2019 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Non-closer relief pitcher rankings — a top 12 for holds leagues and sleeper saves sources

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Saves, am I right?

You've heard enough about them, I'm sure. Relief pitcher coverage begins and ends with that stat because it's by far the most important to the vast majority of the Fantasy Baseball-playing world.

But there are reasons why you might feel compelled to look outside the pool of expected closers to middle relievers and setup men. I've boiled those reasons down to three:

  1. Ratios. In standard 5x5 categories leagues, some relievers are just so dang good that it's worth taking a hit in the wins and strikeout categories. Some, like the top reliever on this list, even manage to hold their own in strikeouts.
  2. Holds. Some leagues reward holds. Some reward saves plus holds. Either format expands the pool of usable relievers, elevating the most talented over those who just happen to be in the right role.
  3. Prospect saves sources. In deeper leagues where closers cost a pretty penny and account for the greatest scarcity, it pays to speculate who may inherit the role at some point. And those speculative pickups might just help you with favorable ratios in the meantime.

With those reasons in mind, I've divided these relievers into three categories: ratios relief, holds heroes and saves sleepers. Obviously, there's some overlap. Most every saves sleeper is in a position to accumulate holds, and you could make the case all of these relievers offer ratios relief. It's meant to shorthand the process, though, by identifying the primary reason you might target each reliever.

Please note that I excluded all closing candidates from the four teams whose preferred ninth-inning option still seems to be in question, which would be the Red Sox (Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier), the Diamondbacks (Archie Bradley, Greg Holland), the Marlins (Drew Steckenrider, Sergio Romo) and the Giants (Will Smith, Mark Melancon). It's a judgment call and mine to make, but I wanted to mention it so you're not left wondering "where's so-and-so?"

The top 12

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Josh Hader MIL • RP • 71
ratios relief
SV12
ERA2.43
WHIP.81
IP81.1
K/915.8

Volume has as much to do with this ranking as anything. Josh Hader has a habit of pitching multiple innings -- often including the ninth, which helps explain last year's save total -- and his 143 strikeouts were 19 more than any other full-time reliever.

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Adam Ottavino NYY • RP • 0
ratios relief
SV6
ERA2.43
WHIP.99
IP77.2
K/913.0

A workhorse with ratios nearly on par with Hader, Adam Ottavino no longer has to contend with the specter of Coors Field. Throwing his slider with the frequency of a fastball has made him near unhittable at times.

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Andrew Miller STL • RP • 21
ratios relief
ERA4.24
WHIP1.38
IP34
BB/94.2
K/911.9

His 2018 was wrecked by injuries, but Andrew Miller was sort of Hader before there was Hader and is technically in the saves mix for the Cardinals (though they'd prefer to keep his role more versatile). 

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Seranthony Dominguez PHI • SP • 58
saves sleeper
SV16
ERA2.95
WHIP.93
IP58
K/911.5

Though David Robertson is the presumptive front-runner for saves in Philadelphia, manager Gabe Kapler isn't one for defined roles and may turn to his second-best reliever, Seranthony Dominguez, to lock it up from time to time -- especially if the situation calls for multiple innings.

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Chad Green NYY • SP • 57
ratios relief
ERA2.50
WHIP1.04
IP75.2
BB/91.8
K/911.2

Becoming the designated opener for the Yankees (as rumored) would cost him wins and holds, but Chad Green has twice over proven he's one of the game's most overpowering relievers, averaging 97 strikeouts with a 2.18 ERA and 0.90 WHIP over the past two seasons.

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Ryan Pressly HOU • RP • 55
ratios relief
ERA2.54
WHIP1.11
IP71
K/912.8
FIP2.47

The ratios drop to 0.77 ERA, 0.60 WHIP and 1.49 FIP during the two months Ryan Pressly spent with the Astros, those data-mining darlings, who then proceeded to buy out all three of his arbitration years (presumably because they're expecting a continuation of that sort of production, which would blow up the price tag).

