Please see our player page for James Karinchak to see projections for today, the next 7 days and rest of season as well as stats and gamelogs designed with the fantasy baseball player in mind.

I take a lot of antacids.

Rolaids created an award (not for me)–a gold-plated firefighter’s helmet–to honor baseball’s best relief pitcher every year from 1976 to 2012. The history behind this fascinates me. Feels like some seeds of analytics were born in the bowels of Rolaids’ 1970’s corporate office.

Relief pitching events were each given a point value. Three points per save. Two points per win. Two points per loss. The biggest end-of-season number won, period. 

Blown saves (-2) were introduced in 1987.

Tough saves (+4) came along in 2000. Surprises me that I’ve never seen this as an option by fantasy providers, especially in points leagues or daily games. An antacid company was using it 20 years ago ffs. Refers to any time a reliever enters the game with a tying run on base and secures a save. 

Relievers might be my favorite thing about fantasy baseball, for reasons I can’t explain except to say I love games that resist attempts to shrink/minimize/categorize/rubricate them. The more multi-layered the better. And saves bring that to fantasy baseball. (As do stolen bases.) I also love Holds leagues because they throw the math off a nudge further and open another market of elite players who just happen to pitch the not-ninth. 

Ranking RP’s is kind of a paradox. It might be the least accurate yet most useful of any positional ranking, especially for dynasty leagues.

So that’s the caveat. 

These rankings are for standard 5×5 leagues, btw. Would look totally different in a holds league.

Relief pitching is a strength for me in fantasy, year over year. I tend to trade from it and trade for it on a regular basis, sometimes within the same week. Still, I’m a little leery to put fingers to keys on this one. The yearly upheaval at this position is like no other, so I’m not surprised there’s very little on the market right now covering relief pitching in dynasty leagues. 

The very thought of the task has my hand reaching for the (insert highest-bidding antacid company here).

Kidding. I love this stuff. My full geek breathes fire when researching the K-BB % leaders across all leagues, digging into their game logs, skipping to their innings, even watching/reading an interview here and there.  

Let’s get to the list.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

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!)

Please, blog, may I have some more?

We know spring training is fully underway when a bunch of arms break. We’re sure to see more as soreness becomes less general and more devastating to our early drafts. The four-tier format is back for our closer report. This week, pandemic foodstuff themed tiers. I’d laugh but for fear that might cause me to cough resulting in those nearby turning mob justice on me. Let’s get to some news and notes on the reliever front first.

  • Emmanuel Clase – He of the hardest cutter in baseball is starting his Cleveland career off on a sour note. A back strain will likely sideline him for 8-12 weeks. This opens the door for fellow reliever wunderkind James Karinchak to solidify a leverage role. If you want a job relieving for Cleveland just have a hard to spell name, throw gas, and be in your early 20’s.
  • Jose Alvarado – Don’t look now but Alvarado looks sharp as ever. But Roto-Wan, Nick Anderson is *the* it closer of draft season?!? I have no issue with Anderson’s stuff, just his role. He factors into their ninth inning, no doubt. Let me ask you this, though. He saved some games for them last year since they’re a team that’s the most progressive in leverage roles, right? No? Ok, well he came over from Miami, who’s bullpen was a collection of molding leftovers. He racked up a bunch of saves there, surely? How about one save. Well, at least he’s a young prospect? Turns 30 in June. I don’t mean to rain on your Nick Anderson parade, and by “don’t” I mean I do, but he’s far from a lock. I’m betting on Alvarado seeing some of their saves as the lefty side of a committee in every league I draft that uses RPs.
  • Brandon Kintzler – Things are not off to a great start this spring for the presumptive Marlins closer. Like, walking four straight batters bad. I’d consider a spec play on Ryne Stanek early on.
  • Ryan Helsley – I’m not the Helsley guy but some people I respect (see: Matt Thompson, Nick Pollack) have made it a point to draft the young Cardinal in the late rounds. Their ninth inning is a mess to predict, as usual. Helsley also has an outside shot at the rotation it seems, depending on the health of their assumed starters.
  • Trevor Rosenthal – Rosie is the latest zombie reliever. He’s always been able to light up radar guns. He just has zero command at times, as in most of the time. The command seems to be there this spring, however. KC would love to add any talent it can to baseball’s most mediocre bullpen.
  • Please, blog, may I have some more?

Which position would you say has gained the most value over the past decade?

In MLB? In fantasy?

Maybe it’s shortstop. 2020 might be the best shortstop season of all time, whatever that means.  

And that’s pre Wander. 

But this winter saw Emmanuel Clase traded for Corey Kluber. I know Delinosaur Jr. is feeling the pain of everyone there, too, and the old Klubot has been in the shop for a hot minute, but to say this trade made waves is an understatement.

The conversation began in alarmist, anti-ownership fashion and ended in hushed admiration of Clase’s cutter and consideration of the relative values of their contracts and remaining innings, especially in the context of a team with a pitching surplus such as Cleveland’s. 

Felt like a signpost to me.

As did Tampa Bay’s trade of top 50 echo chamber prospect Jesus Sanchez for erstwhile bartender Nick Anderson. 

As have the contracts dolled out every off-season, even in the miserly winters of 2017-18, when bullpen pitchers were signed early in the cycle for near-record middle-relief contracts. 

