With starting pitchers struggling to compile innings or post respectable ratios, skilled setup men continue to ascend in their fantasy significance. And while novice owners will simply look at ERA, WHIP, wins, and saves when choosing their relievers, those in the know study the advanced stats and find the hurlers who are showing elite skills.
Here are the 10 non-closers who I would most like to own right now.
Disclaimer: I omitted Rays hurlers who tend to follow the opener and throw 3-5 innings — they are starters in my eyes. Additionally, I didn’t include relievers who are part of closer committees and have a handful of saves.
Matt Barnes, Red Sox (64% owned)
Barnes may not have emerged as the Red Sox closer, but he will be their most valuable fantasy reliever if he continues his recent dominance. The Connecticut native has stifled the opposition this season (1.80 ERA, 0.75 WHIP) which is not surprising when seeing his ridiculous 36:4 K:BB ratio across 20 innings. There remains a decent chance that Barnes will emerge as a ninth-inning man at some point this summer.
Ty Buttrey, Angels (26% owned)
Buttrey has been among the best relievers in the American League, posting low ratios (1.50 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) and a 31:4 K:BB ratio across 24 innings. The 26 year old has also collected a pair of saves, and he could eventually emerge as the ninth-inning man in an unsettled Angels bullpen. More likely, he continues to work high-leverage situations and finishes the season with 5-to-10 in both wins and saves.
Ryan Pressly, Astros (42% owned)
Pressly last allowed a run on August 10, 2018. Since that date, he has spun 39 scoreless innings with a 16.0 K:BB ratio and a 0.51 WHIP. The right-hander should be used in all leagues despite the assumption that he will record fewer than five saves all season.
Adam Ottavino, Yankees (30% owned)
Ottavino keeps a spot on this list despite a concerning control trend that has resulted in a 6.9 BB/9 rate this season. Still, the 33 year old owns a 2.23 ERA and a 12.7 K/9 rate since the outset of last season and could collect save chances if Aroldis Chapman (who is no stranger to the IL) deals with an injury at some point this season.
Taylor Rogers, Twins (36% owned)
Although Blake Parker has emerged as the Twins closer, Rogers is clearly the club’s best bullpen arm. The southpaw has limited scoring (1.33 ERA) and owners who are concerned with his 1.33 WHIP will be happy to know that he has been plagued by a .396 BABIP. The skills are present (5.4 K:BB ratio) for Rogers to transition into the closer’s role if Parker (3.87 FIP, 1.7 K:BB ratio) falters at some point.
Pedro Baez, Dodgers (9% owned)
With a career 3.03 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP, Baez has been one of the most consistent relievers in baseball since he debuted in 2014. The right-hander continues to be excellent this year (3.38 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 5.5 K:BB ratio), and he is one Kenley Jansen-injury away from collecting saves. He also ranks among the league leaders with 10 holds, for those who play in leagues that value that statistic.
Marcus Walden, Red Sox (25% owned)
To be clear, Walden is not on this list on the strength of his six victories this season. But the volume of W’s do show that the 30 year old has earned the right to consistently pitch in close games, which helps his value going forward. Walden owns stellar ratios (1.59 ERA, 0.81 WHIP) and his 33:7 K:BB ratio across 28.1 innings indicates that he can have continued success.
Reyes Moronta, Giants (5% owned)
Moronta has shown concerning control skills (5.1 BB/9 rate), but his swing-and-miss abilities are spectacular (14.3 K/9 rate) and his fly ball tendencies are not a problem for someone who limits hard contact and pitches in baseball’s most favorable pitcher-park. Moronta’s inclusion on this list also stems from speculation that he could take over the closer’s role when the Giants eventually trade away pending free agent Will Smith.
Lou Trivino, A’s (19% owned)
Trivino was briefly slowed by a thumb injury, but he has been otherwise stellar en route to logging a 2.78 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP across 22.2 frames. The 27 year old was also excellent as a rookie in 2018 (2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP), and he is almost certainly the next man up if Blake Treinen were to go down with an injury.
Amir Garrett, Reds (7% owned)
After once being an intriguing prospect as a starter, Garrett may have found his niche as a left-handed reliever. The 27 year old has logged stellar surface stats (1.33 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) without favorable batted-ball luck (.316 BABIP) and rather on the strength of a 13.7 K/9 rate and a strong ability to limit long balls.