Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview: Sleepers, breakouts, busts, SPARPS, rankings, and more for 2020

Here’s a simple bit of advice when it comes to drafting relievers: Ignore last year’s save totals. Saves obviously play an outsized role in reliever value in both Roto and H2H scoring formats, but they are also notoriously tricky to predict, because so much is out of the pitcher’s hands.

For instance, in 2018 Edwin Diaz led the majors with 57 saves, Wade Davis had 43 and Craig Kimbrel saved 42; Diaz led that group in 2019 saves with 26. That’s a dramatic example, as all three suffered through the worst seasons of their careers, but note that Blake Treinen (fourth, with 38 saves) also suffered through a tough season and lost his job, while Kenley Jansen (tied with Treinen) saved just 33 games, his lowest total since 2013. Kirby Yates led the majors in saves in 2019 for the Padres with 41, fewer than any of the top three in 2018.

Last season was an extreme example, but relief pitcher is just a notoriously difficult position to predict for about a thousand reasons. For one thing, we’re dealing with perilously small sample sizes. Yates has arguably been the best reliever in baseball over the past two seasons, posting a 1.67 ERA over 123.2 innings of work — or just 27 more than Frankie Montas threw in 2019 despite serving an 80-game suspension.

So performance can be tough to predict due to the small sample sizes, but role is also tricky to pin down. More teams eschew the shut-down closer role, going with a committee that allows them to play matchups and save their best pitchers for the highest leverage moments. And even those teams that do intend to have one closer usually won’t live with too many meltdowns in the role — a bad two weeks can cost all but the most elite options their jobs.

What that means is there is almost no margin for error for all but the top options at the position. Looking at the 2020 rankings for reliever, I don’t think you can get farther than seventh in the rankings before you run out of pitchers you can feel confident will finish the season as a closer — and one of them is a SPARP (Starting Pitcher As Relief Pitcher).

The Fantasy community is going to be wary of paying for the truly elite pitchers as a result of the bloodbath we saw at the position in 2019, which means there might be value in zigging where everyone else is zagging and paying full cost for the top closers. Otherwise, you’re probably better off waiting until the later rounds and taking speculative fliers on pitchers with great ratios — chances are, they’ll get an opportunity to close before long. 

2020 Draft Prep

Relief Pitcher Preview

2020 Draft Prep

Meet The SPARPs

One way to gain an edge, especially in H2H points leagues, is to load your RP spots up with starters who are eligible at the position. This year we’ve got several viable options to choose from, including some with considerable upside — a couple of former aces, among them. These guys won’t always be better than the best closers for Fantasy, but the potential for two-start weeks makes them worth chasing in all points leagues, where volume is all important.

2020 Draft Prep

Relief Pitcher Sleeper, Breakout & Bust

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So which sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Kenta Maeda’s huge breakout last season, and find out.

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