What’s poppin, Razzpimples? Bullpen update time! Except this time it’s an overarching look at the good and bad from the first half of the 2023 fantasy baseball season.
Don’t forget, the Razzball Bullpen Chart is manned by yours truly and updated like every single second (not really, but I stay on top of thangs for the most part). And directly below, you’ll see a current look at the Top 15 RP (in both 5×5 standard leagues and 6×6 saves/holds leagues) via our Player Rater. Subscribers also get access to the incredibly handy Relievonator Game Log, which tracks every single relief appearance from the last 14 days, including what inning they were called upon and how many batters/pitches they faced/threw.
Alrighty, let’s do it to it. (Note: Monday’s games do not factor in)
Player Rater Top 15 (5×5 Standard)
Player Rater Top 15 (6×6 w/ Holds)
So I wanted to do something simple to commemorate the halfway mark of the 2023 fantasy baseball season. Just a fun lil recap of the surprises, standouts, and busts of the first half. I’m doing this in lieu of recapping the previous week; I hope you’ll forgive me. For brevity’s sake, I’m doing this through the lens of SV-only leagues.
Carlos Estevez has to go down as the biggest surprise of the season for RP, and he has a strong case as the biggest surprise in all of fantasy baseball thus far. His WHIP is nothing to write home about (1.29), but he’s rocking a 1.80 ERA (SIERA and FIP are about two full points higher, however) and is a perfect 21-for-21 in save conversions. Even has 2 W and 2 HLD for good measure. Only five other players have more saves. I do think he’s gotten rather lucky given his BB% is pretty bad and he’s got somewhat lackluster K stuff. But ain’t no one complaining about the results. Given he was an afterthought in most drafts, it’s safe to say he takes the cake as the biggest bullpen surprise of 2023.
Will Smith is the easy choice for next-most surprising. I 100% — nay, 1000% — believed his time as a fantasy-relevant reliever was a thing of the past. When the Rangers acquired him, I didn’t bat an eye, fully expecting Jose Leclerc to keep his gig. Smith had other plans, taking that job and running all the way away with it. Unlike Estevez, Smith is not getting lucky. He’s just ding dang good. He’s only been tagged for two homers, and while his K% isn’t setting the world on fire, he’s got a healthy BB% and a very healthy CSW% (32.6) on the year. Smith should be in line for plenty of juicy saves the rest of the way.
Hunter Harvey gets my vote for third-most surprising RP of 2023. Finally healthy, he’s getting a chance to show the baseball world that the hype from his days in the Orioles system was not unwarranted. For much of the season, Kyle Finnegan was handling the majority of the save duties, but lately, it’s pretty much been Harvey all by himself (Finnegan hasn’t seen the 9th once in the last two weeks). Harvey may only have 8 SV right now, but that also comes with 3 W and 11 HLD while offering good ratios (3.20 ERA, 1.02 WHIP). Assuming he handles the lion’s share of saves the rest of the way, he could provide a real nice boost to many a fantasy team in the second half.
Adbert Alzolay is another guy who’s really impressed me. Always figured he had the stuff, I just didn’t think he’d get a lot of consistent looks to be a SV-only league asset. He’s worked all the way up the depth chart and become the favored 9th-inning option for the Cubs of late — no other Cub has a save since June 2. On the year, Alzolay has a 2.29 ERA (ERA predictor metrics in the same ballpark) and 0.92 WHIP, with a luscious 43:6 K:BB in 39.1 IP.
Jordan Hicks also deserves a shoutout for this renaissance season he’s having. It’s thanks to Ryan Helsley’s injury of course, but hey, Hicks has made the most of his chance to redeem himself as a failed closer of the past for the Cardinals. Thing with Hicks is, that if Helsley can come back, it’s surely Helsley’s job to lose again. And Hicks is not without his faults: a 3.93 ERA is nothing special, and 23 BB in 36.2 IP is also quite yucky. Interestingly enough, his 31.3 CSW% is very good despite all those free passes. Plus the Cardinals are laughably bad. That’s actually the biggest surprise…
Now it’s on to the absolute stud muffins of the 2023 season to this point.
Leading off is none other than Felix Bautista, who somehow has been even better than what we saw in 2022. With 23 SV, only four guys have more, but no guys have more strikeouts than his 84 (in 42 IP!!!!!!!!). Dude was nursing two injuries through the first part of Spring Training and there was question that he’d even be ready. Man has mos def been ready. Dude is the readiest. Elite as they come.
