Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide: Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Position Depth
Published: Feb 17, 2023
Updated: Feb 17, 2023
In last week’s article, we focused on the cream of the crop from among fantasy baseball’s closers. Some of the relievers featured last week are being scooped as early as the first round of some preseason drafts. The closer position can be extremely volatile, but you don’t need to take your fantasy closer that early in drafts to be competitive in the saves category. In fact, there are plenty of quality closers worth targeting in the middle rounds of your drafts.
The relievers we’ll focus on today have more risk (health and usage based on team strategy) associated with them than the relievers we analyzed last week, but each of them has been projected to save at least 25 games or more by at least one of the major projection systems. For the purpose of this article, we’ll be referencing FantasyPros consensus ADPs.
Fantasy Baseball Closers and Relief Pitcher ADP Rankings
7th-8th Round Closers and Relief Pitchers
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Recent injury concerns (knee, neck) caused Pressly to just miss being included in our top-five closer article. The good news is that he hasn’t suffered any arm injuries of late, but with two stints on the IL last season and with his being 34 years old this season, there are some potential injury concerns. If Pressly can stay healthy, he’s still a very effective pitcher who’ll get plenty of save opportunities as the closer for the world champion Astros. Pressly’s hard-hit rate decreased for the second season in a row and his slider is still very effective and generating a 51.7 Whiff%. In addition, opposing hitters have a .133 BAA his curveball, which per Statcast, has a curve spin in the 100th percentile. Most of the major projection models (including Steamer, ATC and The Bat) agree that he’ll save at least 30 games this season.
Félix Bautista, Baltimore Orioles
Armed with a four-seam fastball that routinely hit triple digits on the radar gun and a filthy splitter which induced a 53.3 Whiff % and a .087 BAA, Bautista pitched to a 2.19 ERA in his breakout 2022 season. He converted 15 of 17 save opportunities once former Orioles closer Jorge López was traded to the Twins. He is on the cusp of developing into an elite closer, but Bautista needs to work on his plate discipline. He walked 3.1 batters per nine innings last season and Bautista’s 5.1 BB/9 rate in seven minor league seasons is even more concerning. Bautista spent the winter rehabbing his left knee and his spring debut will be delayed until he completes a strengthening program on his right shoulder. He’ll likely be ready for Opening Day and with a full season as the Orioles’ closer, he has 30 game save potential.
Ryan Helsley, St. Louis Cardinals
Helsley has just about everything that a fantasy manager could ever want from a fantasy baseball closer. He throws a blazing fastball that consistently hits 100 MPH on the radar gun, he misses bats (53.5 Whiff % on his slider) and he has good control over his pitches. Helsley lowered his BB/9 from 5.13 in 2021 to 2.78 last season. Per Statcast, his K%, xBA, Fastball Velocity, Fastball Spin, and xERA/xwOBA are all in the 99th percentile or higher. Helsley led the Cardinals with 19 saves last season but manager Oliver Marmol has shied away from naming a dedicated closer in the past. Giovanny Gallegos saved 14 games for the Cards last season and remains on the team. With Marmol known for utilizing his relievers based on a best matchup strategy, there’s a potential that Helsley’s 2023 save totals may be capped. The major projection models predict that Helsley will save upwards of 30 games, but if Marmol makes Helsley the team’s primary closer, a save total approaching 40 is more likely.
Kenley Jansen, Boston Red Sox
If there’s one word that can be used to describe Kenley Jansen, it’s consistency. Jansen led the NL with 41 saves last season making it the 10th-consecutive full season (excluding 2020) that Jansen saved at least 25 games. He’ll be 36 years old by the end of this season and he has a heart condition. However, opposing batters still can’t hit Jansen’s cutter (.170 BAA) and his 2022 xERA/xwOBA and overall xBA were in the 97th and 98th percentile, respectively. Jansen might not strikeout as many batters as he did in his prime, but his 11.95 K/9 was his highest since the 2020 season. Jansen is also still very aggressive on the mound. Last season’s 68.5 F-strike% was well above the 61.4 league average. We’re likely to see some regression from Jansen’s 2022 save total, but a save total approaching 30 this season is a definite possibility.
9th-10th Round Closers and Relief Pitchers
Raisel Iglesias, Atlanta Braves
Iglesias has 157 career saves. He slumped early last season with the Angels as he fell victim to the long ball (4.04 ERA, 1.3 HR/9), but he turned things around once he was traded to the Braves. Iglesias didn’t get many save opportunities as Kenley Jansen’s setup man, but he pitched to a 0.34 ERA, held 15 games in 28 appearances, and didn’t give up a home run. Overall, he had an above average 40.4 O-swing% (the league average was 32.6%) and accordingly his chase rate was in the 97th percentile, per Statcast. Steamer, ATC and The Bat all project that Iglesias will save 30 games this season.
