Welcome Fantasy friends and foes to the 2022 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview.
If you are not getting ready for your upcoming Fantasy Baseball drafts, you are already behind. One of the biggest questions entering your fantasy drafts or auctions is when do you take the plunge at relief pitcher? While there are multiple paths to winning, fantasy managers are tasked with selecting value at every position. Yet relief pitcher always seems to place fantasy managers at the crossroads.
When I analyze the RP rankings, I am only confident in no more than eight relievers to select that won't give me headaches all season. So the question is do you grab you a high-end closer early in your draft? Or do you wait for the values to come to you and grab two or more middle-of-the-pack relievers and hope one or more breaks out?
My strategy would be to grab one of the elite relievers and then target one or more of the relievers on the rise. With so many teams employing bullpen by committees, there seem to be too many choices for teams and fantasy managers. You will be forced to grab multiple relievers to circumvent the bullpen committees.
Find which players to target and who to avoid in the 2022 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview.
2022 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview
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Who are the best dual-eligibility pitchers, and why should I care?
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Every fantasy manager is looking for an advantage over their fellow managers. One manner to accomplish this is to have a starting pitcher in your relief pitcher slot. They will often score more points than even a high-end closer. This holds even more true when the pitcher has two starts in a week. This is a winning draft strategy. Let's look at three pitchers who can help you get this advantage.
Tanner Houck, Boston Red Sox
Houck is a homegrown pitching talent who bounced between the rotation and the bullpen last season. Houck owned a 2.61 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in his five relief appearances while striking out 12.2 SO/9.
As a starter, Houck owned a 3.68 ERA and a 1.125 WHIP with an 11.2 SO/9. While Houck had some ups and downs, his most significant issue was working through the lineup the third time around.
The fourth starter in the Red Sox rotation is his job to lose. Instead, look for the right-hander to cement his role and become a valuable streamer option out of the RP slot for fantasy managers.
Ranger Suarez, Philadelphia Phillies
Ranger Suarez went from obscurity to reinforcing the rotation depth and bullpen for the Philadelphia Phillies. His versatility began with the southpaw in the bullpen and saving four games. Suarez also finished the season with a career-best 1.36 ERA across 106 innings, including 1.51 ERA in 12 starts.
Left-hand hitters could not figure out Suarez, hitting only .109 against. He also did not allow a home run to a left-handed hitter all season.
Suarez will start the 2022 season as the Phillies' third starter and will look to continue fooling hitters. He will be an elite fantasy chess piece for fantasy managers to insert Suarez in their weekly lineups.
Cal Quantrill, Cleveland Guardians
In the Mike Clevinger deal, Cal Quantrill came over from the San Diego Padres and began last season out of Cleveland's bullpen. He was outstanding in 18 games across 28 innings, posting a 1.88 ERA.
Due to multiple injuries to the starting rotation, Quantrill was moved into the rotation, keeping Cleveland in the playoff race. In 22 starts, he posted a 3.12 ERA and went six-plus innings in 13 of his starts.
Quantrill is projected to be SP2 in the Guardians rotation behind ace Shawn Bieber. However, he is a tremendously sneaky selection to be utilized in multiple spots in your pitching lineups.
Who are the deep sleepers who can emerge for saves in 2022?
Dinelson Lamet, San Diego Padres
The deepest of sleepers is the San Diego Padres Dinelson Lamet. The departure of NL saves leader Mark Melancon left a gaping hole in a Padres bullpen that is now not set at closer. Enter Dinelson Lamet.
Lamet didn't pitch that well last season after moving to the bullpen, making 11 appearances and finishing with a 4.40 ERA/3.94 FIP across 47 innings. He missed much of the 2021 season after a UCL strain kept him on the injured list for the majority of the season.
Lamet possesses a huge upside with the expectation that he can return to anything close to his 2020 form. The right-hander was outstanding in the shortened 2020 season when he pitched to a 2.09 ERA, 0.855 WHIP, and a 12.1 SO/9 along with a career-low 2.6 BB/9 across 69 innings.
His inability to stay healthy may force the Padres to push Lamet to the bullpen on a Padres club that fell below expectations last season. The other options for the closer role are not screaming confident choices with Drew Pomeranz, Emilio Pagan, and Robert Suarez.
A dart throw selection of Dinelson Lamet can prove to be a difference-maker for your fantasy roster.
Rowan Wick, Chicago Cubs
Right-hander Rowan Wick rejoined the Chicago Cubs in August after the right-hander was out for a year due to an oblique injury. He came back with chances to close out games during the final two months of the 2021 season.
Wick finished five for eight in save opportunities with a 4.30 ERA and 1.348 WHIP. He did strike out batters at a 29.0 SO% but did walk batters with an alarming 14 BB%. Batters only hit .205 against the right-hander last season.
