2024 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview

by Travis Argo
2024 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview

Welcome to the 2024 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview article!

Relief pitchers are usually challenging to dissect because of the lack of depth. But the 2024 season appears different from past years.

At this time last season, I was writing about how there has been no depth at the RP position, but there seems to be actual depth this year. In previous seasons, you had a handful of pitchers who would cross the 30-save threshold, and maybe a few pitchers would break 20 saves, but the 2023 season changed that narrative in a big way.

Last season, 12 relief pitchers recorded 30-plus saves, and 20 relief pitchers recorded 20-plus saves, a significant increase from 2022. That increase in success has added depth to the relief pitcher position we haven't seen in quite some time. 

Despite there being some hope of depth at the RP position, people are still drafting relievers at a high premium. According to NFBC ADP, three RPs (Devin Williams, Josh Hader, Edwin Diaz) are going in the Top 50 picks, and 12 are going in the Top 100. For those of you willing to wait to take relief pitchers in drafts, don't worry about missing out on the top guys because picks 100-200 are fruitful. There are still plenty of valuable options like Pete Fairbanks, Ryan Helsley, Evan Phillips, and Clay Holmes.

Be sure to check out the rest of the position previews here at Fantasy Six Pack too.

2024 Fantasy Baseball Previews
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Whichever draft strategy you decide on regarding relief pitchers, Fantasy managers must be prepared for that strategy, so let's dive into this vexing but fruitful position. 

2024 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Preview

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

Can Fantasy Managers Trust Drafting Edwin Diaz At His Current ADP of 45.7?

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Edwin Diaz has been one of the most reliable closers in baseball since his first year in Seattle. He has put up double-digit saves every season outside of the shortened 2020. Most of those seasons, Diaz recorded 30-plus saves.

Diaz has also been one of the few relief pitchers that adds value to the strikeout column. He has a fantastic 14.8 career K/9 rate. The last time we saw Diaz, he had a 17.1 K/9 rate in 2022. There hasn't been bad news about a dip in Diaz's velocity during rehab throwing sessions, so it doesn't look like fantasy managers will see a dip in Diaz's strikeout numbers in 2024.

If Diaz is healthy, he is a no-brainer on draft days, and all the news from the Mets is that Diaz will be ready for Opening Day. The Mets have indicated that they will have Diaz on restrictions on his workload in Spring Training, but fantasy managers should still feel confident that Diaz will return his value at his current ADP.

Which Pitchers Have The Best Shot At Joining the 30-Plus Saves Club?

My first candidate to join the 30-plus saves club is Jhoan Duran. This young kid has already proven he has the talent to break the 30 threshold; he only missed it by a few in the 2023 season. He has played for only two seasons; within those seasons, he has a 2.15 ERA, 175 strikeouts, and 35 saves. Duran doesn't just have the potential to break 30 saves; he could easily break 40 saves with his talent level. Just look at what he has done in just two years in MLB.  

I thought Clay Holmes would join the 30 club last season, but he was another who just missed it. Holmes had a few hiccups with his control last year that cost him some opportunities, but he regained his composure and ended the season with some solid stats. He had a respectable 2.86 ERA, 71 strikeouts, and 24 saves in 2023. Hopefully, this season, Holmes puts it all together to record 30 saves in 2024.

After bouncing between the starting rotation and the bullpen, Adbert Alzolay finally settled into being the closer for the Cubs. It took the Cubs a minute to pull the trigger on Alzolay, but once they committed to him as the closer, he didn't disappoint. Alzolay racked up 22 saves while posting a solid 14 percent swinging-strike rate once the Cubs made him the closer in mid-May.

So far, the candidates have been younger guys who have yet to pass the threshold entirely, but my next candidate is Craig Kimbrel, a former member of the 30 Club. It has been a few years since Kimbrel recorded 30-plus saves, but he has a good chance at his new home in Baltimore. He signed a one-year deal to be the Orioles closer with Felix Bautista out with an elbow injury. The Orioles' closer was a fruitful job for fantasy managers last season with Bautista, so it's reasonable to believe it will also be fruitful for Kimbrel. 

Players On The Rise

Andres Munoz, Seattle Mariners

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Munoz looked terrific as the Mariners' closer after the Paul Sewlad trade to the Diamondbacks. He posted an excellent 2.96 ERA while snagging 11 saves in his brief stint as the closer in 2023.

Munoz's strikeout prowess makes him an incredible candidate for a breakout in 2024. During the final 26 games of 2023, he had a sensational 17 percent swinging-strike rate. The upside of Munoz is so high now that he'll get an entire season as the Mariners' closer.

