2023 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitchers Preview

by Travis Argo
2023 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview

Welcome to the 2023 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitchers Preview article!

Here we are again, dissecting the relief pitchers with a fine tooth comb. Every year, we hope depth will magically happen this upcoming season. But that doesn't ever happen. In reality, about nine guys reach 30-plus saves, and a few more hit the 20 save benchmark. Unfortunately, we'll be without Liam Hendriks (we all wish him the best), one of the most consistent closers this year.

You will have to pay a high premium if you want one of those 30-plus closers. Five relief pitchers are going in the first 50 picks in most drafts on NFBC. In the first 100 picks of drafts, there are 12 relief pitchers taken off the board.

Saves are a hot commodity in drafts, and you must strike early to secure most saves for the season. Then you'll have to be tactful in the middle rounds if you want to compete in saves. So let's dive into this vexing but fruitful position.

2023 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitchers Preview

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Be sure to check out our closer chart throughout draft season and regular season to keep up with all the constant chaos in bullpens.

Should We Worry About Josh Hader in San Diego (since it didn't end well for him last season)?

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Hader struggled after being traded to San Diego. He had a 7.31 ERA, allowed 13 earned runs, and two blown saves. Hader only pitched in 16 innings for the Padres. His K/9 rate fell to 12.4 in San Diego when he had a 15.6 in Milwaukee.

So, can we trust Hader at his current ADP 38.3, despite his new team's struggles? The answer is yes (I should have built up the suspense more). Despite his San Diego struggles, Hader was still in the 97th percentile of whiff percentage and a respectable 16% swinging-strike percentage. Hader was still able to get batters to miss, so why did his performance drop (he posted the highest WHIP of his career last season)?

The main reason for this dip could be Hader's lack of use of his fastball. If he gets back to using his fastball more this season, there is no reason Hader shouldn't return to form. Especially in Petco Park, which is a highly pitcher-friendly park.

Hader is one of the best closers we have seen in recent memory, don't let him pass by you on draft due to a bad slump.

Nine Closers Have Had 30-Plus Saves Over the Past Few Years; Who Could Be the Newest Members of the 30 Save Club?

Raisel Iglesias was a member of the 30-save club in 2021 and should regain his membership in 2022. He will be the main guy in Atlanta now that Kenley Jansen is in Boston. Iglesias's time as a setup man wasn't a complete waste of time. He was still in the top percentage of the league strikeout percentage. He hit that mark three seasons in a row. Iglesias will return to being the elite closer we have counted on for years.

Ryan Helsley upped the velocity on all his pitches, which showed in the stats. His K/9 rate rose from 8.94 in '21 to a whopping 13.01 in '22. Also, his ERA went from 4.56 in '21 to an unbelievable 1.25 ERA. The 2023 season will go differently for Helsley since he will be the "goto" guy right away instead of having to earn his spot like last season. He missed out on quite a few saves last season, proving he was ready for the closer role.

Felix Bautista's first season in the majors went absolutely fantastic. He racked up 15 saves, a 2.19 ERA, and an incredible 12.06 K/9 rate. Now that he'll be closer, the ceiling is high for this young flamethrower. Don't be surprised if Bautista is the next Josh Hader.

Speaking of young flamethrowers with untapped potential, Camilo Doval didn't disappoint last season. He was super closer to cracking the 30-save club last season and should get plenty of opportunities in 2023. The only thing to get in Doval's way is if Gabe Kapler gets cute and starts mixing in the Rogers Brothers.

David Bednar is another closer who was almost on the verge of joining the 30-save club, but his back injury kept him out for roughly a month. If Bednar can stay healthy and the Pirates can be a little more competitive, Bednar will be the newest member of the club.

Players on the Rise

Clay Holmes, New York Yankees

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Holmes put up a solid season as the Yankees' closer, racking up 20 saves last season. He isn't the strikeout machine and is more of a finesse pitcher. He has the incredible ability to get hitters into ground balls. His ground ball percentage has increased yearly, with a significant jump in the 2021 season. His ground ball rate rose from 68.7 percent to 75.8 percent.

