March 2, 2020
Below are our top middle relievers/save sleepers for 2020. Note that these rankings are calibrated for traditional (saves only) leagues and are thus weighted toward players with the best chances of getting save opportunities at some point this season. If you missed them last week, check out our tiered closer rankings.
1. Will Smith – Will Smith was one of the best closers in baseball last year as he racked up 34 saves and struck out 96 batters in only 65.1 innings. Mark Melancon is the closer and he did well in that role last season. However, at least one beat writer wouldn’t be surprised if Smith took over as closer if Melancon struggles and Melancon has certainly had his share of struggles over the past couple of seasons. Smith has a chance to run away with the job if he gets the chance.
2. Matt Barnes – Matt Barnes is elite when it comes to striking batters out. He struck out 110 batters in just 64.1 innings last year. Unfortunately, he also gave up 51 hits and 38 walks in those 64.1 innings and it can be tough to succeed with that many runners on base. If Barnes can bring his walk rate down, he could have a chance to wrestle the closer’s role away from Brandon Workman.
3. Scott Oberg – Scott Oberg was putting together a nice 2019 season, picking up 5 saves to go along with a 2.25 ERA, before missing the last two months of the season with a blood clot. Oberg is healthy heading into 2020 but the Rockies already named Wade Davis their closer. Davis had an ERA over 8.00 last season and lost the closer’s job multiple times so we wouldn’t be surprised if Oberg takes over the job at some point during the season.
4. Zach Britton – Although he doesn’t strike out nearly as many batters as other dominant relievers, it’s hard to argue with Zach Britton’s 1.91 ERA last season. Britton recorded 3 saves in 2019 even with a healthy Aroldis Chapman ahead of him and he should be a safe bet for a handful saves again given how many games the Yankees are expected to win. If anything happens to Chapman, who had stints on the injured list in 2017 and 2018, Britton could become one of the top closers in the league.
5. Daniel Hudson – Daniel Hudson was traded to the Nationals midseason last year and helped stabilize one of the worst bullpens in baseball on their way to winning the World Series. Sean Doolittle struggled in the second half of last season and made another trip to the injured list. Hudson has a good chance to see some save chances given Doolittle’s injury history.
6. Dellin Betances – 2019 was a lost season for Dellin Betances as he battled a shoulder injury and then tore his achilles during his first appearance back. Prior to last year, Betances had struck out at least 100 batters in five straight seasons (even last year, he struck out the only two batters he faced). If Edwin Diaz pitches anything like last year, Betances could be in a prime spot to take over.
7. Ryan Pressly – Ryan Pressly set an MLB record last season with 40 straight scoreless appearances dating back to the 2018 season. He had a knee injury that forced him to miss some time last year but he should be healthy to start the season. Pressly was an All-Star last season and one of the best set-up men in baseball so if anything happens to closer Roberto Osuna, fantasy owners would be delighted to see Pressly get a chance to close full time.
8. Ty Buttrey – Ty Buttrey was the Angels’ best reliever for the first three months of last season but struggled in the second half of his first full season in the majors. Buttrey has the type of electric fastball that you look for in a closer. Hansel Robles was great for the Angels last season but he is not a proven commodity yet. If Buttrey can figure out how to pitch for the whole season like he did for the first three months, he might be a better fit to close games for the Angels.
9. Ryne Stanek – The Marlins acquired Ryne Stanek at the trade deadline last season. He was not particularly effective for the Marlins and blew a number of saves chances. However, the Marlins are lacking quality arms in their bullpen and Stanek has the chance to rise to the top.
10. Andrew Miller – It seems that the days of Andrew Miller being one of the most dominant relievers in baseball are behind us but Miller was still able to pick up 6 saves last year. There is a lot of uncertainty in the Cardinals’ bullpen and that makes Miller an attractive option for saves after all the closers are drafted.
11. Jose Alvarado – Jose Alvarado was a factor for saves at the beginning of the season last year, going 4/4 in save chances through the first month. He missed time for various reasons throughout the rest of the season and only recorded three more saves the rest of the year. The Rays bullpen is volatile and while it seems unlikely Alvarado would ever reach 30 saves, he could be a useful source of saves in deeper leagues.
12. Scott Barlow – Scott Barlow struck out over 90 batters last year and pitched very well after getting recalled in mid-July. Closer Ian Kennedy is 35 years old and last year was his first full season in relief. Kennedy could also be a trade chip at the deadline if the Royals are out of contention as is expected. Barlow could be a late-round flier in deeper leagues.
13. Seth Lugo – While a lot of things went wrong for the Mets bullpen last year, Seth Lugo was not one of them. Lugo tied a team record at one point by retiring 26 straight batters. He only ended up with 6 saves because he often pitched multiple innings, but he was clearly their best reliever. Lugo is stuck behind Edwin Diaz and Dellin Betances to start the season, but both of those guys are pretty big question marks coming into 2020 so it wouldn’t be that surprising if Lugo spent some time closing this year.
14. Matt Magill – After being traded to the Mariners in the middle of the season last year, Matt Magill eventually worked his way to the closer’s role. He ended up with five saves and with the Mariners lacking a true closer heading into 2020, Magill could have a chance to exceed that total this year.
15. Aaron Bummer – The White Sox signed Aaron Bummer to a five-year deal this offseason which clearly shows how much they like him. Alex Colome has established himself as a reliable closer over the past four seasons but the White Sox are expecting better things in 2020 and shouldn’t be afraid to turn to Bummer if Colome struggles at all.