Knowing when to draft relievers is a puzzle we try to solve in every draft. The volatility of the position is well documented. Take a closer early, and you’ll be hurting if he busts. Sit and wait, and you risk falling behind in saves. Good relievers can help your ratios immensely as well. Hitting on the right relief pitchers throughout the draft can go a long way to helping you win your fantasy league. No matter which strategy you subscribe to, you might find some value with some of the following players. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite sleeper relief pitchers this season.
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2020 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper Relief Pitchers
Brandon Workman – Boston Red Sox
Fantrax ADP: 207
The Red Sox went into 2019 with a battle for the closer job between Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes. Neither managed to hold the position effectively. Enter Brandon Workman. It’s easy to overlook how good Workman was last season as he only had three saves before the All-Star break. The Nathan Eovaldi plan didn’t work out either, and Workman seized the opportunity finishing the season with 16 saves.
Brandon Workman achieved a 1.88 ERA and a 13.06 K/9, good for sixth and 15th respectively among qualifying relievers. His 0.13 HR/9 was tops in the league. In fact, Workman allowed one single barrel all season. That’s right, one, on 1244 pitches and 135 batted balls. And his contact rate of 67.2% follows a four-year trend of improvement. Getting the 11th closer in my rankings as the 17th reliever off the boards seems like a steal, making Workman one of my favorite sleepers.
Archie Bradley – Arizona Diamondbacks
Fantrax ADP: 225.45
I’ve got another value sleeper for you here with the 15th closer in my rankings getting drafted as the 20th relief pitcher on Fantrax. Archie Bradley was quietly one of the best relievers in baseball in the second half of 2019. Bradley’s 1.71 ERA after the All-Star break was seventh among relievers. And his 18 saves were tied for the fifth-most in that stretch. Bradley excelled in the closer role after the departure of Greg Holland.
A rough stretch that started on May 5 with a four-run outing in Colorado ran through June to give Bradley a 4.95 first-half ERA. Although his FIP during that stretch was 3.29, suggesting he wasn’t pitching nearly as bad as the results indicated. Now, Bradley enters the season as the team’s closer for the first time in his career. After finishing the season strong, he’ll be an excellent late-round bargain.
Giovanny Gallegos – St. Louis Cardinals
Fantrax ADP: 279.06
There’s a reason Giovanny Gallegos is being drafted as one of the first non-closer relief pitchers. Gallegos was outstanding in 2019 with a 2.31 ERA, 11.31 K/9, 1.95 BB/9, and 0.81 WHIP. There is so much to like about Gallegos. His WHIP was tied for first among all relievers alongside Josh Hader and Yusmeiro Petit. Meanwhile, his ERA and K-BB% of 27.6% were both among the top 15. Gallegos’ 16.4% swinging-strike rate and 36.2% chase rate are well above the league average and among the best in the game.
Much of this success can be credited to a slider that was one of the best in baseball. Gallegos utilized the slider 43% of the time. And why not with a 24.6% swinging-strike rate and 25% contact rate. Being able to throw outside the zone that much and not issue walks is just studly. Carlos Martinez has made it known he’d like to return to the rotation. There’s a decent chance we see Gallegos in the closer role come Opening Day.
Still 😴 on Giovanny Gallegos?
This is your wake up call… pic.twitter.com/rcwHkeX1vu
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) August 14, 2019
Josh James – Houston Astros
Fantrax ADP: 387.79
We’re getting a bit deeper into the ADP now with one of my absolute favorite sleeper relievers. There was plenty of hype surrounding Josh James last draft season after he flashed tremendous potential in 2018. Unfortunately, a quad injury cost James his chance in the rotation.
After a late start to Spring Training, James struggled out of the gates with a 7.36 ERA in 14.2 innings in April. But from May 1st on, James had a 3.86 ERA, 3.24 FIP, and a 15.29 K/9. His .171 xBA and .286 xSLG were in the top 1% of baseball. Added spin to his fastball and slider contributed to the increased strikeouts but also caused erratic control with a 13.2% walk rate.
There’s no doubt that Josh James has elite strikeout stuff. And he’s versatile enough to be used in any capacity. There’s a chance he could be added to the rotation at some point. With Will Harris now gone, perhaps usage in higher leverage situations is in store for James, making him extremely valuable in holds leagues. Take a chance late on this post-hype sleeper.
Corbin Burnes – Milwaukee Brewers
Fantrax ADP: 522.35
Corbin Burnes is another reliever that, much like Josh James, got plenty of helium last season. And like James, he’s a sleeper candidate to bounce back and provide value in any capacity the team chooses to use him in. I’m not sure there’s any pitcher that suffered through Murphy’s Law more than Corbin Burnes did in 2019. Anything that could go wrong did go wrong. A .414 BABIP against, 57.4% strand rate, and 38.6% HR/FB rate scream positive regression. With a slider that induced a 35.2% swinging-strike rate, Burnes was able to put up a 12.86 K/9. Whether it’s in the rotation or as a reliever, there’s upside to be had here. Both are areas of need for the Brewers, so they’ll need to find out what they have in Burnes. At pick 522, he’s is worth a gamble.
Emmanuel Clase – Cleveland Indians
Fantrax ADP: 430.29
This is more of a speculative pick here when discussing Emmanuel Clase as a sleeper. The Cleveland Indians traded Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers with Clase as the centerpiece of their return. Regardless of Kluber’s contract situation and what the Rangers would pay, the Indians must think very highly of Clase.
Clase pitched 23.1 innings for the Rangers last season, finishing with a 2.31 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 8.10 K/9. The skill that stands out for Clase most is his ability to keep the ball in the yard with a 60.6% ground ball rate. That and his 100 mph cutter, of course.
The Indians seem to be at a turning point in their organization, ready to sell off their valuable pieces. We’ve seen Kluber traded and Francisco Lindor on the block. Brad Hand could very well be one of the first to go early in the season, opening up the closer job.
Seranthony Dominguez – Philadelphia Phillies
Fantrax ADP: 604.09
We’re reaching deep down the ADP for this sleeper. Remember Seranthony Dominguez’s stellar rookie season? In 2018, Dominguez recorded 16 saves with a 2.95 ERA, 11.48 K/9, and 0.93 WHIP. Things didn’t quite continue that way into his sophomore season as his year was cut short by an elbow injury. Fortunately, Dominguez was able to avoid Tommy John surgery and will be ready for Opening Day.
Despite a 4.01 ERA, Dominguez still displayed quality skills with a13.6% swinging-strike rate, 22.1% soft contact rate, and a 54.5% ground ball rate. His 84.7mph average exit velocity allowed is well below the league average of 87.5mph. And his BABIP against of .323 is sure to come down a bit.
The Philidelphia Phillies have not done much to address their bullpen. So, the return of Dominguez will certainly be welcome. Hector Neris stepped up nicely as the team’s closer in 2019 after the bullpen was decimated with injury. Still, it’ll be a situation to monitor closely. Even if Neris starts the season as the closer, Dominguez could be ready to take over the ninth inning again at any point.
Who are your favorite sleeper relief pitchers for 2020? Let us know in the comments below. We promise to keep it a secret.
For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2020 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
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