Relief Pitchers to Target in Fantasy Baseball

All throughout fantasy baseball draft season there was a ton of talk about saves and how there are so few known sources of them. Heading into the season it felt like two-thirds of the teams around the league did not have a set closer. At least half of those had more than two options they could turn to on a given night. It made drafting saves a nightmare if you did not get one of the early relievers.

Saves are still in demand during the season, but if you stay up to date and read bullpens correctly, you can find saves for cheap on the waiver wire. Typically, I will draft one set closer and then I just take cheap shots on a bullpen arms. If something sticks, great. If not, I continue to use that roster spot (s) on cheap speculative save arms. But that is not the only way you can utilize bullpen arms. There are a ton of great relievers that put up elite strikeouts and ratios, without picking up saves. Those pitchers tend to be overlooked in fantasy. That means you can find some of the best arms in baseball off the waiver wire.

Every week this article will look into three things: changing bullpens around the league, speculative shots you can take for cheap on a potential closer in waiting and relievers who are seeing high usage and giving elite strikeout and ratios. All three of these are useful fantasy pieces in different ways!

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Changing Bullpens

The Padres were one of those teams that had a number of different options for the ninth inning. But so far there has only been one option for the Padres – Taylor Rogers. The Padres swung a trade to land the former Twins closer right before the season and the lefty has made it pay off for them so far. He looks like the safe closer option here moving forward and him finishing inside the Top 10 closers is very much so in play.

The Cubs had a couple different options leading into the season, but so far there lone save opportunity has gone to David Robertson. And yes, I do mean that David Robertson. This is the guy who has picked up over 30 saves multiple times in his career with the Yankees and White Sox. Having thrown only 18 innings the past two seasons he was a forgotten man, but he is still averaging over a strikeout per inning. While he has only had the one chance, all signs in the Cubs pen point to him being the full time closer. If that is the case, he has the potential of securing over 30 saves this season. I nabbed him for $ 69 out of $ 1000 in a league this weekend and if he is still out there on waivers – nab him up!

Tuesday Night Update: David Robertson received and converted his second save chance of the season, further cementing himself as the Cubs closer.

The Rockies were a team that fantasy players thought they had a read on – as Alex Colome was drafted as the first Rockies reliever off the board in many drafts. But that has not been the case as all the save chances have gone to Daniel Bard so far. Bard picked up the first save of the season for the Rockies over the weekend – with Colome and Carlos Estevez, his biggest competition for saves, pitching in setup roles. Bard then received the second save opportunity on Monday but gave up a solo home run to tie the game. Look, that is part of the Daniel Bard experience, especially when pitching in Coors, but he sure seems like the closer here. Whichever pitcher is getting the save chances is the only Rockies reliever worth rostering.

The Red Sox have a couple of different options they can turn too, but Jake Diekman clearly seems like the guy in this pen. That was evident when the Sox turned to him against the heart of the Yankees lineup on Sunday Night Baseball after dropping the first two games of that series. Even before he got that save, he seemed like the guy. Garrett Whitlock has operated in a multi-inning role, Robles has been used when trailing and in set up roles and Matt Barnes was not used in that series at all. The best part is Diekman got his save late Sunday night, so waivers may have ran and he may still be sitting out there now. That needs to change the next time waivers run.

The Phillies have been no stranger to bullpen struggles. The first save of the year for the Phillies went to Corey Knebel, who manager Joe Girarid named the closer before the season. But then on Monday night, the Phillies turned to Brad Hand to pick up the save. While this originally seemed like an uncertain situation, we learned on Tuesday that Knebel has been placed on the Covid-19 reserve list. That is likely why he was not used on Monday night. For now, I feel confident saying Knebel is the closer moving forward and Hand is the next man in line. Familia was warming up while Hand pitched, likely indicating he is third in line for saves in this pecking order.

Cheap Speculative Saves

The Orioles have had one save opportunity this season and turned to Jorge Lopez. He is definitely the preferred option as of now, but there is Dillon Tate and Paul Fry who both could be in the mix as well. There is also Cionel Perez, who pitched the eighth inning when Lopez got the save. This is a team though where you only want to roster the arm getting the save chances and for now, that seems to be Lopez.

The Reds were featured more in this article than any other team last year. And they do not seem to be shying away from that this year. The first save chance of the season went to Tony Santillan, but then on Sunday it was Art Warren making easy work of the save chance. Then there are other arms like Hunter Strickland, Justin Wilson and Luis Cessa who could be in the save picture. This currently looks to be between Santillan and Warren – with Warren being the preferred option. He throws gas and made light work of the Braves in his lone save chance. If he remains out there on your waiver wire you should be a little aggressive (5-8 percent) trying to land him. Santillan is worthy of taking a flier on in Roto formats as well – but he is more just a player to throw three to five percent on to land him.

