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2021 Relief Pitcher Rankings - 5x5 Mixed Leagues

We continue to move past the chaos of 2020 and onto a new baseball season full of promise. For fantasy baseball managers, draft season is already upon us.

RotoBaller's rankers, Pierre Camus, Big Pick Nick Mariano, Ariel Cohen and I have updated our 2021 Mixed League rankings as we now move on to evaluate the pitchers of the night, or relievers if you will. If you missed them, here are the CatcherFirst Base, Second Base, Shortstop, and Third Base position analysis articles.

You can also find our other draft rankings for all sorts of league formats, continually updated throughout the preseason, right here in our main fantasy baseball Rankings Wizard tool. Also, make use of all our premium resources with our MLB Draft Kit.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball waiver wire pickups and weekly lineup resources:

 

2021 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Rankings

In case you missed it, our very own "Big Pick Nick" Mariano was named the #1 overall most accurate industry expert ranker for the 2018 season, and Ariel Cohen was the top ranker in 2019. In addition, ATC Projections by Ariel Cohen were the #1 most accurate projections system in 2019. Be sure to follow their updated rankings and projections all season long!

Ranking Tier Player Overall
1 1 Josh Hader 61
2 1 Liam Hendriks 68
3 2 Edwin Diaz 83
4 2 Aroldis Chapman 91
5 2 Raisel Iglesias 109
6 3 James Karinchak 112
7 3 Kenley Jansen 141
8 3 Ryan Pressly 145
9 3 Brad Hand 148
10 3 Devin Williams 149
11 3 Nick Anderson 163
12 4 Rafael Montero 167
13 4 Drew Pomeranz 170
14 4 Kirby Yates 177
15 4 Craig Kimbrel 184
16 4 Taylor Rogers 190
17 4 Peter Fairbanks 193
18 4 Amir Garrett 215
19 4 Matt Barnes 230
20 5 Alex Colome 238
21 5 Diego Castillo 239
22 5 Richard Rodriguez 244
23 5 Jose Leclerc 255
24 5 Giovanny Gallegos 258
25 5 Trevor Rosenthal 262
26 5 Yimi Garcia 268
27 5 Jordan Hicks 270
28 6 Freddy Peralta 277
29 6 Lucas Sims 278
30 6 Jake Diekman 282
31 6 William Smith 288
32 6 Archie Bradley 295
33 6 Seth Lugo 297
34 6 Greg Holland 311
35 6 Chris Martin 315
36 7 Hector Neris 331
37 7 Joakim Soria 335
38 7 Mark Melancon 346
39 7 Emilio Pagan 353
40 7 Keone Kela 355
41 7 Jordan Romano 357
42 7 Daniel Bard 358
43 7 Jake McGee 361
44 8 Hunter Harvey 371
45 8 Anthony Bass 372
46 8 Tanner Scott 380
47 8 Aaron Bummer 384
48 8 Tanner Rainey 386
49 8 Trevor May 389
50 8 Tyler Matzek 392
51 8 Joely Rodriguez 396
52 8 Josh James 398
53 8 Rafael Dolis 399
54 8 Emmanuel Clase 402
55 8 Stefan Crichton 403
56 8 Zack Britton 406
57 8 Reyes Moronta 407
58 9 Yusmeiro Petit 408
59 9 Alex Reyes 413
60 9 Tyler Duffey 415
61 9 Brusdar Graterol 419
62 9 Connor Brogdon 431
63 9 Nick Wittgren 438
64 9 Victor Gonzalez 442
65 9 Blake Treinen 444
66 9 Bryan Garcia 449
67 9 Michael Lorenzen 452
68 9 Corey Knebel 454
69 9 Austin Adams 456
70 9 Tejay Antone 459
71 9 Mike Mayers 461
72 9 Jonathan Hernandez 462
73 9 Chad Green 468
74 10 Kevin Ginkel 477
75 10 Evan Marshall 480
76 10 Adam Ottavino 481
77 10 Garrett Crochet 488
78 10 Darwinzon Hernandez 490
79 10 Scott Barlow 499
80 10 Sean Doolittle 501
81 10 Josh Staumont 502
82 10 John Curtiss 503
83 10 Roberto Osuna 510
84 10 Pierce Johnson 514
85 10 Cal Quantrill 516
86 10 Matt Foster 518
87 10 Felix Pena 520
88 10 Jose Alvarado 521
89 10 Touki Toussaint 522
90 10 Collin McHugh 529
91 10 Jeremy Jeffress 530
92 10 Ross Stripling 535
93 10 Justin Wilson 538
94 10 J.B. Wendelken 541
95 10 Kyle Gibson 543
96 10 Rowan Wick 545
97 10 Matt Wisler 549
98 10 Adam Kolarek 550
99 10 Mychal Givens 551
100 10 Daniel Hudson 553
101 10 Yohan Ramirez 562
102 10 Will Harris 563
103 10 Enoli Paredes 570
104 10 Tony Watson 572
105 10 Dellin Betances 578
106 10 Andrew Miller 581
107 10 Andrew Chafin 585
108 11 A.J. Minter 587
109 11 Lou Trivino 588
110 11 Shane Greene 593
111 11 Neftali Feliz 594
112 11 Darren O'Day 595
113 11 Joe Jimenez 596
114 11 Scott Oberg 599
115 11 David Robertson 602
116 11 Codi Heuer 604
117 11 Matt Strahm 608
118 11 Robert Gsellman 612
119 11 Joe Kelly 615
120 11 Tim Hill 619
121 11 Brandon Workman 620
122 11 Ty Buttrey 622
123 11 Dylan Floro 630
124 11 David Phelps 631
125 11 Pedro Baez 632
126 11 Brandon Kintzler 634
127 11 Ryan Brasier 638
128 11 Sean Newcomb 646
129 11 Tyler Rogers 649
130 11 Gregory Soto 651
131 11 Cody Reed 654
132 11 Dillon Peters 656
133 11 Jairo Diaz 659
134 11 Nick Pivetta 660
135 11 Trevor Cahill 663
136 11 Chaz Roe 670
137 11 Jose Urena 673
138 11 Jose Castillo 674
139 11 Oliver Perez 679
140 11 Joe Ross 686
141 11 Andres Munoz 690
142 11 Kyle Crick 691
143 11 Vince Velasquez 692
144 11 Blake Parker 693
145 11 Genesis Cabrera 698
146 11 Sergio Romo 702
147 11 Miguel Castro 728
148 11 Craig Stammen 730
149 11 Brett Martin 731
150 11 John Gant 734
151 11 Ian Kennedy 739
152 11 Trevor Richards 743
153 11 Hansel Robles 768

