2019 MLB Draft Guide: Set-Up Men to Target
Dan Malin takes a look at some of the top set-up men and how you can best use them to complement your fantasy baseball rotation.
It’s a funny thing about relievers. Most people just assume saves can be a category one can punt, especially in a points format if they aren’t valued properly. But there’s a shift occurring in fantasy sports to give not just closers, but set up men, more value. In deeper leagues or contests with categories that feature ratio pitching categories (K/9, K:BB) or holds, there’s an emphasis to give value to every relief pitcher. However, most teams don’t have a reliable closer so the closer position becomes a bit of a revolving door. So there are some relievers worth taking a shot on in the hopes they find themselves in position for saves later in the season. The following pitchers should definitely warrant some consideration on draft when building your team.
Josh Hader (Milwaukee Brewers) – We’ll start with the most obvious one from last season. Hader’s a hard-throwing southpaw whose fastball clocks in right around 94-95mph. And it’s not just his fastball, but he has a very deceptive slider as well. Hader is a strikeout machine so if you do play in a head-to-head categories league that utilizes strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) or strikeouts per walks (K:BB) then Hader should be in play. He had 143 strikeouts in 81.1 innings of work last year for a 15.82 K/9 (which is off the charts) and a 4.77 K:BB (also very high). The frustrating part about Hader is that he’s such a dominant relief pitcher, that you’d like to see him do more. I genuinely believed that there would be a time last season where Milwaukee moved him to the rotation, or at least when Corey Knebel struggled in 2018 that they’d make him the official closer. It just never came to fruition. He still got 12 saves with half of them coming before May 12th when Corey Knebel was unavailable. While the Brewers rotation may not have the best starts, they have a pretty damn good bullpen. Jeremy Jeffress should also be considered as well. From August 20th to the end of the year Jeffress collected 11 of his 15 saves on the year so it appears he could start 2019 where he left off in 2018. And don’t sleep on Corey Knebel earlier. If he can return to form after an injury doomed his 2018 season almost from the start, then he’s certainly worth keeping an eye on after a phenomenal campaign in 2017.
Will Smith (San Francisco Giants) – Hopefully Bruce Bochy gets it together in his final season with the Giants and opts to get jiggy with it and give the closer role to Will Smith over Mark Melancon . Smith is just better in almost every aspect of baseball. He holds the better ERA from 2018, the strikeout potential is better with Smith, and he allows fewer free passes. That’s also key with relievers. These guys are brought in for short stints so you obviously want to avoid seeing them give up free passes. Identifying relievers with a BB/9 under 3.00 is a good bar to set. And Smith hits that mark. It seems as if the Giants will start the season with Smith and Melancon in a small committee, which is deeply unfortunate and it’s unclear how good the Giants will even be this year after missing out on the Bryce Harper sweepstakes. But Smith should be the closer for this team. Unfortunately for now, he’s still considered a top notch set up man.
The Yankees Bullpen – Lets just encumber every arm in the Yankees bullpen and cut right to the chase. The Yankees have easily the best bullpen in the American League on paper and you can make a very strong argument they have the best pen in all of baseball over Milwaukee. They’re just loaded with talent while their division rival, Boston Red Sox, are struggling to decide between who their closer will be in Ryan Brasier or Matt Barnes . That’s laughable. The Yankees have maybe three-to-four set up men better than the Red Sox closer. Dellin Betances , Adam Ottavino , Zack Britton, and Chad Green are all great relief options. Hell, Zach Britton finished fourth in the 2016 AL Cy Young voting after his phenomenal campaign with the Orioles that season. Dellin Betances , like Josh Hader , is a high level strikeout machine (15.53 K/9) who also boasts a solid K:BB ratio (4.6). Adam Ottavino comes over from the Colorado Rockies and the Rockies have no worries about how he’ll do in Yankee Stadium after he logged a 2.10 ERA in Coors Field last season and a 12.98 K/9 on the season. Walks are a bit of a concern with him, but the risk is worth the gain with him. Chad Green is a hard throwing righty with a 2.22 BB/9 rate so you definitely want him in a league that utilizes ratio categories. Will any of these guys dethrone Aroldis Chapman ? It’s highly unlikely, but they can definitely still contribute to your fantasy team based on the information provided above.
Andrew Miller (St. Louis Cardinals) – Andrew Miller is an intriguing player because for the past few seasons he’s been the gold standard for set up men. He’ll turn 34 in May, but in each of the last seven seasons he’s had a K/9 in the double digits each year. But he’s coming off a 2018 campaign where his ERA was over 4.00 as was his walks per nine innings. That’s no Bueno. But he had a rough 2018 season because of a knee injury and there’s little competition in the bullpen for saves so if he’s healthy he could find himself in position to earn your fantasy team some saves. I’m not taking him over any of the previously-mentioned players or even over some of the arms we haven’t gotten to yet. But we have to recognize how dominant he was through 2017 as a set up man. He’s an honorable mention that still has some gas left in the tank. Jordan Hicks , Miller’s teammate, is worth a brief mention. It’s possibly he earns the closer’s job but he’s still incredibly young at just 22 years old. It’s possible he wins the job coming out of spring training and there’s no denying his stuff: he can hit 100mph on the radar gun with ease. His fastball is deadly. But he struggled mightily with command (5.21 BB/9 in 2018) and didn’t strikeout hitters at a clip similar to other elite set up men. So while Hicks has phenomenal heat, the control isn’t what you want from a closer and he’ll need to showcase great improvement in spring training.