If Holmes can keep getting outs with grounders and secure the closer job for the whole season, there is no reason he can't be a top-five closer.

But do keep an eye on Michael King. He'll likely start the season on the IL, but his strikeout potential could make him a contender for the closing job. Or, he'll force the Yankees to become a committee.

Devin Williams, Milwaukee Brewers

Williams had a decent outing as the Brewers' closer after the Hader trade. Now, they didn't start using Williams as the closer until August. He racked up nine saves, a 2.57 ERA, and a decent 16 percent swinging-strike rate.

Williams has the strikeout potential and the same role that made Josh Hader a fantasy superstar. It's easy to see how Williams could end up the number one overall closer this season.

Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

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Welcome back, Jose Leclerc! After not seeing Leclerc for almost two years, he returned and showed us a glimpse of the old Leclerc.

Even though it was a limited sample, Leclerc has some incredible stats. He racked seven saves, four holds, a 2.82 ERA, and a crazy 17.4 swinging-strike percentage.

Leclerc proved that he deserves the closing role. He could easily get 25-plus saves, especially with the Rangers being a much more competitive team. Leclerc could be the guy in 2023 we were all hoping he would be in 2019 before his injury.

Players on the Horizon

Trevor May, Oakland Athletics

After a few seasons of being the steady setup man, May has a shot at being the main closer in Oakland.

Even though Oakland took the committee approach last season, it was more out of necessity than want. Oakland gave Lou Trivino quite a few shots until he failed. Then they gave Dany Jimenez tons of shots until he got injured. So, May should have plenty of chances even if the saves chances are limited. But at least May's strikeout ability will offset his limited save options.

Alexis Diaz, Cincinnati Reds

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Diaz started getting late-inning opportunities in mid-May and was fantastic. He recorded 12 holds, 11 saves, and six wins during that period. Remember that last season was Diaz's first taste of the majors. He flashed some great strikeout rates. Diaz was in the 97th percentile in whiff percentage and the 93rd percentile in strikeout percentage; he posted a fantastic 16.3 swinging-strike rate.

Now the Reds have a few talented arms with Lucas Sims and Tejay Antone. If Diaz continues his recent success, he should hold on to the closer job for some time. But don't be surprised if David Bell tries the committee approach. That is the only reason that keeps Diaz from being in Felix Bautista's territory.

Brandon Hughes, Chicago Cubs

Hughes is in a similar camp as Diaz. A young arm with lots of potential in a bullpen that is not hundred percent sure how to approach closing duties.

The Cubs brought Hughes up in Mid-May and used him as a plug-and-play option all over the place. He started getting used in high leverage situations in August.

Hughes posted a 3.07 ERA, eight holds, and eight saves during that stretch. Hughes doesn't have the strikeout potential like Alexis Diaz, but Hughes has some strikeout potential. Think 2022 Clay Holmes with a 10.50 K/9 rate.

Avoids

Carlos Estevez, Los Angeles Angels

Estevez has struggled to take over closing roles and had multiple chances in Colorado. He has a great fastball and can locate it well, but his slider and changeup end up all over the zone. If he could learn to locate his offspeed pitches, he would be a great sleeper pick, but he hasn't shown the ability to do that. So avoid him.

Plus, Jimmy Hergert did a decent job as the de facto closer after the Iglesias trade, so he is always a constant threat to Estevez. Since the Angels have no decent arms in the bullpen, they'll probably end up using all arms to fix their crappy situation.

The Philadelphia Phillies Bullpen

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The Phillies are the opposite of the Angels' bullpen. Philadelphia has a bullpen filled with multiple quality arms. They have three strikeout righties with Dominguez, Alvarado, and Kimbrel, who all have had success in the past. The Phillies traded for Gregory Soto, a leftie who racked up 30 saves last season.

I got the feeling, with this plethora of arms, that Rob Thomson will play the matchups. That will result in fantasy managers' hair loss trying to figure out which pitcher will get saves any given week.


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