 

Tier One

The final stat line for Josh Hader in 2020 wasn't at the elite level we have grown accustomed to, especially the 3.79 ERA, but don't let that fool you. As if 2020's 19 IP sample wasn't small and weird enough, Hader had one meltdown in September against the Cubs where he surrendered four earned runs on two bombs. If you take out that ONE inning of baseball he boasted a 2.00 ERA for the season, and get this - the two homers came off Jason Heyward and Ildemaro Vargas, talk about a FLUKE. Despite dropping from 2019 his 39.7 K% still ranked eighth-best in baseball while his xBA was good for third-best. I'm not concerned with the high barrel rate because Hader has been in the bottom two percent of the league in that department since 2018. Devin Williams has certainly earned more save opportunities, but Hader should still see the vast majority and provide an unmatched ratio and strikeout boost.

Some fantasy owners may feel 2020's surface stats and Devin Williams emergence makes Hader too risky at his 2021 ADP and prefer the safety of Liam Hendriks as the RP1. I don't necessarily agree with the Hader concerns but the case for Hendriks is solid. He flashed an incredible 40.2 K% and led all relievers with a 12.33 K/BB ratio. His fastball is becoming more and more untouchable, leaving just no shot to hit the slider. He is now a member of the Chicago White Sox who should have plenty of late-inning leads for save opportunities, and of course he gets the nice Yasmani Grandal bump. Despite my love for Aaron Bummer, there is absolutely no competition for the ninth inning, making Liam Hendriks a great pick no matter how early you want to reach for saves.

 

Tier Two

In the ever-changing world of relief pitchers, I don't think we give enough credit to how consistent Aroldis Chapman has been for so long. From 2012 to 2019 he averaged 58.2 IP and 34 saves per season, while compiling a 2.11 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. That is just absurd. Despite the lengthy track record he is still just 32 years old (same age as Liam Hendriks), and while he's not averaging triple digits on the heater anymore, we're still banking on 30+ saves with plenty of strikeouts. 