Ryan Pressly (Houston Astros) – The Houston Astros know how to take good pitchers and make them even better. We’ve seen it with Justin Verlander , Gerrit Cole , and even Ryan Pressly who came over from Minnesota before last year’s trade deadline. In his stint with Houston Pressly finished the year with a 0.77 ERA, a 12.34 K/9, and a stellar 1.16 BB/9. In 23.1 innings of work with the Astros he gave up just one home run. Robert Osuna will open the season as the closer and he’ll likely stay in that position. However, don’t overlook Pressly. He’s becoming one of the elite set up men in the game.
A.J. Minter (Atlanta Braves) – I’m of the mindset the Braves eventually give Minter the closing job over Aroldys Vizcaino, but that’s yet to be confirmed. Minter did finish with 15 saves in 2018 and a pretty solid 0.44 HR/9. The ERA could’ve been better at 3.23 but he’s young and has room for improvement. He really only utilizes his fastball and cutter, but that worked out just fine for Mariano Rivera. Is he the next Mo? Hardly, but the Braves are a team on the rise with an abundance of young talent and there should be a nice amount of opportunities for saves should Minter win the closer’s job.
Joakim Soria (Oakland Athletics) – I actually really like Soria with the Athletics this season. I think a set up role is perfect for him with less pressure of being in the closer’s position behind Blake Treinen . Would he prefer to be getting saves? Absolutely, but he has just 42 total saves over the past four seasons. Earlier in his career he was a pretty dominant closer, but with Oakland he’ll settle in fine in a set up role. He gets strikeouts, he doesn’t walk many batters, and he keeps the ball in the park. The Oakland lineup is certainly very intriguing, and they could surprise some people after a Wild Card run last year.
Seranthony Dominguez (Philadelphia Phillies) – Thank God this guy is good and fantasy relevant because his name is fantastic. David Robertson comes over from the Yankees and figures to be the closer, but don’t sleep on the young right-hander. Dominguez likely won’t repeat or improve on the 16 saves he had last season, but he should record more than 14 saves. He recorded 74 punchouts in 58 innings last year with a 2.95 ERA. The walks came in at a slightly higher clip at 3.42 BB/9, but he’s young and can improve upon that. Expect Dominguez to make tremendous strides in 2019.
Joe Jimenez (Detroit Tigers) – Jimenez has a ton of potential with a great fastball, but his ERA from last year is a bit inflated a 4.31 because he had a pretty awful July and August. His 2.91 FIP suggests that perhaps he had some poor defense and bad luck overall. But he touted an 11.20 K/9 and a 0.72 HR/9 so he can keep the ball in the park. It’ll be a difficult challenge for him to push Shane Greene out of the closer’s role and the Tigers front office likely doesn’t want to push Jimenez into that level of a position just yet, so they’ll keep him in a set up position for now.
Trevor May (Minnesota Twins) – May is an interesting set up guy. He’s 29 years old, has never put it together for a full season, and yet he’s being looked at as a strong set up reliever. He only worked 25.1 innings last season, but they were very productive. He recorded 36 strikeouts to just five walks, but he was prone to the long ball. That’s what you get when pitching in Target Field in the dog days of summer. He has a modest fastball and a below average slider that he got crushed on last year, but his bread & butter will be his curveball and changeup as he gets nice velocity separation from his fastball. There isn’t a real solid closer in Minnesota so it’s possible May get some save opportunities, but it’s tough to imagine Minnesota going all in and giving him the job right away given his track record, but he did log the final three saves for the Twins in 2018. Don’t sleep on May’s teammate, Taylor Rogers , either. Rogers has 48 holds over the last two seasons and the Twins feel comfortable bringing him in for high-leverage scenarios.
Keone Kela (Pittsburgh Pirates) – Kela was the Rangers closer to start last season, but a trade right before the deadline to Pittsburgh somewhat killed his momentum and fantasy value. But the move to Pittsburgh actually did him some good. With the Rangers he had a 3.44 ERA and a 3.44 BB/9, but once he went to Pittsburgh he had a 2.93 ERA and a matching 2.93 BB/9. Kela was shut down in early September of last year, but it was to manage his workload. That’s relatively smart and good news to hear for a young pitcher. Kela likely won’t push Felipe Vázquez from the closer’s job, but he’s a solid set up option this year and could log 60-70 innings if Pittsburgh gets aggressive with him.
Jace Fry (Chicago White Sox) – Fry is still young, but a very talented southpaw in the White Sox bullpen who won’t get the recognition that Álex Colomé or Kelvin Herrera get. With those two battling for the closer’s job Fry will remain in a set up role. He had a 4.38 ERA last season, but a 2.67 FIP to go with a 12.27 K/9. He increased the usage on his slider and curveball with the former being his most valuable pitch in 2018. In time it would be nice to see what he could do as a starter, but if he remains in the bullpen working in front of the two veterans just mentioned then give him a look when drafting your team.
Others Worth Considering – Ryan Brasier in Boston is currently battling for the closer job with Matt Barnes now that it appears Boston won’t be bringing back Craig Kimbrel , but ultimately I believe Barnes wins the job over Brasier. Ty Buttrey should be the Angels closer (just my opinion though), but he’s worth being selected and picked up as a set up man. Jose Castillo in San Diego is worth monitoring, but he just got shut down a few days ago with forearm tightness and that’s an awful sign for a pitcher. Carl Edwards Jr. made this article last year and I was much higher on him then than I am now, but he’s still a good set up pitcher. Drew Steckenrider is also worth taking a shot on. He may find himself in position for saves if Sergio Romo can’t hang on to the job in Miami, assuming Romo is the one who wins it.