Top 15 Middle Relievers / Save Sleepers for 2020

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.

Updated MLB Closer Depth Chart

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* = closer-by-committee

2020 Tiered Closer Rankings

February 28, 2020

Below, find our tiered closer rankings for 2020. Obviously, these are moment-in-time rankings and may shift due to injuries or spring training outings, but hopefully they’ll help make your draft a little easier.

Tier 1:
Josh Hader

There’s nobody in baseball quite like Josh Hader, who led all relievers with 138 strikeouts last season to go along with his 37 saves. Despite some hard-hit weirdness last year, he’s liable to help you in four categories due in part to his tendency to pitch multiple innings.

Tier 2:
Kirby Yates
Aroldis Chapman
Roberto Osuna
Liam Hendriks

If you weren’t paying much attention last year, Liam Hendriks might stand out on this list, but the Aussie was an absolute monster last season, logging 122 strikeouts and a 1.80 ERA. He also managed 25 saves despite not taking over the closer role until June 22, so suffice it to say that a repeat effort would put him up top with Hader. The others are names you’ve heard before, with up-and-comer Kirby Yates (1.19 ERA, 41 saves) coming in just above high-ranking mainstays Aroldis Chapman and Roberto Osuna. These guys will cost you a high-ish pick, but there’s no reason to think any of them can’t hold their jobs and excel all season long.

Tier 3:
Taylor Rogers
Brad Hand
Kenley Jansen
Ken Giles

The top three guys are solid veterans on winning teams, and then there’s Giles, who is just plain good. All perfectly cromulent picks, here.

Tier 4:
Edwin Diaz
Brandon Workman
Raisel Iglesias
Nick Anderson
Craig Kimbrel
Hector Neris
Giovanny Gallegos
Jose Leclerc

Now we get into some uncertainty. There’s Edwin Diaz and Craig Kimbrel, who are one season removed from being our #1 and #7 closers going into the 2019 season (whoops) and are looking to bounce back. There are a couple guys who have the stuff but have never closed before in Nick Anderson and Giovanny Gallegos. And there are the guys who have done it before, but have also lost (or have come close to losing) their spots in the past in Raisel Iglesias, Hector Neris, and Jose Leclerc. Also here is Brandon Workman, who after two solid-but-not-spectacular seasons figured something out in 2019 and became a total hoss. He’s probably the safest pick in this group, though he slots in just behind Diaz, who has more upside despite a terrible 2019 campaign.

Tier 5:
Hansel Robles
Ian Kennedy
Alex Colome
Archie Bradley
Keone Kela

These guys are all pretty much guaranteed to be closing for their teams on opening day. They’re also all pretty much guaranteed to be a little shaky now and again. Still, the ways relievers goes, two of these guys will probably end up with 30+ saves. Guess right and you’ll get some value.

Tier 6:
Mark Melancon
Sean Doolittle
Joe Jimenez
Brandon Kintzler
Mychal Givens
Yoshihisa Hirano
Wade Davis
Tony Watson

Major question marks — including whether they’ll even be the closer come opening day — plague every reliever in our last tier. Mark Melancon and Sean Doolittle are both solid, but they’ve got competition in Will Smith and Daniel Hudson, respectively, and might end up in committees. Joe Jimenez, Brandon Kintzler, and Mychal Givens are all more secure, but are all decidedly average relievers pitching for crappy teams. Hirano and Watson haven’t won jobs yet; they just represent our best guesses as to who will close for their respective (bad) teams. Finally, there’s Wade “8.65 ERA in 42.2 IP” Davis. Like with the tier above them, there’s probably one or two guys here who end up with 30 saves. But depending on your league settings, you might do well to go with a high-end middle reliever (Seth Lugo, Adam Ottavino, Emilio Pagan, etc.) rather than roll the dice with these guys.

2020 NL East Preview

February 26, 2020

Atlanta Braves — The Braves picked up a trio of veteran relievers late in 2019, and those three righties — Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, and Chris Martin — will make up the core of their bullpen in 2020, along with offseason signing Will Smith. There’s pretty good depth here, too, with Darren O’Day and Luke Jackson likely to make the team; the latter closed for a spell last season. And they’ve still got two promising youngsters who have both logged some impressive major league innings (albeit not in 2019) in AJ Minter and Chad Sobotka. Right now it seems that Brian Snitker is leaning toward Melancon to start out in the closer role rather than Smith, who was one of the best relievers in baseball last year. But Snitker has suggested that things could be fluid and matchup-based, so both are likely worth drafting. 

