2021 Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitchers

Which relievers should you be targeting late or fading early in drafts?

With there being more closer battles this spring than we have ever seen before, there will be plenty of darts thrown towards the back half of drafts in an attempt to secure saves. It may be unfair to label someone in this category, going after pick 200, a bust, but with the way relievers are drafted these days, I believe they qualify as potential busts.

Sure, there will be saves available on the waiver wire throughout the year, but you should still be looking to take some chances later on in your draft. Here I will try and weed out the sleepers and the busts available in the back half of your drafts (with one exception) as you prepare for the 2021 season.

 

NOTE: All ADP’s mentioned are based on NFBC data from February 18th through March 8th

 

Sleepers

 

Amir Garrett, Cincinnati Reds (256)

Following the trade of Raisel Iglesias to the Angels, Amir Garrett was quick to claim the closer role as his, which is exactly the type of attitude you like to see out of your closer. Garrett remained a swing and miss machine last season, with an impressive 43.7% Whiff rate, and should be a valuable reliever for fantasy purposes no matter the usage.

With Lucas Sims slowed by an elbow injury and Sean Doolittle not the threat he once was, Garrett should be considered the heavy favorite to close out games to start the year. Tejay Antone could be a darkhorse candidate, but I’d imagine the team preferring to use him in more of a multi-inning role if he isn’t starting.

 

Giovany Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals (289)

Even if Giovanny Gallegos loses out to Jordan Hicks for the closer role, he still brings tons of strikeout upside (20.1% SwStr, 43.8% O-Swing) and low ratios. I can see the Cardinals being careful with Hicks, at least early on, as he has not pitched for a year and a half now. The future closer in this organization is still likely Hicks, but I’d consider Gallegos the better option and favorite to lead the Cardinals in saves for the 2021 season.

For what it’s worth, Gallegos earned the first 9th inning appearance of the spring. Going 60+ picks later than Hicks, Gallegos provides a higher floor and possibly ceiling at a nice discount.

 

Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers (285)

The Rangers shouldn’t have needed to move cost-controlled Rafael Montero to the Mariners for it to be evident that they believe Jose Leclerc can be the team’s closer going forward. Jonathan Hernandez is fantastic as well, but as manager Chris Woodward has mentioned, they want him in a 2-3 inning bullpen role, and he also worked as an opener this spring (and is now likely out for the first half of the season). So that leaves Leclerc as the logical closer to begin the season, and as in years past, I’m still buying into the Leclerc skillset.

He only logged 2 IP last year before a Grade 2 strain of the teres major in his throwing shoulder sidelined him, but he still impressed in 2019 despite an unappealing 4.50 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. I’d love to see him lower his walk rate, but at just 27 years old, as long as he is healthy and his mind is right, the ceiling is unlimited for Leclerc. Going this late in drafts, Leclerc makes for a great investment this season.

 

Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies (335)

Hector Neris was as frustrating as ever last season, prompting the Phillies to go out and trade for Brandon Workman at the trade deadline. As things stand now, given his track records, I’d lean towards Neris opening the season as the team’s closer. On the plus side, Neris’s swing and miss stuff remains as great as ever (17.6% SwStr, 39.1% Whiff rate), and he is working on a new slider. He also dealt with some bad luck (.381 BABIP last year vs. .293 career average) in 2020. Barring a non-disastrous spring, Neris should be the favorite to open the season as the closer and provides a much higher ceiling than Bradley 70+ picks later.

 

Anthony Bass, Miami Marlins (299)

There couldn’t have been a better landing spot for Anthony Bass than the Marlins, as he and his 12 saves from 2019-2020 should make him the favorite to close out games in 2021. Bass is coming off a career year from an xStats perspective as his xERA (2.24), xWOBA (.223), and xSLG (.265) all ranked in the 98th percentile. Bass found a ton of success in his slider, with a 52.2% Whiff rate as he was able to bury the pitch down and away against righties more consistently.

When not getting whiffs on his slider, Bass was able to produce plenty of groundballs, with his 62.3% GB rate good for 6th highest among qualified relievers in 2020. While he has yet to have a K rate over 23% in his career, Bass still makes for a great late-round pick for those bargain hunting for saves.

