Often an afterthought in mixed leagues, skilled setup men are currently carrying more fantasy value than ever before.The Major League-wide ERA in 2017 was 4.35, which was the highest mark in a decade. Furthermore, starters threw fewer innings last year than they had in any season since 1995. As a
Often an afterthought in mixed leagues, skilled setup men are currently carrying more fantasy value than ever before.
The Major League-wide ERA in 2017 was 4.35, which was the highest mark in a decade. Furthermore, starters threw fewer innings last year than they had in any season since 1995. As a result, relievers who can post a stellar ERA and WHIP over 65-70 frames are becoming increasingly important.
Meanwhile, the volatility of the closer's role is seemingly at an all-time high. Forty hurlers had at least 10 saves last season, good for the second most ever after '16 (42). But just 11 pitchers saved 30-plus games, the fewest in a non-shortened season since 1989. A dominant setup man who could earn save chances down the road is arguably a better fantasy investment than a less-talented hurler who is guaranteed to close at the outset of the campaign but could ultimately lose the job due to poor performance.
• MLB.com's player rankings
Owners looking to make a splash in the mid-to-late rounds should consider one of the following 10 relievers. Some can help mixed-league teams without compiling saves, and others are likely to slide into the ninth inning for parts of this season.
Andrew Miller, Indians (Owned in 100 percent of Yahoo leagues): Possibly the most dominant reliever in baseball, Miller (1.72 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 14.5 K/9 rate from '14-17) possesses more fantasy value than any other setup man. Even with closer Cody Allen receiving most of the save chances in Cleveland, Miller can make a major impact by delivering 100-plus strikeouts and outstanding ratios.
Dellin Betances, Yankees (Owned in 100 percent of Yahoo leagues): While control problems (6.6 BB/9 rate in '17) prevent Betances from being the most desirable setup man in fantasy circles, the right-hander still possesses strikeout skills (career 14.4 K/9 rate) few can match. Owners who tab the 29-year-old in the final rounds of their drafts can expect a triple-digit whiff total and a reasonable facsimile of his lifetime 2.29 ERA.
Player Page for David Robertson, Yankees (Owned in 59 percent of Yahoo leagues): Among the four dominant Yankees relievers (along with Betances, Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle) who form the bridge to closer Albertin Chapman, Robertson might have the most fantasy value. The right-hander is coming off a spectacular '17 season (1.84 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, nine wins, 98 K's), and he could be the next man up for save chances given his ninth-inning experience (132 career saves) and Betances' wildness.
Josh Hader, Brewers (Owned in 45 percent of Yahoo leagues): Although Hader is less likely than most of the pitchers on this list to collect saves in '18, he can deliver exceptional production while working in a setup role. With the ability to provide low ratios and a triple-digit strikeout total in his first full season (2.08 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 12.8 K/9 rate in '17), the youngster could be a cost-effective version of fellow southpaw Miller.
Addison Reed, Twins (Owned in 34 percent of Yahoo leagues): Reed has ample experience as both a closer and a setup man, and he's posted a 2.40 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP and a 6.0 K/BB ratio over the past two years. Now setting up for inconsistent veteran Fernando Rodney, Reed could emerge as Minnesota's stopper a few weeks into this season.
Keone Kela, Rangers (Owned in 10 percent of Yahoo leagues): Despite battling through a shoulder injury last season, Kela posted a 2.79 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and an 11.9 K/9 rate across 38 2/3 innings. With soft-tossing southpaw Alex Claudio (lifetime 6.5 K/9 rate) and Timothy Lincecum -- who didn't pitch in '17 after posting a 9.16 ERA over nine starts in '16 -- representing his top competition for the closer's role, Kela could prove to be Texas' best option to finish games.
C.J. Edwards, Cubs (Owned in 8 percent of Yahoo leagues): Edwards is part of an impressive group of hurlers who threw at least 50 innings last year and held hitters to a sub-.150 average, joining Craig Kimbrel, Betances, Miller, Green and Robertson. Now setting up for Brandon Morrow -- who has an extensive injury history and last threw more than 54 1/3 innings in '12 -- the 26-year-old Edwards could be needed to cover the ninth inning at some point this season.
Pat Neshek, Phillies (Owned in 8 percent of Yahoo leagues): By making frequent use of an effective slider, Neshek has evolved into one of the best relievers in baseball (1.59 ERA, 0.87 WHIP in '17). Arguably the top bullpen arm in Philadelphia already, the 37-year-old could take over ninth-inning duties if Hector Neris experiences a dip in performance at any point in '18.
Brandon Kintzler, Nationals (Owned in 7 percent of Yahoo leagues): Although he lacks the strikeout skills (career 6.1 K/9 rate) of a traditional stopper, Kintzler enjoyed success in the closer's role by converting 28 of 32 save chances with the Twins last season. The right-hander doesn't collect enough whiffs to help mixed-league teams while setting up for fireman Sean Doolittle, but he could reclaim closing duties if Doolittle -- who has spent time on the disabled list in each of the past four seasons -- deals with additional injury woes this year.
Sam Dyson, Giants (Owned in 2 percent of Yahoo leagues): Despite converting 14 of 17 save chances after joining the Giants last June, Dyson will open '18 as a setup man for closer Mark Melancon. Like Kintzler, Dyson won't provide enough strikeouts to help mixed-league teams when he's not closing games. However, he will see his value skyrocket if Melancon (4.50 ERA, 30 innings in '17) battles injuries or ineffectiveness for a second straight year. As a result, he could be worth stashing in deeper leagues.
Fred Zinkie is MLB.com's lead fantasy writer. Follow @Fantasy411 and @FredZinkieMLB for fantasy baseball advice.