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Closers and Relief Pitchers to Bounce Back for 2024 Fantasy Baseball

Ryan Helsley - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Closers and Saves Sleepers, MLB Injury News

For the last three seasons, I have written the Bullpen Report here at RotoBaller. If you are unfamiliar, the article follows bullpens throughout the season to not only get ahead of closer changes but to identify those non-full-time closers that can be useful in fantasy baseball. 

So when this article was up for grabs, it was a no-brainer. Not only will I be writing about last year's busts that are set for a bounce back (you know -- you clicked on the article), but I will also be writing about last year's breakouts that will suffer some regression. 

As I always say in the in-season article, the only constant with relievers is change. Not only is the position most tied to how a manager decides to use them, but when you throw one inning a day, performance can vary from year to year. This can attempt to get out in front of those wacky reliever performances in 2024!

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Disappointments Due to Bounce Back in 2024

Edwin Diaz is a lock to bounce back. Sure, this was an easy one as he missed all of 2023, but before that Diaz had established himself as the best reliever in both real-life and fantasy baseball. Last time we saw Diaz, he pitched to a 1.31 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with 32 saves and 118 strikeouts in 62 innings. ATC projections, which routinely are the most accurate in the game, have Diaz slotted for 32 saves, a 2.70 ERA, and 96 strikeouts, the most of any reliever. He will still be one of the first relievers off the board, but he will be cheaper than if you had to pay fresh off the 2022 season. He is a lock to bounce back. 

Andres Munoz is coming off a bit of an up-and-down season. He missed time due to injury and then struggled a bit down the stretch. His ratios jumped from what they were in 2022, his strikeouts went down, and his walks went up. He came into the season with lofty expectations and while he pitched well, he did not fully live up to those. Still, he has pitched to a sub-three ERA in two straight seasons and struck out at least 32 percent of the batters he faced in each of those. He also got a taste of being the full-time closer last year after the Paul Sewald trade. He finished with 13 saves and now will be the locked-in closer all season for the Mariners. He still brings the same breakout upside as a year ago, but this time with a sure thing to get saves. He will not go amongst the elites at the position, but him making the jump is possible. 

Ryan Helsley was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2022. He failed to match that production last year as he missed time due to injury. The Cardinals were rotating their closer and Helsley saw his ratios and walk rate increase, while his strikeouts dropped a bit. Still, Helsley, when healthy, remains one of the best arms in the game. Even with his ratios increasing last year, he pitched to a 2.45 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP. He is back with the Cards this season and is in line to once again be their closer. ATC projects him for 26 saves, a 3.10 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and a 32 percent strikeout rate -- which seems conservative given what he has done the last two years. The only concern is health, but that leads to a baked-in discount in fantasy drafts. 

William Smith started off hot last year for the Rangers, but his usage changed as the season went on. By the time they were in the playoffs, he was no longer closing games. He finished with 22 saves, a 4.40 ERA, and a 1.06 WHIP. The ERA is high, but his 3.28 xERA should ease some of those concerns. He also had a career-low 56 percent strand rate. Smith may not be the elite reliever he was a few years ago, but last year also looks like he was quite unlucky. Smith is a veteran in the Royals bullpen without a lot of others with closing experience. Plus, they could let him close games to build up his trade value come July. Smith is a strong RP2 pick this year despite last year's struggles. 

Jose Leclerc had some hype last draft season. There was a ton of speculation that he would close games for the Rangers throughout the season. Yet, he finished with just four saves. He did pitch to a 2.68 ERA and 1.14 WHIP with a 29 percent strikeout rate. There is an argument to be made that it was his best season yet. And then he was closing games out for them in the World Series. He is now entering the season as the closer, and ATC has him projected for 19 saves with a 3.90 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. He could easily surpass that save number if he stays healthy. Leclerc should live up to the hype he received last year. 

Robert Stephenson has three career saves and a career ERA of 4.64. He has received some hype in the past, but his lack of save opportunities has prevented him from ever being a big name in fantasy baseball. But last year, he was pretty outstanding, pitching to a 3.10 ERA, 2.73 xERA with a 0.88 WHIP, and a 38 percent strikeout rate -- all career bests. He is now in line to be the closer for the Angels. ATC projects him for 11 saves, but if he pitches anywhere close to last year's level, he can blow past that number. He is worth taking a shot on as an RP2 in deep leagues.

Update: Stephenson has been dealing with shoulder soreness since the beginning of the camp and is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. His NFBC ADP dropped to 423 in March, but the 31-year-old is still worth a late-round flier as he should be LA's primary closer once he returns to the mound. Carlos Estevez will handle closing duties for the Angels while Stephenson is sidelined.

Clay Holmes came with hype last year and was given the chance to close for the Yankees, but he struggled to hold the gig. The Yankees bullpen was a headache all year and could be again, but Holmes is once again slated to close games for the Bombers, this time with even less competition to take the gig. Holmes pitched to a 2.86 ERA, 1.17 WHIP with a 27 percent strikeout rate, and 24 saves. It was his second straight season eclipsing 20 saves. It was one of those seasons that look good at the end of the year but was a bumpy ride getting there. Holmes has the upside to be a top fantasy closer given how many save chances he should see. 

Jose Alvarado was awesome last year. He pitched to a 1.74 ERA, 2.82 xERA, and 1.16 WHIP with a 37 percent strikeout rate. The issue is he picked up just 10 saves as he took a backseat to Craig Kimbrel while also missing some time. Kimbrel is gone and Alvarado is lined up to be the Phillies' full-time closer. ATC projects him for 23 saves, a 3.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and a 33 percent strikeout rate. Walks will always ding his WHIP, but if he stays healthy, Alvarado can make a huge impact and you will not have to pay a super steep price to get him. 

The White Sox bullpen as a whole was a complete bust last year. They had 10 different pitchers pick up saves and no one had more than eight. Their bullpen looks very different this year and currently, Garrett Crochet is in line to be their closer. Although, ATC has John Brebbia projected for a team-high eight saves. It does have Crochet projected to lead this bullpen in ERA, along with a 26 percent strikeout rate. No one in this bullpen is worth more than a late-round flier, and usage should be monitored all spring, but do not let last year's disappointment scare you off completely. 

Full disclosure I was going to write about A.J. Puk here, whose xERA was nearly a run lower at 3.04 than his 3.97 ERA. He also pitched to a 1.18 WHIP while striking out 32 percent of batters and posted a career-low five percent walk rate. He is currently being stretched out to get a chance to start, but keep this in mind in case he returns to the pen. But that does mean even less competition for Marlins closer, Tanner Scott. Scott pitched to a 2.31 ERA while picking up 12 saves. He threw 78 innings, showing he can be a workhorse reliever, but his role was inconsistent last year. It should be the exact opposite this season. ATC projects Scott for a 3.19 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 32 percent strikeout rate and 26 saves - but I think he can clear even those numbers. 



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