Camilo Doval, San Francisco Giants
At first glance, Doval’s 2022 stats were impressive. He pitched to a 2.53 ERA and saved 27 games, but his above average 4.0 BB/9 contributed to a lackluster 1.241 WHIP. Doval did show some improvement in his control as the season progressed, posting a 2.57 BB/9 and 1.00 WHIP in his last 14 games of the 2022 season. Doval also did a good job of keeping the ball in the park. He’s always been a ground-ball pitcher but once he added a sinker to his repertoire in July, his GB% shot up to close to 70% for the remainder of the season. Doval’s overall ground ball rate for the season was 56.4% and that helped lower his HR/9 from 1.33 in 2022 to 0.53. The major projection models predict that he’ll save between 27 and 34 games. While there’s reason to be optimistic about Doval’s future based on his late season success, those projections might be a bit too enthusiastic. Save totals in the 25 to 30 range are probably more realistic.
Closers and Relief Pitchers After the 10th Round
Clay Holmes, New York Yankees
Holmes, who has developed into an extreme ground ball pitcher (75.8 ground ball rate), was virtually unhittable in the early part of the 2022 season. With a deadly sinker and slider combination, he wrestled the closer’s role away from a struggling Aroldis Chapman and for a time he was one of the best closers in the game. He lost his closer's gig when he suddenly developed control issues starting in July, and a back strain eventually forced him to the IL in August. Holmes pitched much better upon his return from the IL and will likely start the season as the Yankees’ closer. Barring any injury setbacks and with the Yankees expected to have another winning season, Holmes could be a major contributor in the saves category.
David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates
Some fantasy managers might avoid drafting Bednar this preseason because he pitches for the win-challenged Pittsburgh Pirates, but the major projection models all predict that he’ll save at least 25 games this season. Bednar missed seven weeks of the 2022 season due to a back injury but still managed to post a 2.61 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and he saved 19 games in 45 appearances. His 12.02 K/9 was the highest of his career and his BB/9 decreased for the third season in a row. Bednar lowered his BB/9, down from a career high of 4.09 to last season’s 2.79. His HR/9 also decreased for a third-straight season, down from a career high 2.45 in 2019 to 0.70 last season. With Bednar’s skill set and the fact that he plays his home games in a pitcher’s park, he’s likely to have another productive season. However, rostering Bednar comes with the risk that the Pirates might try to move Bednar at the MLB trade deadline if they find themselves out of contention. If they do so, he might not be the closer for his new team.
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Bard was the one Rockies pitcher that you wanted on your fantasy team last season. His 34 saves were the fifth most in baseball and Bard posted a 1.79 ERA and a 0.994 WHIP. He was equally effective when pitching at Coors Field (1.97 ERA) or on the road (1.59 ERA). Pitching at Coors Field can be tough, but with a second straight season with a declining hard-hit rate and a ground ball rate of 51.7, Bard made it look easy. He gave up just three home runs (two at home) in 60.1 IP last season. Bard’s velocity was up across the board last season and even though he’ll be 38 years old this June and was out of baseball for six years (2014-2019), he’s still got plenty of mileage left on his arm.
Scott Barlow, Kansas City Royals
Some fantasy managers are concerned that the Royals’ addition of Aroldis Chapman to their bullpen will limit Barlow’s potential production this season. With the way Chapman pitched last season, that should not be a concern. Barlow had a good 2022 season, pitching to a 2.18 ERA and posting a 1.00 WHIP. However, the recent loss of velocity on all of his pitches is somewhat concerning and could have contributed to a third straight season of declining K/9. Without his mid-90 MPH fastball, Barlow started using his curveball a bit more last season and that helped him raise his O-swing% to a career high 38.1%. The Royals are expected to have another tough season and there might not be too many save opportunities to go around. Nevertheless, the major projection models predict that Barlow could save between 20 to 25 games this season.
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Related MLB Links:
- 2023 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide
- 2023 Fantasy Baseball MLB Preseason Projections
- 2023 MLB Fantasy Baseball Rankings
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide: Top 5 Fantasy Baseball Catchers
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide: Fantasy Baseball First Base Position Depth
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide: Fantasy Baseball Second Base Position Depth
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide: Fantasy Baseball Third Base Position Depth
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide: Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Position Depth