The Shuffle Up: Fantasy baseball relief pitcher draft rankings tiers

Saves are a pain in the neck. But they're also a necessary evil in the fantasy baseball world, so they get their day through the Shuffle Up car wash.

The approach to gathering saves on draft day is highly league-specific. Some leagues attack the bullpens aggressively, and that likely means you have to follow somewhat — unless you're comfortable with completely punting the position. In less-casual leagues, you might want to deemphasize saves at the draft to collect fresh closers in-season.

The more competitive your league is, the less likely that plan will work. You have to season this stuff to taste.

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In many formats (but not all), fire-breathing relievers who provide wipeout ratios but may not close are often valuable fantasy assets. Sometimes those pitchers will graduate into save roles — and even if they do not, you might have a high-leverage reliever who's collecting wins along the way. I love rostering this type of player but I feel you can acquire them more shrewdly in-season. Wait a few weeks, then mine the waiver wire in your pool, look for a few unknowns who are throwing gas and have a high K/BB rate. There will be several names you might not know, and that's fine. Relief heroes so often come out of nowhere.

The Big Tickets

Diaz is coming off a lost season but at least the injury was a patellar injury — unrelated to his arm. MLB is filled with relief pitchers who have Wiffle Ball stuff, near-unhittable, but a healthy Diaz is in a category all his own.

Scott Pianowski's tiered rankings: Catchers | Outfielders | Middle Infielders | Corner Infielders | Starting Pitchers | Relief Pitchers

In an era where strikeouts dominate the pitching profile, and especially with relievers, Clase has a different style. He whiffed a mere 7.93 batters per nine last year, but his walk rate was excellent and he continued to induce ground balls well above league average. The Guardians are also a pop-gun offense, which means a lot of their wins will be by close scores. If healthy, Clase probably pushes for 40 saves again.

Legitimate Building Blocks

I would probably have Alzolay a buck or two higher had the Cubs not changed managers, but Craig Counsell is one of the more creative skippers around, which means Chicago might not be an automatic push-button team with ninth-inning leads. Still, there's plenty to like with Alzolay — his strikeout rate is merely passable, but he hardly walks anyone, he keeps the ball in the park and his hard-hit profile was good last year.

Fairbanks is near-impossible to hit, but it's also hard to keep him on the field. He's never made it to 46 innings in any season. Tampa Bay will probably space out his workload during the season, hoping he's still in one piece come playoff time. The quality is never going to be a problem here, it's just a matter of how much volume you're willing to bake into his ADP.

Jansen is the unquestioned closer in Boston, but if the Red Sox are at or under .500 in midsummer, Jansen will be the first player they likely try to trade. A dedicated stopper is something of an unnecessary luxury on a non-contending team. After a few years firing in the lower 90s, Jansen did step up his velocity to 95.3 mph last year.

Talk Them Up, Talk Them Down

The Rangers enter the year as defending World Champions, but their bullpen is fluid. Leclerc bottomed out last year — landing in the minors for a spell — but was redeemed at the end. David Robertson was added as a depth play. Maybe Kirby Yates has something left, just shy of his 37th birthday. Manager Bruce Bochy knows you don't need this stuff solved in March or April, but you do need a plan later in the year. Robertson probably has the best profit/cost profile at the moment.

[2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

Nothing is guaranteed in the Anaheim bullpen, but given how Carlos Estévez collapsed in the second half (ERA over 6), I have to give Stephenson the first look there. Stephenson was a make-good story with Tampa Bay last year, but part of his breakout was getting away from some of his previous home parks, notably Cincinnati and Colorado.

Bargain Bin

The Tigers figure they can steal a weak AL Central this year, and that means the leash on Lange will probably be very short. In deeper leagues, I won't mind speculating against Lange, perhaps with Shelby Miller, perhaps with Jason Foley.

Graterol's ERA from last year is too good to be true, but he's collected 11 saves over two years and the Dodgers probably have 100 wins in the bank right now. Although non-closing relievers are generally not my draft-day priority, Graterol is the type of reliever I'm happy to roster up front in a deeper pool.