Every two weeks, we’ll do a piece that’s all about fantasy relievers and bullpens. This is that piece. If you don’t like what you see here, come back in two weeks, I guess.
Saves are a siren singing, bullpens are wild, relievers are fickle. These are assumptions we accept upfront. And as every league is different, the advice given here will mean different things to different managers. One size never fits all. Please, season to taste.
Five relievers who are dominating
Yennier Canó, Orioles
It's one of my favorite annual hacks: Look at the K/BB ratios early in the year and chase anyone who’s off to a fast start, no matter what they showed previously. Canó's background made him undraftable in March — he had 18 horrible MLB innings on his résumé before 2023. But his stats this year are from a backyard Wiffle Ball game: 21.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 25 K. The Orioles will give him high-leverage work forward, and he already has one win and three saves.
Nobody is this good, but Canó looks like someone with staying power.
David Bednar, Pirates
With Pittsburgh looking at contention in the watered-down NL Central, Bednar’s potential trade risk goes way down. The numbers jump off the page: 16 innings, one run, one walk, 21 strikeouts. His ground-ball rate has jumped this year, and the line-drive rate is microscopic. Few closers can be watched in peace, but Bednar is an exception to that rule. No stress.
Josh Hader, Padres
Last year’s hiccups have been ironed out; he’s back to dominating again, despite a mild drop in velocity. The strikeout rate has also dropped slightly, but Hader is still in the top 4% of the league, so why worry? Sometimes it’s hard to take a 1.00 ERA seriously, but Hader’s expected ERA is only a shade higher, at 1.35.
Now, if only his teammates would start playing a little better.
Jordan Romano, Blue Jays
His ratios are a tick higher than previous seasons, but he’s still the automatic button push in the ninth for a contending team, a very valuable commodity in fantasy. Oddly, all six of Romano’s runs allowed have come on the road; he has toasted nine bagels in Toronto. The new dimensions haven’t spiked offense in the YYZ — not yet, anyway.
Alexis Diaz, Reds
He has been fortunate to not allow a homer yet, but with a mild decrease in walks and a big spike in strikeouts, Diaz is making a lot of his own luck. He is throwing more sliders this season, and that has turned into a wipeout pitch for him.
Five potential reliever pickups
Nick Anderson, Braves (9% rostered in Yahoo)
We had a good time with Anderson in 2019 and 2020, even if the luck ran out in the playoffs. Injuries have derailed him since, but he’s healthy again and putting up juicy stats (21 K, 3 BB, 0.82 WHIP) for the National League’s best team. If Raisel Iglesias can’t get right (more on him below), Anderson is a save sleeper for Atlanta. But even if Iglesias does smooth the ride over, Anderson figures to get high-leverage work and exposure to possible wins. He already has a couple, plus one save.
Adbert Alzolay, Cubs (7% in Yahoo)
I still think he’s the best reliever in the Chicago bullpen. We know Michael Fulmer (7.50/1.56) can’t be trusted, and Brad Boxberger wasn’t much better before hitting the injured list. Mark Leiter Jr. had a save last week but blew up Wednesday. Maybe Alzolay (1.99/0.84) sticks in a fireman role more often than not, but if the Cubs would give him a chance in the ninth, I figure he’d run with it.
Hector Neris, Astros (18% in Yahoo)
This is a case of finding reliable relievers on contenders and grabbing their quality numbers, no matter what innings they come from. Neris has a tidy 1.40 ERA and 0.88 WHIP, with a juicy strikeout rate, two wins and two saves. Houston as a team has been a mild disappointment to this point, but the Astros are still the obvious favorites in the AL West. They’ve got one foot in the playoffs already.
Bryan Baker, Orioles (14% in Yahoo)
If you missed out on Canó, Baker makes for a decent consolation prize. The 26 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings grab you, and he’s working in key spots, already running up three wins and eight holds. Baltimore might be the second-best team in the American League. Go where the wins are.
Matt Moore, Angels (16% in Yahoo)
Yep, he’s still in the league. Lefty specialists don’t exist in the current game so much, given the rules about multiple batters faced. No problem for Moore; righties are batting .115 against him. He has thrown 95 innings since the beginning of last year, to the tune of a 1.80 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 9.8 K/9.
Three relievers I’m concerned about
He blew a couple of weekend saves against the Cardinals, he’s in his age-35 season, and his walk rate has ballooned (5/9). OK, that one walk against Willson Contreras, the gamesmanship moment at Fenway Park, was kind of bogus. But Jansen is always a pitcher who needs regular downtime; he’s made it past 70 innings just once in the past nine years.
Raisel Iglesias, Braves
Perhaps the Wednesday save will get him going, and one of his blown saves was a case of being singled to death; it looked worse in the box score than it did on the screen. But Iglesias also missed six weeks due to a shoulder issue, and his velocity is down a tick, so he’s not out of the woods yet.
Ryan Helsley, Cardinals
His stats have taken a mild step back — nothing alarming, though there have been three blown saves. Giovanny Gallegos probably has a path to double-digit saves himself, and Chris Stratton has been impressive as a bridge to these guys. The Cardinals probably won’t live and die with one automatic stopper.