Fantasy Baseball

2020 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview: Sigh of Relief


Welcome back Fantasy friends and foes to the final Fantasy Six Pack position preview with the 2020 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview: Sigh of Relief.

If, for some reason, you missed any of the other position previews, please run don’t walk and get your eyes on those previews in the Fantasy Six Pack Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. 

Every season brings change. Fantasy managers must know how to adjust accordingly, or the season will be lost before the children get out of school for the summer.

One of the most significant adjustments that MLB managers will be faced with is MLB’s newest rule change, a three batter minimum for relief pitchers that will go into effect for the 2020 season. The rule requires a pitcher to face three batters, or pitch to the end of the half-inning. This rule lessens the value of specialty relief pitchers that are typically only effective against hitters from one side of the plate.

Elite relief pitchers might not be who Fantasy managers target in their drafts or auctions. However, the most significant trades at the deadline typically revolve around an elite relief pitcher. Every year there are playoff-contending teams desperate for arms in the bullpen. This aspect of changing teams should be taken into account when selecting a player on draft day. Which Fantasy manager has not been burned by one of their relief pitchers being moved and then forced to take a lesser role with his new team?

Which strategy works best for category leagues? Head-to-head leagues? Which relievers should Fantasy managers target? Who should Fantasy managers avoid? Find out the answers to those questions and a whole lot more in the 2020 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview: Sigh of Relief.

2020 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview

Free five-minute mock drafts against industry experts and custom analysis for your team with the FantasyPros Draft Wizard.

How should Fantasy managers deal with the RP spot in their lineups?

I discuss multiple potential relievers for Fantasy owners to ponder for their rosters. However, my strategy is and will always to punt the save category.

Fantasy owners waste an early-round pick on a player who is going to help your team get one stat-the save. The closer role is the most volatile in baseball. If you look at the 2019 MLB saves leaders, you realize that saves are everywhere. Who spent an early-round pick on Taylor Rogers (30 saves) or Liam Hendricks (25 saves). My point is, don’t wreck your brain on when to select your relievers. It’s easy to figure out, chose them with the last picks of the draft. Fill your entire offense, starting pitchers and bench before even considering a reliever.

I typically fill my RP slot with a SPARP, especially in head-to-head formats. In category leagues, it might be a little stressful, but as I mentioned, saves can be found everywhere. The waiver wire is your best friend and should be utilized mercilessly. Save opportunities arise from struggling with current closers, trades, etc. Elite Fantasy managers pounce on the next big thing for save opportunities and run with it to the championship.

What is a SPARP, and how can it help me win a Fantasy championship?

SPARP stands for Starting Pitcher at Relief Pitcher, which essentially means where a pitcher last year pitched as both a starter and as a reliever. This allows these players to be eligible at RP in multiple Fantasy formats.

Inserting starting pitchers instead of a reliever in one of your RP slots is an excellent way of gaining an advantage over your opponent in head-to-head points leagues. An average starter can accumulate more points than a mid-level closer. You are punting the Saves category so you can improve your overall pitching numbers.

Check out the list of the top SPARP that Fantasy managers should target for the 2020 season:

Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians

Carrasco was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year last season after returning late last season after he was three months after a leukemia diagnosis. He returned on September 1 and was only available in short stints for the Indians’ postseason push.

While Carrasco now possesses dual eligibility, he is scheduled to be an essential part of Cleveland’s rotation this season. Carrasco, who owns a career ERA under four, will look to regain the form that he exhibited while placing fourth in the American League Cy Young voting in 2017.

The apparent health risk may force Fantasy managers to avoid Carrasco, but all indications are that he is on track to be a force in the Indians and your Fantasy rotation. Don’t miss out!

Kenta Maeda, Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins are going all-in for the 2020 season with the trade for Kenta Maeda, who had spent his entire MLB career with the Dodgers before the deal. In 2019, Maeda went 10-8 with a 4.04 ERA and posted a 1.07 WHIP. Not Cy Young material, but his 1.07 WHIP and 1.15 in his career are both better than any pitcher in the Twins 2020 rotation.

Maeda pitched in a variety of roles for the Dodgers, including a bullpen role that he was not fond of. He should not have to worry about that with the Twins as he is currently slotted to be the SP3 in their rotation. The right-hander will be a Fantasy asset due to his dual eligibility but also due to his ability to miss bats. He has registered a 9.8 K/9 rate last season. More importantly, the Twins love to see his postseason success, posting a 1.19 WHIP, 10.7 K/9 and only giving up two homers in 32.2 innings pitched. His consistently is something that Fantasy managers need in their quest for championships.

Jesus Luzardo, Oakland A’s

Luzardo is one of the best prospects in baseball who finally made his MLB debut last season. A Grade 2 lat strain and a shoulder injury had his ETA delayed, but he looked dominant in his 12 innings of work. He went 5-1 with a 1.50 ERA, striking out 16 batters with two saves.

His performance reinforces elite projections for the young southpaw. Fantasy managers should be falling over themselves to get Luzardo this season, especially since he is eligible at the RP slot. His ADP should continue to rise as he exhibits his elite stuff in Spring Training.

Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

Carlos Martinez is an X factor for the St. Louis Cardinals and Fantasy managers. Martinez was once the ace of the Cardinals rotation. However, he is now teetering between the rotation and the closer role. The question is, will his surgically repaired right shoulder hold up? If the shoulder can not withstand the rigors of starting, Martinez will then move back to the closer role.

Martinez returned last season after injury-plagued seasons in 2018 and 2019 and posted a 4-2 record with a 3.17 ERA while recording 24 saves.

IF healthy, Martinez is Fantasy gold, and he is someone that I am targeting in my drafts regardless of his role.

Adrian Houser, Milwaukee Brewers

Adrian Houser finished as a starter in the Brewers rotation last season. In 2020, Houser is currently slotted to be the SP2 in their rotation. Houser started on fire as a starter, giving up just one earned run in six of his first seven starts. He finished the season as the team’s most reliable starter, compiling a 3.28 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP over 12 starts to end the season.

The right-hander finished with a 6-7 record and a 3.72 ERA along with a 3.88 FIP. His 1.24 WHIP and .244 opponents’ batting average demonstrate that his season was no fluke. House is a sneaky Fantasy option for managers who punt the RP position.

Players on the Rise

Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals

Giovanny Gallegos was a breakout star in the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen last season. Gallegos put together an excellent season. He finished 2019 with a 2.31 ERA as well as a 0.811 WHIP and an 11.3 K/9. He kept the Cardinals bullpen afloat with brilliant middle relief work. Additionally, he allowed just 16 percent of his inherited runners to score.

Gallegos acquired from the New York Yankees in the Luke Voit trade, also excelled in the postseason by posting a 2.08 ERA in five outings.

The caveat for Fantasy managers is that Gallegos does not have a clear path to saves with the Cardinals. The Cardinals have several options at the back end of the bullpen, but every choice has a red flag.

Gallegos has the stuff to thrive in the closer’s role and should be the favorite going into this season. He should also be a favorite for Fantasy managers as they look for relievers to break out in 2020.

Keone Kela, Pittsburgh Pirates

With the legal troubles of former All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez, Keone Kela figures to be the lead candidate for the closer role for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. Since Kela joined the Pirates, he has pitched 45 innings the past two seasons. He owns a 2.40 ERA, 3.33 FIP, and has struck out 55 batters. Kela was especially dominant in the second half last season, pitching to a 0.50 ERA in 18 games and 18 innings.

Kela has the potential to be one of the better closers in the National League. He has experience in the closer role while closing out games with the Texas Rangers, posting 24 saves in 2018. Kela will not cost Fantasy managers much in draft capital due to possible concerns about the Pirates’ poor projected record and presumed lack of save chances.

Kela is set to hit free agency at the end of the 2020 season. Look for the Pirates to provide Kela every opportunity to prove himself in the closer role, which will boost his trade value. Fantasy owners are always desperate for saves, so target Kela for your Fantasy rosters and reap the rewards.

Players on the Decline

Andrew Miller, St. Louis Cardinals

Andrew Miller was a disappointment for the St.Louis Cardinals last season. Miller blew five of his 11 save chances and finished with a 4.45 ERA, 5,19 FIP, 1.32 WHIP over 54.2 innings. His 2019 season included a cruel 11.6 percent walk rate, which has risen for the third year in a row. He also allowed a career-high 11 home runs while posting a 3.91 ERA against lefties.

With the three-batter minimum rule going into effect this season, Miller won’t be used as often to face one or two left-handed batters, which were supposed to be his specialty.

The Cardinals have plenty of options in the bullpen with Carlos Martinez, if he doesn’t win a spot in the rotation, young reliever Giovanny Gallegos, John Gant, and the eventual returns of Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks. This leaves Miller utilized in spare opportunities, which will not help your Fantasy roster. Fantasy owners should not look for Miller to regain his stature as a sneaky Fantasy option to acquire strikeouts and random saves.

Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies

In the never-ending search for a lockdown closer, the Colorado Rockies signed Wade Davis to a three year, $52 million contract before the 2018 campaign. The signing came directly after a 2017 season, where Davis saved 32 games for the Chicago Cubs.

Davis pitched to his contract in the 2018 season, leading the National League and setting a franchise record with 43 saves. He struck out 78 batters with just 26 walks in 65.1 innings. However, he did post a 4.13 ERA. The Rockies seemed to have solidified the back end of their bullpen.

Regrettably, Davis tumbled mightily last season with a brutal 8.65 ERA and a 1-6 record and only 15 saves. Davis was awful at Coors Field. He had an 11.10 ERA in 29 home games. In early August, the Rockies had seen enough and removed Davis from the closer’s role, inserting Scott Oberg, who finished last season with a 2.25 ERA and five saves in 56 innings. Unfortunately, blood clots in his arm ended his season prematurely.