Starting 2020 Hierarchy: Melancon | Smith | Greene.
Holds candidates: Smith, Greene, Martin

Miami Marlins — The Marlins picked up Brandon Kintzler shortly before the start of spring training, and Don Mattingly quickly anointed him the likely closer, which is understandable given the other options the Marlins have on the roster. Ryne Stanek, who they acquired midseason last year, converted just 1 of his 5 save chances; Drew Steckenrider was injured for most of the season and pitching to a 6+ ERA when he was healthy; and Adam Conley was similarly ineffective. Look for Kintzler and another offseason acquisition, Yimi Garcia, to be the high-leverage guys here, with some mix of the other three also factoring in. 

Starting 2020 Hierarchy: Kintzler | Garcia | Stanek.
Holds candidates: Garcia, Stanek, Steckenrider

New York Mets — The Mets’ worst three bullpen ERAs in history have come in 2019, 2018, and 2017, but there’s again reason for cautious optimism in Flushing, as various projection systems are projecting bounce-back campaigns from Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia, along with a healthy (or healthier) contribution from Dellin Betances. Seth Lugo was one of the NL’s top relievers last year, and he figures to factor in to the late-inning mix as well, with veterans Justin Wilson and Brad Brach bridging the gap to the late innings. The Mets will give Diaz a chance to close to start the year, but it’s likely he’ll be on a short leash due to his 2020 struggles, so Betances and/or Lugo might be worth stashing if you’ve got the roster space.

Starting 2020 Hierarchy: Diaz | Betances | Lugo.
Holds candidates: Betances, Lugo, Familia.

Philadelphia Phillies — Gabe Kapler is gone, replaced by Joe Girardi, so the Phillies bullpen might make a little more sense this season than in years past. The situation remains fluid at the moment, but our best guess is Hector Neris gets the first chance to close, with Seranthony Dominguez setting up. Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, and Tommy Hunter will be contributors, and we figure at least one of the handful of veterans (Blake Parker, Francisco Liriano, Anthony Swarzak) who have gotten spring training invites will make a difference at some point. Monitor this bullpen in spring training to make sure Neris is on track.

Starting 2020 Hierarchy: Neris | Dominguez| Morgan.
Holds candidates: Dominguez, Morgan, Alvarez

Washington Nationals – The Nationals bullpen was largely terrible in 2019, but they patched their way through the playoffs and won a World Series. That success led them to probably be less aggressive than they could have been in free agency, as the only acquisition they made was former Astro Will Harris; instead, they’re hoping that Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson can tag-team the late innings the way they did in the playoffs last year. Tanner Rainey and Wander Suero are likely to make the roster, as will Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias, but we’d only consider drafting the top three guys here, even in deep leagues.

Starting 2020 Hierarchy: Doolittle | Hudson | Harris.
Holds candidates: Hudson, Harris, Rainey.

2020 NL Central Preview

February 26, 2020

Chicago Cubs — The Cubs, for better or worse, will get their first full season of Craig Kimbrel as closer in 2020, as Kimbrel is currently on schedule to be ready for the season opener. It will be a new-look, low-cost bullpen after Kimbrel, as the Cubs lost Pedro Strop, Brandon Kintzler and Steve Cishek to free agency, and Brandon Morrow still isn’t any nearer to a return. The Cubs signed Jeremy Jeffress to a one-year deal in hopes the former Milwaukee closer bounces back after a rough 2019. Rowan Wick, who was a closer-by-default at times last year, is back and will join Kyle Ryan as part of the Cubs’ late-inning plans. Ryan Tepera and Dan Winkler are new to Chicago and will be fighting for a spot in the bullpen as well.