Alexis Diaz has built upon his 2022 breakout year as well. Tied with Jordan Romano and Camilo Doval for the league lead with 26 SV. Has the best K% of those three, though: 37.4%. Ain’t much to say about this guy you probably don’t already know. There will be walks, but who’d have thought he’d be leading the league in saves at any point this season in Cincy? I seriously love that team. In fact, his 12 SV this past month are more than anyone else.
Jordan Romano has 26 SV and 4 W this season. Even has a hold. So that’s 31 WSVHD for those of you keeping track at home. The 48:11 K:BB (and three of those were IBB) in 37.2 IP looks mighty fine. I wouldn’t call him elite, but he’s in the next tier down. Don’t see why 45 SV can’t happen, to be honest.
Camilo Doval has shone brightly all season long. Did get off to a bit of a slow start, but he made up for lost time in a hurry, entering the break in a three-way tie for the league lead in saves, as mentioned above. Used to think he was a tier below the likes of Diaz and Romano, though that’s clearly not the case as of now. He’s just, like, good, ya know?
Devin Williams is a poopy BB% away from being a truly elite fantasy RP. The ratios are exquisite, even with the walks, it’s just that there’s another level he could reach if he could ever get that walk rate down, even under 10% or so. As things stand, Airbender has 20 SV, a 1.89 ERA, a 1.05 WHIP, and 45 K in 33.1 IP.
Craig Kimbrel almost qualified as a surprise in my book, but I’m really not at all surprised that he’s kicking a tremendous amount of ass now that he’s been given full reign as closer for the Phillies. It’s honestly really simple with him: if he’s not closing all the time, he’s a little fishy; if you tell him he’s your man in the ninth, he reverts back to Hall of Fame caliber. Over the last month, Kimbrel has 5 SV (blame the Phillies, not him) with a 0.00 ERA, 0.46 WHIP, and a 20:1 K:BB in 13 IP. Yeah. See? He looks like peak Braves Kimbrel right now, y’all.
David Robertson deserves love, too. I know his 13 SV are kinda disappointing. And sometimes he has conceded saves to Adam Ottavino. That sucks; I get it. But DRob has been a frickin stud: 39.1 IP, 2.06 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 46:11 K:BB, 13.9 SwStr%, and 32.6 CSW% at age 38. Dude has been in the league since 2008. He’s like the Rich Hill of relievers. Except he’s legit All-Star caliber.
And now it’s time to close out with the baddies of 2023. *Trombone tuning noises*
Emmanuel Clase is kind of a bust to me. He’s at least a bust-er. Yeah, he’s got 25 SV and good ratios. But, like, dude has blown seven saves already. He’s a below-average strikeout source and is very close to allowing a hit per inning pitched. I know it’s actually unfair of me to put him here; I really do. I just can’t even with his quasi-mediocrity as the #1 drafted RP once Edwin Diaz got hurt. You probably went and looked at his Statcast and shook your cute little fist at your computer/phone screen, vowing to take everything I ever say again with a grain of salt that’s as big as my pants tent for Shohei Ohtani, but whatever. Clase has not been worthy of his draft price, and for that, I label him a bust. He’s outside the Top 10 on both Player Raters up at the top.
Kyle Finnegan comes in at…#44 on the 5×5 Player Rater among all RP. Yikes. I had him Top 20 lol. Maybe your grain of salt is warranted after all…but hear me out! I always said dude was kinda whatever, but I had every reason to believe he’d be the majority saves guy in Washington! I swear! And early on, even after his awful first week, he got into a nice groove and looked pretty good. I was ready to take my lap. And then Hunter Harvey got healthy and stayed healthy and just pitched better. So he’s the closer now and Finnegan is just…not. I’ll own the L.
Scott Barlow has been the favored guy in the ninth for the Royals, and Aroldis Chapman getting dealt even solidifed that, but Barlow has honestly just been kinda meh this year anyway. He’s got a 4.09 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. Kansas City is garbage, so it’s no shocker that 21 players have more saves than he does. I just at least thought the ratios would make up for that.
Clay Holmes has been much better lately, let’s not forget that. But, looking at 2023 overall, he’s definitely been a bust. Only 10 SV for a guy many thought would be a primary closer on a very good Yankees team. I’m one of those many, but I did also get turned off by his second half of the 2022 season, which I talked about in my preseason rankings. To his credit, he’s got a 2.23 ERA and 1.10 WHIP and a 31.8 K% this year. Not too shabby at all. It’s really just the saves totals holding him back. Maybe a strong second half is in order.
I specialize in bullpens and I used to do some fantasy hockey as well here at Razzball. Find me on Twitter: @jkj0787. DMs are always open for questions, comments, concerns, complaints, etc. Odds are good I’m drinking black coffee, dark beer, or some form of bourbon at any given time of day.