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Late-Round Relief Pitchers To Target (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Travis Cain
Feb 11, 2021

James Karinchak has top-tier closer potential despite going after the elite relievers.

Whether you are in a head-to-head or rotisserie scoring league, consistent relief pitchers can be hard to find.

Taking relievers such as Josh Hader, Liam Hendriks, and Aroldis Chapman in the earlier rounds is risky because fantasy drafters can miss out on top-tier offensive players and starting pitching. However, fantasy players can make up for passing on these players by selecting closing options at later average draft positions (ADP) who will return greater value.

Last season, Kirby Yates, Josh Hader, and Roberto Osuna were the big-name closers to target. All things considered, they did not return value on their fourth- and fifth-round ADPs. In contrast, several unexpected breakout relief pitchers emerged during the 2020 MLB season. Players such as Devin Williams, Trevor Rosenthal, and Jeremy Jeffress returned incredible value at the relief pitching position. Those three players were likely free-agent additions in nearly all season-long leagues.

Overall, fantasy managers can select valuable relief pitchers in the later rounds. Here are some to target for saves, holds, and strikeouts for the 2021 season.

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James Karinchak (RP – CLE): Overall ADP 106
The ultimate boom-or-bust pick, Karinchak has the highest ADP on this list. He will presumably take over the closing role vacated by Brad Hand, who departed to the Washington Nationals. Karinchak has some of the most electrifying stuff in baseball. He posted a ridiculous, AL-leading 17.7 strikeouts per nine (tied with Devin Williams), but he struggled with his control by walking 16 batters in 27 innings. If Karinchak can command his pitches, he will return insane value at his current ADP and finish within the top three for the closer position.

Devin Williams (RP – MIL): Overall ADP 150
Williams is coming off a similar season to the aforementioned Karinchak. Arguably the best relief pitcher last season, he gave up only eight hits and one earned run In 27 innings, posting a 0.86 FIP to go along with 53 strikeouts. The reigning NL Rookie of the Year’s ADP is far too low for my liking. His upside in strikeouts, ERA, and holds make him a valuable commodity based on his current ADP. Williams could also be in line to save games if the Milwaukee Brewers Josh Hader to a contender.

Kirby Yates (RP – TOR): Overall ADP 172
As previously mentioned, Yates was a complete bust in 2020, so it might be surprising to find him on this list. However, Yates is joining a Toronto Blue Jays team that could become a legitimate contender this year. Yates had a horrific season, but he is in a prime position to bounce back. Two seasons ago, Yates saved 41 games for the San Diego Padres and had a ludicrous 1.30 FIP in 60 appearances. I believe Yates rounds more into that form of himself rather than the 2020 version. Although there is some risk of Jordan Romano taking over the closing role if Yates struggles out the gate, I’m willing to take that chance based on his ADP.

A.J. Puk (RP – OAK): Overall ADP 296
As of this moment, the closer spot for the Oakland Athletics appears to be up for grabs. Some reports suggest Jake Diekman may get first dibs on closing games for the 2020 AL West champions, or it could be a full-blown committee. Coming off Tommy John surgery, Puk displayed an impressive skillset during his short major-league stint in 2019. It’s unclear how the A’s project to use Puk this season. Yet given their current closing situation, it’s possible they Puk the keys to shut the door. He is an intriguing prospect to keep an eye on, and I’d feel comfortable taking a flier on him in the 250 ADP range.

Josh Staumont (RP – KC): Overall ADP 396
Staumont is in a bit of a complicated situation. The Kansas City Royals are projected to be one of the worst teams in the league this season, and veteran Greg Holland will likely get the first crack at closing games. However, Staumont displayed flashes of greatness last year. In 26 appearances, he posted a 2.45 ERA, 3.54 FIP, and 37 strikeouts in 25.2 innings. I could see a scenario where the Royals trade Holland to a contender midseason and give Staumont full-time closing duties Staumont may bring immediate value in holds and strikeouts as well. Don’t hesitate to take him with one of your last picks.

Pete Fairbanks (RP – TB): Overall ADP 397
Most MLB fans will recognize this name. Fairbanks was electric for the Tampa Bay Rays during their 2020 World Series run. He has a dazzling repertoire, and it appears he has the trust of the organization. Manager Kevin Cash gave him the ball in numerous high-leverage situations. Fairbanks produced a dazzling 39 strikeouts in 26.2 innings with a respectable 3.04 FIP. The Rays tend to overachieve, so there should be plenty of games to save. Nick Anderson is the assumed closer, but things can change quickly in Tampa Bay. Given Anderson’s playoff struggles, I’m willing to bet Fairbanks could take this job sooner rather than later. Taking Fairbanks has virtually no risk given his current ADP. He could end up being one of the steals of the draft.

All statistics were taken from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

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Travis Cain is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Travis, follow him @TravisCain_.

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