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Relief Pitcher Draft Sleepers for 2020

Is there a more frustrating fantasy category than saves? Time and time again, we spend top draft capital on purported "lock-down" closers only to see them lose their roles before May. Based on experience, it is best to wait out closer runs and, instead, target relief sleepers by identifying and drafting for talent over the role.

Today we look at five relief pitching sleepers you should target in drafts or waiver wire claims, even though they don't own a closer role heading into 2020. Also, if your league does not reward points for holds, these pitchers still hold value since they are likely to be first in line for save chances in the event the closers in front of them falter during the season, get traded, or get injured.

By rostering these sleepers now, you save yourself valuable FAAB or a rush to the waiver wire later in the season when they ascend to the closer role. Finally, notwithstanding save potential, each of these pitchers can still help you with ERA and WHIP ratios, and some have tremendous strikeout upside to add to your team's counting stats.

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

 

Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies (282 ADP)

Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Scott Oberg is a solid late-round draft pick for owners in mixed and NL-only formats. Although the Rockies have committed to giving Wade Davis the closer role to begin 2020, he is coming off a miserable 2019 campaign. In 2019, Davis posted a horrific 8.65 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in 42.2 innings pitched, with just 15 saves in 18 opportunities. By contrast, Oberg had a solid 2019 in which he was 6-1 and posted a 2.25 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 58 strikeouts in 56 IP. His performance was primarily supported by his 2019 metrics, which evidenced an above-average fastball velocity, exit velocity, xBA, and xwOBA.

Due to his success, Oberg took over for the unreliable Davis as the Rockies closer in the second half of 2019, converting five saves in eight chances. Oberg's season, unfortunately, ended abruptly when he suffered from a blood clot issue that required surgery in August. Now healthy and ready to go for 2020, Oberg is generally considered to be the Rockies closer-in-waiting if and when Davis falters.

Oberg doesn't have the high-strikeout upside that other closers have, but he's performed well in the unforgiving Coors Field and has had consistent success over the past two seasons. Specifically, at home in 2019, Oberg posted an impressive 1.71 ERA in 31.2 IP and didn't give up a home run in 28 appearances. In addition, since 2018, Oberg has a 2.35 ERA, ranking fifth among big-league relievers, with a minimum of 100 appearances, over that timeframe. Accordingly, he is certainly worth a roster spot in mixed leagues and NL-only formats.

 

Jeurys Familia, New York Mets (741 ADP)

What? Yes. New York Mets relief pitcher Jeurys Familia, who is being ignored in all but the deepest of NL-only leagues, should be on fantasy radars. Of course, we know that Familia is coming off of a horrific 2019 campaign in which he posted a 5.70 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, and 63 strikeouts in 60 innings pitched. But, Familia, the ire of Mets fans, is only two years removed from a 2018 campaign in which he put up a 3.13 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 83 K in 72 innings pitched to go with 18 saves.

Reportedly, Familia came into camp 30 pounds lighter. Additionally, he threw effectively this spring, prior to spring training being suspended, only allowing one earned run in five innings pitched, with five strikeouts. Owners should keep an eye on Familia to see if he can start the 2020 season effectively. If he shows signs of a bounce-back, there may be a chance he gets save opportunities later in the season.

Closer Edwin Diaz, as we know, is coming off a horrible 2019 campaign and should be on a short leash. If he falters, Seth Lugo, Dellin Betances, or Familia will get the next shot as the Mets' closer. That said, Seth Lugo has been discussed as being used as an opener or middle reliever. Dellin Betances, limited to only one game last season due to Achilles and shoulder issues, showed sluggish velocity this spring before spring training was suspended. As a result, it is not out of the question for Familia to end up in the closer role if things break the right way (or, as far as the Mets are concerned, the wrong way) due to injuries. Familia owners may end up with solid numbers in Ks, ERA, WHIP, and potentially saves later this season, for the mere price of a waiver wire claim.

 

Aaron Bummer, Chicago White Sox (591 ADP)

Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Aaron Bummer is coming off a strong 2019 in which he posted a 2.13 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP in 67.2 innings pitched. Although he won't get you a ton of strikeouts, Bummer's ratios are enough to make him fantasy relevant, even in leagues where holds are not rewarded.

