I posted a blog two months ago, shortly after the 2022 Major League Baseball got underway, on the subject of relief pitchers and saves. Suffice it to say, that a lot has happened in the past three months, but my philosophy on closers hasn’t changed. I won’t pay up for them because saves are only one of ten categories in a 5×5 rotisserie leagues, and you shouldn’t put too much emphasis on it.
It’s easy to spot an amateur in your fantasy baseball league. He or she is the manager who eagerly adds relief pitchers, hoping for more saves, while neglecting the starting pitcher rotation. This is the same manager who drafted Josh Hader, or Liam Hendriks, in the second or third round. Every year, I watch managers squander early round picks for a player who is going to get his or her team one stat – a save.
A second or third round pick should be used on a starting pitcher who will contribute to your team in four categories, or a position player who will help in four or five. I selected Max Scherzer and Sandy Alcantara with those picks in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. I have no regrets. Alcantara is on pace to win the NL Cy Young, and Scherzer was off to a fine start before he went on the injury list.
This doesn’t mean that I punt the saves category. I am currently tied for seventh in my 15-team TGFBI league with 31 saves. That’s the middle of the pack. In the past ten days, I have picked up eight of those saves with four rostered relief pitchers – and only one of them was drafted by yours truly. Ryan Pressly was taken in the fourth round of my draft, and he has 18 or those 31 saves in spite of missing some time on the IL.
I picked up Paul Sewald back on May 8th for a $10 FAAB outlay. That’s $10 of my $1,000 FAAB money, or 1%. Sewald leads the Marines with nine saves. The other two relief pitchers were picked up recently – Brad Hand on June 19th and Lou Trivino on June 26th. Hand and Trivino have just a handful of saves. Sewald picked up two saves last week, and Hand secured a save last night in St. Louis.
If you need to add a closer, I would recommend Sewald, Hand and Trivino in that order. Sewald seems to have a hold on the closer job in Seattle. Trivino picked up the last three saves for Oakland with Dany Jimenez on the IL. Many analysts think Seranthony Dominguez and Hand will share the closer job in Philadelphia now that Corey Knebel is out. But Hand has 130 career saves and Dominguez has 18.
The good news is that all three of these relief pitchers are available in more than half of Yahoo and ESPN leagues. Sewald and Hand have excellent ratios, which is extremely important to me and should be to you. The last thing in the world a manager needs is a relief pitcher destroying his ratios – even if he does pick up some saves. If my math is correct, ERA and WHIP represent twice as many categories as saves.
In addition to this trio, there are others to consider. No one has more talent than Ryan Helsley. I added him to a public league team in May, and the 27-year-old fireballer has nine scoreless appearances in his last 10 trips to the mound for the Cardinals, picking up five saves and two wins while also striking out 22 in that span. Giovanny Gallegos was believed to have a lock on the closer job, but not anymore.
My TGFBI team is not the only one where I am chasing saves. I was in 11th place in that category on the above-mentioned public league team until I added Helsley, Jorge Lopez and Tanner Scott. Now, I’m in fourth place in that category. Lopez’s rostership percentage grew last month as he had continued to earn saves for Baltimore, while compiling a 0.73 ERA. However, you should check your waiver wire.
When Scott’s ERA ballooned to 6.14 on April 24th, no one expected him to ever be in the discussion for the closing job in Miami. But Scott had 12 scoreless efforts in 13 appearances in June, with only one blip, while picking up eight saves. He got another save last night and is closing for a team who’s climbed back into the Wild Card race in the National League. And Scott is available in more than half of Yahoo and ESPN leagues.
Will Smith has notched three saves for Atlanta while Kenley Jansen has been on the IL, and he’s widely available in most leagues. However, I don’t have Smith or A.J. Minter rostered on any fantasy team. Other managers have been rushing out to add one, or both of them but not me. Why? Because I think Kenley Jansen will be back in less than a week, pushing both to a supporting role in the Braves bullpen.
Let me add a caveat. I’m a fantasy baseball writer, not a doctor. If I’m wrong about Jansen, Smith is available in more than half of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, and Minter is even more widely available. If one of them ends up closing exclusively for the defending world champions, that’s a good pickup. If you still want more ideas on chasing saves, here are three more players available in more than half of leagues.
JHOAN DURAN, TWINS (49% YAHOO, 21% ESPN)
Emilio Pagan has almost twice as many saves as Duran, but anyone who follows baseball know that the latter is the better arm. I added Duran to one of my public league teams this week, expecting him to get more saves in the second half. One of Minnesota’s top pitching prospects, he relies on a power sinker and a fastball that has touched triple digits on the radar gun. That fits the bill for a top-notch closer.
TANNER RAINEY, NATIONALS (47% YAHOO, 15% ESPN)
Save opportunities are few and far between in the nation’s capital, but Rainey gets them when they roll around. He’s notched 12 so far, and had a 2.88 ERA.32 WHIP and 30:11 K:BB over 25 innings while going 11-for-14 in save chances through the end of June. Rainey became the closer for the Nationals late last year Kyle Finnegan struggling down the stretch, and he’s likely to maintain that role through the season.
JASON ADAM, RAYS (22% YAHOO, 5% ESPN)
I know, I know. You don’t chase saves in the Tampa Bay bullpen, but this 30-year-old righty should be on your radar in deeper leagues. Adam was non-tendered by the Cubs after posting a 5.91 ERA last season, but the Rays offered him a contract. Know that this guy misses bats, as he owns a 37.0 % strikeout rate in 24.1 innings across the last two seasons. He only has three saves so far, but that will change.
Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about baseball and football for CreativeSports. You can follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.