Pete Fairbanks, Tampa Bay Rays

Fairbanks was so close to being a part of the potential 30-plus saves club section, but it's hard to trust that the Rays will stick to one closer for an entire season. But the Rays were willing to shed their closing committee ways with Fairbanks last season.

Like Adbert Alzolay, Fairbanks had to spend most of the season proving that he should be the closer. Once the Rays committed to Fairbanks in June last season, he didn't disappoint. He had an incredible 2.94 ERA, 20 saves, and 58 strikeouts during his final 36 games in 2023.

If the Rays commit to Fairbanks in the 2024 season as the closer, and he can regain his swinging strike rate from the 2022 season (17%), Fairbanks could easily end the year as a top-five relief pitcher.

Evan Phillips, Los Angeles

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Phillips has been an unsung hero over the past two years regarding reliability and steady production. Over the past two seasons, he has been in the top 10 percentile in xERA. Phillips recorded 24 saves in his first season as the full-time closer in Los Angeles.

He has also been increasing his swinging-strike rate over the past few years due to his nasty sweeping slider. Phillips's slider always seems to break at the right time, and his accuracy with that sweeping slider is unbelievable. Phillips being a slider-dominant pitcher who doesn't walk too many batters is another critical stat that shows that he is ready to become a fantasy stud

The Dodgers have total trust in Phillips which shows since the Dodgers traded Caleb Fuergeson to the Yankees. Phillips is a safe and valuable pick at his current ADP of 118.5, especially for managers who want to wait a few rounds before taking their first closer.

Players on the Horizon

Robert Stephenson, Los Angeles Angels

Everything seemed to click for Stephenson once he arrived in Tampa Bay last season. He posted a 2.35 ERA while racking up 60 strikeouts as setup man for Fairbanks.

Stephenson signed a three-year deal with the Angels this offseason to co-close. Carlos Estevez has a history of not being able to hold on to closer jobs, If Stephenson can build on his progression will be the lead dog. If everything breaks Stephenson's way he could be a sneaky pick for 20-plus saves in 2024. 

Yuki Matsui, San Diego Padres

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Matsui has an exciting story of moving from Japan to Major League Baseball. He made his first professional debut in Japan at 18 years old and then became a five-time all-star. He led the Pacific League in Saves in 2020, 2022, and 2023 before signing his five-year deal with the Padres.

Right now, the Padres seem to be leaning towards having Robert Suarez as the closer, but Matsui could take over the role quickly. San Diego clearly loves Matsui because they signed instead of trying to bring back Josh Hader.

Jose Alvarado, Philadelphia Phillies

It looks like the Phillies will start the season with Jose Alvarado as the closer. He looked like he was heading for a breakout, but the injury bug kept pulling him away from the mound. Even with the IL stints, Alvarado posted a 1.74 ERA and racked up 64 strikeouts and 10 saves in 2023. Now, just imagine what Alvarado can do with an entire season of 9th-inning work. It bodes well that most of the projections have him at 22 saves for 2024, so everyone expects big things for Alvarado.

The Phillies have some depth in their bullpen that could get in Alvarado's way. Every time he returned from the IL in 2023, they immediately reinstated him in the closing role. So, the Phillies seem very committed to Alvarado as their closer.

Players to Avoid

Justin Lawrence, Colorado Rockies

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When the Rockies decided to take the committee approach last season, Justin Lawrence vaulted quickly to the lead dog spot by June and thrived momentarily. Then, the calendar turned to August, and Lawrence showed signs of struggle. He recorded four blown saves and posted a terrible 5.75 ERA in his last 23 games.

The Rockies are committed to Lawrence being their closer at the beginning of the season. If he struggles like he did at the end of last season, then Tyler Kinley will snag the job away quickly. 

Carlos Estevez, Los Angeles Angels

Estevez had a pretty impressive 2023 season. He got over 30 saves and earned his first All-Star award while racking up 78 strikeouts. Based on that type of season, the sky should be the limit for Estevez, but the Angels don't seem to be all in him. The Angels did sign Robert Stephenson to a three-year deal to help with the closing duties. 

Estevez might build on his success from the 2023 season, but it appears the Angels are set on a committee approach. Plus, Estevez has stiff competition for saves in the bullpen. Remember that most of the Angels' bullpen was injured last season, which might be the actual reason for Estevez's breakout. 

2024 Fantasy Baseball Previews
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