No spot in fantasy baseball is as format-dependent as the reliever position. Before I get into specific relievers to target, here are my general tips for the most popular formats.
10-team roto (or H2H categories) leagues
I take one RP anchor whom I feel really good about. Right now, there are about 10 of those pitchers, so I wait until a few of them come off the board and then jump in. After that, I wait until the late rounds to grab some low-end closers or closer committee members. In this format, the waiver wire will be flush with save sources at most points in the season.
12-team roto leagues
I definitely get a saves anchor in this format, and in an effort to get even more stability, I narrow that search to about eight closers. In the middle rounds, I get one more pitcher who has solid skills and a clear path to saves. And finally, I take at least one dart throw at a possible closer in the final rounds. In leagues of this size, it is reasonable to assume that I can find at least one closer on waivers during the season.
15-team roto leagues
Once we reach leagues of this depth, I’m willing to draft two good closers who I believe in. I prefer not to count on finding a closer on the waiver wire in deep leagues. This advice is even more applicable in leagues that use FAAB rather than a waiver claim process.
I wait until the late rounds in these leagues, as reliever options are more plentiful and less valuable. The one exception for premium investments in this format will be high-end SP/RPs — a starting pitcher who has relief eligibility and whom I expect to perform at a high level.
Now that you’re prepared to address the reliever position, the next step is figuring out who can be part of your plan. Let’s take a look at some relievers with an attractive ADP thus far:
Closers I'm targeting based on early ADP
Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels (ADP: 82)
Manager and organizational tendencies are important when assessing closer’s in this era, and Halos skipper Joe Madden profiles as a manager who deploys his closers in a traditional way. Iglesias is coming off a stellar season, has a new contract and is as safe in his role as any stopper in baseball.
Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians (ADP: 101)
Clase is quickly emerging as one of the most reliable closers in baseball. The hard-throwing 23-year-old was terrific last year (1.29 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) and has put an inconsistent James Karinchak far into the rear-view mirror in terms of collecting saves.
Corey Knebel, Philadelphia Phillies (ADP: 187)
Knebel found his pre-Tommy John Surgery form when he produced a 2.45 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP across 25.2 innings with the Dodgers last year. Now part of a Phillies bullpen that previously lacked an anchor, Knebel should at least be a mid-level closer.
Possible Saves Sources
Andrew Kittredge, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP: 236)
Although the Rays are unlikely to settle on a full-time closer, Andrew Kittredge should be a key part of their late-inning mix. The 31-year-old was brilliant last year (1.88 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) en route to compiling nine wins and eight saves.
Chad Green, New York Yankees (ADP: 227)
Although Chad Green rarely produces an eye-popping ERA, he is brilliant in the WHIP department (career 1.01 mark) and is usually deployed in key situations. Last year, the right-hander tallied 10 wins and six saves, and he is the leading candidate to serve as the closer if Aroldis Chapman needs a reprieve from the role.
Paul Sewald, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 203)
The Mariners have quietly built an outstanding bullpen and may use a closer committee all season. Sewald is arguably their best reliever, having logged a remarkable 14.5 K/9 rate while collecting 10 wins and 11 saves across 64.2 innings last year. Seward will remain eminently valuable by producing at least 15 W+SV this year.
SP/RPs (for those in H2H leagues)
Ranger Suarez, Philadelphia Phillies (ADP: 210)
Suarez is coming off a fascinating season in which he came out of nowhere to produce a 1.36 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP across 106 innings (12 starts, 23 relief appearances). Significant regression is expected for the 26-year-old this season, but he could take a major step backward and still be a significant asset in every mixed league. In my eyes, Suarez is absolutely worth the risk at his current ADP.
Tanner Houck, Boston Red Sox (ADP: 228)
Houck has major breakout potential as part of a Red Sox rotation that lacks reliable options. The 25-year-old was effective last season (3.52 ERA, 1.13 WHIP), although most of his starts were short ones. Blessed with swing-and-miss stuff (career 11.3 K/9 rate), Houck could be a major value pick if asked to provide more length this year.
Nestor Cortes, New York Yankees (ADP: 242)
Cortes broke through as a Major League difference-maker when he logged a 2.90 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP across 93 innings last season. The Yankees have plenty of rotation options, but there should still be room for this southpaw if he shows well in Spring Training. The guess here is that Cortes earns a starting spot and spends most of the season on mixed-league rosters.
Cristian Javier, Houston Astros (ADP: 213)
In 2021, Cristian Javier had the misfortune of being a young starter on a contending team that enjoyed remarkable health in their starting quintet. Javier opened the season in the rotation, producing a 3.14 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP across nine starts. But he was sent to the bullpen once all of the veteran starters were available and settled into that role for the rest of the season. I will be a major Javier fan if he seems ticketed for a permanent rotation spot this year.