Relief pitcher ADP: Using clusters (not tiers) to find the best RP targets throughout your draft
Looking at reliever average draft position (ADP) since last November, the perceived top target at the position recently underwent patellar tendon surgery and will likely miss the entire 2023 season. It’s tough encapsulating how dominant Edwin Díaz was last year, but the Mets went 51-10 (.836) when he pitched, and he became one of 12 pitchers in history with at least 100 strikeouts, an ERA less than 1.50, while registering at least 30 saves in a season.
With Díaz removed from the top spot at his position, it leaves those drafting in the next two weeks with difficult decisions. How much should one move up relievers on their draft boards, without sacrificing the foundation of their builds? There’s no binary answer for this problem, rather a pliable plan with eyes on relievers with clear pathways towards saves, or playing to your leagues tendencies.
Using ADP from Fantasy Pros, which aggregates its total from six different sites versus high-stakes NFBC Online Championship (12-team leagues) ADP as a guide, some intriguing patterns and relievers of interest will emerge. Most importantly, one must play to their strengths when planning for saves in any draft room. Part of the reliever ADP inflation in NFBC drafts lies in its no trade policy across all formats.
Because there’s so many league types and sizes, putting forth a number as a goal would be a disservice. However, using past information from NFBC leagues, in a 12-team league, with in-season additions, drafting 70 saves as a target can serve as a baseline for finishing in the top third in your league standings.
Instead of using tiers as a basis for this exercise, this year, the ADP will be presented in draft pockets — more specifically, clusters of 50 picks. As an illustration, here’s how many relievers get taken in each 50-pick cluster using the ADP provided by FantasyPros (as of March 16) versus the NFBC 12-team drafts from the last seven days (March 10-through-March 16):
Removing Díaz from the equation will alter the reliever landscape in upcoming drafts. Emmanuel Clase likely emerges as the consensus first reliever taken in most drafts, then Josh Hader, until variance commences with people taking their preferred anchor for saves. Since different formats will have different approaches when relievers get taken, one sees how they get pushed up in higher stakes drafts with no trading. There’s 18 relievers off the board by pick 151 in NFBC formats versus 13 using FantasyPros ADP. This causes the lull in the third and fourth reliever clusters for those in the NFBC 12-team drafts, whereas relievers gain momentum with many players targeting their second save share.
Using the FantasyPros ADP as our guide through the “closer” clusters, relievers will be highlighted in each snapshot, along with their NFBC ADP as a comparison. It can be beneficial seeing which relievers get pushed up and, if one prefers his potential outcomes, taking him ahead of his ADP may help pave the way for success in saves this season.
Reliever Cluster One (Picks 1-50)
- Emmanuel Clase, CLE (40.8 FantasyPros ADP; 34.31 NFBC OC ADP)
After reliever draft capital surged last year, it’s a bit calmer early on this season. But, with the Díaz news, it’s very possible one, or even two, from the next cluster join Clase over the next two weeks. As for the Guardians closer, he led the majors in saves, tied for first in appearances (77), recorded 18 one-run saves and ranked first among all MLB pitchers in average cutter velocity (99.5 mph). Among all qualified AL relievers, he finished first in saves, strikeouts-to-walks ratio (7.7), opponent’s OPS (.425), WHIP (0.73), and save percentage (91.3 percent). He’s pretty good, but he does not present the strikeout upside that other relievers after him possess. This must be accounted for in a build.
Reliever Cluster Two (Picks 51-100)
- Josh Hader, SD (53.8 FantasyPros ADP; 42.77 NFBC OC ADP)
- Devin Williams, MIL (60.6 FantasyPros ADP; 58.04 NFBC OC ADP)
- Jordan Romano, TOR (65.2 FantasyPros ADP; 52.19 NFBC OC ADP)
- Ryan Pressly, HOU (71.6 FantasyPros ADP; 63.85 NFBC OC ADP)
- Raisel Iglesias, ATL (76.6 FantasyPros ADP; 57.62 NFBC OC ADP)
- Ryan Helsley, STL (88.2 FantasyPros ADP; 70.35 NFBC OC ADP)
- Félix Bautista, BAL (95 FantasyPros ADP; 75.27 NFBC OC ADP)
- Kenley Jansen, BOS (98 FantasyPros ADP; 85.15 NFBC OC ADP)
Even though the top tier of closers formulates based on the previous seasons results, the saves leader usually emerges from this cluster. As an example, Clase and Jansen appeared in this range last year. Putting recency bias aside, it’s very likely this trend repeats itself. Will it be Williams finally getting the primary save share in Milwaukee with Hader in San Diego? Could it be the southpaw on the precipice of free agency, taking the Díaz path towards a hefty contract? Maybe it’s Iglesias. He will be the closer on a team which prefers a set pathway towards saves with defined roles.