 

Busts

 

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers (58)

This is not to say that Josh Hader will be a complete bust for fantasy managers in 2021, but at his price, I will assuredly wind up with 0 shares in 2021. ADP aside, there are plenty of other reasons one can give as to why you should fade Hader this season.

Since July of 2019, Hader has a 3.86 ERA  and 1.02 WHIP over 56 IP while allowing 12 HR. Certainly not terrible numbers, but it’s tough to justify making that a top 60 pick. His proclivity to find barrels (a 12% Barrell rate since 2018) likely means that HR rate won’t just disappear anytime soon.

He’s not even the best reliever in the Brewers bullpen, which could mean his grip on the closer role is looser than we want to believe. The trade rumors haven’t stopped, with most teams being interested in him for a non-closer role. Going back to his 2020 season, he finished with a career-low .161 BABIP but still managed a 3.79 ERA (4.01 xFIP). His walk rate isn’t one of the major concerns, but it did balloon to 12.8% last season, a career-high, while his SwStr rate was at 16.1%, a good number yet still a career-low for Hader.

 

Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals (227)

While I still view him as the Cardinals closer of the future, it might be in the organization’s best interest to let someone like Giovanny Gallegos close out games this season while the 24-year-old Hicks (who probably won’t work back-to-back days and may have a possible innings limit) works his way back from a lengthy absence.

On the field, it’s great to see that Hicks is hitting 102 MPH on the gun this spring, which has already inflated his ADP, but until we see his command in an actual game, the velocity doesn’t really matter. Pitchers typically get their velocity back after Tommy John, but there’s a track record of pitchers having control/command issues in their first year back from the surgery.

Even before the surgery, Hicks wasn’t exactly a strikeout machine despite his filthy stuff, and despite believing he’s capable of taking that big step forward, we have yet to see him be truly dominant. At 227, it’s hard to argue against taking a flyer on a guy of Hicks talent, but the fact that Gallegos is going 60+ picks later has me fading Hicks and chasing Gallegos.

 

Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners (192)

The Rangers traded closer Rafael Montero to a division rival this offseason for a low-level 17-year-old prospect, despite Montero being under team control for two more seasons. That should tell you all you need to know about Montero’s value. I understand neither team is expecting to compete this season, but that’d still be an odd move for the Rangers if Montero was a quality closer. The fact is, Montero isn’t really closer material, and while he will act as the teams closer to begin the season, he should have some competition by mid-season.

I’m assuming Montero’s ADP is so high because he is considered a safe closer option despite limited upside. There really are no safe closer options, especially once the top 10-12 closers are off the board. There’s also little to no swing and miss potential here with Montero (22.5% O-Swing, 9.3% SwStr).

His changeup is his best-offspeed offering and a good one at that, but it just doesn’t get enough chases out of the zone. With plenty of higher upside options almost 100 picks later, Montero is just not worth a top 200 pick.

 

Archie Bradley, Philadelphia Phillies (264)

I’m not quite sure why Archie Bradley’s ADP continues to creep upward. Maybe it’s because Joe Girardi said Bradley “has the ability to close,” or perhaps it’s because Bradley is set to make $1 million more than Neris. At the end of the day, Bradley is a very vanilla reliever who doesn’t miss a ton of bats (career 8.7% SwStr and 21.7% Whiff rates) and was non-tendered by the Reds, a team who could use some bullpen help after they traded their closer away. Based on both’s track records, Neris should be the favorite to close, and even if it were 50/50, Neris provides much higher upside and is 60+ picks cheaper.

 

Taylor Rogers/Alex Colome, Minessota Twins (193/176)

So somehow, even after Alex Colome signed with the Twins, both he and Taylor Rogers are still top 200 picks? I would consider either one of them after pick 270 or so maybe, but at their current ADPs, just be glad that someone else is taking them. Colome is the bigger bust here of the two, given he is going 20 picks higher and has less upside. This situation, like many others (Braves, Padres, etc.), seems like a full-blown timeshare based on matchups to begin the season. Avoid this situation at all costs unless Rogers falls past that 270th pick mark.

Rick Graham

Rick resides in the Boston area and has experience as a player and coach at the collegiate level. He has been covering relievers for Pitcher List since 2017.

2 responses to “2021 Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitchers”

  1. Warren says:

    Isn’t Tyler Rogers with the Giants now?

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