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Three Relief Pitchers Set To Breakout In 2022

In fantasy baseball, there is no position more difficult to project than relief pitcher. With most relievers not throwing more than 60-70 innings max, the sample size for them in a given season is very minuscule. Then, you add in a statistic like ERA, which is dependent on a lot of factors, including batted-ball luck, and the flukiness can get blown out of proportion.

As a result, there are plenty of breakout relievers on a yearly basis. Last season, we saw pitchers such as Paul Sewald, Jonathan Loaisiga, Garrett Whitlock, and others emerge as anchors of their teams' respective bullpens. Meanwhile, pitchers like Emmanuel Clase, Jordan Romano, and Alex Reyes accumulate a lot of saves, even if they weren't seen as the team's preferred closer at the beginning of the season. We knew that these relievers were very intriguing, but them fully breaking out into top saves-getters truly was the last step of their fantasy breakout.

We'll be focusing on the latter group for today's article. Sure, there will be relievers who come out of nowhere to become strong options, but we want to focus on the relievers who can emerge as trusted closers for their respective teams. There are some risks associated with taking this profile of a player, but the upside of a saves accumulator outside of the elite options is very enticing. In your fantasy drafts, keep a close eye on these three relievers:

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Camilo Doval, San Francisco Giants

In a lot of ways, Camilo Doval already broke out last season. In 27 innings last season, he posted a 2.75 skill interactive ERA (SIERA) as well as a 33.9% strikeout rate. That being said, since it was a limited sample size, he'll have plenty of skeptics heading into 2022. However, I see this breakout as legitimate.

Doval's story in 2021 is quite incredible. He was initially called up in April but struggled to the tune of a 7.59 ERA in 10.2 innings pitched. Thus, by late May, he was sent back down to the minors, where he would stay (outside of one August MLB appearance) until September. From there, though, he was a changed pitcher.

In 14.2 innings pitched, Doval did not allow a single run, while he posted a 2.00 SIERA in the process. Meanwhile, he posted a 38.5% strikeout rate in addition to a 16% swinging-strike rate. What caused this sudden change? One word: command.


  • Walk Rate: 5.8%  (-6.2%)
  • Zone Rate: 45.8% (+7.1%)
  • Strikeout Rate: 38.5% (+12.5%)
  • Swinging-Strike Rate: 16% (+6.8%)

As you can see, when Doval was recalled to the majors, he drastically improved his ability to command the ball within the zone. This led to him reaching his overall potential, and we'll now look for him to maintain that command in 2022. After all, the 24-year-old has a very strong two-pitch mix.

Doval's slider, which he featured 58.4% of the time last year, is a true weapon. It induced a 40.3% whiff rate, 32% putaway rate, and rates out strongly by the metrics; it features well-above-average vertical and horizontal movement. Couple that with a fastball that can reach 100 MPH, and it's clear why he was able to miss bats at a high level:

With Jake McGee and Tyler Rogers still in the fold, some might be worried that Doval won't be able to relinquish the role-- his strand rate (81.2%) and BABIP allowed (.259) are likely to regress negatively next season. That being said, the strikeout ability is legitimate, and while the command remains a question, it matters less in high-leverage situations; walks are better than grooving in a home-run hitting pitch in the ninth inning. After all, he induces plenty of ground balls (50%), and the bat-missing ability leads to the exact combination that teams are looking for from their high-leverage reliever. The upside of being a strikeout-heavy closer for a team that just won 107 games is tremendous, and he could easily produce top-10, if not top-five value this year. He's likely too risky to take as your first closer but as your second closer? He's quite the optimal target.


Tyler Wells, Baltimore Orioles

When the Orioles selected Tyler Wells in the rule-five draft, they likely did so hoping for him to become a useful big-league arm for them. With a 4.11 ERA last season in 57 innings pitched, he more than held his own. However, little can you tell from the ERA what he might be on the precipice of-- becoming the team's top high-leverage reliever for years to come. That's exactly the type of potential he has heading into 2022.

