Heading into the fantasy draft season, we will identify high risk, high reward players at every position. Some fantasy GMs are more risk averse while others thrive on it. Either way, it’s typically a good strategy to sprinkle in some high risk players, especially later in the draft. The key is to pick the ones with the most upside and have solid backups in place. Here are 10 high risk relief pitchers that warrant consideration this season.
Ken Giles HOU
Giles was fantastic in the regular season last year, posting a 2.29 ERA and collecting 34 saves. However, he followed that up with a dud of a postseason, which has many believing that he could be on thin ice as the closer for the Astros. He’s penciled in as the 9th inning man for Houston heading into the season, but with how late inning arms races tend to heat up during the season for contenders, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Houston add another late inning arm, potentially one that could take the 9th away from Giles. The upside of the closer role in Houston, as well as the durability that Giles has displayed over the last couple of seasons, have him as a highly ranked reliever heading into 2018, but make not mistake about it, he’s still a risky asset.
Wade Davis COL
Davis was fantastic for Chicago last year, going 33-for-34 in save opportunities in his one year with the Cubs. While his walk rate and BABIP against both increased, he was able to offset it by posting a 12.1 K/9, the second highest total of his career. Looking forward to this year, however, there are still some questions around Davis. How will pitching in Colorado affect him? Will he continue to stay healthy? He got through 2017 unscathed after an elbow scare in 2016, but his combination of past arm trouble, aging and the workload he took on in the playoffs last season should worry owners. If you want to target a top end closer, Davis is among the riskiest options up there.
Jeurys Familia NYM
Familia was one of the many Mets that had a tumultuous 2017, missing most of the season due to a blood clot in his shoulder that he had to have surgically removed, which came after serving a 15 game suspension to start the season. When he was able to take the mound, Familia struggled, posting a 4.27 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in just 24.2 innings. He did pitch well to end the season, however, and given how small his sample size is from last year, the performance isn’t the main thing to worry about. Health is the big issue, as Familia is an Elevated Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries, but he has a track record of durability, making at least 76 appearances a year from 2014-2016. If he can get back fully healthy, Familia should regain his ground as one of the better closers in the game. However, it’s never that easy with the Mets, is it?
Zach Britton BAL
Britton’s injury riddled 2017 was made even worse when he ruptured his Achilles earlier this offseason, which will cost him most of the first half of 2018. He remains a High Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries, and he won’t get drafted in plenty of fantasy leagues. However, there still is some tantalizing upside with Britton, given his dominant 2016 performance. He’s not far from being the best reliever in the sport, and it’s also possible he could end up on a contender late in the year should the Orioles move him before the trade deadline. It would be tough to tie up a DL spot for such a long portion of the season on a reliever, but in a deep league, a second half surge from Britton might be enough to push you over the top, so it could be worth the late round gamble. If not, he’s someone you should at least have on your radar as a waiver wire stash before he returns.
Herrera got his first chance to close for an entire season for the Royals last season, but his tenure as the 9th inning man in KC was much rockier than expected. He pitched to 4.24 ERA thanks to a dip in strikeouts and a rise in walks and home runs allowed. That’s not what you would call ideal. However, Herrera did pitch well in the second half as he was able to limit the homers. Unfortunately, he strained his forearm in mid-August, costing him during his mini-resurgence. Forearm troubles are worrisome given how often they are connected to more serious elbow issues, yet he is currently a Low Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries, which is a welcome sign. Should he stay healthy and build off his second half rebound, Herrera should be able to keep a hold of the Royals closer position. It’s a risk, but he could payoff big time should he pitch like he did as a setup man in the 9th.
Greg Holland FA
Holland remains unsigned after his return last season was mostly successful. Other than one rough stretch in September, he looked every part of the dominant closer he was prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015, which cost him all of 2016. He’s an Elevated Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries, and the health questions are certainly part of the reason he remains unsigned, especially when you combine them with his advanced age. However, should Holland land on the right team, he could still be a big time fantasy asset. If he winds up closing games for a contender, Holland’s value will shoot up. That might make him worth gambling on in a draft before he’s signed.
Brandon Morrow CHC
Morrow’s first full season as a reliever was a massive success in 2017. He became a fantasy asset even as a non-closer for the Dodgers, and now he becomes the closer for a team that should provide him with plenty of save opportunities in the Cubs. If he can carry over his sky high strikeout totals and sub-1.00 WHIP from last season, he should be one of the elite closers in fantasy. However, his past arm trouble combined with ridiculous playoff workload during the Dodgers World Series run should give fantasy players pause as they look at Morrow going into draft season. He is a Low Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries, which is a good sign, but his history of arm trouble will always be worrisome. The payoff could be massive, but there is still some potential downside to Morrow, as well.
Dellin Betances NYY
Betances has been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball the past few seasons, racking up a 14.8 K/9 over the past 3 years. He got some save opportunities last year, but should be slated back in as a setup man for Aroldis Chapman to start the year. However, should Chapman go down with injury as he did last year, Betances should get some save ops. The big question around Betances is whether he can get his control back, as he posted a ghastly 6.6 BB/9 last season. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to put up a strand rate greater than 80% again like last year, so if he doesn’t cut back on the walks, it could be a major issue. His jagged delivery is likely to blame and could possibly lead to some injury issues, though Betances is a Low Injury Risk currently (according to Inside Injuries) and has been durable so far in his career. If he gets the walks down, Betances will once again be among the elite setup men in the game, making him a big time fantasy asset in hold leagues, with the added upside of some potential save opportunities.
Melancon had been one of the more reliable closers in the game going into last year, but his first year with the Giants was one riddled with injury. Melancon made multiple trips to the DL due to forearm and elbow injuries, limiting him to just 32 appearances. He struggled when he was able to take the mound, as well, posting a dismal 4.50 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. He comes into this season a High Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries and entering his age 33 season, which are both far from ideal, obviously. If he does bounce back physically, however, Melancon could once again be one of the better relief assets in fantasy, especially if the Giants are as improved as some are predicting. It’s a major roll of the dice, but a Melancon resurgence is still definitely in the cards.
Blake Treinen OAK
Treinen was surprisingly named the closer for the Nationals heading into the start of last season, but he absolutely bombed in Washington before being demoted and then traded to Oakland. After the trade, however, Treinen settled in nicely, converting 13 of 16 save chances, striking out 42 in 38 innings, and posting a 2.13 ERA. His elite sinker and improving slider should allow him to continue this success, should he be able keep his head on straight. He is an Elevated Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries, after having surgery to remove a cyst from his finger in October, but all reports out of Oakland are that he’s healthy and ready to go. It’s a gamble to bet on a guy with a shaky track record like Treinen, but if he has figured it all out, the talent is there for him to be a dominant closer.
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