With Opening Day of the 2020 MLB season just a few weeks away, we have a new batch of updated fantasy baseball rankings for you here at RotoBaller. The unpredictable effects of COVID-19 and the implementation of the 60-game season will make the upcoming fantasy campaign the most unique we have ever seen. Not only because of the schedule structure, but because of the inevitable impact of the pandemic.
Drafting healthy players will be like walking through a minefield this year since we've already seen a wide range of players test positive for the virus. Even though these players should recover in time for the beginning of the campaign, the long-term impact could compromise their strength and endurance. The in-season struggle of maintaining the players' well-being will be a balancing act, so we can only hope all players and staff do their part to keep everyone healthy. With two-thirds of games now played within the division and the remaining third versus interleague counterparts, this setup gives some hitters in certain divisions advantages over others. Considering the effect of Park Factors and the pitching staffs they'll face within their division, factoring in these elements is essential in such a short season.
Don't forget to bookmark our main fantasy baseball rankings page which is loaded up with rankings, tiers, auction dollar values, player stats, projections, news and more for Mixed Leagues, H2H Points Leagues, Dynasty Leagues, 2020 Redraft Prospects, Dynasty Prospects and more! With that said, let's analyze the landscape of the relief pitcher position and check in on closers.Editor's Note: Love the strategy of season-long fantasy sports? Live for the short term gratification of DFS? Try Weekly Fantasy Sports on OwnersBox - a new weekly DFS platform. Sign up today for a FREE $50 Deposit Match. Offer expires Thursday night! Sign Up Now!
Updated Relief Pitcher Rankings - 5x5 Mixed Leagues
|Rank||Tier||Player||Pos||Nick M||Nick G||Pierre||David||Riley|
|130||12||Duane Underwood Jr.||RP||610||#N/A||#N/A||#N/A||#N/A|
|147||12||Carl Edwards Jr.||RP||668||#N/A||#N/A||#N/A||#N/A|
If you had to guess, how many relievers were top-100 players in 2019 5x5 leagues? The answer is 14, with another 16 appearing between 100-150. This expands to roughly 25% of the top-200 being RP-eligible arms. With the short season, the volatility with relievers will be shocking. One bad outing can throw off the ranks for a month or more.
Josh Hader was great in 2018 and aside from a homer issue, many metrics improved in 2019. His swinging-strike rate soared, from 19% to 22.7%, which yielded a 47.8% strikeout rate -- over six percentage points higher than the next-best qualified RP, Nick Anderson.
He did this while trimming his walk rate to 6.9% from 9.8% and his .232 BABIP was close to the career .228 mark, but homers don’t factor into that. His 21.4% HR/FB rate and 1.78 HR/9 did all it could to inflate his 2.62 ERA. Strikeouts and homers, the 2019 way. Still, his 1.78 SIERA made him the only qualified RP with a mark south of 2.00 and I’m here for his being the first off the board.
Given the recent news that Hader’s workload may err on the “more managed” side, I won’t totally begrudge anyone for fading Hader in lieu of Kirby. Yates’ 2.05 SIERA was second to Hader’s rate, while his 41.6% strikeout rate was third-best, just behind Nick Anderson. While Milwaukee had to turn to Matt Albers or Jeremy Jeffress in years past to ease Hader’s workload, Yates owned the closer role.
Usually, you’d see Aroldis Chapman or Roberto Osuna up here at the top, but Chapman tested positive for COVID-19 and Roberto Osuna reported late to camp. I'm okay putting Osuna closer to David's 137 rank at this point, as this is not an encouraging signal:
Astros manager Dusty Baker said "we're not sure" if closer Roberto Osuna will be ready for opening day. Osuna has not thrown off the mound during summer camp. He reported late, according to Baker, and was "in fair shape."
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) July 19, 2020
So we acknowledge the risk on Osuna and Chapman, with Kenley Jansen also recently recovering from COVID-19. He’d been dealing with lowered velocity last season, but working with Driveline this offseason reportedly has him breathing fire again. He’s always been a fly-ball pitcher and as such, 2018’s and 2019’s “higher” (for him) ERAs with a low WHIP add up with homers and fly outs. The last two seasons have also seen him post human 6% walk rates after that incredible 2.7% clip in ‘17 -- just small things worth noting. He remains a top-10 option, but he’s no longer in the upper echelon.
