The MLB season in 2021 is definitely not normal, but I hope that next spring will be healthier. As such, I want to approach the ranks as if a traditional 162-match season is coming. Join my position series for position for the fantasy baseball season 2021.
How much weight do we give 2020? How well can you delete performances that the East, Central and West divisions only play each other? What about DH in the National League. Currently, I operate under the assumption that no NL DH is moving forward. And it is clear that many well-known names can be frozen out of fair contracts as owners cry over lost revenue from the limited 2020 season.
We have covered everyone else now: catchers, first base, second base, third base, short stop, utmark, and starter jugs so far, so now we call in the bullpen with relief jugs. It’s early, so I try to tread lightly and appreciate familiar roles. Let’s comb through the top 60 as we prepare for what we hope will be a refreshing 2021 season.
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Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Rankings – 5×5 Mixed Leagues
In case you missed it, our very own “Big Pick Nick” was Mariano called number 1 in total most accurate industry expert ranks for the 2018 season. Be sure to follow his updated ranking throughout the season!
Josh Hader was not his elite self in 2020, but it will take more than 19 frames which is just very good to displace his incredible career so far. Southpaw’s 26.9% K-BB rate fell from 40.8% in ’19, with a career-low 16.1% swinging strike rate and 12.8% walk rate making the business difficult. He was still a flyball pitcher with a 15% HR / FB rate, of which 3.79 ERA, but converted 13 saves and is still a reliable source of big Ks and ninth innings.
Some may skip him and jump on Liam Hendriks instead, who broke Oakland’s habit of getting a new one closer each season. Now as a free agent, we will definitely see that Hendriks becomes the ninth no matter where he lands after he posted an incredible 40.2% strike percentage next to a small 3.3% walk rate. That 12.33 K / BB was the best among shutters, with Nick Anderson’s 8.67 coming next.
I know that ratios are weird animals for shippers, let alone when you get a short scorecard for 2020 to read. But the aforementioned K / BB ratio increases Raisel Iglesias as the foremost RP1. His 6.20 mark was sixth among 141 RPs with at least 20 innings as he accelerated a trend of declining free passes over the short year. He recorded a career-high 8.8% in ’17, going to 8.6% in ’18, 7.5% in ’19 and 5.5% in ’20. I project about 7% for ’21 with the hope of more if the aggressive 67% first strike rate from 23 photos last year was transferred.
I’m on board with Aroldis Chapman here because the Yankees obviously love to use him as a dedicated closer. In addition, the splitter looks legitimate and can offset some of the sufficient speed from the fastball.
Some people may be tempted to go against Cleveland’s own Chapman-like arm in James Karinchak, but I do not want to place him in the top five yet.
Top 5 relief scanners in strike frequency:
Devin Williams 53.0%
James Karinchak 48.6%
Edwin Diaz 45.9%
Nick Anderson 44.8%
Tanner Rainey 43.2% pic.twitter.com/2ryjhH7ygH
– Michael Simione (@SPStreamer) November 28, 2020
But if you do, I will not mock! As we have seen from other top shutters, you can live with higher trips (14.7% in ’20, also among minors) if hitters go to war for the slightest contact. His strike rate of 48.6% led to AL-RPs as the 25-year-old can live off the elite and overwhelmingly devastating things.
Kenley Jansen is on less stable ground than we are used to, when manager Dave Roberts said he was unsure of Jansen’s role before the Dodgers’ World Series victory in Game 5. He had few hiccups during the very shortened season, and posted a fine 3.33 ERA where five of his nine earned races came in one of his 27 appearances. Can you trust him during a season? I will, but he’s barely in the top 10. He’s just over Nick Anderson because Tampa Bay will never play a final role for their relievers.
Brad Hand cleared dropouts in October and remains one of the best relief agents available, coming off career-low 2.05 ERA and 0.77 WHIP ratings. People may only remember his poor performance in the ALWC against the Yankees, but he was almost naughty from mid-August to the end of September. After his first seven games yielded four rebounds on five hits with a low 7/4 K / BB ratio (5 ⅔ IP), he would give up just one run on eight hits over 16 ⅓ IP after that. During this span, he knocked out 22 hitters and went none. Yes, he will be a top 10 option somewhere for us.
Taylor Rogers’ use and performance disappointed many in 2020, with Southpaw becoming a 4.05 ERA while converting 9-by-11 storage options. He gave up several of them to Sergio Romo (now a free agent), and we are all left wondering if the twins will now raise Tyler Duffey to that role. He can glide more as winter goes on and the projections are shaped.
