Fantasy Baseball: Which relievers should we believe in or fade?

·6-min read

After recently taking a look at starting pitchers using CSW, let’s now use it to examine relievers.

The Good CSW

Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox (No. 1 in CSW)

He had a 5.10 expected ERA last season but has turned into a legit ace reliever this year (1.14 xERA). Adam Ottavino has stolen just one save, as Barnes is locked in as closer on a surprising first-place Boston team. CSW says there’s no need for the Red Sox to bring in a closer at the deadline (or for you to try to trade him in fantasy leagues).

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees (No. 2 in CSW)

Chapman allowed his first run of the season Sunday, although that resulted in his second win over the weekend. He hasn’t thrown this hard since 2017, and the introduction of a split-finger fastball has simply been unfair and resulted in a comical 55.4 K% that easily leads baseball.

Tejay Antone, Cincinnati Reds (No. 3 in CSW)

He’s clearly the real deal but currently stuck in a multi-inning relief role that costs him most of his fantasy value. Antone (available in 59% of Yahoo leagues) would dominate as a closer or starter and would see his value skyrocket should he convert to either role. Meanwhile, teammate Amir Garrett ranks eighth in CSW, so he’s pitching much better than his 6.92 ERA indicates. Of course, the Reds haven’t even produced a single save opportunity over the last week.

Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs (No. 4 in CSW)

He’s turning into a legendary feast or famine player, and it’s the former this season. Kimbrel’s strong first two months appear real.

Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins (No. 12 in CSW)

The lefty has allowed just one extra-base hit to a right-handed batter all season. Rogers has only two saves, but he’s been pitching far better than Alex Colome (No. 179 in CSW) and Hansel Robles (No. 157). He's still available in 47% of leagues.

Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels (No. 13 in CSW)

He sports a 5.12 ERA, but CSW says he’ll be just fine. Iglesias has seen nearly 30% of his flyballs go for homers, which figures to drop much closer to his career rate (13.7%). While his new home park in Anaheim has become one of MLB’s best for homers, it’s still not as extreme as his previous digs in Cincinnati.

James Karinchak, Cleveland Indians (No. 16 in CSW)

Karinchak was looking like Cleveland’s new closer, but he gave up a three-run homer to lose Sunday’s game, so he may not get every save opportunity in the short term. He still sports a 1.31 ERA and a 0.63 WHIP on the year, while Emmanuel Clase sports a CSW that ranks No. 128 (although being an extreme ground baller helps). Karinchak is on his way to becoming a dominant top-three fantasy closer for years to come.

Tyler Chatwood, Toronto Blue Jays (No. 18 in CSW)

Chatwood was pitching so well he was given a save opportunity Sunday, but it resulted in an ugly outing that saw his ERA jump from 0.53 to 2.55. Still, with such an impressive CSW and a wide-open Toronto bullpen (Julian Merryweather would be closing if healthy), Chatwood is worth grabbing in deeper fantasy leagues for those speculating for saves. He’s available in more than 80% of Yahoo leagues.

Ian Kennedy, Texas Rangers (No. 31 in CSW)

Like Chatwood, Kennedy is another former starter who’s found late career success as a reliever. Kennedy has run away with the Rangers’ closer’s job, and there’s now more risk of him getting traded at the deadline than a sudden collapse. He’s not sub-2.00 ERA good, but his 2021 performance has also been no fluke. It’s also becoming clearer Globe Life Field is far less hitter-friendly than Globe Life Park was.

Cesar Valdez, Baltimore Orioles (No. 33 in CSW)

He’s a 36-year-old who entered the season with a career 25:20 K:BB line and is averaging 85.1 mph with his fastball, yet here we are. Valdez has remarkably thrown his changeup nearly 80% of the time this season, and his CSW suggests the strong results haven’t been overly luck driven.

The Bad CSW

Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals (No. 130 in CSW)

Reyes took his first loss while allowing his first homer (and just second earned run) Sunday, but he’s otherwise rewarded fantasy managers with 14 saves and two wins this season. His 1.32 WHIP and 22 walks to go along with a 0.72 ERA tells you as much as any advanced stat that he’s due for regression, and CSW backs it up. Reyes is talented and capable of pitching better moving forward, and it also helps his main competition Giovanny Gallegos hasn’t been much better here (No. 117), but he’s walking on thin ice.

Josh Staumont, Kansas City Royals (No. 158 in CSW)

Staumont was hit hard during his last outing Saturday, but it didn’t result in a Royals loss, and he should remain in the closer’s role. But Scott Barlow (No. 50) has been the team’s best reliever, and the big discrepancy between their CSW suggests he’s a sleeper to follow.

Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners (No. 160 in CSW)

It appears Montero’s 5.12 ERA is a better indication of how he’s pitched than his 1.14 WHIP. Kendall Graveman (No. 57), who still hasn’t given up a run this season, should run away with the closer’s role at some point. Graveman is on the COVID list, but he’s developed into a relief ace since moving to the pen.

Gregory Soto, Detroit Tigers (No. 182 in CSW)

Michael Fulmer (No. 120) doesn’t jump out here either, but he was settling into Detroit’s closer’s role before blowing Sunday’s save. Still, the former prospect is easily the best bet to lead the Tigers in saves moving forward, and the converted starter is likely to see a better CSW out of the pen.

Fulmer remains available in more than 60% of Yahoo leagues.

Tyler Rogers, San Francisco Giants (No. 214 in CSW)

He’s the Giants’ co-closer (at worst) with Jake McGee (No. 119) right now, and I’d pay less attention to this stat with a submariner/extreme ground ball pitcher like Rogers. The Giants have produced a ton of save opportunities so far but could also be in the market for a closer at the trade deadline now as a playoff contender.

Lou Trivino, Oakland A’s (No. 217 in CSW)

Trivino has a 3.13 ERA, while Jake Diekman sports a 3.15 ERA, but the latter has actually pitched far better when you dig a little deeper (No. 24 in CSW). Trivino’s expected ERA is 5.00 compared to Diekman’s 3.36, so Statcast backs it up. Trivino is 61% rostered in Yahoo leagues, while Diekman is 44%. The lefty doesn’t have any splits, so that shouldn’t hinder his chances of a full-time takeover of Oakland’s closer’s role. Of course, A.J. Puk (7% rostered) could also eventually enter the mix, and he’d likely dominate right away in a relief role.

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