I’m aware that wins aren’t the deciding factor when it comes to chasing save opportunities, but I’d rather have a talented reliever on a strong team than a weak one. I’m not sure why Hand is sliding as the season approaches, as Cleveland should vie with Minnesota (perhaps the White Sox too) for the AL Central. His 2.93 SIERA was 18th among 158 qualified relievers, with a stellar 34.7% strikeout rate that’ll play up in any format.
Hendriks’ stock gets more comfortable with Treinen going to LAD after floundering. Hendriks averaged 96.5 mph on his fastball after sitting 94-95, and his curveball rose from 82 mph to 84 with an increased rate of 7.8% from 1.8% in ‘18. The added heat clearly helped, as hitters pulled a career-low 26.5% of batted balls off of him, which eased the damage done by the 49.5% fly-ball rate. You’ll notice Hendriks is the highest “polarizing” arm, with Nick G ranking him 84th -- ahead of Yates -- yet Pierre putting him lower than Hansel Robles, Craig Kimbrel, and Raisel Iglesias at 150th.
Oakland is notorious for turning over the closer position and as we pointed out, Hendriks’ success was based on new gains. Does he keep enough of the gains in ‘20 to continue to be elite and deserving of this spot among more established options? It seems that myself, David, and Riley split the difference, landing somewhere in the middle.
When viewing the K-BB% leaderboard, you’ll see Hader, Yates, Anderson, Felipe Vazquez (who can be erased,) Hendriks, and then Ken Giles. The 1.87 ERA was his best mark since 2015, as he was another who allowed fewer homers while enjoying the strikeout spike. Interestingly enough, the 42.1% fly-ball rate was a career-high, but he survived.
— Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling) July 17, 2020
I want to believe in Edwin Diaz enjoying better luck, but my philosophy on “luck” when it comes to 2019’s stats has to be different. The bar has to be moved, expectations reset, because hitters’ approaches differed and the ball was altered. After posting an elite 1.96 ERA/0.79 WHIP with an absurd 1.49 SIERA, reasonable .281 BABIP, and solid 0.61 HR/9 in 2018, Diaz cratered in ‘19. The 2.63 SIERA would have you think, “it can’t be that bad,” but it was. The 5.59 ERA/1.38 WHIP rose with a ballooned .377 BABIP and 2.33 HR/9. A high BABIP won’t necessarily come back down just like that. Still, I would be happy to get Diaz near the 11th or 12th round of 12-team drafts as a discount RP1/2.
Minnesota allowed a budding star in Taylor Rogers to take the ninth after he posted a 2.63 ERA/0.95 WHIP in 2018, which he followed up with an eerily similar 2.61 ERA/1.00 WHIP in ‘19. But 30 saves last season compared to two in ‘18 makes for quite the fantasy jump, let alone going from a 28.9% strikeout rate to 32.4% while posting a 50.6% groundball rate and 4% walk rate. Seriously, it’s a sabermetric dream come true. I’m probably too low on him here as my RP9, though Aroldis Chapman unofficially slips more with each day that he doesn’t report.
And while Nick Anderson may not be Tampa Bay’s concrete closer, he could vie with Hader for the most-effective reliever crown. 2019 was his first MLB season, and Anderson was spotty in Miami, throwing more curves instead of leaning in with his fastball. In Miami, BrooksBaseball has him as 56% fastball and 44% slider, with that going to 66.5% fastball/33.5% slider after the trade. But he says it’s definitely a curve!
Anyway, he would casually post a 41/2 K/BB rate and 2.11 ERA (1.03 SIERA!) across 21 ⅓ IP. Tampa will be Tampa and play with the matchups, but they’re still an above-average team in the “East” for this short season and should have many leads to protect. Anderson will be out there often, ringing up hitters like it’s his job. Because it is his job.
Following the rebound theme, Craig Kimbrel faltered after joining the Cubs in the middle of the season. A lack of preseason prep and normal routine didn’t pan out, but he may have been tipping pitches. There’s a lot to unpack, but he’s a top-five closer when on. I wouldn’t draft both Diaz AND Kimbrel, but they both offer discounted pricing for a high ceiling.