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Joe Jimenez DET • RP • 77
saves sleeper
ERA4.31
WHIP1.20
IP62.2
K/911.2
FIP2.91

The long-rumored closer-in-waiting may finally end his wait this year, seeing as Shane Greene, he of the 5.12 ERA and 4.61 FIP last year, is still occupying the ninth-inning role. A rocky patch to begin the second half may be the only reason Joe Jimenez isn't already the closer, but his FIP offers a better assessment of his abilities.

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Diego Castillo TB • RP • 63
saves sleeper
ERA3.18
WHIP.95
IP56.2
K/910.3
FIP3.30

The Rays technically haven't declared a closer and don't plan to, but Jose Alvarado is being drafted like he's the guy and Diego Castillo most certainly like he isn't (443rd overall). If manager Kevin Cash opts to keep the left-handed Alvarado more versatile, though, here's your clear front-runner.

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Keone Kela PIT • RP • 35
holds hero
SV24
ERA3.29
WHIP1.10
K/911.4
FIP2.97

Felipe Vazquez is often the subject of trade rumors, and Keone Kela already has closing experience from his time with the Rangers last year. He's the obvious eighth-inning guy in the meantime.

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Taylor Rogers MIN • RP • 55
saves sleeper
ERA2.63
WHIP.95
IP68.1
K/99.9
FIP2.33

After incorporating a slider into his arsenal about one-third of the way into last season, Taylor Rogers took off with a 1.34 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings thereafter. But he throws left-handed and Trevor May, who himself did some impressive things down the stretch last year, doesn't.

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Steve Cishek CHC • RP • 41
holds hero
ERA2.18
WHIP1.04
IP70.1
K/910.0
FIP3.45

Pedro Strop isn't exactly proven as a closer, and there's no guarantee when Brandon Morrow (elbow) will be ready to reclaim the role either. Maybe Steve Cishek is next up, but in the meantime, he'll continue to fill the role that notched him 25 holds last year.

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Craig Stammen SD • RP • 34
holds hero
ERA2.73
WHIP1.04
IP79
K/910.0
FIP2.19

Craig Stammen came within an inning of his second straight 80-inning season last year, so his ratios count for more than those of the average middle reliever. At 35, he's kind of a late bloomer, which brings with it some risk, but he's really the Padres' only choice for the eighth-inning role.

Don't forget about ...

(These pitchers are all ticketed for the injured list with the sort of shoulder concerns that make for unclear timetables, so rostering them will be difficult in the early days. They'd clearly be top 12 otherwise.)

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A.J. Minter ATL • RP • 33
saves sleeper
SV15
ERA3.23
WHIP1.29
K/910.1
FIP2.72
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Jeremy Jeffress MIL • RP • 32
ratios relief
SV15
ERA1.29
WHIP.99
IP76.2
K/910.4
Dellin Betances RP •
ratios relief
ERA2.70
WHIP1.05
IP66.2
K/915.5
FIP2.47

Honorable mentions

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Ty Buttrey LAA • RP • 31
saves sleeper
ERA3.31
WHIP1.22
IP16.1
K20
FIP1.63
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Richard Rodriguez PIT • RP • 48
ratios relief
ERA2.47
WHIP1.07
IP69.1
K/911.4
FIP2.60
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Carl Edwards CHC • RP • 6
holds hero
ERA2.60
WHIP1.31
BB/95.5
K/911.6
FIP2.93
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Seung-Hwan Oh COL • RP • 18
saves sleeper
ERA2.63
WHIP1.01
IP68.1
K/910.4
FIP3.29
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Tony Watson SF • RP • 56
holds hero
ERA2.59
WHIP1.03
IP66
K/99.8
FIP2.45
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Jared Hughes CIN • RP • 48
saves sleeper
SV7
ERA1.94
WHIP1.02
K/96.8
FIP3.28
Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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