Starting 2020 hierarchy: Kimbrel | Wick | Jeffress.
Holds candidates: Wick, Jeffress, Ryan

Cincinnati Reds — Raisel Iglesias feels “more prepared” for 2020 after an up-and-down 2019 campaign in which he saved 34 games but also went 3-12 with a 4.16 ERA. Iglesias didn’t always pitch the ninth inning last year, as manager David Bell wanted to deploy his top arm in the highest-leverage situation possible, even if it came earlier in the game, and that may have had an impact on Iglesias. It remains to be seen if Bell employs that strategy again. After Iglesias, familiar faces Amir Garrett and Michael Lorenzen will continue to see time in the late innings, as will newcomer Pedro Strop, who signed a one-year deal earlier this month following seven years with the Cubs. Strop was not healthy and not particularly effective in 2019, but if he recaptures what has made him so good in the past, then the Reds will have one of the top bullpens in the division.

Starting 2020 hierarchy: Iglesias | Strop | Garrett.
Holds candidates: Strop, Garrett, Lorenzen

Milwaukee Brewers – Josh Hader will be the most coveted reliever for fantasy owners entering 2020 and should continue to function in the same role as he did last season. After Hader, the rest of the bullpen becomes a little murkier. Brent Suter, who dazzled in the bullpen last September after his return from Tommy John surgery, avoided arbitration with the club and signed a two-year deal, but the incentives in that deal indicate he may see time as a starter. Speaking of Tommy John, Corey Knebel remains on track to return during the first half of the season, and David Phelps joined the squad on a one-year deal. Alex Claudio will be back, as will fireballer Ray Black. It remains a mystery for now as to who will supplement Hader in the late innings, but the Brewers certainly have some options.

Starting 2020 hierarchy: Hader | Suter | Phelps.
Holds candidates: Suter, Phelps, Claudio, Black.

Pittsburgh Pirates – The Pirates wasted little time naming Keone Kela as closer, which wasn’t too much of a surprise. Kyle Crick, who spent most of 2019 tipping his pitches and getting into fights with sex criminals, is healthy and will likely be the eighth-inning guy for new manager Derek Shelton. Richard Rodriguez and Michael Feliz are also back and should compete for the seventh inning. One intriguing arm to watch is Edgar Santana, who missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery. Santana showed flashes of brilliance at the end of the 2018 campaign and could pitch his way into the late innings this season.

Starting 2020 hierarchy: Kela | Crick | Rodriguez.
Holds candidates: Crick, Rodriguez, Feliz, Santana.

St. Louis Cardinals — There is plenty of uncertainty as to who will close games for the Cardinals in 2020. Jordan Hicks is out until at least the summer as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals’ closer after Hicks’ injury, is trying to earn a spot in the rotation. Andrew Miller says he’s a lot better than he was last year, while Giovanny Gallegos has nasty stuff and joins Miller as a frontrunner for the ninth inning. Be sure to keep an eye on Ryan Helsley, who could either start or be a high-leverage option out of the ‘pen with his triple-digit fastball. A lot of what the Cardinals’ late-inning plans entail depends on Martinez; for now, we’ll assume he makes the rotation and expect a committee of Gallegos and Miller to start the season.

Starting 2020 hierarchy: *Gallegos | Miller | Brebbia.
* = closer-by-committee
Holds candidates: Gallegos, Miller, Brebbia, Helsley.

2020 NL West Preview

February 26, 2020

Arizona Diamondbacks – Any conversation about the Arizona bullpen has to start with Mason Saunders. Although he projects as more of a starter, Saunders brings more experience on bulls than any other MLB team has on their entire roster. If Saunders does crack the rotation, the Diamondbacks will enter the season with Archie Bradley as the presumptive closer. The 27-year-old turned his 2019 season around and earned the closer’s role in late July, going 18-for-19 in save opportunities over the last months of the season. The Diamondbacks lost Yoshihisa Hirano, but added free agents Hector Rondon and Junior Guerra to bolster a bullpen that was inconsistent at times in 2019. They also return Kevin Ginkel, who was excellent as a rookie (1.48 ERA, 0.99 WHIP over 25 appearances), and Yoan Lopez, who was a mainstay at the back end of an injury-riddled bullpen at the end of the season. Andrew Chafin sets in as the top left-handed option for the Diamondbacks. We like Bradley to see the bulk of save chances, with Ginkel and Rondon splitting the setup role. An in interesting note is that the Diamondbacks have been an excellent source of holds over the past few seasons, with three relievers posting 20 or more holds last year, and a few more in double digits.

