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Short Season Relievers to Target for Fantasy Baseball

Baseball is finally back. At least that’s the plan, and I’m ready for it. It’s been a long layoff, but now we have a whole new game to prep for, the 60-game season. Things are going to get crazy. One of the most unpredictable aspects of fantasy baseball this season is going to be pitching. While we can have a general idea of what a team is going to do with their lineup, every organization could employ a different strategy with their pitchers. With many teams expected to ease their starters in, relief pitching is going to be crucial. Playoff races could be as tight as ever in this sprint, and elite bullpen arms will no doubt have an impact. So, let’s take a look at some relievers to target that could help get that extra win or save opportunity, pick up some strikeouts, and keep those ratios in check.

(Note: An update to my closer rankings will come soon. Spoiler, Josh Hader is still number one)

NFBC ADP data taken from April 1st due to insufficient drafts in the last 30 days.

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Relievers To Target In A Shortened Season

Seth Lugo – New York Mets

NFBC ADP: 349.53
Fantrax ADP: 293.79

Lugo is a self-proclaimed utility man. He did it all in 2019, picking up seven wins and six saves while posting a 2.70 ERA with an 0.90 WHIP and 33.1% strikeout rate in 80 innings pitched. Only Liam Hendricks had a better ERA among relievers that pitched 80 or more innings. That volume is what’s going to set Lugo apart the most in a shortened season. Well, that and his wicked curveball. Lugo utilized the curve 23.7% of the time and generated the second-highest average spin rate behind only Ryan Pressly. Check it out.

I can watch that on a loop all day. It’s three-of-four seasons now that Lugo posts a 2.70 ERA or better. And in 2019, it came with a 2.70 FIP. Lugo could end up more valuable than many of the bottom-tier closers going before him.

Ryan Pressly – Houston Astros

NFBC ADP: 496.51
Fantrax ADP: 297.52

Speaking of Pressly, the man with the highest curveball spin rate utilized the pitch 35.2% of the time on his way to a 2.32 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. A big part of my strategy this year is going to be mitigating as much risk as possible. That means targeting relievers that can limit walks. The more free bases a pitcher allows, the higher the chance they run into a bad outing. And in 60 games, recovering from those blowups won’t be easy. So, K%-BB% is an excellent statistic to use. And Pressly ranked 11th among all relievers last season with a 28.4% K-BB rate. Plus, take a look at all that red (insert heart eyes emoji).

Emilio Pagan – San Diego Padres

FBC ADP: 384.81
Fantrax ADP: 287.66

Sure, Pressly’s K-BB% was good, but it wasn’t Emilio Pagan good. Pagan ranked seventh among all relievers with a 31.1% K-BB rate. He added two miles per hour to his fastball and cutter in 2019, and it did wonders for him. Pagan posted a 2.31 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, and saved 20 games for the Tampa Bay Rays. The trade that sent him to San Diego was a bit of a shock, but it makes sense given the fact that Kirby Yates will be a free agent in 2021. Regardless of where the Padres are in the standings when the trade deadline comes, Yates could be a trade candidate. A move for Yates would open to door for Pagan to take over as the primary closer, making him an excellent reliever to target for the upside in this shortened season.

Matt Barnes – Boston Red Sox

NFBC ADP: 566.60
Fantrax ADP: 337.15

Good curveballs seem to be a theme here, as Matt Barnes has another one with a 50.7% usage rate and an 18.7% swinging-strike rate. Barnes put up a 3.78 ERA that came with a 3.28 FIP and 2.93 xFIP thanks in part to a 38.6% strikeout rate that ranked sixth in MLB. You can’t go wrong getting middle relievers that will rack up strikeouts. The Red Sox did little to address their bullpen over the offseason so Barnes would be next in line to close should Workman be unavailable or fail to repeat his 2019 success.

Diego Castillo – Tampa Bay Rays

NFBC ADP: 487.79
Fantrax ADP: 330.92

The Rays have big-time aspirations this season after winning 96 games in 2019. A large part of that success was due to a league-best 3.71 ERA from the bullpen that featured righty Diego Castillo. Castillo did a bit of everything with five wins, eight saves, and made six starts as an opener accruing a 3.41 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He features a nasty slider with a 51.5% usage rate. How filthy is it? This tweet sums it up nicely.

It’s this kind of profile in a relief pitcher that could be valuable in a short season. After making those six starts, Castillo could have SP eligibility in head-to-head leagues, which truly comes in handy in daily lineup leagues. And would it surprise anyone considering it’s the Rays if Castillo has just as many saves as Nick Anderson? He’s easily one of my favorite relief targets late in drafts.

James Karinchak – Cleveland Indians

NFBC ADP: 516.75
Fantrax ADP: 323.14

One of the top relieving prospects in baseball racked up an absurd 74 strikeouts in 30.1 innings in the minor leagues last season. That’s just crazy. With Emmanual Clase suspended for the season, Karinchak should take on an expanded role for the Indians. Not to mention Brad Hand is a trade candidate entering his contract year. The Central Division will be a battle with the Indians, White Sox, and Twins getting to play a third of their season against the Royals and Tigers. More competitive games could lead to more save opportunities in Cleveland. And Karinchak will be one of the more coveted setup men and a reliever worth targeting.

Ross Stripling – Los Angeles Dodgers

NFBC ADP: 331.99
Fantrax ADP: 304.87

Dodgers swingman Ross Stripling has never had an ERA over 4.00 for his career. In fact, he’s never had a FIP over 4.00. Last season, Stripling made 15 starts and appeared in 17 others, posting a 3.47 ERA with a 3.47 FIP to match in 90.2 innings. His ERA splits between the rotation and bullpen weren’t off by much. Stripling posted 3.05 from the pen and 3.60 as a starter. So, no matter the role, he should help stabilize your ratios and has the upside to contribute as a solid starter on a great team.

Chad Green – New York Yankees

NFBC ADP: 645.98
Fantrax ADP: 393.4

Another utility man out of the pen, Green made 15 starts as an opener for the Yankees in 2019. While he did post a 4.17 ERA, it came with a 3.34 FIP, 3.56 xFIP, 3.04 SIERA, and an excellent 26.8% K-BB rate. Green also struck out 98 batters in 69 innings. Everything points to a better season ahead for Green. When looking for relievers to target that could add strikeouts, pick up a win, and help with ratios, do not overlook Chad Green.

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