There have been numerous reports that Davis has been named the Rockies closer to start the 2020 season. Davis was one of the worst closers in the league last season. His strikeout rate decreased to 20.4 percent while his walk rate rose to 14.1 percent. His 5.56 FIP suggests that his horrible 2019 may be telling signs of the beginning of the end for Davis. He is in the last year of his contract, and the buyer’s remorse is rearing its ugly head. Fantasy owners should avoid Davis not to feel similar remorse.

Players on the Horizon

Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Indians

Reliever Emmanuel Clase was the centerpiece in the Cleveland Indians trade of former ace Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers. Just 21 years old, Clase tossed 23.1 innings of 2.31 ERA/3.43 FIP ball with 8.1 K/9 and a 60.6 percent groundball rate last season. Additionally, he possesses a 99.3 mph average fastball velocity to go along with one of the nastiest cutters in baseball, which can also approach triple digits.

“He has electric stuff,” said Cleveland’s president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti after the trade for Clase. “He’s been up to 102 [MPH] and averaged about 100 with his fastball, and he has a cutter that is hard to center up. He complements that with an above-average slider.”

In 2019 the Indians averaged 90.8 mph in fastball velocity according to Statcast, while Clase averaged 99.2 mph. He threw 238 pitches at 98 mph or faster, while Indians pitchers tossed a total of 12.

Clase will open the 2020 season in a set-up role to closer Brad Hand if Hand had recovered from his poor second half last season. Opposing hitters batted .310 against Hand compared to .200 the first half of the season. His ERA ballooned to 5.40 in the second half after owning a 2.17 ERA during the first half. Tired arm or not, they have to be concerned about Hand heading into this season.

The Indians were eyeing Clase to be the successor to Hand when they traded for him in December. Change may happen as early as this season.

Andres Munoz, San Diego Padres

Andres Munoz had average numbers last season with a 3.91 ERA and a 1.174 WHIP. However, the 21-year-old reliever was impressive in his debut season while becoming the youngest player in Padres history to record a save.

Munoz throws his fastball upwards of 100 mph consistently, and his strikeouts-to-walks ratio was admirable, with 30 strikeouts and 11 walks. He has the talent to be the future closer of the San Diego Padres but needs to improve on his control and variety of pitches. Regardless, big league hitters posted just a .188 average against him as he continues to show that he is learning how to use his slider in conjunction with his elite fastball.

Of course, the Padres bullpen is led by Kirby Yates, who led the majors with 41 saves last season. The Padres possess a deep bullpen in which the team will look to shorten games to five innings and allow their bullpen group to finish games. However, the biggest acquisition by the Padres was the hiring of  Larry Rothschild, the longtime pitching coach of the New York Yankees.

Among the attributes Rothschild possesses that might be attractive to the Padres organization is his advanced use of analytics as well as his reputation for pushing his pitchers to develop new pitches. Yankees pitchers have consistently maintained an ERA in the top 5-10 in the AL. Yates in the last year of his contract and might be trade bait for a team looking to solidify their bullpen poes heading into the run for the postseason. Munoz will be a reliever that will help your ratios throughout the season in a set-up role. If Yates gets moved, Munoz looks to be the heir apparent and someone that will be a hot commodity. Get the advantage now and keep Munoz on your Fantasy radar.

Players to Avoid

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals had a magical 2019 season and won the World Series despite a subpar bullpen. Last season, the Nationals bullpen led all of baseball with a 5.66 ERA. However, there was one reliever that stood out during their run for the ring, and that was Daniel Hudson, who recorded the final out of the Series.

Hudson dominated after being acquired last season, posting a 1.44 ERA in 24 appearances. In the postseason he was just as good, recording four saves in as many chances.  He was the best reliever they could call upon during their championship run. Hudson took over for Sean Doolittle as the team’s closer as the southpaw reliever took a nosedive in the second half of the season. His workload in the first half caught up to him, going 0-3 with a 5.56 ERA while coughing up eight long balls after the All-Star break.

Davey Martinez has said that Doolittle will open the season as the team’s primary closer.  However, the Nationals fortified their bullpen by resigning postseason hero Hudson and signing former Astro Will Harris. Harris had an ERA of 1.50 last season and a career ERA of under 3.00 in his eight MLB seasons.

I project Doolittle to alternate with Daniel Hudson as the closer/set-up man throughout the season. The lefty reliever is still dominant against left-handed hitters to the tune of .221 batting average against and an 11.50 SO/W. The situational options will assist Doolittle in keeping his arm live during another potential postseason run. Any platoon will hurt the Fantasy value of Doolittle and make him a reliever to avoid as one of your top options.

Check out the rest of our 2020 Fantasy Baseball content from our great team of writers.

About Dennis Sosic

Dennis Sosic is from Cleveland, Ohio and a HUGE sports fan including NFL (GO BROWNS!) and college football (GO BUCKEYES!) MLB (GO TRIBE), NBA (GO CAVS!) and MMA. He has been called a Sports Geek by friends and foes alike and that fits him perfectly. He has been competing in fantasy sports, mainly fantasy football and baseball for over 20 years. Please do all of us a favor and follow Dennis @ CALL_ME_SOS.

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