The World Series begins Friday, meaning the MLB offseason is just around the corner. But there never really is an offseason as the action just changes from the field to the front office.
And just like the majors, there is no offseason when it comes to fantasy baseball. Fantasy baseball GMs are already thinking about next year, and that is especially true for those who are in keeper leagues.
Since the last pitch of the regular season, those who play in keeper leagues have been looking at trade targets to shore up weaknesses exposed during this past season and wondering who the top keepers are going to be in 2023 fantasy baseball.
Well, I’m here to try to help you with that last part of the sentence – who are the top keepers for next season. Each week I am going to reveal my list of top keepers for 2023, starting with relievers. Next week I will focus on starting pitchers before going around the infield and then ending with the top outfielders.
A CRAZY GROUP
Before we move ahead, a disclaimer about relievers. The three things we know about relievers are this:
- They are wildly inconsistent from year to year
- They are wildly inconsistent from year to year
- And they are wildly inconsistent from year to year
The inconsistent play even takes place during the season, with Josh Hader being a prime example of that. If there is one position that could use a dartboard to help with the rankings, it is relievers. Thus, these rankings are based a little on past performance, a little on the eye test and a lot of what my gut is telling me.
Unlike other positions, where age weighs in heavily for my top keepers, the age of a reliever doesn’t factor in as much. It may move them down the list if I think other relievers on the staff can become the closer in 2023 (I’m looking at you, Jose Alvarado), but if they are proven closers and also 33, I’m fine with that.
Also, I am assuming that most keeper leagues don’t just use saves but also have holds or saves+holds. A deep league doesn’t just showcase closers. A real pitching staff has starters, middle relievers and closers, so this list features top closers and setup men.
With that in mind, let’s get on with the Top 40 keepers for 2023 – reliever edition.
Unknown Roles, But…
Coming in at No. 40 is Hunter Brown, who I wrote about during the season after being recalled from Triple-A Sugar Land. Brown’s future is as a starter with the Astros. But most of his appearances this season came out of the bullpen, giving him relief pitcher eligibility. Considering the depth of the Houston starting rotation, Brown may see more time out of the pen once again in 2023. But whether he is a starter or reliever, he is a must grab for dynasty owners as his upside is too good to pass up.
Another pitcher whose role is not clear yet is Garrett Whitlock. He made nine starts for the Red Sox this season with another 22 games out of the pen. Considering he’s made only nine starts out of his 77 career appearances, I’m considering him a reliever at this point, one with future closer upside. He strikes out more than a hitter per inning and he lowered his WHIP to 1.021 this year.
No Saves? Holds Count As Well
Seranthony Dominguez of Philadelphia and Bryan Abreu of Houston are two pitchers who could be closers on other teams. Dominguez had a strikeout rate of 10.8/9 this season and allowed only 36 hits in 51 innings of work. However, for him to grab the closer job in Philly, he is going to have to cut down his walk rate of 3.9/9.
Abreu had a breakout season with the Astros this year. Struggling with command issues throughout his career, the right-hander finally learned to consistently throw strikes to take advantage of his high-90s fastball and wipeout slider and curve. While Abreu still walked too many hitters this year at 3.9/9, he lowered that from 4.5/9 last season while posting a 13.1/9 strikeout rate. Opposing batters hit .246 against Abreu’s slider and .194 against his curveball in 2022. This season those averaged dropped to .163 and .167
Even if Whitlock, Dominguez and Abreu don’t take over closing duties at some point, they will all pitch in high-leverage situations to earn holds and post great strikeout rates while not hurting your ERA or WHIP.
A Future Closer
Jose Alvardo has a strong change to end the 2023 season as a Tier 1 reliever, but right now I put him in Tier 3 due to the lack of save opportunities given to him in 2022 and uncertainty heading into next season about his exact role.
If it were up to me, he’d be the closer for the Phillies next season – especially if he gets his walks under control. He was in the 98th percentile in strikeout percentage and whiff percentage, 93rd percentile in fastball velocity and 89th percentile in chase rate. Relying on a sinker and cutter, opponents hit only .119 against his cutter, which saw opposing hitters rack up a 55.7 whiff percentage.
Saves Still Count…
Daniel Bard and Gregory Soto are the closers for Rockies and Tigers, respectively, and will likely be the closers next season. Bard had a great season, but he posted a 5.21 ERA in 2021 and is 37,. While there is no heir apparent on the Rockies staff to take the closer’s role, Bard’s future is still an uncertainty.
