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.

 

 
  1. 183414 says:
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    I was thrilled to draft Will Smith @292 in 10 team best ball.

    • Laura Holt

      Laura Holt says:
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      I’ve been a little surprised at how high Smith has gone in a few of my leagues given the supposed vote of confidence Melancon got during spring, but Smith is obviously the better pitcher… a compact season could have a particularly interesting impact on the Braves bullpen IMO.

      • 183414 says:
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        I was quite surprised to see how much he dropped in this best ball given what a stud he was, and that I expect him to be the go to guy regardless of whether or not Melancon was ‘anointed’ the closer. He’ll throw more innings, get more wins, and get more k’s in any event. I also expect Smith to get his share of saves. I’ve always lived by the adage to draft quality and what Smith did last year put him in the upper echelon of r.p.’s,. Certainly not getting Smith @292 in 12 or 15 team drafts.

  2. Big Red says:
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    Referring to the Kmbrel note, do you think that there will actually be trades in the shortened season? I mean we don’t know, of course, but it seems to me that there may be very little time to see who is worthwhile.

    BTW it’s corps not core.

    • Laura Holt

      Laura Holt says:
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      Yes, no, maybe? Probably not? Honestly my gut is preparing me for no season at all, so who knows. And yes, of course, thx — that’s a typo/brain blip that maybe Donkey Teeth can correct if he sees this… one of my other lives is as a former English major/book proofreader so I always appreciate a spelling/grammar correction!

  3. I think Pagan got shipped to San Diego and the Rays will feel that loss for sure because he was excellent last year but Alvarado still has plenty of competition in Castillo and Poche I’m also real high on Anderson and low on Kimbrel and am not doing punctuation today cuz fuck it speaking of San Diego since you brought it up lot’s of interesting MR arms down there

    • 183414 says:
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      More important now, with Munoz out with TJ.

    • Laura Holt

      Laura Holt says:
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      Yeah, I meant Castillo (who I’m assuming will go to the back of the BP and not be an opener… but since it’s TB who knows), not Pagan, thx…

    • Laura Holt

      Laura Holt says:
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      And yeah, I feel like SD has been randomly churning out top notch middle relievers as long as I’ve been paying attention… don’t know how much is due to park factor, but sure will be interesting if something crazy like the “play all games in Arizona” plan happens to see how much it impacts stats for those used to pitching in either extreme pitchers’ parks or extreme hitters’ parks

  4. 183414 says:
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    Hopefully next year will be our 1st World Championship.

  5. Chucky says:
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    I own Karinchak and Lorenz in a S + H league. Also bought into Gallegos and Bummer. Thoughts on those two?

    • Laura Holt

      Laura Holt says:
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      I was going to write a whole paragraph about the Cardinals pen but just not sure how it will shake out… I was super high on Gallegos at one point but got scared off of him, then was back on him… but overall he’s being drafted pretty high compared to these guys so just didn’t fall into the super deep-league bargain realm. Love Bummer, esp. in a S+H league of course– we’ll see if he can repeat what he did last year, but he was a guy who spent weeks in my lineup in a couple leagues in the second half of last year, and slowly but surely helped me a lot with my ratios.

  6. Rick Brown says:
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    Hey Laura,
    Thanks for all the deep league posts.I’m in a bunch and look forward to the insight.Hear what you’re saying about the Mariners pen but one guy to keep an eye on is Joey Gerber.
    Believe somebody mentioned him a couple weeks ago.He might be the wild card.
    RICK

    • Laura Holt

      Laura Holt says:
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      Awesome, thanks Rick — I’ll put him on my list of guys to learn more about!

  7. Snacks Zillion says:
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    Your going down. I will dominate our RCL league due to my stupendous draft prowess-

    • Laura Holt

      Laura Holt says:
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      Ha, I gotta say, every team in that league looks pretty much like an All-Star squad to me; I am so used to a 12 team plus AL or NL only format! Let’s just keep hoping we get to play it out!

  8. Snacks Zillion says:
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    I agree, at this point just really hoping we get a season in.

  9. jon says:
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    What are your thoughts on Corbin Burnes if he doesn’t make rotation? I scooped him just incase

    • Laura Holt

      Laura Holt says:
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      I was kind of high on Burnes and drafted him in a couple leagues last year. Obviously didn’t work out, but I think he is definitely someone to keep an eye on — he’s still only 25 and has shown some pretty promising flashes in the past.

  10. Moon Shots says:
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    Hi Laura!

    Hows your apocalypse going? Hope you and all your people are staying healthy and relatively sane without a sportsfix.

    Sometime last season you mentioned in a comment or a post that you play in an NL Only Dynasty League. Ive been wanting to start one for years but have never known how to set it up and deal with certain rules…namely what happens if your NL and you have been sitting on a top prospect for 4 years and suddenly he gets traded to the Twins??

    Given my extreme lack of shit to do i was thinking of making a run at setting up a league and i would really love to pick your brain about how you make this work in the one you play in.

    Hit me up if you get this!? Id be very grateful.

    • Laura Holt

      Laura Holt says:
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      Hey M.S., sorry I didn’t see this sooner! Hope you are well — I’m hanging in there despite the fact that my brain is still having quite a bit of emotional trouble processing this whole “no baseball” thing. Yeah, the league I refer to as my dynasty league is really kind of half way between a dynasty and more basic keeper league I guess…. honestly, it’s not my favorite format due to my extreme lack of patience and just not as strong an interest in college athletes/farm systems as many folks have. And yes, in this NL (and similar AL version) league, if a prospect gets traded to the other league you are just SOL, no compensation pick or anything… I really, really don’t enjoy that aspect of it. One year I had my top prospect traded out of the NL, can’t even remember who it was, and it was the same year that the Cards’ prospect Oscar Taveras was killed in a car accident (he was also on my team). That was just brutal and depressing and sad. I know some guys find the search for prospects the most interesting part of fantasy, so since I am not really the best expert on this subject (and like I said I’d say that my league is not really a “true” dynasty league anyway) I’m thinking maybe posting about starting a league next time there is a prospect-based article might point you in a better direction than I can. Also maybe just see if anyone has posted about starting a similar league online anywhere.. one thing I know from writing my column is that there are A LOT of interesting and complex leagues out there! Anyway this could actually be an interesting time to start something up, especially if heaven forbid we get no baseball at all in 2020… good luck and hope we’re exchanging comments about actual baseball being played soon!!

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