Be careful when evaluating Brandon Workman’s 2019. It was both real and spectacular, but replicable is another story. He was one of eight relievers with at least 100 strikeouts, and just one of three to meet that mark while posting an ERA below 2.00. The other two are the higher-priced Hendriks and Yates. He allowed just one barrel all season long, which is amazing, but a 2.6% HR/FB rate isn’t going to hold water in Fenway Park two years in a row. And that 15.7% walk rate can create trouble quickly if he doesn’t get it under control. I agree with ATC, which has him around a 3.35 ERA/1.25 WHIP.
Hansel Robles and Alex Colome are both steady closing options on decent teams, though Ty Buttrey and Aaron Bummer are capable of stepping in. In a short season, managers cannot be as patient with these mid-tier closers that aren’t viewed as stars. It’s not a surefire attitude, but it’s an understood risk. And then Sean Doolittle won’t be overworked last year, as Davey Martinez learned the hard way that taxing his shoulder wears him down. Let's hope the reinforced 'pen can avoid this:
The state of the Nationals bullpen at the time forced Davey Martinez to burn out Sean Doolittle early. But once the lefty returned from a late-summer break, he returned to his top form and had a dominant postseason. https://t.co/C5rp250Neo
— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) November 25, 2019
We’ll see how Rangers utilize Leclerc in 2020, with reports floating that he could be used across several late innings in high-leverage spots. It won’t surprise me if Rafael Montero vultures a few saves, and there’s always the possibility Leclerc’s command slips like in 2019. He had a beautiful 100 strikeouts in just 68 ⅔ IP, but the ballooned 13% walk rate saw him relegated to lower-leverage spots.
Neris got a late start at camp but should be okay to start the season as their usual stopper. A tumultuous 2018 resulted in a demotion to the minors, but he had a feel for his splitter throughout 2019. The 2.93 ERA/1.02 WHIP with 89 K’s in 67 ⅔ IP had him ranked 100th overall in 5x5 formats, as he cut his fly-ball rate by nearly 10 percentage points while simultaneously enjoying a 114-point drop in BABIP. Fewer flies normally means a higher BABIP, so anticipate some give at WHIP.
Joe Jimenez flashes top-10 RP stuff, but inconsistent stretches and poor results leave us wanting more. We have a rather narrow band of ranks for him around 200th, except for David at 283rd. In 2018, Jimenez had a 3.14 SIERA with a 4.31 ERA, and his 3.41 SIERA last season was overshadowed by a 4.37 ERA. After a rough July 17 outing, Jimenez posted a 2.55 ERA with 31 strikeouts to seven walks over 24 ⅔ IP. Of the seven runs allowed, five of them came on solo homers. He didn’t issue a walk over his final eight appearances of the season and this is who you hope you’re drafting:
Which Joe Jiménez strikeout is your favorite? pic.twitter.com/rRsZgoYEdQ
— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) June 23, 2020
Seth Lugo made the leap to fantasy-relevant elite middle reliever in 2019. Despite pitching 21 fewer innings, he struck out one more hitter compared to 2018. His 28% K-BB rate was nearly 10 percentage points above his ‘18 clip, and he largely avoided the homer boom. We can thank Citi Field for some of that friendliness. The Mets bringing on Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha bode well for Lugo’s staying in the bullpen, where he shines.
I may be overreacting with the lowest rank on Gallegos, but his reporting to camp with five days until Opening Day has me shaken. Combine that with Helsley being talked up and a potential fireman role for Gallegos, and I’m hard-pressed to justify a higher price tag. If I’m chasing strong ratios, big K’s and part of the ninth, I can get that later.
I’m focusing on the true relievers here, but many of you will have SP/RP types that can help you manipulate a roster. Now, Keone Kela is unavailable thanks to a positive COVID-19 test, leaving Kyle Crick, Nick Burdi, and perhaps Richard Rodriguez as Pittsburgh’s committee. While I’m a fan of Burdi in the long run, especially since Kela is a strong trade candidate, but none of these are immediate adds. They’re still likely to install Kela as the closer ASAP to bolster his trade value.
My forever favorite in this tier is Seattle’s Austin Adams, who will be part of the M’s closer committee and has elite strikeout stuff. I’ve waxed poetic about him in several spots, as his ability to record a strikeout rate north of 40% is rare. The Mariners may need him for high-leverage spots and keep the committee open to Matt Magill and Yoshihisa Hirano (when healthy), but Adams is the arm to speculate on.