I might be kicking the horse a bit at this point when all I really want to do is share my work-intensive relief prospect rankings. More and more leagues are incorporating holds, either as its own category or a combination category with saves. Given the dominance of hot relievers, all these guys gain a lot of value in saves+holds leagues, where their barrier to helping you in that category is all but erased. In the dynasty game, they can be swapped in and out of your minor leagues to expand your active roster and suppress your ratios while snagging some strikeouts and the occasional win. 

Without further ado because we’ve had plenty of ado because hey I worked on this one all winter, the following humans are my top 20 relief prospects for 2020. 

1. Don’t Prospect Hug. 

We’ve all heard the term “prospect hugger” before. We’ve all likely played with prospect huggers before. Many of us have probably been prospect huggers before, but if you want to be a successful dynasty player, then you want to avoid prospect hugging. It’s important to note here that there is a difference between properly valuing your prospects and prospect hugging.

There’s nothing wrong with holding on to guys who you think are more valuable than what you’re being offered, but what I’m talking about is guys who will rarely move prospects, or even consider moving prospects, even when they get offers that are more than fair. As someone who writes almost exclusively about prospects, I understand how exciting the unknown can be, and I see the appeal in prospects, but it’s also important to be realistic and understand that a large percentage of prospects never really amount to anything. You should never value a prospect at what their ceiling is, but rather a fraction of their ceiling based on how far they are from the majors. This is especially true the more shallow a league is, as when there are fewer prospects rostered, there’s always going to be solid guys available to replace anyone you trade.

I saw a trade offer posted on twitter recently by @Prospects365 which was Sonny Gray and Matthew Liberatore for Kristian Robinson, and the Robinson side somehow got 40% of the vote. Personally, I would take the Gray side in any league, but what makes this even worse is that this was a league where only ~100 prospects are owned, meaning that there’s plenty of solid prospects available to replace Robinson with. To be completely honest, prospects should mostly be considered trade bait. When I play dynasty, I’m always looking to move prospects in 3-for-1 type deals for major leaguers, and then replacing those prospects with potential breakout guys who I can trade after they breakout, and it’s an endless cycle.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

I kicked off the bullpen parade last week with the AL East. It’s a safe place for us reliever analysts with mostly secure jobs and quality arms. The tradeoff for that comfort is following it up with the AL Central. The odds are far better that all five of these projected closers will be changed out than none of them being replaced. There isn’t a ton of depth either. I suppose that’s what happens when you refuse to spend money. Let’s push through this muck like a swamp on dagobah and hope a little green man imparts us some wisdom in rearranged syntax. Did no one else take a hit of acid for this? Just me? Ok. Fire up the Rage Against the Machine and on to the pens.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Once upon a time, Cleveland had too many catchers.

The fantasy baseball community knew just what to do in this scenario: throw a killer New Years party, trade Yan Gomes, start Francisco Mejia, and bench Roberto Perez. 

Cleveland scanned this obvious play and disregarded it, attempting instead some inverse combination of the above by staying home to watch a movie, trading Mejia for Brad Hand and starting Gomes, who played well and endeared himself to a fan base that was frustrated to see Mejia go. 

That off-season—last winter—fans were livid to see the club swap Gomes for Jefry Rodríguez, Daniel Johnson and Andruw Monasterio. Yanny G was set to cost about $7 million, and the inferior Roberto Perez was under contract for about two million. Nasty things were said. Baseball Universe decided Cleveland was cheap and dumb for how it handled the catching surplus. 

One year later, Roberto Perez is a solid OBP source with excellent defense and plus power for the position, while Yan Gomes is a $7 million backup in Washington. 

So my thinking in regard to this Kluber trade or any Cleveland move: que sera sera. 

The Yandy Diaz trade for Jake Bauers did not go as well, but in general, Baseball Universe loved that one, and this team knows what it’s doing. I’m sure it’s depressing to lose the Klubot and Bauer in a matter of months, but if anyone can develop the pitching to make fans forget, it’s Cleveland. Maybe it’s not the perfect trade, but Emmanuel Clase is going to bring positive value across the life of his contract. Open-market relievers are pricey these days. And we have little reason for confidence regarding the state of Kluber’s health. Could be this one looks bad next New Year, but whatever will be, will be. 

Please, blog, may I have some more?

I teach in China for a month every summer, and all I really have access to for that month, entertainment wise, is baseball and whatever I can download or arrange ahead of time, so that leads to lots of podcasts and audio books.

The books I repeat most feature a certain group of young wizards invented by J.K. Rowling, and during this summer’s listen-through the whole Potter series, I had some new thoughts.

First, poor Filch. I mean what a awful gig that dude has. Whole castle full of magic, and he’s on his hands and knees scrubbing vomit and blood and snot and who knows what all.

Second, Summer for Harry Potter is a lot like Winter for baseball fans. Harry just sits around waiting for news. All. Summer. Long. So every little snippet of something takes on extra meaning. And The Daily Prophet has its head so far up it’s cauldron that even the snippets are just glances through a cracked mirror.

So who’s ready to fire up the rumor mill and speculate our way through the off-season!?

Not me.

I’m hanging onto Fall as long as possible.

If that appeals to you, let’s hop on a Thestral, fly over prospect country and pretend it’s still Summertime.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

The 2019 fantasy season is almost in the books. Your body of work is recorded for better or worse. Here’s hoping you’re in the hunt or protecting a lead. With so little time remaining don’t be afraid to drop a bigger name who doesn’t help where you need it. Especially if they are nursing an injury like Justin Turner or Anthony Rizzo. Playing the waiting game on bum ankles is a killer right now. Good luck, and may the sports be with you.