Tuesday Night Update: This one keeps getting trickier. Warren was brought into a 4-4 game in the seventh, while Santillan pitched the eighth. Strickland got the ninth and well … things did not go well as he allowed four runs and recorded one out. It’s clear Warren and Santillan are the relievers they trust the most, but that may mean using them in high leverage situations and not saving them for the ninth. Both should be rostered, but do not overspend.

The Rays are basically the AL version of the Reds – you just never know who will get the save chance on a given night. So far we have seen Brooks Raley and Andrew Kittredge pick up saves for the Rays. In both instances, JP Feyereisen pitched as the set up man. The Rays tend to save Kittredge for late inning usage, making him the preferred option for saves here. But Raley should also be rostered, as the Rays are tough to predict. Do not spend more than five percent on either of those arms given all the uncertainty.

The Mariners have had multiple pitchers pick up saves – but I believe they have tipped their hand in doing so. The first save of the season went to Drew Steckenrider getting the first save and Diego Castillo the second. Steckenrider picked up the save on Friday, with Paul Sewald pitching as the setup man. Sewald was who many thought would get the save chances, so him pitching in setup for Steckenrider is telling. Castillo got the save on Saturday, with Steckenrider likely being unavailable. That day, Andres Munoz pitched in setup. My read on this situation is that Steckenrider is option 1A, and Castillo is option 1B, who will be used when Steckenrider is unavailable. Both should be rostered, but do not bid too aggressively on either.

The Twins have yet to pick up a save this season, but Jhoan Duran did pitch the ninth when the Twins had a 4-0 lead on Monday night. That is the biggest clue we have received so far as to who will pick up their saves with Taylor Rogers now in San Diego. Duran has been filthy in his limited sample size, posting a strong strikeout rate and ratios. He is the top option to roster in this pen and you can grab him while he is still cheap. If he racks up a save or two, the price is going to shoot up.

The Giants bullpen may be the toughest to predict right now. We saw the first save opportunity of the season went to Camilo Doval, but he was shelled. We saw Jake McGee pitch in a setup role that game and that was what he did on Sunday as well, pitching in the seventh. Doval pitched in the eighth that night and the save chance went to Dominic Leone. I think all three, as well as Tyler Rogers, who received save chances last year, are in the picture to close. I would rank them Leone, Doval, McGee, Rogers, but this is the situation to have the least confidence in right now in the MLB. Leone you could go as high as five percent if you are desperate for saves, but each of these are more of a minimum bid add.

Elite Relievers who are not closers

Devin Williams is the face of elite relievers who do not get save chances. Unfortunately, the chances got to Josh Hader, but Williams is just as nasty. He has not allowed a run or baserunner this season and currently has a -0.89 xFIP and a 67 percent strikeout rate. He has a long track record of being an elite option out of the pen. While it likely takes an injury to Hader for him to get saves, Williams will always provide elite strikeouts and ratios.

Daniel Hudson currently sports a -1.49 xFIP, the lowest of any reliever who has thrown an inning this season. He also has struck out 75 percent of the batters he has faced so far and has not allowed an earned run. He currently sports a -1.49 xFIP and a 1.00 WHIP. Numbers like these do not matter much because we are dealing with a small sample size, but there are multiple seasons that back Hudson up as an elite reliever. Also, he would likely see save chances if Craig Kimbrel misses time at any point.

Emilio Pagan was always viewed as one of the best relievers in baseball until everything went wrong last year. Perhaps a change of scenery was all he needed as he has looked like his old self in a very small sample size. He has not allowed a run or baserunner this season, has a -0.89 xFIP, a 67 percent strikeout rate. Plus, the Twins are one of those bullpens that we are still figuring out how they will distribute the save chances and Pagan is very much so in play there. He can be added for very cheap.

Michael Fulmer has seen the save chances go to Gregory Soto early on, but there has been mixed results. He converted his lone save chance, but allowed the go ahead run to score in his other outing. Fulmer has pitched to a 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, with a 0.11 xFIP and a 43 percent strikeout rate. Again, this is such a small sample size it is hard to make any of these numbers, but he is pitching well like he did last season. He can provide ratios and is next in line for saves.

All stats and situations entering Tuesday, April 12th, unless otherwise stated.

Make sure to follow Michael on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio

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