Last week, our fantasy team handled the task of re-ranking every position for fantasy for the rest of the season. I handled the reliever rankings, which can be found here. In them, I ranked the top-40 relievers, which gives a good base of all of the closers around the league with a few primary setup men thrown in there. That covers most fantasy leagues, but a few of the deeper leagues could be looking for more names. So with that in mind, and with another week of baseball in the books, let’s look at the top five relievers for fantasy purposes who did not make last week’s list.
In hindsight, not including Rivero was probably my biggest mistake on that list. Tony Watson hadn’t looked great up to that point, and the Pirates current closer has looked much worse in the short time since the post published. Enter: Felipe Rivero, who might just be the Pirates closer by the time you are reading this. The lefty has been quietly phenomenal since entering the league in 2015, and has finally been receiving his due praise since the middle of 2016. He’s taken his game to another level this season, striking out ten batters per nine innings while cutting his walk rate down below two per nine. On top of the control, he’s also keeping the ball on the ground with a 64 percent ground-ball rate. Simply put: Rivero is firing on all cylinders and it’s only a matter of time until he is earning saves on top of all his other success. He’s a top-40 reliever and if he’s not already owned in your league you have to go out and correct that.
Speaking of National League relievers who should be owned in most leagues, Archie Bradley has really taken to his new full-time role in the bullpen. The Diamondbacks setup man has used his short stints to get past the control problems that hampered him as a starter, walking two batters per nine through his first 20 relief appearances. It seems sustainable, too, as his zone rate has increased by nine percentage points, from his starting days, to 57 percent. In addition to the control, his already good stuff has taken a step forward, resulting in a career-high swinging-strike rate, along with a career-high K/9 of 11.5. To make the news even better, the current closer in Arizona is Fernando Rodney. The veteran has been solid of late, but anyone who’s followed his career knows there will be another rough patch. Bradley has pitched well enough to take advantage of the coming rough patch and get himself into the closer role before the year ends. The worst-case scenario seems to be that he could rejoin the rotation, and either way you’re going to want him on your roster. There’s too much upside here to not at least consider it at this point.
Joe Smith—Blue Jays
Here we have our first reliever who doesn’t have a chance at the closer role, barring injury. Joe Smith, in his first year with the Blue Jays, has taken his game to another level in 2017. The long-time Angels and Indians setup man has always relied on weak contact more than big-time stuff, but since late last season he’s flipped that. This season, he’s striking out a whopping 13.8 batters per nine innings while inducing whiffs on 29 percent of swings. He’s a new man, working with more four-seam fastballs and working up in the zone more often. The Blue Jays are a team on the rise, and Smith will help with ratios while also acting as a handcuff for one of the more valuable bullpen situations in fantasy.
David Phelps emerged in 2016 as a legitimately great reliever, and although he didn’t begin this season as the primary setup man in Miami he’s pitched his way to that role. The righty’s watched his strikeout rate fall since last season, but it’s still above a strikeout per inning and his swinging-strike rate suggests it could rise. More importantly, he’s behind A.J. Ramos in the bullpen. I’ve long been a Ramos fan and believe he’s talented enough to be a closer, but there’s no denying his propensity for losing control. He’s always a risk to lose the ninth inning if he hits a rough enough patch, and Phelps is talented enough to roster with that scenario in mind.
Will Harris quietly has been one of the steadiest relievers of the past five years, this season included. He’s striking out ten batters per nine innings while walking just over one, and pitches for the best team in baseball. I find it hard to believe that Houston’s closer job will open up unless there’s an injury, but Harris has good ratios to hold on to in case there is an injury. Although Chris Devenski has been better this year—and was included in my original top-40—it’s reasonable to believe Harris is next in line for the closer job so they can be more flexible with Devenski.
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