Starting 2020 hierarchy: Bradley | Ginkel | Rondon.
Holds candidates: Ginkel, Rondon, Lopez, Chafin.

Colorado Rockies – Going into spring training, Bud Black would like to see Wade Davis in the closer’s role, but he is certain to be on a short leash given his woeful 2019 campaign. While some of that could be chalked up to Davis pitching through injuries, it’s hard to ignore a final ERA over 8. Scott Oberg was quite effective for most of the year, but ended the season with surgery to fix a blood clot in his arm. Oberg is healthy for spring training and looks to be a top setup option for the Rockies. Jairo Diaz finished the season in the closers role, and will likely be a late-inning arm for Colorado this season as well. Veterans Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw, both of whom have closing experience, will also be in the mix. A dark horse for saves later in the year is Carlos Estevez. Estevez has a triple-digit fastball and is a low-cost reliever with team control through 2022; if the Rockies sell at some point he could ascend to the closer’s role. For now we trust Black when he says he wants Davis as the closer, but expect some volatility from the Rockies as they compete in a tough division.

Starting 2020 hierarchy: Davis | Oberg | Diaz.
Holds candidates: Oberg, Diaz, McGee, Estevez, Shaw. 

Los Angeles Dodgers — Kenley Jansen will once again be the Dodgers’ closer, although he is coming off a second straight season with inflated numbers. Jansen’s K/9 was well off his career average and his velocity took a small, but noticeable, dip. Setting up Jansen is free agent addition Blake Treinen, who followed an exceptional 2018 with a lukewarm 2019 which saw him relinquish the closer’s role in Oakland to Liam Hendriks. Pedro Baez, Joe Kelly and Scott Alexander all return to their familiar roles in the Dodgers bullpen and will look to get the ball through the middle innings to Jansen. Of these three, Alexander’s value may take a hit as he was primarily a LOOGY and under the new three batter rules he may not see as many cheap holds as before. Jansen is still an excellent source of saves, as the Dodgers will likely challenge for the best record in the league, but he has fallen from his position as the best closer in the game.

Starting 2020 hierarchy: Jansen | Treinen | Baez.
Holds candidates: Treinen, Baez, Kelly.

San Diego Padres — Kirby Yates had an exceptional 2019 and will look to continue that success in 2020. Leading the majors with 41 saves, Yates was a dominant force whenever the Padres could get him the ball. Behind Yates, the Padres had a lot of trouble finding any consistency and looked to address that in the offseason with the additions of Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan. Pagan was a solid reliever, and even spent time closing, for Tampa, while Pomeranz made up for a rough tenure as a starter in San Francisco with a strong second half of the season as a reliever in Milwaukee. Both will look to be bridge options for the Padres in 2020. Waiting in the wings is fireballer Andres Munoz. Munoz exploded onto the scene with eight scoreless appearances before struggling a bit down the stretch, but with a 100 MPH fastball and a plus slider, he projects as a top reliever going forward. Yates is certainly the closer, but with no contract extension, he could find himself traded before the deadline if San Diego is out of contention.

Starting 2020 hierarchy: Yates | Pagan | Munoz.
Holds candidates: Pagan, Munoz, Pomeranz, Craig Stammen.

San Francisco Giants — The Giants go into 2020 without a clear-cut option at closer, which is probably the way new manager Gabe Kapler likes it. Will Smith has departed for the Atlanta Braves, and the Giants are already talking about a committee to start. The top option will probably be Tony Watson, who has some closing experience and has been a late-innings pitcher for the Giants for the past couple years. Behind him will be former top prospect Shaun Anderson, who started last season in the rotation, but made a move to the bullpen in August with mixed results. Tyler Rogers doesn’t have traditional closer stuff, but as a heavy ground ball pitcher he could find his way into the late innings as well. Jandel Gustave was an option for holds down the stretch for the Giants last year, but his numbers aren’t great for a closer. More than most teams, San Francisco’s spring training could determine the bullpen roles to start the year, so this is a situation to watch and see if anybody emerges as the frontrunner, but this is probably a team best left alone in your drafts.

Starting 2020 hierarchy: *Watson | Anderson | Rogers.
* = closer-by-committee
Holds candidates: Anderson, Rogers, Gustave, Sam Coonrod, Trevor Gott.