Fantasy Baseball: The 12 most useful non-closing relief pitchers (led by Josh Hader, of course)
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Draft Day is all about starters and closers. They’re the most impactful arms in Fantasy Baseball, and you want to give your team the highest possible ceiling from the get-go.
But there comes a point in the season when you have to cut your losses and make the best of a bad situation.
That’s not to say you should stop chasing potential breakouts at starting pitcher. There’s a new one every week, so if you stay diligent, you’re likely to corral one or two with legitimate staying power. But that’s more of an exercise for your bench at this point. You can’t play those games with your starting lineup anymore. Particularly if you’re buried in ERA and WHIP, you need to start making some headway, and that’s when employing a middle reliever or two can make sense.
Obviously, it has to be someone you trust. It’s different from chasing saves targets, which is something we do with regularity in the Bullpen Report. Frankly, closer candidacy doesn’t need to be any part of this discussion, which is all about foregoing the chance at a game-changer for … maintenance, essentially. And because middle relievers are in such low demand on Draft Day, you’ll find no shortage of potential contributors when the time comes for you to make that concession.
Some of the biggest outliers are probably owned already — looking at you, Josh Hader — but chances are you can get your hands on most of these top 12 (and I’ve thrown in a few honorable mentions for good measure).
Note: This approach has far more utility in categories leagues, such as standard Rotisserie, than points, where wins and saves have the greatest say in Fantasy value. Yup, starters and closers remain your only hope in that format.
Clearly on a different level from everyone, ranking 31st in all the majors in strikeouts as a reliever. Between the multi-inning appearances and those occasions when the Brewers depart from convention and leave him in for the save, Hader might be the one middle reliever worth using even in points leagues.
The pitcher who popularized the use of middle relievers in Fantasy is still as bankable as any of them, with four-year lows of a 2.04 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 13.6 K/9. Hamstring and back injuries set him back early, the latter briefly contributing to a lapse in control, but he’s feeling good now and likely to take off.
Hader’s 192-strikeout pace is of course making headlines, but Adam Ottavino is himself on pace for 149 thanks to a renewed emphasis on command and a GIF-worthy slider that he can manipulate with different breaking points. Worried about Coors Field? He has allowed just one hit there this year.
Manger Brian Snitker recently mentioned Dan Winkler as a potential candidate for saves, but it so far hasn’t amounted to anything. It’s irrelevant for the purposes of this column, of course, but it confirms what the numbers show: He’s actually the Braves‘ best reliever, one who they bent over backward to keep on their roster through three injury-plagued seasons after selecting him from the Rockies in the Rule 5 draft.
Last year’s unsung relief ace is at it again, leading a stacked Yankees bullpen in innings while trailing only Aroldis Chapman in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. A former starter, he’s often asked to pitch more than an inning at a time, which is a good way to pile up innings and, with them, strikeouts.
Three for one? Think it as a bonus rather than me taking a shortcut. Truth is I’m not sure how to distinguish between Chris Devenski, Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock anymore. All three would probably be starting with any other organization, but the Astros have instead turned them into late-inning bat-missers, any of whom is capable of pitching multiple innings any night. Of course, the downside to Devenski being cloned twice is the Astros don’t need him to throw 80 innings again.
With a 3.22 FIP and .400 BABIP, it’s safe to say Dellin Betances deserves better than his ERA so far. His velocity, swinging strike rate and K/9 all suggest his stuff is as overpowering as ever, which is notable because the 30-year-old has a history of offering better strikeout totals than some starting pitchers.
The submariner has the look of a young Darren O’Day, his throwing motion transforming ordinary velocity into exceptional stuff. It allows him to bounce back quicker, which has so far led to more innings and everything that goes with them. You also won’t many late-inning relievers with his elite ground-ball rate.
Though he maybe steals some save chances with Raisel Iglesias sidelined by a strained biceps, Amir Garrett has carved out more of Josh Hader role, coming in for four or five outs late in games as he awaits his shot in the starting rotation. It’s helping his stuff play up, though, and obviously leading to more innings than most relievers get.
Carl Edwards is a little erratic, which can lead to rough patches like we saw in mid-May, but he’s one of the best bat-missers in all of baseball, boasting a swinging-strike rate on par with Aroldis Chapman. If you need a reliever to pad your strikeout total, he’s a surefire choice.
With a lower FIP than even Hader, Richard Rodriguez is one of this year’s biggest breakouts at relief pitcher, and he has done it with a skill that often falls by the wayside among late-inning fireballers: command. His ability to spot his mid-90s fastball (he peaks at 95 mph — nothing special by today’s standards) has turned it into a bona fide swing-and-miss pitch, with the added bonus of a low walk rate.
Though not a runaway choice for this spot, David Robertson’s reliability earns him the nod, his history of dominance speaking for itself. A crooked line a couple weeks ago has his ERA over 4.00, but his 2.97 FIP is more indicative of his performance. Good relievers come and go, but he has had an eight-year run with 2.57 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 12.1 K/9.
Honorable Mentions: Archie Bradley, ARI; Kyle Barraclough, MIA; Seranthony Dominguez, PHI; Jace Fry, CHW; Mychael Givens, BAL; Jeremy Jeffress, MIL; Joe Kelly, BOS; Ryan Pressly, MIN; Noe Ramirez, LAA; Addison Reed, MIN; Kirby Yates, SD