Meanwhile, Soto is the Detroit closer basically because no one else has stepped up. He had a decent ERA of 3.28, but he struck out only 60 batters in 60.1 innings of work with a 1.38 ERA. Not really the numbers you want to see in a closer, but if in need of saves, they will do the job.
Is The Pen His Future?
2022 was a tail of two seasons for Mariners’ rookie, Matt Brash. He started the season in the Seattle starting rotation, only to crash and burn. In five starts he had a 7.65 ERA and 2.05 WHIP before being optioned to Triple-A in May. When Brash returned to Seattle in July, he was put into the bullpen and thrived.
In 30.2 innings of work, he posted a 2.34 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP while striking out 12.6 batters per nine innings. He still walked too many hitters, but his stuff played better in the pen and I wouldn’t be surprised if that is where he sticks and be a solid reliever on a fantasy team.
Just Need To Command Their Pitches
There is a lot to like about Camilo Doval. He recorded 27 saves for the Giants and posted a 2.53 ERA while striking out 10.6/9 this past season. But Doval won’t become an elite closer unless he decreases his walks as he issued 3.99 BB/9 last season. If he learns to command his pitches, he could be a Tier 1 closer.
Like Doval, if Alexis Diaz could avoid walking hitters, he’d be a Tier 1 reliever and a must-have closer. The Reds righty features a 4-seam fastball that limited hitters to a .127 average with a 31.1 whiff percentage and a slider that held opposing batters to a .133 average with a 45.0 whiff percentage. In 63.2 innings of work, he allowed only 28 hits while recording 83 strikeouts. The bad news is that he issued 33 walks in those 63.2 innings of work.
Future Tier 1 Closers
For whatever reason, Scott Servais didn’t use Andres Munoz as his fulltime closer. Why did Munoz give way to Paul Sewald? Go ask Servais. But the numbers say Munoz is one nasty reliever. All he did was strike out 13.3 hitters per nine innings and post a 2.49 ERA and 0.892 WHIP in 65 innings of work.
Munoz ranked in the 99th percentile in xBA, xSLG, K%, Whiff% and Chase Rate while his fastball was in the 100th percentile. To me, that says the man should be the closer for the Mariners in 2023.
Like Munoz, Duran has everything it takes to be a top closer. In 67.2 innings of work, he recorded 89 strikeouts with a 0.975 WHIP and 1.86 ERA. He ranked in the 90th percentile or better in xBA, xSLG, Barrel%, K%, Whiff% and Chase Rate. And like Munoz, he was in the 100th percentile in Fastball Velocity.
Oldies But Goodies
Iglesias was a shell of his former self with the Angels, posting a 4.04 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP and 16 saves. After being traded to Atlanta, he recorded only one save, but he still posted a 0.840 WHIP and a 0.34 ERA. That’s right, a 0.34 ERA, allowing only one earned run in 26.1 innings of work. With Kenley Jansen hitting free agency, Iglesias should step into the closer’s role for Atlanta in 2023.
Pressly doesn’t blow the ball past hitters. Instead he relies on four pitches to induce strikeouts and weak contact. Leading a deep Houston bullpen, Pressly recorded 33 saves while recording 12.1 K/9 to go along with a 0.890 WHIP and 2.98 ERA. Hendricks notched 37 saves and struck out 13.3 batters per nine and posting a 1.04 WHIP and 2.81 ERA.
The Final Four
Josh Hader looked lost midway through the season, but he rebounded into form the last month and looked like the Josh Hader of old. After posting a 12.54 ERA in July and a 19.06 ERA in August, Hader came back to post a 0.87 ERA in September/October with a 0.581 WHIP. In 10.1 innings, he allowed only four hits and two walks while striking out 13.
Ryan Helsley was dominant on the mound for the Cardinals, striking out 13.1 batters per nine and allowing only 48 base runners in 64.2 innings of work for a 0.742 WHIP. Giovanny Gallegos may steal a few saves here and there, but Helsley is the clear-cut closer for the Cardinals in 2023.
There is not much to say about Emmanuel Clase and Edwin Diaz that you already don’t know. Clase doesn’t blow batters away, striking out only 9.5 batters per nine, but he has impeccable control, allowing only 43 hits and 10 walks in 72.2 innings for a 0.729 WHIP while posting a 1.36 ERA. Clase could be the top-ranked closer, but I am still going with Edwin Diaz.
The veteran right-hander has closing games for years, and 2022 may be one of his best seasons yet. Let’s just start with the absurd number of 17.1. That was his K/9 ratio this past season. In 62 innings of work, he struck out 118 batters while allowing only 34 hits and 18 walks for a 0.839 WHIP.
Thanks for reading.
Next week: 2023 Top Keepers – Starting Pitchers