With Roberto Osuna potentially unavailable to open the season, Ryan Pressly could be Houston’s closer to start the year. He’s dealing with a blister, but it sounds minor. Even without that role boost, Pressly is one of the best non-closing arms in the game. He played through a nagging injury in the second half, but his All-Star first half is far more indicative of his skill.
Zack Britton is another pitcher who gets a jump with Chapman out to start. But his strikeout potential has faded in recent years and I don’t love banking on ratios alone. Usually, drafters lose out on having to pay a Yankee Tax for those in pinstripes, but short-season ADP weirdness may suppress Britton and keep him cheap.
Most of these arms still have a share of the ninth, with Dellin Betances possessing the greatest upside. While Diaz is capable of being the RP1, he could also go the Jeurys Familia route and flame out once again. Betances missed nearly all of ‘19, but he still struck out the only two batters he faced. Before that, he’d struck out 115 in 66 ⅔ IP for a gaudy 42.3% K rate. We have to hope his velocity returns in full after reports he topped out at 93 MPH in early July, but his upside eclipses that of this tier.
You can scoop lesser strikeouts or ratios in Tony Watson or Wade Davis, but I don’t want Davis with Coors and the DH. Watson has a cheaper “platoon-mate” in Tyler Rogers, with neither owning the ninth. I'm certainly higher on Watson for traditional 5x5 purposes, but that's only because I think Rogers is clearly the more effective arm and may often be used in non-save situations. Still...
💪Coming in to close for the #SFGiants: Tyler Rogers
👀Rogers has allowed an OBP of just .232 (69 PA's) since the '19 ASG Break (t-14th best)
🔒 it down - he's walked 1 of 38 batters (2.6%) in close/late situations since the '19 ASG Break (4th best) pic.twitter.com/PZYJeLugSx
— KXSF Sports (@KXSFsports) July 18, 2020
Meanwhile, Brandon Kintzler could offer profits in Miami but his career 17.1% strikeout rate (21.1% last season) is unimpressive. The 4.06 xFIP behind last year’s 2.68 ERA has me cautious, but you can usually snag him late in drafts so there’s little opportunity cost.
At this point, you’re targeting talent and hoping for the best. Cleveland may be hiding 2020’s Nick Anderson in James Karinchak, who was straight up masterful across the minors in 2019. Between Rookie Ball, Double-A and Triple-A, Karinchak struck out 74 in just 30 ⅓ IP. Read that again, let it sink in. He had a cup of coffee with five MLB appearances in September, striking out eight while walking one over 5 ⅓ IP. The tools are there.
Look for Corey Knebel to take some of the heavy innings off of Hader’s plate as the season wears on, but he still needs to be game-ready. That may take an extra week in July, but the rest of Milwaukee’s bullpen isn’t that threatening and Knebel has that Proven Closer experience from 2017’s 39-save campaign. With a career 34.7% strikeout rate, those who don’t pay for saves should target Knebel as a high-ceiling option.
There are several SP/RP arms that fall here without being “true” relievers, but we’ll focus on the RPs of interest. Matt Magill, Kyle Crick, and Daniel Hudson have shares of the ninth to start, with high-upside handcuffs present in Ty Buttrey, Rafael Montero, and a ton of Twinkies in Tyler Duffey, Sergio Romo, Trevor May, and even Tyler Clippard.
While Ian Kennedy owns the ninth for KC, there’s no doubting Trevor Rosenthal is more effective when on. Kennedy’s 3.41 ERA (3.46 SIERA) with a career-best 27.4% strikeout rate was great, we’ll see if the Royals can flip him and his bloated starting-pitcher contract at the deadline. But Rosenthal’s 37.6% strikeout rate from 2017 before injuries deterred his career.
Let me also point out that Toronto has very little established behind Ken Giles, with sharp relievers in Rafael Dolis and Jordan Romano behind Anthony Bass’ veteran setup man slot.
Jordan Romano struck out the side in his lone inning of work, throwing 9 of 14 pitches for strikes and topping out at 98 mph on the gun.#BlueJays continually mentioning Romano and high-leverage work in the same sentence.
— Scott Mitchell (@ScottyMitchTSN) July 16, 2020
And when in doubt for 2020, you should side with the Rays. That team knows how to work with unorthodox approaches and clearly maximizes their bullpen arms. Look at Oliver Drake, Chaz Roe, and Peter Fairbanks if you need deep-league K’s with plus ratios.