Now that we've gotten Mr. Consistent out of the way, we can now look at Edwin Diaz. In his five seasons, Diaz has sported ERAs that begin with one, two, three, and five. However, there is no question the ceiling is RP1 and the strikeouts will always be there. Since his rookie year in 2016, his 14.75 K/9 ranks fourth in baseball behind Hader, Delin Betances, and Craig Kimbrel (Diaz has higher WAR than all three over that span). He enters 2021 with plenty of momentum as his 2020 Whiff% was second to only Devin Williams and his xBA and xSLG were on pace to be the lowest of his career. The Mets certainly did not bring in Trevor May to compete for saves, and Betances is far from the pitcher he once was, leaving Edwin Diaz as a potential draft-day steal at his current ADP, 21 picks later than Hader.

We try not to take too much from 2020's sample, but Raisel Iglesias is one that is hard to ignore. He had already been a fantasy-relevant closer for three straight seasons for the Reds, but last year he boasted the highest K% of his career paired with his lowest BB% and HR/9 across 23 IP. It would be easy to ignore the 5.3 HR/FB% based on his career average of 12.9%, but the hard hit rates, EV, and barrel% were all back down to his 2016 levels with which he saw an 8.3 HR/FB%. It appears Iglesias is playing at peak level right now and gets to pitch away from GABP in 2021 after the move to Los Angeles.

 

Tier Three

One of the hottest names in relief pitchers for 2021, and this article's cover-boy, James Karinchak starts off an electric tier-three duo. Sporting the second-highest K% in the league, Karinchak was lights out for the Indians in 2020. Aside from K% he also placed second for lowest xBA and xSLG among relievers. Now that Brad Hand has signed with Washington, Karinchak will have the opportunity to hold down the ninth in 2021, but has to fight off Nick Wittgren and Emmanuel Clase while also lowering an uneasy 14.7 BB%. I think it is safe to assume Karinchak ends the season with the majority of the saves in Cleveland - but don't forget to pair him with Clase later in your drafts.

Since Karinchak seemed to come in second place for all the reliever pitching stats last year, we might as well talk about the guy who came in first basically across the board. Let's just say Devin Williams won NL Rookie of the Year as a reliever, without even recording a save. That's how dominant this kid was. The laws of physics do not allow his changeup is not allowed to be hit by anything smaller than a diving board. I don't care if he never sniffs the ninth inning for a second straight season, you want this guy on your fantasy team. Some of the filthiest FrankenAces (Bullpen Method) can be built from these gaudy strikeout totals and minuscule ratios. His current ADP of 169 on NFBC is actually pegged quite fairly considering the whole save category thing, but obviously we know he'll finish the year ranked much higher than that.

Kenley Jansen is an interesting case in 2021, as my brain has become so used to him being an elite closer that I choke on my coffee every time I see him available at around pick 130. From 2012 to 2019, Jansen averaged 66 IP, 36 Saves, 2.41 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 95 strikeouts per season. Over eight seasons! Jansen and Chapman are absolute treasures (despite the teams they play for) and I won't stand for any Jansen slander. Yes he had some hiccups in the postseason, but to be fair the Padres and Rays were kind of good. Brusdar Graterol is not ready to take the reigns yet, and Kenley will continue to be the guy until the Dodgers realize they can afford to have Julio Urias become one of the league's best relievers.

I am pretty sure I had 100% exposure to Ryan Pressly last season as he was a fixture in my FrankenAces. I didn't know Roberto Osuna would get hurt, but I knew Pressly had the skills to return value no matter his role. Now with Osuna rotting away in free agent land, Pressly has about as solid a grasp on the closer role as you can find. He started the season with two shaky outings (0.2 IP), but then cruised the rest of the year with a to 2.24 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 28 strikeouts in the next 20.1 innings. I loved him last year, and we love him again for 2021.

