2021 Relief Pitcher Ranking Tiers (Fantasy Baseball)
With a new focus on analytics and matchups in MLB, bullpen utilization has looked much different over the past few seasons. Now deployed in a multitude of situations, relief pitchers provide a new challenge to fantasy managers.
Drafters should have a plan for how to approach relievers and the save category. Whether you wish to prioritize saves/holds or wait until the later rounds, placing the relief pitchers in tiers will help you determine who to target.
Let’s dive into our current RP rankings and examine the relievers from a tiered perspective.
Tier One – Elite Closers
All three of these players have a firm grip on the ninth-inning role for their respective teams. Hader has proven to be an elite closer over the years, but his Brewers are currently projected to be an average team in the NL Central.
Hendriks and Chapman benefit from receiving save opportunities for two of the top teams in the American League. Hendriks was excellent as the Athletics’ closer over the past two seasons, and he finds himself on an even better White Sox roster in 2021. Chapman will once again serve as the shutdown man for the Yankees, who could lead the AL in wins.
Tier Two – Proven Closers on Unproven Teams
Tier Three – Potential Gems at a Discount
One of the most intriguing young pitchers in baseball, Karinchak should get the closer job in Cleveland in 2021. He showed tremendous upside in the shortened 2020 campaign with an outstanding 17.7 K/9 ratio. Cleveland may once agains struggle to score runs, but Karinchak could end many close games.
After posting three straight All-Star seasons between 2016 and 2018, Jansen has seen a dropoff in saves, an increase in ERA, and a decline of his K/BB ratio. However, he remains the favorite to receive save opportunities for the defending champion Dodgers.
Pressly was not as effective as he was during his 2019 All-Star season last year. However, he played a key role for an Astros team that made it all the way to the ALCS, and he figures to be their ninth-inning man once again in 2021.
After serving as the closer in San Diego and Cleveland, Hand now finds himself the favorite for the ninth-inning role in the nation’s capital. The lefty struggled to shut the door in 2020, but he still posted the lowest ERA of his career (2.05 in 22 innings) in the shortened season.
Tier Four – Maybe, Maybe Not
- Trevor Rosenthal (OAK)
- Nick Anderson (TB)
- Craig Kimbrel (CHC)
- Devin Williams (MIL)
- Rafael Montero (SEA)
- Alex Colomé (MIN)
We can no longer count on these pitchers to get consistent saves while keeping our ratios in check. Most of them have questionable roles or do not have a proven track record at the MLB level.
Replacing Hendriks, Rosenthal will assume the closer role in Oakland. After missing all of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery, he has pitched just 38 innings over the past three years. The Athletics are not expected to repeat as AL West champions in 2021, and Rosenthal is a risk that I will let my league-mates take.
Anderson will be at the mercy of how Kevin Cash elects to deploy his bullpen. The right-hander may be asked to face the tough part of a lineup in a non-save situation. However, he is a great pitcher for the defending AL champions.
Once a coveted free agent at the start of the 2019 season, Kimbrel has struggled mightily in his past two campaigns. He posted a 6.53 ERA in 2019 and a 5.28 ERA in 2020 with 15 total saves over those two seasons. However, he somehow still enters 2021 as the favorite for saves in Chicago, though he should be on a tight leash.
Williams will play second fiddle to the previously discussed Hader, so I don’t understand why he is selected as a top-20 reliever. Milwaukee will likely not have enough save opportunities to go around.
Montero is a solid pitcher, but don’t expect the Mariners to offer a plethora of save opportunities.
Though he is the last name on the list, Alex Colomé is my strong preference among this group. He has closer experience, handling the ninth-inning role for the White Sox before coming over to Minnesota. Taylor Rogers will likely go back to a setup or lefty-matchup role, leaving most of the save chances to Colomé in Minnesota.
The relief pitcher position varies greatly by fantasy league, so you’ll have to decide how to approach your draft. If you want to prioritize relief pitching, grab at least a couple of players from Tier One, Tier Two, and Tier Three.
Every year, closers emerge from unsettled situations and provide fantasy value. Ask yourself what kind of start you want to get out to at the reliever position, and use these tiers accordingly. You will be able to find value during the season on the waiver-wire.
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