I do not have to sing the songs of NL Rookie of the Year, Devin Williams, and his bat-resistant prey anymore. Although he never sees the ninth in 2021, his relief and electrifying K / 9 are worth targeting early. This is the point in most drafts where people accept non-closer RPs in life or turn towards reasonable finishing goals in Rafael Montero and Kirby Yates.
Let’s take a closer look at Craig Kimbrel because that name comes with some stench today. After a delayed start in 2019 thanks to (legitimate) contract requirements, he wanted to work through uncharacteristic control problems among reports of tipped places. The 2020 season presented another unorthodox year, and he struggled again to shake off the rust. The resulting 6.00 ERA and 58/24 K / BB ratio in 36 IP over the last two years have people shying away.
But I think he has earned more ties than this, especially considering that he tightened up eight straight pointless appearances without going to close 2020. With several strikes in six of these games, he looked more like Kimbrel from before. Given the small trials and strange conditions both 2019 and 2020 for him, I’m in for ’21. But will the kids trust him enough to handle the ninth alone?
I give Jordan Romano the edge over Rafael Dolis in Toronto with how well he performed as a stopper before injury. Both did well, but if they showed a preference for Romano earlier, I can not see that anything changes. To say he was the light out may be to sell it below.
Jordan Romano has a 0.64 ERA, 20 Ks in 14 innings, saved a big win today
Perhaps most impressive: he has pitched in 14 of #BlueJays’27 games
– Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) August 25, 2020
Drew Pomeranz is still a fantastic non-final RP who can participate in a 50/50 split for the job pending other signings. And Aaron Bummer should grab the spotlight on a startup White Sox squad after posting a 0.96 ERA with a small -8.7-degree launch angle allowed in ’20.
The Pirates have little incentive to make a signing in pen to displace Richard Rodríguez, who brings healthy smells into the rescue opportunities Pittsburgh offers him. However, be prepared for him to be treated on time (or earlier). Mark Melancon is on the market and has the brand “Proven Closer” for competitors who need a little help. I would not elaborate on him early on with the assumption that he takes a clear closer role.
The same goes for Will Smith in Atlanta, who may be threatened with a 2021 right and / or held in a South Paw-oriented firefighter role. Ditto, Alex Colome and Giovanny Gallegos. Both are mighty talents, but you have to bake in the uncertainty that comes with the territory. As a result, the gap between them and others in Tier Five tends to widen unfairly.
Tiers Five, Six, Seven
Let’s just dive into these guys then. Matt Barnes, Brandon Kintzler, Daniel Bard, Hector Neris, Stefon Crichton and Diego Castillo can all claim some or all of the finishing touches for their team. But you do not feel comfortable trusting them during the year, and that is understandable. They have all experienced a loss of command and been thrown away from the closer role before.
But this is also where the fun begins. Speculating in late round relievers is one of my favorite activities. I’m aware that most of the players included here before the table is known are known – this is not the total airfare yet (but that article is coming soon!) – but most will be available after your draft ends. You will find some incredible K / 9 values here with Tanner Rainey and Amir Garrett, as well as affordable insurance for shutters in Zack Britton. I have high hopes for Rainey, who should be strengthened by offseason reports.
#National see Tanner Rainey as their near future. Putting him on 10-day IL should effectively end the season. There is no point in him beating back in a lost 2020.
– Britt Ghiroli (@Britt_Ghiroli) September 15, 2020
The biggest questions for me are Austin Adams, one of my dream boat players before the knee injury, and Jordan Hicks. We could see Adams rise and beat Emilio Pagan aside from the right-handed late role alongside Pomeranz, although it hardly seems like a draft of a day effort to do. Hicks underwent surgery on Tommy John in 2019 before opting out of the 2020 season (he has type 1 diabetes). He joins a crowded pen with Gallegos, Alex Reyes and Andrew Miller.
Reyes still has to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season, but he stayed on the bump from mid-August and recorded a save in the playoffs after an improved September (11 ⅓ IP <3 ER, 1 XBH, 16 / 6 K / BB) overshadowed a rusty August (8 ⅓ IP, 4 ER, 3 XBH, 11/8 K / BB).
I let others speculate in Roberto Osuna, it seems like I do not trust his elbow and I do not trust the optics of a team that brings him in before 2021 opens. If he makes a one-year deal to “prove myself” to show off his health, and his past will not overshadow a non-Houston team, you are free to jump on the signing team. He may have to wait until the middle of the season. And without TJS, signs of elbow / forearm pain will be curtains.
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