Brad Hand is with a new team in Washington, and is fresh off a great 2020 season which saw career-bests in ERA and WHIP. After being a groundball pitcher for six seasons, the past two campaigns have seen that convert into a heavy flyball profile as the sinker usage has decreased. Despite a career-high Barrel% and launch angle, Hand surrendered zero long balls in 2020, which means the ERA will unlikely remain in the low twos over a full season. But considering the K% has surpassed 30% for five straight seasons and the unlikeliness of the Nats signing a $10.5 mil reliever to not close games all season, Hand will still return value at his ADP even with the HR regression.

We all know the downside when drafting Nick Anderson, although since we have Devin Williams in the same tier we obviously aren't solely hunting saves anyways. Anderson followed up his rookie breakout season with an impressive encore, with 2 W, 6 SV, 0.55 ERA, 0.49 WHIP, and 26 K in just 16.1 IP across the shortened 2020 season and finishing as the RP6 in fantasy. Those stellar numbers came in as top-six ERA, top-three FIP, and the league-best WHIP among all relievers. Anderson relied on his fastball more in the shortened season, and it appeared to set up his slider perfectly as he also led all relievers in O-Swing% and registered a filthy 21.5 SwStr%. Diego Castillo and Pete Fairbanks will get roughly half of Tampa's save opportunities, but it's hard to find a better skill set than Anderson.

 

Tier Four

Our first opportunity-based draft pick is Rafael Montero, since until Andres Munoz returns from Tommy John Surgery the Mariners have nobody else you want to see in the ninth inning. After missing the 2018 season, Montero was a pleasant surprise in his relatively small samples for the Texas Rangers the past two seasons but the skill-set still leaves much to be desired. ATC projections 24 saves with a 3.79 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, with a 10.05 K/9 in 2021. I don't foresee Seattle being in a position to need to rush Munoz in his recovery and build-up but I will say Montero is likely just keeping the seat warm until that time comes.

These rankings were pulled before the Padres signed Mark Melancon, but any rankings that I'm a part of will have Drew Pomeranz higher than the industry average regardless. Pom now has 134.1 IP as a reliever under his belt. Across those 134.1 innings he owns a 2.55 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and a 31.4 K%. If we look at him as a reliever from just the last two seasons, he boasts an incredible 1.71 ERA, 0.63 WHIP, and 79 K in 47.1 IP. I am actually pleased that the Padres signed Melancon because it will help further suppress Pomeranz ADP as we hit peak draft season. Pom is the only high-leverage LHP in the bullpen for the Padres and Melancon is about to be 36 years old, continue to give me all the Pomeranz.

Kirby Yates appears to be the man in Toronto this season after recently signing a $5.5 million contract. 2020 was a wash for the almost-34 year old after having surgery on his elbow to address bone chips. He is just one year removed from a 41 save, 1.19 ERA, 0.89 WHIP season and his ADP has been climbing up to Ryan Pressly territory. Despite the injury risk (I'm not a doctor or surgeon), I am more than comfortable taking Yates for what should be a plethora of save opportunities for the Blue Jays, but I will certainly pair him with Jordan Romano and/or Rafael Dolis in the later rounds. 

I was the conductor aboard the Avoid-Craig Kimbrel-at-all-Costs Train heading into 2019 AND 2020. I watched every outing of his for the Red Sox in the second half of 2018. Something was very wrong and it continued to get worse as the team marched through the playoffs. So I knew the disastrous 2019 season was no fluke, and even predicted Jeremy Jeffress would be the Cubs closer by mid-season in my Preseason Bold Predictions (Rowan Wick has no business closing). So we don't know exactly what caused the troubles the past few seasons for Kimbrel, but I do know 2020 ended strongly trending in the right direction. His K% was its highest since 2017 and the GB% increased for the second straight season. It's not quite back up to the 40s like it was from 2011-2015, but baby steps.

The velocity was also back up over 97 after a worrisome dip in 2019. He ended the shortened campaign on a torrid run with 7.1  scoreless innings, 13 strikeouts, and ZERO walks. That's something he hasn't done since 2017. I never expect prime Kimbrel to be back, but 2020 showed me that he is still capable of figuring it out, and considering he is owed $16 million this season, I have a strong feeling the Cubs are willing to let him.

