In a long baseball season in the high-stakes market, saves have a cost-benefit. If a fantasy owner can land two secure arms that keep their jobs all year, they will avoid wasting bench spots for closers-in-waiting and free-agent dollars to pick them up. The cost comes from their draft price to get this accomplished. If you can lock in two good arms, that's less time wasted stressing about the position all season long.
Each year the inventory and opportunity for relievers change. Many saves will be bought off the waiver wire, which requires foresight and timing for a fantasy owner willing to cheat saves.
Here’s a look at my projections for the first 12 closers projections in 2021:
The average of the best 12 closers would have a 2.79 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 98 strikeouts, and 35 saves. The goal is to find at least one closer to beat these stats.
Relief Pitchers Nos. 1 to 12
Below is the list of possible closers ranks by the NFBC ADPs from March 8th to the 15th:
The top closer drafted in 2021 in most leagues is Liam Hendriks. He offers an edge in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts while expecting to push over 40 saves. The White Sox are on the rise, and Hendriks is key to their success.
Josh Hader would be the slam-dunk top closing option if Devin Williams didn’t pitch at an elite level in 2020. Home runs allowed have been a problem, but he is tough to hit with an explosive strikeout rate. Hader will pitch multiple innings at times, which helps his impact value. Even with a two-thirds split in saves, he will be well worth his price tag.
In his major league career, Aroldis Chapman has never saved over 38 games, and he hasn’t pitched over 58 innings since 2015. Chapman will get plenty of swings and misses, which also includes adding a split-finger fastball in the offseason. He’s a secure ninth-inning arm with a chance to push to a higher level in 2021.
Despite only six saves last season, Edwin Diaz has the arsenal to be the best closer in the game this year if he finds his lost command. A fantasy only needs to reflect on his excellent 2018 season to see his ceiling.
Raisel Iglesias looks to be the drop-off at closer for me in 2021. He has no threat to steal saves while pitching a good team—his command grades well with a rising strikeout rate. Iglesias needs to keep the home runs allowed under control to avoid some disaster games.
As good as Ryan Pressly looks as the sixth closer drafted this season, he did battle an elbow issue last summer. His arm regressed in 2020 after showing dominating stuff for the Astros over the two previous years.
James Karinchak is the breakout closer this year. He comes into this year with questions about his role and command. Many fantasy owners believe he is a wasted pick, but I’m willing to bet on his arm with the plan to roster his handcuff later in the draft. Buy the 125 strikeouts with hopes of improvement in his control.
If Trevor Rosenthal builds off his success last year, he should be drafted as the fifth closer off the board. His ADP trailed in the early draft season due to him being a free-agent. Rosenthal also battled a groin issue that appears to be minor in mid-March. The A’s will play many tight games, leading to a run at 40-plus saves.
Kirby Yates moved into the avoid category this week after developing a right flexor injury in his right arm. The Blue Jays expect him to miss many weeks, with no guarantee of having success when he returns. I’m avoiding him no matter how far he falls in drafts.
The Rays didn’t give Nick Anderson many saves chances last year despite pitching at an elite level when on the mound. He makes sense in the ninth inning, but Anderson looks to be a gamble for saves.
Relief Pitchers Nos. 13 to 24
Surfing the second grouping of closers in 2021 is going to be treacherous. Almost every option has a question mark.
Alex Colome doesn’t have a sexy strikeout rate, but he converts most of his saves. The move to the Twins will lead to him splitting saves with Taylor Rogers. I expect Colome to get two-thirds of the save chances.
The Mariners acquired Rafael Montero in the offseason, and he has no real competition for the ninth inning. His issue falls more on his arm's health after missing 2018 with TJ surgery and bombing as a starter earlier in his career. Some wise guys are on him in the high-stakes market, which is their bet, not mine.
Craig Kimbrel has a long resume of success closing in the majors, but he lost his way last summer due to some injuries. After a couple of rough outings in March, he started to free-fall in some drafts. I won’t fight for him, but I’m willing to steal Kimbrel at a discount.
Last summer Will Smith battled Covid, leading to a slow start to his season and no chance at saves. His arm looks sharp in spring training, and I’m not buying the 34-year-old with minimal closing experience in the majors getting in his way for the ninth-inning role. I would draft Smith with confidence over the last week of March.
The Cardinals’ bullpen has multiple arms with a chance to emerge as the closer. Jordan Hicks has a big fastball with success saving games when given the opportunity before his elbow injury. He has breakout upside with improved command and another swing and miss pitch.
Trick or treat is the question with Devin Williams after posting an electric 27 in 2020. His changeup is elite, but his minor league resume does have some warts. Boom pick if Williams repeats his strikeout ability.
Greg Holland does look secure in the ninth inning for the Royals after rebounding last season. If he pitches well, he may get traded to a contender as a set-up man. At the very least, Holland should help a fantasy team get out of the box in saves. If he keeps the job all year, some fantasy owners will be doing the Cha-Cha.
The Padres’ bullpen looks messy for saves, but I don’t expect Drew Pomeranz to emerge as the top arm in the ninth inning. His recent stats look promising, which isn’t enough for me to drafts at his current ADP in the high-stakes market.
Amir Garrett battled a forearm issue in early March, leading to him being on my avoid list. His arm moves in the right direction to pitch in the ninth, and he did lose the injury tag over the last week. A viable option for saves for the Reds while owing some injury risk.