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Relief pitchers to target in 2021 fantasy baseball

Relievers to target for saves, strikeouts, and stability.

USA Today/Pete Rogers Illustrations

With the MLB season fast approaching, we've made it to our last position preview. Everyone's favorite fantasy position...relief pitcher! Sometimes called closers (because most fantasy managers only roster relief pitchers who get saves) this position is always the most volatile. Not only do you get the standard risk associated with all pitchers in general. You get to couple it with being at the mercy of their managers. The top end are the top for a reason. They have the most trust to keep the ninth inning role all season. But they often get their draft cost inflated because of it. The age old adage is "Don't pay for saves." 2021 is no different.

Here are some of my favorite targets at relief pitcher for 2021.

James Karinchak, Cleveland Indians

My Rank: 4
Expert Consensus Rank: 6
March NFBC ADP: 102.41

If I'm drafting any RPs before the top 100 it's James Karinchak. Of relievers projected for at least three saves, Karinchak is projected to be one of only three relievers with 100 strikeouts. The others, Josh Hader and Edwin Diaz, get drafted 30 and 20 picks sooner, respectively. That's just a total amount of strikeouts too. On a per inning basis, Karinchak stands alone with a 15.1 K/9 projection. In 2020, his strikeout percentage of 48.6% was second in baseball and hi whiff percentage of 45.3% was forth. On his curveball alone he had a 56.3% whiff rate. The dude is elite and he has upside to be the best closer in fantasy.

Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics

My Rank: 7
Expert Consensus Rank: 11
March NFBC ADP: 111.02

Trevor Rosenthal is back, y'all. Rosenthal was looking like the next best closer back when he was with the Cardinals. From 2014-2015 he posted a 2.65 ERA with an 11 K/9 on his way to recording 93 saves. From 2017-2019, he threw just a little more than 100 innings as he was either hurt or underperforming due to injuries. In 2020, we saw the guy of old. A 1.90 ERA with 14.5 strikeouts per 9. His Xstats were among the best at the position, similar to his 2014-2015 seasons. In fact, his xwOBA of 2.16 was second best behind only Devin Williams. Rosenthal is with the Athletics in 2021. He gets a great home ballpark for one. Plus, the As have had pretty good success with closers the past two years (see Liam Hendricks). Rosenthal will be on plenty of my squads this year, maybe consider drafting him to yours as well.

Will Smith, Atlanta Braves

My Rank: 12
Expert Consensus Rank: 20
March NFBC ADP: 201.89

What if I told you, you could wait until pick 200 and grab the uncontested closer for one of the best teams in baseball? Sounds great, right? Will Smith is that guy. With Mark Melancon out of the picture (in sunny San Diego) Smith has the role to himself. It wasn't long ago he was a top tier fantasy reliever either. From June 29, 2018, his first save with the Giants, to the end of the 2019 season Smith was a must-start closer. He was seventh in baseball with 48 saves while posting a 3.02 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. Draft him at his incredible value and reap the fantasy benefits for 2021.

Who are you targeting this year at relief pitcher?