I was already down on Taylor Rogers heading into 2021 as I saw Tyler Duffey a better choice for the ninth inning for the Twins, after Sergio Romo took five saves away from Rogers in 2020. Now after the acquisition of Alex Colome, I see an even less chance of Rogers finding himself on my rosters. Despite the ugly Statcast numbers on his Baseball Savant page, I do think Rogers is a better pitcher than the 4.05 ERA and 1.50 WHIP we saw last year. But expecting him to settle somewhere in the middle of 2019's breakout and 2020's dud on top of the addition of Colome leads me looking elsewhere for relief pitchers in the middle rounds.

I am enamored with Lucas Sims just as much as the next guy, but ultimately I see Amir Garrett leading the Reds in saves for 2021. It could very well end up as a true committee approach based on matchups but if anyone gets pegged as the ninth-inning guy for good it would be Garrett, considering I see it unwise to have two LHP setup men, and the Reds recently signed veteran lefty Sean Doolittle. Garrett had a career-best 2020 campaign finishing with 2.45 ERA and 0.93 WHIP despite an uncharacteristic 33.3 HR/FB%. His 27.5 K-BB% was also a personal best. If he keeps the walks under control and sees positive regression in the HR/FB rate the Reds will be free to use Sims in a crucial fireman-type role.

Matt Barnes should get the first crack at saves in Boston, but Alex Cora has been non-committal to this point after the Red Sox signed Adam Ottavino to a one-year deal. Barnes is known for getting himself into trouble with a BB% over 13 for the past two seasons when that curveball that he throws almost half the time isn't locating, but luckily he can be quite the Houdini thanks to an impressive K%. Ottavino is himself not one to limit the free passes so it will be interesting to see how Cora ultimately handles the ninth-inning in 2021. If I had to guess it would be a hot-hand approach between the two with Barnes seeing the bulk of the opportunities. 

 

Tier Five

Yimi Garcia had a great first season in Miami, enjoying a career-high 31.7 K% and career-low ERA. Of course 15 innings is a laughable sample-size and he certainly had his fair share of HR/FB luck, but his 2.85 xERA was right on par with his 2.88 xERA from 2019 and he did make a noticeable change with his pitch selection. He essentially swapped out his curveball with his slider as his secondary pitch. While the slider is not a strikeout pitch for him in the slightest, this new mix led to a career high GB% and Soft%. Anthony Bass certainly muddies the save projections in Miami but Jordan Romano also pitched behind Bass last season and still carried plenty of value, and so will Yimi.

Trevor Rosenthal smeared all those beautiful Jake Diekman shares. He took full advantage of the shortened 2020 season, had the best season of his career (or was on pace), and turned it into an $11 million check from the Oakland Athletics. The small sample BABIP was low so I don't expect to see sub-two ERA over a full season but the strikeout ability has always been legit and with that kind of money so is his hold on the closer role.

Another closer with a new uniform is Alex Colome, who has been an extremely solid reliever for five seasons now after converting from a starter in 2016. The strikeouts are fading, but the ratios keep dropping. He throws a cutter and a four-seamer, but keeps the ball on the ground at a high rate to consistently outpitch his peripherals. Rocco Baldelli won't commit to a closer yet, but one has to assume Colome sees the majority of the opportunities.

I wrote a piece back in December about why I love Diego Castillo so much, and probably at least five separate articles before that. Allow me to paraphrase. Practically doing away with his four-seam fastball, Castillo threw his slider at a surprising 64.7% clip, and despite the slight dip in K-rate from previous seasons the results were very promising. He posted career-bests in O-Swing%, Contact%, and SwStr% while boasting a 2.13 GB/FB and 24.1 Hard%. As I said prior to the 2020 season, this guy is the perfect blend of velocity, stuff, strikeout potential, soft contact, and keeping the ball on the ground. Castillo was one of only two relievers with a GB% above 60, Hard% below 25, with at least a strikeout per inning. (Victor Gonzalez was the other). He should get a healthy amount of save opportunities alongside Nick Anderson.

Richard Rodriguez is an underrated reliever, and with Keone Kela gone and the Pirates not expecting to compete anytime soon, he should have no real competition for saves in 2021. He upped his slider usage in 2020 and it provided a career-high 36.6 K% and career-low 2.83 xFIP. But being traded at the deadline is a very real possibility before he becomes a free agent at season's end so grabbing Kyle Crick at the end of deep drafts could prove to be a valuable hand-cuff. 

