For the same reason that starting pitchers aren’t putting up the same number their counterparts did in years past, relief pitchers have played a much more prominent role in years past. Previously in Fantasy Baseball, relief pitcher options were limited as most teams would usually only ever throw the same four arms over and over. Now, teams stockpile relievers and utilize them much more frequently than in years past.
The State of Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitching in 2019
Baseball as a whole has shifted to moving away from traditional bullpen roles and instead utilize the entire bullpen as a unit based on matchups. The Yankees are a great example of this, routinely having seven to eight relief pitchers on the roster at any given time in 2018 that were likely to see some action. As a result, there are fewer top-shelf relief pitchers that rack up 40+ saves, but far more players that can provide at least some roster utility.
With an increased pool of players to choose from and more volatility than ever in terms of projections, relief pitchers have become one of the trickier areas of Fantasy Baseball to project. While there are certainly still big-name relievers (which we will look at here), even the best options offer volatility and a lower ceiling than we’ve become accustomed to in years past.
With all that said, let’s take a look at the best options at relief pitcher for the 2019 Fantasy Baseball season for season-long, standard-scoring formats.
Fantasy Baseball 2019 Relief Pitcher Rankings
10. Craig Kimbrel, Free Agent
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 65 IP, 4 W, 35 SV, 98 K, 2.86 ERA, 1.05 WHIP
The sixth-ranked relief pitcher in fantasy baseball last season, the only reason Kimbrel sits this low on the list is that at the time of this writing, he has not yet signed to a team. Holding out for a better contract offer, the market for Kimbrel is heating up according to MLB.com and he should hopefully be joining a roster soon.
Should Kimbrel hold out longer and miss all of spring training, his value would take a decent hit as he would almost certainly need a few weeks to round himself into game form. In spite of the red flags, Kimbrel’s talent alone makes him worthy of a flier and a spot on the list. It would be hard to imagine Kimbrel sitting out the entire year. Given his skill set and unmatched resume, somebody should find the money to make a deal with Kimbrel work.
9. Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 57 IP, 3 W, 37 SV, 90 K, 2.68 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
Baseball’s preeminent flamethrower, Aroldis Chapman, heads into another season with the Yankees and should be in line for a huge number of saves just based off how good his team is. Despite being in a loaded bullpen that is comfortable playing matchups instead of having defined roles, Chapman is the anomaly and is cemented in the 9th inning role.
There also is the risk that the Yankees offense is just routinely too good and doesn’t put Chapman in the position to even pick up the save. Despite Chapman seemingly losing a step on his fastball, the Yankees won 100 games last season and look to be improved this year. That sheer volume of wins alone makes Chapman worthy of a spot on the list.
8. Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 85 IP, 4 W, 8 SV, 133 K, 2.44 ERA, 0.92 WHIP
Josh Hader is the only player on this list not projected to put up over 30 saves on the season. Even if your league doesn’t count holds as a statistic, Hader provides excellent value across the board in every other department. Dwarfing every other reliever in projected innings and strikeouts to go along with an elite projected ERA and WHIP, Hader is a versatile weapon capable of adding value to any fantasy baseball pitching staff.
The 2018 Trevor Hoffman award winner, Hader is an elite bullpen arm that the Brewers deploy in high-leverage situations. While not nominally the closer, Hader does a bit of everything and will almost certainly surpass the Yahoo projection of just 8 saves on the season, even in Milwaukee’s solid bullpen.
7. Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 78 IP, 3 W, 31 SV, 106 K, 2.54 ERA, 1.05 WHIP
While there are almost certainly more talented relievers that did not make this list, Brad Hand benefited greatly from playing for the Padres. After being traded to the Cleveland Indians, Hand saw far fewer save opportunities.
While he will certainly get his run late in games and pick up saves, Hand is also prone to blown saves and will almost certainly not see the same numbers he picked up closing games for the Padres. As one of the worst offenses in the league, the Padres rarely won by a margin outside the range for a save and gave Hand one of the most lucrative fantasy closing jobs in the major leagues.
6. Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 62 IP, 3 W, 31 SV, 91 K, 2.03 ERA, 0.98 WHIP
Taking over the closing role for the Padres after Hand left for the Indians, Yates flashed incredible potential in his less than half a season in the role. Converting saves at a more efficient clip and with much more eclectic stuff compared to Hand, Yates compiled one of the best second-half stat lines across all relievers.
Even with the free agent addition of Manny Machado, the Padres are likely a few years away from being a competent MLB offense and Yates should still find himself available for ample save opportunities courtesy of a meager Padres offense. Given his raw ability, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Yates far surpass the production Hand gave the Padres.
5. Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 63 IP, 3 W, 37 SV, 91 K, 2.57 ERA, 0.92 WHIP
After dealing with off the field issues and missing a massive chunk of the season last year, the Astros picked up Osuna and promptly moved him into their closer role. Osuna was lights out for Houston, converting all 12 of his save opportunities down the stretch en route to a sub 2.00 ERA.
With a fresh season and the 9th inning belonging entirely to him, Osuna is primed for huge statistical season closing games for the Houston Astros. One of the best teams top to bottom in baseball, the Astros are almost a lock to make the playoffs and the volume of wins should keep Osuna relevant as a top fantasy option. Especially considering the Astros lack of bullpen depth outside of Osuna, he should be in line for a heavy workload this season.
4. Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 55 IP, 3 W, 30 SV, 70 K, 2.29 ERA, 0.76 WHIP
Coming off a career season that saw him post career-highs in multiple major categories and with a clean bill of health heading into the season, Doolittle looks to improve on his limited (but brilliant) 2018 season.
Despite only throwing 45 innings, Doolittle converted 25 of 26 save opportunities and missed time with a foot injury. Durability has always been a concern with Doolittle and he has only thrown over 60 innings twice in his seven-year career. If Doolittle can stay healthy and accumulate similar innings to other top relievers, there is no reason as to why he couldn’t put up the best numbers of any reliever in fantasy baseball this season.
3. Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 67 IP, 3 W, 41 SV, 106 K, 2.29 ERA, 0.97 WHIP
Seeing as the Mets boast one of the weakest bullpens in Major League Baseball and Diaz is an elite arm coming off a 58 save year, it should come as no surprise that he finds himself ranked in the top three. Heading over to the Mets from the Mariners, Diaz should find himself having a small adjustment period to the new league.
Despite joining a team with a relatively similar makeup and to the 2018 Mariners, Diaz’s number should almost certainly come back down to earth. That said, we don’t necessarily know what “down to earth” for Diaz is. Only in his third full season in the majors, Diaz has a live young arm and is still learning the nuances of how to actually pitch at the big league level (which is horrifying). Although unlikely, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to see Diaz match his 2018 production. If there is one position the Mets do traditionally field a competent fantasy player at, it is closer.
2. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 69 IP, 3 W, 37 SV, 94 K, 2.35 ERA, 0.88 WHIP
The only reason Jansen isn’t ranked higher on this list is the fear of his arm having a bit too much fatigue after two deep playoff runs in back to back seasons. Towards the end of last season’s playoff run, Jansen looked considerably less effective compared to his normal self and the workload was seeming to catch up to him.
Despite all this, Jansen plays on the best team in the National League and should find himself getting a comparable number of save opportunities to last season. Even if Jansen does stumble a bit for the Dodgers, he has a long leash and his situation and resume alone makes his floor arguably the highest of any player on the list.
1. Blake Treinen, Oakland A’s
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 77 IP, 4 W, 38 SV, 86 K, 1.99 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
Playing on the perennially low-scoring A’s, Treinen gets plenty of opportunities to shut the door in close ballgames. Coming off a year that saw him post an incredible 0.78 ERA to go alongside 38 saves, Treinen put together one of the best statistical seasons in recent memory.
Yahoo Sports projects Treinen to face some heavy regression in 2019 given his previous career stats. However, Treinen was able to produce on his otherworldly level consistently across the entire season, leading us to believe that his year was not a fluke. Even if Treinen does regress a bit, his 2018 stats were so good that even factoring in heavy regression, Treinen easily grades out as a top three reliever based on Yahoo’s projected stats.