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The Best Fantasy Relievers of the Year so Far

Saves are king when it comes to the value of relievers in fantasy baseball, but in the right type of league, top middle relievers can be very useful. In leagues with start limits, top middle relievers can help with ratios and, maybe more importantly, they can help you rack up strikeouts, which is a category than can be a tight race in start limit leagues.

To determine who the most valuable relievers have been so far, I took the top 100 relievers from ESPN’s player rater and stripped out the categorical contributions from wins and saves. I took out saves because most closers are owned, and you probably don’t need help chasing saves. I took out wins because they’re even harder to predict for relievers than they are for starters. Below is a list of the relievers with the greatest combined contributions in ERA, WHIP and Ks on the player rater so far this year along with their ESPN ownership percentage.

Dellin Betances 1.24 1.49 1.99 4.72 37.5
Wade Davis 0.68 1.33 1.64 3.65 10.8
Pat Neshek 0.05 1.43 1.93 3.41 1.1
Koji Uehara 0.31 1.56 1.53 3.4 100
Jean Machi -0.18 1.81 1.59 3.22 12.9
Sean Doolittle 0.53 0.71 1.83 3.07 99.1
Jake McGee 0.2 1.17 1.53 2.9 7.5
Joaquin Benoit 0.12 1.12 1.55 2.79 33.3
Zach Britton -0.18 1.77 1.16 2.75 80.9
Huston Street -0.06 1.28 1.41 2.63 100

Betances has just been absolutely filthy this year. He leads all relievers in K% (45.9%) with a solid swinging strike rate (13.7%), and his walk rate is comfortably above average (7.5%). Plenty of owners have caught on as Betances has the highest ownership percentage of anyone on the list that isn’t getting saves, but he’s a must add if no one in your league has caught on.

As for Davis, I think it’s safe to say that the bullpen suits him. If Betances is unavailable, you wouldn’t be losing out on much settling on Davis as a second option.

Starter 16.1 % 8.5 % 7.5 % 0.272 1.45 0.303 71.7 % 115 114 110 4.57 4.5 4.52
Reliever 32.6 % 10.0 % 22.6 % 0.161 0.97 0.238 82.0 % 51 60 72 1.99 2.94 2.57

If Betances and Davis aren’t available, Neshek probably is. Once upon a time, Neshek was a pretty dominant middle reliever. With the Twins from 2006-2008, Neshek struck out just over 30% of the batters he faced and had a better-than-average walk rate which helped him post a sub-3.00 ERA in 120.2 IP. He missed the entire 2009 season after Tommy John surgery, and he hasn’t had much success since until this year. But this year he has been great with a 29.3% K% and 4% BB%, which makes his K-BB% good for 17th best among relievers. He does have some regression coming as his .188 BABIP, 90.4% LOB% and 2.9% HR/FB aren’t sustainable. But it looks like he might have regained his strikeout form, which will help him continue to be useful, even if not as useful, in the ratio categories.

The next non-closer on the list is Machi who is much more like Neshek than Betances or Davis in that he’s got some regression coming. He has yet to allow a home run, which is driving his 95.2% LOB%. The problem is that his skills haven’t been quite as good as Neshek’s. His strikeout rate is slightly above average, and his walk rate is comfortably better than league average, but I’m worried about how hard regression hits him without elite skills. The lack of elite skills shouldn’t come as a complete surprise given Machi never reached the majors before age 30.

If Betances and Davis aren’t available, it might be best to pass over Neshek and Machi and see if McGee and Benoit are available. Benoit has been a solid reliever for many years now, and McGee is working on his third solid year in a row, even though homers bit him a little last year. Benoit is probably a little safer given his track record, but McGee is available in more leagues and probably an equally good option. Here’s what they’ve each done over the last three years.

Jake McGee 31.4 % 6.8 % 24.7 % 0.189 0.96 0.263 76.0 % 72 64 68 2.77 2.72 2.27
Joaquin Benoit 28.7 % 7.6 % 21.0 % 0.2 1.03 0.255 84.1 % 66 81 79 2.66 3.19 2.69