Elite Relievers – An Untapped Market

Looking to snag some holds? Maybe just lower your ERA & WHIP ratios without eating up innings? What if I could help add another 100Ks to your season total and help kick your K/9 up another notch?

Elite Setup guys are the untapped market of fantasy baseball. Many  leagues now count both HOLDS and SAVES, or even the fabled SV+HLDs leagues, thereby opening up a plethora of options at RP. But fear not fantasy readers, you don’t have to be in a holds league to take advantage of this loophole in fantasy logic. This article can help every player in every league maximize their innings, lower those inflated ERAs, and see a spike in those filthy Ks.

Elite relievers are often former closers (Addison Reed – 2016 Holds leader), or even closers-to-be waiting in the wings (Andrew Miller & Dellin Betances). Typically you’re going to see these guys being the relievers with the most potential to generate swing-and-misses due to their use in high-leverage situations.

Managers are now starting to employ elite 7th 8th and 9th  inning roles to limit innings to their starters and make the difficult decision of when to pull a starter out of the game a thing of the past.  If you think of the Royals bullpen of 2015 & 2016 that carried them to back-to-back World Series berths, you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland – all three guys could be closers and have elite numbers. The Cleveland Indians had similar magic with their lockdown bullpen of Cody Allen, Brain Shaw, and Andrew Miller in 2016.

So how can these guys help your team? Let me give you a real world scenario. Which of these players do you want on your team:


197.2 IP 254 Strikeouts 62 Earned Runs 2.83 ERA


183.2 IP 218 Strikeouts 53 Earned Runs 2.60 ERA

Which would you choose? Well the answer is BOTH, but I bet the true value of each will surprise you. Player A is actually 3 players combined: Nate Jones, Kyle Barraclough, and Neftali Feliz. All three are players who can be easily acquired via late round drafting or waiver wire pickups.

Player B? Oh, that’s just the God of Thunder himself, Noah Syndergaard. For the price of 3 late round picks, you could assemble the value of Noah Syndergaard. So let’s take a look at a few players you should target late in drafts to help you pick up some holds, lower your ratios, beef up your Ks, and maybe even vulture some saves!

  • Dellin Betances – RHP, New York Yankees

Betances has been the closer-in-waiting ever since Mariano retired, but the Yankees keep putting roadblocks up in front of him. Last year he had Chapman and Miller in front of him, and when they were both moved he sputtered in the closers role letting his ERA balloon up to 3.08. The Yankees brought back Chapman which put Betances, and his uber-sexy 15.5 K/9, firmly back into the setup role. He’s one of only a handful of relievers who have broken the 100K barrier, and his BABiP last season was an unlucky .353, which points to some modest gains to come in his counting stats.

I think the most jaw-dropping stat I can give you is the swing rate on his knee-buckling curveball. Last season, batters whiffed at 50% of his curve balls. Which begs the question, why didn’t he just throw every batter 6 curveballs? Because he paired it with the 5th fastest  velocity fastball in 2016, which averaged out to 98.1 MPH for the season.

  • Nate Jones – RHP, Chicago White Sox
Nate Jones

Behind David Robertson in the bullpen, Jones has been the most electric arm for the White Sox for several years now. His big fastball (97.4 MPH avg) has always been a weapon pushing his K/9 into the 10+ range, but now he’s added a devastating sinker and wipe-out slider to his offerings. The results didn’t disappoint in 2016, as he turned in a career low 2.29 ERA and 0.89 WHIP while striking out 80 batters is 70.2 innings. Should the White Sox continue to fire sale/rebuild with youth, either Jones or Robertson (or both!) could be headed out the door via trade. This setup man could wind up with just as many save opportunities as hold opportunities.

  • Brett Cecil – LHP, St Louis Cardinals
Brett Cecil

He’s been a premier set-up man for the Jays for the past few years, but he got touched up badly last year. A new year, a new team, and a new 30 million dollar contract should be a nice way to start fresh for Cecil as he moves to St. Louis. The Cardinals always seem to get the best out of even the most mediocre relievers, so the prospect of Cecil learning the “Cardinal Way” to pair with the 10.5 K/9 he has carried over the last 4 years has me salivating. He’ll be performing set-up duties for Seung-Hwan Oh for a ball club that is sure to be in close games all year long.

  • Kyle Barraclough – RHP, Miami Marlins
Kyle Barraclough

What a rookie season for Kyle Barraclough, who had arguably a better season in the bullpen than his closer AJ Ramos. He opened the season with 12 scoreless innings and continued to impress. The most eye-popping number was the 113 strikeouts over just 72.2 innings. In 75 appearances last year, Barraclough struck out the side in 13 of those appearances. Since 2000, only Craig Kimbrel and Dellin Betances have had more Ks in their rookie season. Look for Barraclough to continue to build upon that success on his way to becoming the best setup man in the NL.

  • Mauricio Cabrera – RHP, Atlanta Braves
Mauricio Cabrera

The guy has a golden arm, and I can’t leave him off this list. Only Cabrera is in the same stratosphere with Aroldis Chapman when it comes to velocity in the majors. Aroldis Chapman’s four-seam fastball came in with the fastest average pitch velocity at 100.9 MPH. Only slightly behind him was the little-known Cabrera’s four seamer at 100.6 MPH, the fastest single pitch clocking in at 103.8 MPH! This guy throws gas and can’t be long for the setup role. His fastball screams “Big League Closer!” That being said, he’s 22 years old, and doesn’t have much in the way of secondary pitches. He’s a risk,  no doubt about it, but you can teach a guy secondary pitches. You can’t teach a guy how to throw 103 MPH. I’ll take the risk.

  • Carlos Estevez – RHP, Colorado Rockies
Carlos Estevez

Speaking of throwing gas, Carlos Estevez of the Rockies brings the heat with two pitches. After Chapman and Cabrera, Estevez’s two seam fastball clocked in at an average velocity of 98.5 MPH. Good enough for 3rd fastest average pitch of the year, which is even more impressive when you realize his four seamer was the 10th fastest  pitch of the year blazing by at 98.0 MPH. The downside? He pitches in Coors, where balls come in fast and fly out faster. When given an opportunity to close in June he blew 3 saves and took 4 losses, predictably giving up 6 home runs over that time. With the injury-prone Adam Ottavino ahead of him, Carlos has an opportunity to take over the closer role sooner rather than later.

Snag a few of these guys late in your draft and see how much they can help your team day-to-day. This is a low-risk, high-reward proposition. They can be drafted late (or in some cases acquired after the draft from the waiver wire) and could end up paying huge dividends to your team if they become a trade target or become the closer of their team due to injury.

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