We have all been there. You are stuck in a draft and realize that you need to take a chance on some late-round flyers that could get you that most elusive of categories: saves.
There are several different strategies being employed in many leagues, and you will have to choose how you will handle the relief pitcher position this year. We have never seen the elite closers pushed up this high; we have seen drafts where the arguable top two closers for fantasy purposes, Josh Hader and Liam Hendriks, are being drafted consistently in the second round. Even if you do get that solid base early and garner 30+ saves, you will still be looking for back-of-draft help with potential saves candidates.
Let’s take a dive in and see a few guys who are getting drafted later that could get you some saves.
Relief Pitcher Sleepers for 2022
Anthony Bender (NFBC ADP 399): I like him better in Miami than Dylan Floro, and he costs far less. Floro’s current NFBC ADP is 254. That is a high price for someone who profiles better as a set-up guy. Bender’s current ADP in NFBC is 399. Bender chipped in with three saves last year. His 28.7 K% is better than Floro’s 23 K%. Bender had 71 strikeouts in 61.1 innings pitched in 2021. He features an explosive 96.8 MPH sinker and a slider that netted a whopping 51 punchouts in 117 plate appearances. Yet he’s being valued far less than Floro because fantasy players see Floro’s 15 saves from last year and think he will be the closer. He could be, but it would not surprise me in the least if Bender overtook him quickly. One thing to be aware of here: the Marlins could make a splash and acquire a free agent closer like Kenley Jansen or get one via trade, a la Craig Kimbrel. Bender costs almost nothing at this point but could pay dividends for you. Bender’s Statcast page shows lots of red, which makes me very happy:
Dinelson Lamet (NFBC ADP 361): Players are not sure what to make of Lamet in 2022, and the drop in his ADP shows that uncertainty. I think there is a case to be made that he could end up being San Diego’s closer in 2022. The forearm UCL injury rightfully scares people. Lamet did not go more than five innings in any start after coming back from this injury in 2021. Bullpen usage may be key; Lamet’s two-pitch arsenal of the four-seamer and the slider may profile better in the bullpen. The Padres do have a quagmire at the back end, having lost 2021 saves leader Mark Melancon to the Arizona Diamondbacks, leaving holdovers Drew Pomeranz, Emilio Pagan, and perhaps Pierce Johnson as potential ninth-inning guys. Even if Lamet does not get save opportunities, he will help you with ratios and strikeouts. My gut (a sizable gut at that) makes me want to gamble on Lamet.
Tanner Rainey (NFBC ADP 369): Many analysts pick Kyle Finnegan to be the closer in Washington on Opening Day and that may be the case. But a forgotten man in DC is Tanner Rainey. Rainey was often injured and often awful in 2021: 1-3, a bloated 7.38 ERA, unsightly 1.71 WHIP with three saves. What catches my eye is that strikeout rate; historically he’s been around a 32 K%, which in 2020 was an eye-popping 42.7%. Walks killed him in 2021 at 16.6%, and this has been a long-standing issue for Rainey. In 2020, that rate was 9.3%, still not great but far better. If he were able to recover his command, he is far and away the best reliever in the Washington bullpen. This team does not look like a contender this year, so they may give Rainey an audition to see what they have here. Rainey gets tons of whiffs on his filthy slider, and in September, his velocity was back up over 98 MPH. He may not be that far off from being their closer.
A.J. Puk (NFBC ADP 529): It’s not hard to see Puk becoming the closer in Oakland. In 2021, the A’s used a committee approach with Jake Diekman and Lou Trivino getting the bulk of the chances, with a sprinkle of Andrew Chafin as well. Puk feels like an eternal prospect in Oakland yet is only 26, but has yet to carve out a role. He had a 2021 to forget: 0-3, 6.08 ERA, a ghastly 1.80 WHIP in only 13.1 innings pitched. Egads! But it is likely that given his injury history, he will not be in the rotation and likely make his home in the bullpen. Keep in mind that Diekman and Chafin are both free agents, and the Athletics are likely going to be younger in 2022. Who is his competition here? Trivino? Deolis Guerra? My point here is that there isn’t much competition, especially if the team moves Trivino or uses him in a different role. Puk’s ADP of 529 this week makes him a great flyer and a guy who could net you some free saves. He should be on your radar.
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