When it comes to fantasy baseball, there may be no position where player values vary more from shallow league to deep league than that of middle reliever. Even if your league doesn’t use holds, a middle reliever that wouldn’t be draftable in standard leagues — even if roster size doubled — can provide some nice value in deeper leagues. Last year, I drafted Hector Neris and Nick Anderson at the end of all of my very deep and NL-only leagues — both were available for a buck or in the free round of even my deepest, 15-team NL-only auction league. Both pitchers ended up helping me immensely, Neris by pitching well (his season was underrated in my opinion: 2.93 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 89 Ks in 67 innings) and ultimately assuming the closer’s role and notching 28 saves. Anderson, on the other hand, while pitching in many high-leverage situations, never got that closer gig in 2019 that I thought he might, either with the Marlins or after he was traded to the Rays. He ended up with one measly save — but that didn’t stop him from being a useful part of my NL-only pitching staff; in fact, in at least one league he was one of the only players who was in my active lineup from day one through game 162 last year. The solid ratios, five wins, and whopping 110 Ks in 65 innings were enough to make a difference of a few points for me across those categories, which ultimately helped lead my team to a money finish. If I’d been messing around with junk starters in that spot, I may have gotten some wins and Ks, but that progress would have been offset by the damage to my ratios.
With the current corona timeline that baseball is (hopefully) on track for, I’m guessing that middle relievers who are trusted near the end of games may even have a small spike in value — at least if anything close to expanded-roster teams playing 8 games a week and lots of doubleheaders into November becomes a reality. (Please let it become a reality!) Here are some true deep leaguers to look at, all outside of the top 500 NFBC ADP (with the exception of my first entry, Hunter Harvey, whose ADP is 475 — and probably only that high because of how many times I’ve drafted him!)
Hunter Harvey. Harvey is one of those guys I’ve gotten a little obsessed with even though I don’t know much about him… that’s normal, right? Who wouldn’t be into the guy after looking at his 2019 MLB numbers: 1.42 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, approaching 2 Ks per inning?! What’s that you say? He only pitched 7 innings last year? Okay, that may be true, but what a glorious 7 innings they were. Back in that past life we all like to call early March, it sure looked like Harvey was on track to get a crack at closing, especially with Mychal Givens just never getting his act together this shortened spring (5 ER in 4 innings). Sure, the Orioles will be atrociously bad whenever baseball starts up and may not exactly win a ton of games, but we deep leaguers can’t be picky — and who knows what could happen in a delayed, shortened, weird season.
Michael Lorenzen (ADP #546). Most of the attention focused on Lorenzen involves his hitting and occasional web gem in the outfield, but he was surprisingly good as a plain old middle reliever last year as well (2.92 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 85 Ks in 83 innings). Something folks almost might not have noticed was that he managed to pick up seven saves in 2019, which is something to keep in mind even with Raisel Iglesias theoretically ensconced firmly atop the Reds’ closer depth chart.
Yoshihisa Hirano (ADP #557). Full disclosure: I haven’t drafted Hirano, nor do I plan to. I normally don’t feel that any bullpen is too messy for my deepest leagues, but I have to say that nothing about the Seattle relief core excites me. I have drafted Matt Magill once, but I just don’t feel strongly enough about either of these guys to put much stock in them. I did draft Hirano a couple times last year hoping he might end up at the back of the D-Backs pen, and not only did he only have one save on the season, the numbers were just not pretty (4.75 ERA, 1.38 WHIP). That being said, Hirano seems to be the ‘pert choice for a shot at saves this year, so here he is — crazier things have happened than him becoming a moderately valuable deep league guy this year I suppose.
Jose Alvarado (ADP #588). I was super interested in Alvarado heading into 2019, but he did NOT pitch well last year, to say the least (a hideous 4.80 ERA/1.87 WHIP). He did however, manage to pick up 7 saves, and as much as I love the aforementioned presumptive closer Nick Anderson, we all know how not locked in to assigned roles the Rays can be (though let’s keep in mind that Alvarado will now also have to fight for innings with Emilio Pagan). When Alvarado is on he’s one of those guys whose stuff is so filthy that you can’t imagine him ever giving up so much as a hit, and he actually was impressive early last year: in his first four save attempts he was 4 for 4, with an ERA of about 1 and a WHIP lower than 1. A return to form wouldn’t be completely shocking, given that last year he had to deal with an extended mid-season trip to Venezuela for personal matters, a sore oblique, and elbow inflammation that led to his getting shut down in August.
Emmanuel Clase (ADP #592). It’s not every day that a middle reliever is the headliner for a trade for the likes of a Corey Kluber, but even though that is in large part due to Kluber’s stock falling precipitously, clearly Cleveland is quite high on Clase. He was picking up a bit of deep-league fantasy steam this winter despite being traded to a team with an established closer, but that was quickly extinguished when Clase strained a back muscle. Well, that late-February timeframe of being out at least 2 or 3 months doesn’t seem as problematic these days. Speaking of the Indians’ pen, I’ve also grabbed James Karinchak in a league, who was a strikeout machine in the minors last year before having an extremely successful cup of coffee in the show. Karinchak was technically optioned to the minors a couple of weeks ago while moves were still being made, but there’s no reason to think he won’t be with the big club in 2020 should we have a season. We’ll see what the future brings for the Indians in terms of their relationship with Brad Hand (he is under contract through this season, with a $10 million club option/$1 million buyout for 2021), but both of these guys are certainly interesting fliers both for 2020 and beyond.
Rowan Wick (ADP #634). Craig Kimbrel is still being drafted way too high for my taste; I avoided him at all costs last year based on how he pitched at the end of 2018 even before it became clear that he would wait as long as he did to sign with a team. As you may or may not remember since it seems like the offseason began about a decade ago, the Cubs did not exactly make a ton of moves to suggest that they were interested in splashing money around to improve their team, so if Kimbrel falters one would things the Cubs would stay in-house to replace him. And if he’s suddenly great again, perhaps he’ll be traded — who knows what the deadline would be in a shortened year. Wick had a solid season at the MLB level last year, with a 2.43 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 35 Ks in 33 innings — also picking up two saves when he was trusted to close a couple of games out. Outside the top 600, there are crazier shots in the dark to take.