Relief Pitcher Breakdown and Strategy

Rays Reliever Jose Alvarado (Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images North)

Rays Reliever Jose Alvarado (Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images North)

As I wrote earlier in the week, I find the top tier relievers to be highly overvalued. They’re often too vulnerable to losing their roles, underperforming, or getting injured for me to spend a top pick on them. There are so many ways to build a good fantasy bullpen that aren’t cost prohibitive. Let’s start by taking a look at the relievers I’m avoiding in 2019.

Tier 1:

Edwin Diaz, NYM (ADP 51)

Blake Treinen, OAK (ADP 63)

Kenley Jansen, LAD (ADP 76)

Aroldis Chapman, NYY (ADP 82)

Brad Hand, CLE (ADP 82)

Roberto Osuna, HOU (ADP 88)

Craig Kimbrel, FA (ADP 89)

Felipe Vazquez, PIT (ADP 92)

Edwin Diaz is about as close to the “perfect” reliever as you can find. He’s got elite strikeout rates, he’s on a solid team, and he’s just 25 years old. But would you rather have him or a stud 3B like Eugenio Suarez? Treinen broke out last year with the A’s and had a phenomenal season with an ERA under 1.00. Still, he’s 31 years old and has 1 year of elite closing work under his belt. Do you really want him over Jack Flaherty? Jansen struggled with both health and performance last season. In his age 30-season he posted his first ERA over 3.00 after seven years of All-Star caliber work out of the bullpen. With age concerns and reduced fastball velocity, do you really want him over Matt Carpenter? The same could be said about Chapman. He’s not getting any younger and he’s struggled with both performance and health in the past couple of seasons. Brad Hand is a much better bet in my opinion than the previous three names because he’s just 29 and still posting elite numbers. I wouldn’t want him over a powerful outfielder like Eddie Rosario, though. Osuna has a very checkered past including suspension for domestic violence. He’s great when he’s pitching and he’s still only 24 years old. His strikeout rate dropped significantly when he returned from suspension, though and I believe he’ll be passed over for the closer role by a name I’ll mention later. Kimbrel is still a free agent, which tells you all you need to know about how teams think he’ll age. He’s the biggest stay away for me in drafts this year because pitchers who miss spring training have had a ton of struggles recently. Vazquez has a huge fastball and is just 27 years old but he had his struggles from time to time. Again, I like the pitcher but would you rather have him than a potential star outfield in Michael Conforto? You get the point, I’m out on the top tier of relievers but what about the second tier?

Tier 2:

Sean Doolittle, WAS (ADP 111)

Raisel Iglesias, CIN (ADP 116)

Jose Leclerc, TEX (ADP 117)

Kirby Yates, SD (ADP 117)

Josh Hader, MIL (ADP 120)

Wade Davis, COL (125)

I start to get a little more comfortable with taking a reliever in this range but if you choose to skip this tier, you can still have an amazing bullpen. There are various reasons that I’m out on these six, be it injuries, team performance, role, or age. The key is, don’t spend a pick in the early 100s on these guys. They aren’t that much different than what you can get later. My strategy is to pick one player that has the closer role but isn’t considered top tier. Then, take elite relief pitchers that don’t have the closer role but will provide great strikeout and ratio numbers while they wait for it. Here are the names I’m targeting in 2019.

Currently have the role but not elite:

Jose Alvarado, TB (ADP 165)

Will Smith, SF (ADP 205)

Archie Bradley, ARI (ADP 207)

Pedro Strop, CHC (ADP 235)

Matt Barnes, BOS (ADP 256)

Mychal Givens, BAL (ADP 262)

Hunter Strickland, SEA (ADP 296)

Blake Parker, MIN (ADP 456)

My favorite among this group is Archie Bradley. He has the potential to be one of the best closers in baseball come 2020 draft season. Pedro Strop has the role for now until Brandon Morrow comes back but Morrow’s health is always a concern. Matt Barnes was elite last season and he’s now the closer for the defending champion Red Sox. That sounds like a desirable pitcher to me. Hunter Strickland has a big fastball and he shouldn’t have much competition for the role in Seattle.

Role not certain but elite reliever:

David Robertson, PHI (ADP 173)

Jordan Hicks, STL (ADP 206)

Alex Colome, CWS (ADP 227)

Seranthony Dominguez, PHI (ADP 234)

Andrew Miller, STL (ADP 245)

Trevor May, MIN (ADP 249)

A.J. Minter, ATL (ADP 300)

Drew Steckenrider, MIA (ADP 344)

Kelvin Herrera, CWS (ADP 394)

Ryan Pressly, HOU (ADP 424)

Trevor Rosenthal, WAS (ADP 567)

Ty Buttrey, LAA (ADP 571)

Taylor Rogers, MIN (ADP 588)

I think it’s a great idea to grab a couple of these guys and hope that one of them can seize the role. If you’re in a holds and saves league, this is even a better strategy. Jordan Hicks has the hardest fastball in the big leagues but didn’t get the strikeouts that you’d expect. He’s improved his control and slider this spring, though, and he could be primed to be the Cardinals closer for years to come. Dominguez and Robertson make for a great tandem in Philly. Whoever wins that role should be a top tier closer. Minnesota is interesting because Trevor May and Taylor Rogers are better pitchers, but Blake Parker has the inside track for the closer role. Go snag all three of them in holds/saves leagues and you’ve got your bullpen set for both stats. Same goes for the White Sox duo. They’re a little older but they’re both proven closers. Ryan Pressly is the second best relief pitcher in the entire league, in my opinion. The Astros just gave him a contract extension because they know this too. I feel it’s only a matter of time until he’s the closer in Houston. Buttrey is the best pitcher in the Angels bullpen. Once Cody Allen flames out or gets hurt, you’ve got a top tier closer for free. This is the way I prefer to build my bullpen in fantasy. The worst-case scenario is that none of my guys end up with the closer role and I punt saves. The good news in that scenario is that I’ve built up my roster elsewhere and the strikeouts and ratios from the elite non-closers will boost my pitching staff. Still, there’s a good chance a few of these guys end up as closers for their teams.

2019 Shares Profile

Dumpster Dives and Dynasty Finds: Pitchers

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