Jose Leclerc has not been officially named the closer in Texas, but would appear to have a leg up on teammate Jonathan Hernandez if the Rangers want to suppress the upcoming future-contract cost. Leclerc certainly has proved to be capable of pitching in the ninth inning in the past, and has owned a K% north of 30 since 2017. 2020 was a lost year due to a strain in his throwing shoulder, but if he can return to his 2019 form where his xBA and xSLG both ranked in the top one percent of the league and his xERA was almost a run and a half lower than his 4.33 ERA, he will be a great value pick at his current 345 ADP.

Giovanny Gallegos had an amazing breakout season in 2019, but I think he's poised to take it a step further this season. He upped his slider usage to over 50% in 2020 which increased the strikeout and groundball rates. He was one of only eight relievers with a 35+ K%, 40+ GB%, and sub-3.00 xFIP. Alex Reyes feels like he has been injured his whole career and has never pitched over 46 innings in the minors, and Jordan Hicks is coming off Tommy John Surgery, while Gallegos just threw 74 innings in 2019. So despite his "role" in the Cards late innings at any given time, you know Mike Shildt is going to lean heavily on Gio as his safety valve.

Speaking of Jordan Hicks, his recovery seems to be going very well considering he hit 102 mph in his most recent live-BP session. He is obviously the perfect closer for the Cardinals, and it feels like guys like Gallegos have just been keeping the seat warm while he was away. But how long will it take until he is fully ready to retake the throne? I'm more than willing to draft the flame-thrower and find out.

 

Tier Six

I love Lucas Sims at his ADP, but my colleague Eric Samulski loves him more and he's already done a great write up on him you can read here. The K% has been locked in above the 30% mark for two straight seasons, his xBA and xSLG were both in the top 1% of the league, and he only allowed one barrel all season in 2020. He should see at least a modest share of the Reds save opportunities this season but I am more intrigued by the ratio and strikeout potential over a full season.

Most casual fantasy players wouldn't know Jake Diekman has been in the big leagues since 2012, and if they did know they probably mostly remember the two very mediocre 2018-2019 seasons he had bouncing between FOUR different teams. Then he comes out in 2020 and blows the cover off the whole damn thing and records the second-lowest ERA, fifth-highest GB%, and tenth-highest K% among all relievers with at least 20 innings. What changed? Well first and most importantly he learned a new slider from twitter, and no I am not joking. By watching Pitching Ninja slider analysis on Chaz Roe, Diekman tweaked his slider and the results speak for themselves. The 14 inches of horizontal movement was double he previous career-high, and was fifth highest among all LHP. The pitch boasted a .106 xBA, .141 xSLG, and a 46.8 Whiff%. Trevor Rosenthal can be named the closer all he wants, I will find plenty of fantasy-use for this new-found dominance from Jake Diekman.

William Smith did not enjoy a great first season in Atlanta, but I'm willing to cut him some slack for the small sample considering the previous four seasons were great and he should be the main benefactor of Mark Melancon leaving town. I think the stuff plays better than that of teammate Chris Martin and I know as a Georgia resident and frequent Braves viewer that Brian Snitker cares little about LHP/RHP matchups. I expect a bounce-back season for Smith and north of 15 saves. But based on their respective ADPs you can easily snag both Smith and Martin to lock down the Hotlanta save opportunities.

We definitely learned one thing about Seth Lugo in 2020, and that is he should not be in a starting rotation. But let us not forget 2019 when he threw 80 innings out of the bullpen with 104 strikeouts and a 2.70 ERA. After the additions of Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker, with the pending return of Noah Syndergaard, we can safely assume Lugo will return to the Mets pen setting up Edwin Diaz....sometime in May. He recently had surgery to remove a loose body in his throwing elbow but he should only miss the first month. I won't be drafting him outside of draft and hold formats, but you best believe he'll be a cheap FAAB target of mine at some point in April.

The Phillies have an interesting 1-2 duo for their ninth-inning situations in 2021 after signing Archie Bradley to a one-year deal this off-season and avoiding arbitration with Hector Neris with a one-year deal of his own. To make matters even more interesting, they also signed Jose Alvarado and invited Brandon Kintzler as a NRI this spring. I think its obvious they don't have a plan for a closer at the moment, and they may never land on just one guy this season. So it comes down to ceiling versus floor for me when looking to grab a share of Philly's save opportunities in drafts. I have always been a fan of Hector Neris, and when he has his splitter right he can be a dominant reliever. I see him receiving the bulk of the opps in 2021, but we also know he can go on some ugly streaks, which is why I can't argue with scooping up Bradley who has a much safer, albeit unexciting, floor. 

