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Early-season drafts do not always tend to be reflective of a player's actual value. Average draft position does not tend to stabilize until closer to Opening Day but that does not stop people like myself (and presumably you as well if you're reading this) from drafting well before then.

The ADP of relief pitchers is unique from all other players. Depending on format and scoring, the value of relief pitching can fluctuate drastically. In roto leagues, relievers tend to be more valuable because they are the only ones who can get saves, whereas in points leagues, and pitcher can rack up points. When the position does not even have consistency within itself, you can bet that there is not going to be a ton of consistency from draft to draft.

Take a look at Kenley Jansen, for example. In NFBC, he has been drafted as high as 18th and as low as 59th. That discrepancy is why I'm writing this article: to examine the ADP of NL relief pitchers and picking out guys who are under or overvalued. Keep in mind the season is still nearly a month away, so there is time for the market to correct itself. That said, this is how the reliever draft market is shaking out as of early March.

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Undervalued NL Relief Pitchers

ADP data courtesy of NFBC and based on all players, not just the National League.

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds (ADP: 101)

Iglesias has been nothing but lights-out since a full-time move to the bullpen in the middle of 2016. Since becoming a reliever, the Cuban flamethrower has posted an impressive 2.29 ERA, 10.4 K/9, 3.2 K/BB, and 1.05 WHIP. He's also done all of this while acting more as a fireman than a true closer; 35 of his 100 appearances since becoming a full-time reliever have been longer than one inning.

Iglesias has also notched 34 saves in this time frame and has been among the best of the best relievers in baseball. Here is a full list of relievers who have thrown at least 50 IP in relief with a better ERA, WHIP, and K/9 than Iglesias since June 21, 2016 (the day he moved to the bullpen): Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, Brad Hand, Nate Jones, Chad Green. Of that group, only Kimbrel, Chapman, and Jones also had a higher average fastball velocity in that time frame (it's worth noting that Kenley Jansen throws a sinker, not a fastball). Pretty good company, right? So it does not make a whole lot of sense that Iglesias is going outside the top 100 as the 10th reliever off the board (4th in NL-only leagues). At his current ADP, Iglesias is a steal, especially considering that the Reds should afford him more save opportunities in 2018 than they did in 2017.

Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP: 188) 

Bradley and Iglesias are similar in a lot of ways. Both began their careers as starters and then transitioned (seamlessly, might I add), to relievers. It took Bradley a little longer to finally make the transition (he didn't go to the pen until 2017), but the results have largely been the same. Bradley boasted the 12th-best pitching WAR among all relievers in baseball in 2017 and his 1.73 ERA ranked 8th.

The Diamondbacks opted to go with Fernando Rodney as their closer in 2017, but with Rodney gone, Bradley is the next in line to inherit the closer role. Brad Boxberger was picked up by the snakes this season, but considering that he has thrown only 53.2 innings since the start of the 2016 season (for reference, 137 relievers threw that many innings in 2017 alone), he should not be a big threat to Bradley closing. If the 25-year-old doesn't win the closer job out of spring training, he should be able to snap it up by the end of April or early May. Regardless, his current draft price is far too low considering the upside here.

Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs (ADP: 194)

The fact that Morrow is going this low is nothing short of shocking. The Cubs afforded their relievers 57 save opportunities last season, and now that their 2017 team leader in saves is no longer on the team, all those opportunities have to go to someone else. Enter Brandon Morrow. Morrow was inked to a two-year, $21MM deal by the Cubbies after a 2017 campaign that saw him post career-bests in FIP (1.55), WHIP (0.916), and K/BB (5.56). Morrow is penciled in as the team's closer to start the season and should be penciled in all of your fantasy lineups because this draft price is far too low to pass up.

Brad Ziegler, Miami Marlins (ADP: 362)

Much like Morrow, Ziegler's ADP is a head-scratcher. Ziegler, like Morrow, is penciled in as his team's Opening Day closer. Unlike Morrow, Ziegler plays for a team that is not going to win many games in 2018. In fact, the Marlins will probably lose the most games in all of baseball in 2018. No matter, because even the San Francisco Giants, who finished last in baseball in 2017, provided their bullpen with 54 save opportunities in 2018.

Ziegler is not as flashy as any of the other names on this list, but sometimes opportunity trumps talent in fantasy. Especially considering Ziegler's age (he's 38... seriously), the Marlins are going to want to pump up his trade value by showing teams that he can close out games so they can maximize his trade value before the deadline. Kyle Barraclough, who is actually being selected ahead of Ziegler in most mock drafts, probably will not get many save opportunities until late July at the earliest because the Marlins will want to get something of value in return for Ziegler in a trade. Scoop Ziegler up in the last round of your drafts this season and enjoy the cheap saves.

 

Overvalued NL Relief Pitchers

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP: 37)

Jansen being overrated is more a product of his ADP than his skill level. Everyone knows what Jansen will give them: 40+ saves, an ERA right around or below 2.00, a WHIP around 0.800, and an obscene strikeout to walk ratio. Jansen is elite. He is one of the best relievers in the game right now, and is certainly the best reliever in the National League. But with all of that being said, it does not make sense to select Jansen when guys like Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Luis Severino, and Corey Seager are all going within a few picks of Jansen. Chances are that when your pick comes up in the mid-30s to early-40s range, one of the other players will be available. Those other players are simply going to provide more value to your team in 2018 than a closer who will likely only throw around 65 innings. Again, Jansen is still elite, but you'd be better served spending a pick at his ADP to get someone who is going to play more.

Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies (ADP: 144)

Neris was solid as the Phillies closer last year. Over the course of the 2017 season, he picked up 26 saves and posted a 3.01 ERA and 1.259 WHIP. All of these numbers are solid, but nothing jumps off the page. Neris benefited from the fact that he was really the team's only reliable bullpen option. This season, Neris will have to stave off both Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, both of whom were acquired in the offseason. His chances of picking up a handful of saves in 2018 are pretty good, but his chances of remaining the closer until the end of the season are not as high as they were last year, especially considering that Philadelphia will want to boost the trade value of Neshek and Hunter so they can trade them at the deadline. You'd be better served pursuing any of the options in the undervalued category above than going after Neris.

Jeurys Familia, New York Mets (ADP: 180)

It's hard to call a player who is being drafted at the back end of the top 200 overvalued, but that's just a testament to how overvalued Familia is. That's not to say that Familia won't pitch well in 2018, but new Mets skipper Mickey Callaway has already expressed that he wants to open the season with a closer-by-committee approach. Considering that Archie Bradley and Brandon Morrow can be had a few picks after Familia, and they are both likely to see more save opportunities than Familia, save yourself the trouble of dealing with a Mets closer committee that figures to be frustrating for fantasy owners and pass on the veteran righty.

 

Wrap-up

Fantasy owners tend to get worked up about ensuring that they will have enough relievers with save opportunities on their roster coming out of the draft. If you don't end up with the crop of relievers that you had hoped you would, fret not. Saves are readily available on the wire provided you are attentive throughout the season (Corey Knebel and Felipe Rivero were both waiver-wire adds last season).

If you're in a points league, ensuring that you get a reliever who will post gaudy save totals is not a necessity; pitchers like Anthony Swarzak and Carl Edwards Jr. will provide a lot of value by throwing a lot of quality innings despite not getting many saves. Bottom line: don't overpay for saves and pay attention to the waiver wire during the season and you should end up with one of the better relief pitching corps in your league.

 

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