Sure, the 4.11 ERA doesn't look overly impressive. That being said, this is why, especially for relievers, you have to look past the ERA. With a 29% strikeout rate and a 5.4% walk rate, his K-BB numbers were quite impressive, leading to him generating a 3.37 SIERA last season. The 0.91 WHIP is going to regress with a higher BABIP allowed (.226), but it still likely is going to be quite low given his ability to consistently not walk batters.

As a starting pitcher between High-A and Double-A, Wells posted a strong 19.6% K-BB ratio. He didn't pitch in 2019 due to injury, but he certainly has a track record of strong K-BB numbers. Plus, due to his experience as a starting pitcher, he has a deeper arsenal than most relievers. At the same time, though, this can work against him.

See, Wells spent the beginning of the season trying to figure out how to best use his arsenal as a reliever. Through the course of the season, though, the utilization got much better:

Wells' curveball was largely ineffective when he did throw it last year, as was his sinker. By June, he was barely throwing either pitch. In 2022, I'd like to see Wells continue to lean less on his fastball, as he did towards to end of the season. His slider and changeup each induced whiffs 31.6% of the swings against it, as well as xwOBAs of .222 and .252, respectively. That being said, he has a strong three-pitch foundation to build upon.

Though Wells' BABIP allowed was very low, so was his 64.4% left-on-base rate. That should improve this season, while his batted-ball metrics (11% barrel rate) could improve with better command and simply better luck. The change in ballpark dimensions at Oriole Park is going to do wonders for him in terms of surprising home runs, and there isn't much competition on the active roster in terms of saves- Cole Sulser (eight saves) is the top competitor. The Orioles might not be the type of team to chase saves from, but when he has an average draft position (ADP) of 432.32, 15-20 saves could be extremely beneficial. As a late-round pick, you can't do much better.


Codi Heuer, Chicago Cubs

Now, it's time for a DEEP sleeper! Codi Heuer isn't currently in line to be the Cubs' closer, nor is he a household name. That being said, by the end of the season, I don't see any reason why he can't be Chicago's top option in their bullpen.

Traded from the White Sox to the Cubs alongside Nick Madrigal in the Craig Kimbrel trade, Heuer's 19.9% strikeout rate from last season doesn't stand out. However, there is no reason to expect the strikeout rate to be that low again. While his strikeout rate ranked in the 24th percentile, his 27.9% whiff rate ranked in the 65th percentile, per Baseball Savant. Meanwhile, his 13.5% swinging-strike rate was also impressive, pointing to positive regression in terms of the strikeout rate.

Plus, his track record is impressive. In his rookie year in 2020, he posted a 27.2% strikeout rate, 33.9% whiff rate, and 14.4% swinging-strike rate in 23.2 innings pitched. Meanwhile, the arsenal is impressive. Both his slider and changeup had whiff rates of 45% or higher in addition to a wOBA allowed under .200. The changeup, in particular, is a true weapon:

With an extremely horizontal (seven inches more than average) fastball and changeup (two inches more than average), Heuer should be able to suppress barrels and induce ground balls at a high level. Thus, I believe his 4.5% barrel rate allowed and 0.94 HR/9 can be sustainable, even if they are quite low numbers. Meanwhile, thanks to his elite off-speed pitches, he'll get hitters to reach outside the zone, as they did constantly in 2021- his 31.4% chase rate allowed ranked in the 82nd percentile.

Right now, Roman Wick is set to be the Cubs' closing pitcher. That being said, he has a limited track record and comes with warts in terms of his command. Should there be any blowup, Heuer could be the next man up, especially since we're projecting a strong season from him in 2022. If that happens, I don't think he loses the job. His pitching arsenal is absolutely tremendous, and everything is pointing to a lot of improvement in his second full season. At the end of your draft and holds, make sure to come away with the Cubs' true best reliever.

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