Even as a big Josh Staumont fan, I don't think Greg Holland is getting enough credit this draft season for his career revival in 2020. The slider, sporting an additional 100+ RPM, became his primary pitch in the small sample and the results were hard to ignore as his xERA was top 10% in the league. I don't think the Royals would bring back the 35-year-old to set up Staumont, who still has some areas to polish before he's ready for a full-time closer role.

 

Tier Seven

Joakim Soria should be shooting up this board and draft boards after signing with the bullpen-needy Diamondbacks. No one was excited about the idea of Stefan Crichton closing over a full season, and Soria brings the experience that comes with 223 saves and a 3.01 ERA over 725 innings. He proved in 2020 that he's still capable of striking out a batter per inning at 36 years young, and should see the majority of the ninth-inning time in Arizona this year.

What the hell do we do with San Diego's bullpen this season? Obviously Pomeranz is the GOAT and will find his fair share of fantasy value regardless of a closer's tag, but then we have Mark Melancon, Emilio Pagan, and Keone Kela who have all had successful closing experience in the past. Your guess is as good as mine right now, but if I had to place a bet, Melancon will lead the team in saves in 2021. He doesn't have anywhere near the strikeout stuff as Pagan or Kela but has 150 more career saves and is making more dough this season than the other two combined.

Across a whopping 30 big league innings, Jordan Romano has certainly been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as the first half was awful and 2020 was fantastic. During last season's breakout, Romano boasted a 2.40 xFIP and flashed that rare groundball (58.1 GB%), soft-contact (25.8 Hard%), high-whiff ability (36.8 K%). In his forgetful 2019 campaign, Romano threw his fastball and slider at a 60%/40% split. In 2020 that split flipped to 40/60, and evidently it was beneficial - along with a 2 MPH uptick in velocity. His O-Contact% dropped 23 points from 2019, with his overall Contact% dropping 15. He gave up the eighth-lowest contact among all relievers. Typically when a pitcher only carries a two-pitch mix one can expect struggles with the opposite-handed hitters, but Romano mowed down left-handed hitters in 2020. I mean MOWED. Left-handed batters hit .083 with a .157 wOBA against Romano, piling up a 56 K% and a lowly 4 BB%. His 1.10 xFIP vs LHB was ranked right behind Liam Hendriks. He will surely be setting up Kirby Yates this season, but we all know at this point I don't care.

Daniel Bard, Jake McGee, and Hunter Harvey are all prime candidates for "oh crap I need saves" late in your drafts. They are all three fully capable of being ratio eye-sores, but should all be heavily used in the ninth inning this season. McGee is the most interesting to me, one because he's not pitching in Coors or Camden, and two because he was actually amazing in 2020. An owner of a career 27.1 K%, I guess he woke up and decided it was time to be a top-10 strikeout artist in the league and posted a 41.8 K%. What changed? Well, he basically eliminated every pitch but his fastball. Throwing the cheese at a league-high 96.4% rate, with an additional mph tacked on from 2019, he also enjoyed a career-low 2.10 xFIP while still somehow maintaining a 40.5 GB%. The hard contact was still more than my heart can handle, but it will be exciting to watch this new approach over a full season in San Francisco.

 

Tier Eight

While I was very excited to see Yimi Garcia as a closer in Miami, the addition of Anthony Bass was a great move by the Marlins. He has no ceiling, but early reports are that we expect him to start the season in the ninth inning and he won't hurt your ratios. Definitely take both guys if you can, but going strictly for saves late in the draft could always look a lot worse.

Man what an incredible season Bummer could have had, but a biceps strain forced him to miss most of the 2020 season. But of course, I am right back on the Bummer-train for 2021. I love that the Liam Hendriks signing is burying the ADP in the mud because now we get to see this new strikeout plus negative launch angle black-magic over a full season. From the very truncated 2020 sample we saw a big increase in sinker usage with its -14 LA, and a big increase in RPM for the slider. He threw the slider nine times, and generated an 85.7 whiff% and zero batted ball events.

