Owning relievers in fantasy baseball is similar to filling out a tax return -- few enjoy it, but the experience is much better than the alternative.Just 16 relievers produced more than 27 saves this past season. With closer instability rampant across baseball, successful fantasy owners are often those who are
Owning relievers in fantasy baseball is similar to filling out a tax return -- few enjoy it, but the experience is much better than the alternative.
Just 16 relievers produced more than 27 saves this past season. With closer instability rampant across baseball, successful fantasy owners are often those who are adept at finding the next saves source before a ninth-inning gig becomes available. Also, the revolving door at the closer position has forced owners to sometimes prioritize dominant setup men over inconsistent stoppers.
• Closer Report: Follow the ninth-inning battles around the Majors
Owners looking to make a splash with a late-round pick in 2017 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 next season.
Dellin Betances (Yankees): Though he will open '17 in a setup role with free-agent addition Albertin Chapman handling ninth-inning duties, Betances has the potential to rank among the top 20 relievers without compiling more than five wins or saves. The right-hander has been an exceptional bullpen option since the outset of '14, posting a 1.93 ERA with a 0.96 WHIP and 392 strikeouts. Notably, no other full-time reliever has compiled more than 326 whiffs in that stretch.
Andrew Miller (Indians): Indians manager Terry Francona may have permanently rewritten the book on how to maximize reliever effectiveness in big games with his unconventional usage of Miller in the '16 postseason. No matter how Francona deploys his best bullpen arm in '17, he will regularly use the southpaw in high-leverage situations. The only pitcher in baseball to reach double digits in wins and saves last season, Miller should continue to rank among baseball's elite relievers as he seeks his fourth straight campaign with a sub-2.10 ERA and at least 100 K's. Along with former teammate Betances, the 31-year-old has the highest floor on this list.
Hector Rondon (Cubs): Rondon understandably fell off mixed-league draft lists when the Cubs acquired Wade Davis in December. After all, Davis is among the most-skilled stoppers in baseball, having posted a 1.18 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP since the outset of '14. But Davis arrives to the Windy City with some risk after making a pair of arm-related DL stints last season. If Chicago's newly appointed fireman endures additional injuries in '17, Rondon (lifetime 77 saves, 2.97 ERA) could be ready to close out narrow wins for the defending World Series champions.
Ryan Dull (A's): Although he compiled just three saves, Dull was arguably Oakland's most reliable reliever last season -- when he posted a 2.42 ERA with a 0.87 WHIP and a 4.9 K/BB ratio. Looking ahead, the young right-hander could soon assume ninth-inning duties if 36-year-old Ryan Madson -- who logged a 3.62 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in '16 -- cannot find greater consistency. Mixed-league owners may be able to lock up 35 saves by spending a pair of late-round selections on the Madson-Dull duo.
Arodys Vizcaino (Braves): Vizcaino struggled amid battles with oblique and shoulder injuries down the stretch in '16, spoiling his campaign after he posted a 1.93 ERA with 10 saves over his first 32 2/3 innings. Meanwhile, veteran Jim Johnson notched 18 saves following the All-Star break. Johnson will enter Spring Training as the favorite for ninth-inning duties as a result, but the younger Vizcaino could reclaim the closer's role in short order if Johnson reverts to his '14-15 form (5.63 ERA).
Nate Jones (White Sox): With a 2.29 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP last season, Jones proved to be fully recovered from '14 Tommy John surgery. Though his value is limited to AL-only leagues while he is in a setup role, the right-hander will have a clear path to the ninth-inning gig if the retooling White Sox trade closer Player Page for David Robertson between now and the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Tyler Thornburg (Red Sox): An effective closer with the Brewers down the stretch in '16, Thornburg could help those in deep-mixed leagues as a setup man for Craig Kimbrel. Owners can use a late-round pick on the 28-year-old with the expectation that he will provide helpful ratios and a strikeout total north of 90, while also recognizing that Thornburg could pick up some saves if Kimbrel (3.40 ERA, 31 saves in '16) falls short of expectations for the second straight year.
Brad Hand (Padres): In his first season spent exclusively as a reliever, Hand posted a 2.92 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP over a Major League-leading 82 appearances. The left-hander also quietly ranked fourth among full-time bullpen arms with 111 whiffs, as he notched the best K/9 rate (11.2) of his career (5.9 K/9 from '11-15). A surefire NL-only asset heading into '17, Hand could dent mixed-league rosters if incumbent closer Brandon Maurer (lifetime 4.85 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) continues to produce inconsistent results.
Brad Ziegler (Marlins): Although he owns a stellar lifetime 2.44 ERA, Ziegler should open the season on waivers in all mixed leagues thanks to his unremarkable career 1.23 WHIP and 6.1 K/9 rate. But with 85 saves as a big leaguer, the setup man will immediately join shallow-league rosters if Marlins' closer A.J. Ramos -- who has posted a troubling lifetime 4.7 BB/9 rate and spent time on the disabled list in two of the past three campaigns -- cannot handle the ninth inning for all of '17.
Brad Boxberger (Rays): After leading the American League with 41 saves in '15, Boxberger did not register a save across 24 1/3 innings during an injury-plagued '16 season. In the meantime, Alex Colome capably filled in as the Rays' bullpen anchor by posting a 1.91 ERA with a 1.02 WHIP and 37 saves. But with free-agent bullpen options dwindling by the day, Colome has become a popular name in the rumor mill. Knowing that it has an experienced replacement in Boxberger, Tampa Bay could attempt to improve its offense or expand its prospect capital by trading Colome between now and the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.