Bummer is entrenched as the setup man to closer Alex Colome. Although Colome registered 30 saves in 33 opportunities in 2019, he remains a volatile closer option in Chicago. Colome posted a 2.80 ERA, despite a less-than-ideal 4.61 xFIP, and 4.38 SIERA, which would suggest regression for 2020. The White Sox have made significant off-season moves expecting to contend in 2020. They will not hesitate to move Colome, who blew five saves in 17 opportunities in 2018, out of the closer role should he regress significantly.

Given his talent and arsenal, the 26-year-old Bummer would be first in line for the closer role if Colome falters. In 2019, Bummer yielded an elite 2.3% overall barrel rate, which was in the top 1% in all of MLB. Bummer relies heavily on an elite sinker that generated a minuscule xBA of .214 and an elite 71.4% ground ball rate. In addition, in 2019, his four-seam fastball averaged 95.1 mph, and his cutter generated a ridiculous 47.2% whiff rate. Importantly, Bummer relied on his cutter more frequently in 2019 than in previous seasons (evidenced by a 20% use rate versus 11% in 2018). If Bummer continues this usage trend into 2020, his strikeout totals may increase, making him a potentially elite reliever with, not only corresponding strikeout totals but also save opportunity potential. Such save opportunities later in the season, on a contending AL Central team, would only exponentially increase Bummer's value.

 

Michael Lorenzen, Cincinnati Reds (543 ADP)

While Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen is the handcuff to Raisel Iglesias, Iglesias doesn't exactly instill confidence as the Reds closer. In 2019, Iglesias suffered 12 losses and blew six saves in 40 opportunities. Iglesias also posted a career-worst 4.16 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. If Iglesias performs poorly out of the gate in 2020, his hold on the closer job will be in doubt, especially since the Reds expect to compete this season. While the Reds could go to a closer-by-committee, which includes Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, and Pedro Strop, if Iglesias falters, Lorenzen is likely to get the first crack at the job given his elite talent and 2019 success.

In 2019, Lorenzen saved seven games and posted a 2.92 ERA, 3.97 xFIP, 1.15 WHIP and 85 strikeouts in 83.1 innings pitched. Lorenzen's 2019 metrics largely supported his results. He was in the top 1% in MLB overall exit velocity with 84.5 mph and top 3% in barrel rate with 3.1%. In addition, his fastball velocity and hard-hit percentage were elite. All metrics you want to see from a closer. In addition, one of the keys to Lorenzen's success was reducing the use of his sinker, which had historically poor put-away and whiff rates. After using the sinker almost 40% of the time in 2018, he used it around 15% of the time in 2019 instead of relying more on his four-seam fastball, cutter, and changeup (which had an incredible whiff rate of 44.7%).

With an inconsistent Iglesias currently installed as the closer, owners looking to grab a closer-in-waiting should focus on Lorenzen in the final round of drafts. He can help with strikeout totals, ERA and WHIP ratios, and holds (in leagues that reward holds), even if he does not eventually assume the closer mantle.

 

Rafael Montero, Texas Rangers (644 ADP)

Texas Rangers relief pitcher Rafael Montero is another pitcher who is getting no attention in mixed leagues heading into 2020. The 29-year-old is coming off of a 2019 season in which he posted a 2.48 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 35 K in just 29 innings pitched. Once a top-five Mets prospect, Montero is entering his sixth major league season and is projected to have a high-leverage role in the Rangers bullpen behind closer Jose Leclerc.

Despite the small sample size in 2019, Montero registered an elite four-seam fastball velocity of 95.9 mph. In addition, his overall exit velocity allowed in 2019 was around league average. However, prior to the Tommy John surgery that cost him all of 2018, he allowed just an 83.2 mph exit velocity and 25.3% hard-hit rate in 2017. These numbers were in the top 2% and 4%, respectively, for all of MLB in 2017.

The skillset is there. The question is whether Montero finally put it all together in 2019 to realize his potential after four subpar seasons with the Mets. At an ADP of 644, it makes sense to take a chance on him. This is especially true where Leclerc had such an inconsistent 2019 in which he ended up rotating in and out of the closer role and posted just 14 saves, four blown saves, a 4.33 ERA, 1.33 WHIP in 68.2 IP. If Leclerc again bounces in and out of the closer role in 2020, Montero should be first in line to get save opportunities. If he can replicate his 2019 success, Montero will not yield the position once he gets it. As such, Montero is well worth an early-season waiver wire claim or last round gamble.

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