On draft day, relievers represent the socks that are wrapped for you under the Christmas tree. As much as you want to open something else, you have to unwrap the socks at some point. This is the problem every Fantasy owner has on draft day when taking relievers. There is always great talent and big names that distract owners from drafting relievers in every round.
Drafting a reliever can be even more daunting if your league’s scoring system doesn’t value the stats that closers produce very highly. However, for this exercise we will assume a roto format with saves, ERA, and WHIP as active categories.
I recently published an article on how to draft the closer position in 2017 here. By reading this, you’ll understand that I recommend grabbing an elite closer, as it can make a huge difference.
However, I also love the idea of sleeping on my second and third closers, and letting them fall. There were only six closers in 2016 who had 40 or more saves, and two of them are going close to pick 200 in mock drafts this year.
This provides a couple of relievers with a great ROI on draft day. Of course it’s still early in spring training, and there are still many closer situations to be worked out, but it’s never too early to do your research. Below are my relief pitcher sleepers I’m waiting for on draft day.
2017 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Sleepers
Francisco Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers closer had a very solid year, even in a season that was sub-par for Detroit. Rodriguez proved very capable in the closer role for Detroit, and brought a great return on investment in later rounds last season. The Tigers closer finished with forty-four saves, fifty-two strikeouts, a 3.24 ERA, and a 1.13 WHIP. The only thing concerning here is his low strikeout count, which helps lower his draft value. Even though with starting pitchers, strikeouts are the best indicator of success, for relievers the situation can matter more than the pitcher.
According to ESPN’s reliever rankings here, Rodriguez is the 20th reliever going on draft day. This constitutes him as a 16th round draft pick, which is not a bad time to look for a second reliever. In mock drafts, Rodriguez has actually been going two rounds lower, which helps his value.
Whether it’s because other Fantasy owners are avoiding relievers or because his strikeout count is low, take this chance to grab Rodriguez. The Tigers will be able to put him in position for saves, and I like him to earn 35 saves in 2017. Rodriguez leads the list of reliever sleepers in 2017.
A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins
In 2017, Ramos was one of the most undervalued relievers in Fantasy baseball. On a .500 ball club, Ramos made the most of his opportunities as the full-time closer. The Marlins closer finished 2016 with 40 saves, 73 strikeouts, a 2.81 ERA, and a 1.36 WHIP. Even though the WHIP was higher than we’d like, his ERA was under three, and he had the sixth most saves in the league last season. This was a great ROI for Ramos who was taken pretty late in drafts last season. With this success, Ramos should look to put up similar numbers in 2017.
ESPN has Ramos ranked as the 21st reliever, but his overall ranking is quite off. In mocks, I’ve seen Ramos ranked after pick 200, as the ESPN draft software uses ESPN category rankings. This makes him an even better pick in round 21, as a reliever who should get 35 saves this year.
Ramos is actually worth more in points formats because of his position to get a high save count. This supports my theory that the situation matters more than the reliever, even though the reliever isn’t bad. Look for Ramos to be a great reliever sleeper who will return a lot of value in saves, ERA, and WHIP categories.
Sam Dyson, Texas Rangers
Dyson is another example of the importance of situation when drafting a Fantasy reliever. Despite having a great 2016 season, Dyson’s biggest asset is his command. Experts are concerned that Dyson’s command won’t remain as effective as it was last season. However, his success last season will grant him a good-sized leash making him worth drafting in later rounds. Dyson finished 2016 with 38 saves, 55 strikeouts, a 2.43 ERA, and a 1.22 WHIP. These numbers actually look better than Francisco Rodriguez’s as Dyson has the better ERA.
ESPN has Dyson ranked as the 23rd reliever and 224th overall player in roto leagues. ESPN has Dyson ranked low because of his low strikeout numbers. However, Dyson is still helping your team in saves, ERA, and WHIP, and three pitching categories is definitely worth drafting in the 22nd round. Dyson should get a ton of run support in a good Texas lineup, putting him in position for many saves. Draft Dyson with confidence as a reliever sleeper for your third reliever.
Shawn Kelley, Washington Nationals
Unfortunately for Washington, the Nats could not land the high profile closer the organization was looking for. Even though there’s still a chance that Washington makes a move for a closer, they’ve turned their focus to internal options. GM Mike Rizzo stated their three options right now include Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, and Koda Glover.
Glover had poor numbers last season, so the main battle is between Kelley and Trenien. Kelley had seven saves last year to Brenien’s one, so Kelley has the lead in camp. Shawn Kelley finished 2016 with seven saves, 80 strikeouts, a 2.64 ERA, and a 0.90 WHIP. These are great numbers for a closer, and his strikeout numbers will shoot him up reliever rankings once the starting position is set in stone.
ESPN currently has Kelley ranked as the 29th reliever and 270th player overall. This is fair considering the uncertainty of the job, but Kelley could return way more value. The Nationals are a prime team to draft a closer from because they always seem to be in close games. They have an excellent lineup and rotation, which will put who ever closes in line for a lot of saves.
If Kelley can replicate his strikeout count, without losing out on ERA or WHIP, he could produce in four of the five pitching categories. This will be an important closer battle to watch throughout spring training. Kelley could be worth reaching for if he wins the battle.
Even though I strongly recommend grabbing an elite closer, I think waiting on your second or third relievers is the best follow up. It’s important not to underestimate relievers that can produce in three or four pitching categories. We know it’s never appealing to use draft picks on relievers, especially when there are big name stars on the board. But planning out how to draft the position can help you win borderline categories and points that other Fantasy owners leave to chance.
I know you can’t win your league on draft day, but you certainly can lose it. By planning out your reliever sleepers, you will ensure you’ll win these under-planned categories.
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