It's never good to have a player miss a season due to suspension, but Emmanuel Clase presents a very intriguing buy-low for 2021. First of all, his arm is obviously fresh. Second of all, we don't know if James Karinchak will hold the closer role all season. Lastly, Clase throws a 99.5 MPH fastball (cutter and four-seam) paired with a 90 mph slider. In his small cup of MLB coffee in 2019 for the Rangers, he was very impressive in the Statcast categories, whereas the strikeouts were very meh. His K% in the minors never really got the blood flowing either, but he is still only 22 years old. At the end of drafts I am willing to take a chance we witness a breakout in 2021, and also some save opportunities.

Reyes Moronta is a very sneaky player for 2021 fantasy drafts. Across 128.1 career innings, he boasts a 11.22 K/9, 2.66 ERA, and 1.20 WHIP. There is certainly risk involved as he missed 2020 after suffering an awful shoulder injury in 2019, but at his current 449 ADP there is tons of room for potential value even if he splits the closer role with McGee for the Giants.

 

Tier Nine

The forgotten man in the Twins bullpen, Tyler Duffey has now given us two elite reliever seasons in a row. With 2019 and 2020 combined Duffey owns a 34.2 K%, 2.31 ERA, and a 0.94 WHIP over 81.2 innings. He appears to only be getting better too as he threw his curveball at a wild 53.1% rate and did away with the slider in 2020 which helped induce a career-high 55.6 GB%. Steady strikeouts and ratios for days.

Victor Gonzalez got his first taste of the major leagues in 2020, and he just so happened to get a World Series ring along the way. The lefty was phenomenal in the small sample, and as I stated previously he was the only other RP along with Diego Castillo to possess a GB% above 60, Hard% below 25, and a K/9 above 9. He successfully avoided a single barrel through 52 batted balls, averaged a -2.4 launch angle, and owned the fourth-lowest xERA in the league. Talk about a ratio anchor. He's only 25 years old and could even see a small handful of LHP-friendly-matchup save opps for the Dodgers in 2021.

Like the White Sox, the Angels have a new shiny closer in Raisel Iglesias who is allowing fantasy owners to forget how good Mike Mayers was in his first year in LA. He introduced a new cutter to his arsenal, and by the looks of it's .196 wOBA and 43.8 PutAway% it was quite successful. Considering he was one of the most heavily-used relievers in baseball in 2020, Joe Madden should lean on Mayers again and we'll get to see the new cutter over a high-volume full season.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Chad Green will continue to be one of my deep league RP targets as long as he keeps boosting my wins, strikeouts, and ratios for free at the end of drafts. Since 2017 he has the third-most wins among relievers (sorry not counting you anymore Yarbrough). Across all those 218 innings he also boasts a 34.2 K%, 2.77 ERA, and 0.95 WHIP. His last name is Green because he is moneyyyyy.

 

Tiers 10-11

After a surprising trade between hated rivals, Adam Ottavino is now a member of the Boston Red Sox bullpen. He has been a fantasy-relevant reliever since 2015 despite some Coors-related bumps along the way, and with Alex Cora refusing to name Matt Barnes the closer it leads me to believe that trend will continue in 2021.

Garrett Crochet is a 6'6" monster southpaw pumping triple-digit fastballs with an 86 mph slider, and went straight from the 2020 draft to the big league bullpen. His exact role for 2021 probably can't be pegged even by Tony La Russa at this point, but whatever point of the game he goes to the mound you know multiple innings of electricity are to follow.

I firmly believe Josh Staumont is the Royals' future closer. He has massive strikeout upside but needs to work on limited free passes before the WHIP can help anchor your fantasy ratios. As soon as father-time catches up with Greg Holland, Staumont should be thrust into the ninth-inning, but will that happen in 2021? I don't know that answer but in a 50-round draft I'm willing to take the chance it does.

Andres Munoz is my favorite IL-spot stash for relievers in 2021. The 22-year old is absolutely filthy and as soon as he is complete with his TJS rehab he will be gunning for the closer role in Seattle. It may not be until July or August so if you can't afford the stash, make sure you set a reminder for your July FAAB runs.



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