That would be tied with Andrew Miller and just 3 Ks behind Dellin Betances for the MLB lead among relievers.
Ultimately, that is the point with Phelps, he has multiple paths to produce good value for fantasy owners. You can draft him for a bottom dollar price (NFBC ADP: 437.38 – 52nd among RPs) and, at minimum, he’s going to supplement your staff with high quality ratios and strikeouts. You also get dibs on the upside if he does find his way into a more traditional fantasy production role of either a closer or a starter. For this reason, we welcome David Phelps to the Villar Village.
Villar Village Inhabitants:
1B/2B/SS/OF. Nick Franklin – TB
OF. Alex Dickerson – SD
OF. Charlie Tilson – CHW
SP. Tyler Skaggs – LAA
1B. Dan Vogelbach – SEA
1B/2B/3B/SS/OF. Sean Rodriguez – ATL
OF. Matt Joyce – OAK
SP. Brandon Finnegan – CIN