Top 15 Middle Relievers / Save Sleepers

February 27, 2019

Below are our top middle relievers for 2019. Note that these rankings are calibrated for traditional (saves only) leagues and are thus weighted toward players with the best chances of winning the closer role at some point this season. If you missed them earlier this week, check out our tiered closer rankings — a few of the guys in potential committees appear on both lists — and stay tuned for our holds rankings, which we’ll publish later this week.

1. Josh Hader – It probably comes as little surprise that Josh Hader tops our middle reliever rankings for 2019, as the lefty is looking to build on a year that saw him crowned the NL’s best relief pitcher. With 143 Ks in 81.1 innings in support of a sterling ERA and WHIP, Hader wouldn’t even need to ascend to the closer role to help your fantasy team. If he does, look for him to be a top 5 closer in baseball.

2. Andrew Miller – The man who birthed a new bullpen role synonymous with his name, Andrew Miller will probably be used… in an Andrew Miller-type role in 2019. That means high-leverage outs and occasional save chances when matchups are right. It’s possibly he wins the closer role in spring training — we think the smart money is on Jordan Hicks — but either way, he’ll be a valuable contributor for both the Cardinals and your fantasy team.

3. Ryan Brasier – A career journeyman whose contract was sold to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in 2016, Brasier returned to the bigs in the middle of 2018. In the 33.2 innings that followed, Brasier posted a 1.60 ERA, tallying nearly a strikeout per inning. He threw an additional 8.2 innings in the playoffs (1 ER), and has worked his way in to the Red Sox closer competition. At the very least, look for him to be a solid 8th inning option, and if Matt Barnes can’t improve on his control issues, Brasier could ascend.

4. Wily Peralta – Another guy who might just up and win the closer role out of spring training, Wily Peralta boasts a 100 mph fastball and a track record of success in the 9th inning — he was 14 for 14 in save chances down the stretch last season. Recent signee Brad Boxberger wants to close, and we give him the slight edge to win the job, but he had some significant rough patches last season, none worse than in September, when he posted a 11.37 ERA. Look for Peralta to get a shot at some point.

5. Joe Jimenez – This one isn’t complicated. Shane Greene is not very good, and Jimenez is his clear handcuff. Stash him and wait for Greene to falter.

6. Will Smith – Mark Melancon says that he’s healthy, but we’ll believe it when we see it. Meanwhile, Will Smith did a spectacular job virtually every time he took the mound in 2018, racking up 71 Ks in 53 innings and posting a 2.55 ERA along with 14 saves. If you draft Melancon, we strongly suggest you handcuff him with Smith.

7. Sergio Romo – The original “opener” could potentially be part of a three-headed closer-by-committee for the Marlins when the season opens. As we mentioned in our NL East preview, we think Drew Steckenrider emerges here, but the wily veteran will be ready to step in if Steckenrider struggles to find his footing.

8. Blake Parker – It’s an open competition in Twins camp for the closer role, though most, including us, are pegging Trevor May (25.1 IP, 36 Ks, 3.20 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) as Minnesota’s most likely stopper. That leaves Proven Closer Blake Parker as the likely 8th inning man, and the probable candidate to step in if May falters. Also, like several others on this list, Parker could just up and win the job outright in spring.

9. Zack Britton – The continuing aura of Aroldis Chapman’s otherworldly fastball has masked the fact that the lefty has failed to strike out 100 hitters for three consecutive seasons now. It’s not that Chapman has gotten significantly less effective, but he’s dealt with minor injuries now and again the last few seasons and has occasionally had brief bouts of control issues. With the Yankees projected to win close to 100 games, it’s likely that Zack Britton nabs a handful of saves even if Chapman stays fully healthy and effective. But if not, the sky is the limit.

10. Greg Holland – A glance at Greg Holland’s 2018 numbers shows a tale of two seasons: a 7.92 ERA across 25 innings in St. Louis, followed by a 0.84 ERA across 21.1 innings in Washington. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that he was actually only marginally better in Washington (2.97 FIP) than he was in St. Louis (4.56 FIP), and that his night-and-day splits were just the result of extremely bad luck followed by extremely good luck. What you’re left with is a perfectly decent (but not great) MLB reliever who nonetheless carries his Proven Closer title with him, making him a possible option for saves in Arizona, especially if Archie Bradley struggles this spring.

11. Seranthony Dominguez – Gabe Kapler might employ the same bullpen chaos theory that he did last year, making Seranthony Dominguez an attractive target even after the acquisition of David Robertson. Of course, this cuts both ways, as Dominguez might never become a full-time closer, even if Robertson is hurt or ineffective — and there’s also word that the Phillies may limit the amount they use him on consecutive days. Still, the talent here is impossible to deny, and Dominguez is worth grabbing, even in shallower leagues, as he’ll help contribute to percentages and strikeouts even if he’s never getting more than a couple saves per month.

12. Jared Hughes – Quick, of all the NL relievers who pitched 50+ innings last year, who had the best ERA? If you guessed Jeremy Jeffress, good job! (And, also, maybe think about drafting him? He barely missed this list, but he’s pretty good, too!) But coming in second place was the largely-unheralded Jared Hughes, who posted a 1.92 mark across 78.2 innings. With word that Raisel Iglesias will be used all over the place this year, Hughes could quickly become a valuable fantasy arm.

13. AJ Minter – Here’s another one that isn’t very complicated: Arodys Vizcaino is good, but he was hurt for a decent stretch of the season last year, allowing hard-throwing lefty AJ Minter to pick up 15 saves. No reason to think that it can’t happen again in 2019. (Minter’s value, of course, would take a significant hit if Craig Kimbrel returns to the Braves.)  

14. Trevor Rosenthal – Dave Martinez turned heads earlier this spring when he said that Trevor Rosenthal would get some save opportunities. It’s likely that this comment was more in regards to nights when Sean Doolittle isn’t available, but the fact that Martinez put it out there — coupled with Doolittle’s general fragility in recent years — earns Rosenthal a spot on this list.

15. Joe Kelly – Joe Kelly got a hefty deal in free agency to be the primary set-up man for the Dodgers going forward, and seems likely to be the man to benefit should anything befall Kenley Jansen. Simply put, you could do worse than the 8th inning guy for a team likely to threaten 100 wins.