Wick is the front-runner for the Cubs' closer job this season. Steamer projections have Wick as the team leader with 29 saves with a 4.05 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 64 innings. A phenomenal return of investment on a reliever that has a 364 overall ADP.
Players on the Rise
Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians
Rookie flamethrower Emmanuel Clase emerged as the Cleveland Guardians closer after spending a chunk of the 2021 season splitting save situations with James Karinchak. Karinchak started to struggle after the All-Star break, and Clase took over and dominated hitters.
Clase allowed only one earned run in his final 32 appearances. He struck out 33 hitters while walking only two and the staggering numbers didn't end there.
His 1.29 ERA topped all AL relievers, including an incredible 0.82 second-half ERA. Clase limited opposing batters to a .195 batting average and finished fifth in saves with 24.
Clase possesses an incredible pitch arsenal with staggering numbers. His cutter averaged 100.2 mph and produced a silly 67.6 groundball rate with an insane 0.2-degree launch angle. If his cutter wasn't tough enough to hit, check out his outstanding slider that induces whiffs 40.5 of the time, and opposing hitters were only hitting .110.
The sky is the limit for Clase, and early ADP as a top-six closer indicates that fantasy managers are loving Clase, and that might be even too low.
Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
After having two relievers unable to establish themselves as a reliable option, Jordan Romano moved into the closer role and had an outstanding 2021 season. In 62 games, Romano posted a 2.14 ERA with a 12.1 SO/9 and a 1.05 WHIP. He was 23 for 24 in save opportunities with only blown save coming on April 8.
Romano cemented himself as one of the top relievers last season by finishing top overall in the American League with a 3.7 WPA. Additionally, the right-hander finished in the top five percent of the league with a.173 XBA, .296 XSLG, and a 2.62 xERA.
His stock continues to rise as his 2021 season was on the heels of a successful 2020 season. During the 2020 season, he tossed 14.2 innings with a 1.23 ERA and a 0.886 WHIP.
Jordan Romano enters the 2022 season as the Blue Jays closer and one of the top closing options for fantasy managers.
Players on the Horizon
David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates
The 2021 campaign was the first full season for reliever David Bednar. All Bednar did was to put together one of the best rookie seasons as a reliever ever had with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Through 60.2 innings of work in 61 outings, he posted a 2.23 ERA, 2.69 FIP, and 0.973 WHIP. He struck out 32.5% of batters while walking only 8%. Bednar held opposing hitters to a .184 batting average and a 0.7 HR/9 rate. In addition, his outstanding season led him to finish 8th in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Bednar will be a crucial piece of the Pirates bullpen and with nothing to speak of as far as competition goes, he should rise up to be their closer this season.
Camilo Doval, San Francisco Giants
San Francisco Giants' reliever Camilo Doval had a whirlwind 2021 season. Doval spent the majority of the summer in Triple-A, but also made his MLB debut early in the season, and had four stints with the Giants during the season. He then finished the season by winning the NL Reliever of the Month for September/October.
In 15 games in September/October, Doval did not allow a single run, which translates to an 0.00 ERA. His WHIP was 0.698 and produced a 20/3 KK/B ratio while saving three games.
The Giants had enough confidence in their rookie flamethrower to be on the mound in a tie ball game in the top of the ninth inning of Game 5 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The final result was not favorable but it is still quite incredible.
Heading into the 2022 season, Doval is projected to be the high-leverage reliever and potential closer for the Giants. He continues to impress with a two-pitch arsenal, an 86.5 mph slider that opposing hitters hit just.167 BAA and generating a dazzling 40.3 whiff rate. He also possesses a four-seam fastball that has hit triple digits.
Doval has been identified as the closer of the future and the future can be early as the 2022 season.
Players to Avoid
Craig Kimbrel, Chicago White Sox
A novice fantasy manager will view Craig Kimbrel's final stats from last season and jump on the active major league leader in career saves with 372. Kimbrel finished with a 4-5 record with a 2.26 ERA and a 0.905 WHIP with 100 strikeouts across 59.2 innings.
Kimbrel was dominant in the first half as the Chicago Cubs closer, posting a 0.49 ERA and a 64/13 K/BB ratio in 36.2 innings.
Last season, the Chicago White Sox went all-in at the trade deadline, acquiring Kimbrel to pair up with Liam Hendricks to create a nasty back-end duo in the White Sox bullpen.
Unfortunately, Kimbrel struggled in his new role as a high-leverage set-up reliever for Hendricks. Kimbrel posted a 5.09 ERA and 1.217 WHIP in 23 innings for the White Sox during the second half of the season.
There were questions if the White Sox would exercise the $16 million club option for next season. However, the White Sox did indeed pick up the option but it's fair to wonder if he becomes a potential trade chip for the White Sox.
The White Sox lost confidence in Kimbrel in pressure situations, and his late-season collapse has to concern fantasy managers investing in his fantasy capital.