For those seeking skills in this cluster, strikeout upside can be mined with Hader, Helsley and Bautista. If “The Mountain” looks appealing with an ADP of 95, move him up your boards. This discount appears courtesy of being behind at camp, but he hit 99 mph during his spring debut — his ADP will shift accordingly if Bautista does not suffer any setbacks before opening day. For the slow and steady wins the race crowd, Romano and Iglesias could end up leading the league in saves.
Reliever Cluster Three (Picks 101-150)
- Camilo Doval, SF (106.4 FantasyPros ADP; 89.92 NFBC OC ADP)
- Clay Holmes, NYY (123.4 FantasyPros ADP; 100.15 NFBC OC ADP)
- David Bednar, PIT (140 FantasyPros ADP; 114.96 NFBC OC ADP)
- Daniel Bard, COL (148.8 FantasyPros ADP; 148.42 NFBC OC ADP)
As the ADP drifts, security in roles or team concepts affect save upside. Doval is perceived as his team’s primary save share but Taylor Rogers will siphon chances when left-handed hitter pockets line up for the ninth inning. Holmes will be the “closer,” but also be the highest-leveraged reliever (HLR), especially facing an opposing team’s best right-handed hitters (think Toronto). Bednar’s terrific, but plays for the Pirates, which caps his save total unless he imitates Bard’s totals on a bad team. As for Bard, he’s working over two miles per hour below his average velocity from last year. Regression to the mean comes for everyone, so tread lightly taking him at this price point.
Reliever Cluster Four (Picks 151-200)
- Scott Barlow, KC (151.2 FantasyPros ADP; 136.77 NFBC OC ADP)
- Alexis Díaz, CIN (151.8 FantasyPros ADP; 131.56 NFBC OC ADP)
- Jhoan Duran, MIN (151.8 FantasyPros ADP; 120.38 NFBC OC ADP)
- Andrés Muñoz, SEA (169.2 FantasyPros ADP; 140.31 NFBC OC ADP)
- Pete Fairbanks, TB (180.2 FantasyPros ADP; 146.15 NFBC OC ADP)
- Paul Sewald, SEA (182.8 FantasyPros ADP; 168.42 NFBC OC ADP)
After providing terrific return on investment value last year, will this season be the one in which the Royals trade Barlow? Mets fans sure hope so. After him, there’s three talented relievers, with only one assured of being his team’s primary save share. However, as a second reliever with potential upside, Duran and Muñoz represent alluring targets since they will rack up strikeouts along with protecting ratios. If they accrue 10 or more saves, they get even more valuable.
Fairbanks has been hyped in past posts, but one cannot ignore his second half surge. He ended the regular season amidst a 22-game scoreless streak. He owned a 36:3 K:BB with eight saves and five holds over his final 22 innings with a 0.55 WHIP. He led all qualified relievers in WHIP and K-BB percentage from July 25 on. He’s gaining momentum in recent drafts, so if targeting him, plan on jumping at least a round ahead of his current draft capital.
Reliever Cluster Five (Picks 201-250)
Welcome into the undefined roles cluster of relievers. Leclerc gets treated as his team’s primary save share, but manager Bruce Bochy has not named him as such. Phillips will provide value as the Dodgers’ HLR, but he likely does not lead his team in saves, so treat him as such. Which iteration of López emerges for the Twins will determine his fantasy ceiling. With the Orioles, he went 4-6 with 19 saves, a 1.68 ERA, 0.972 WHIP, and 54:17 K:BB in 48.1 innings. Following a trade, and some personal strife, in Minnesota, he went 0-1 with four saves, a 4.37 ERA, 1.632 WHIP, and 18:14 K:BB over 22.2 innings. Still, he ranked sixth in the AL with 23 saves last year.
Reliever Cluster Six (Picks 251-300)
Speculative save chasers unite in this cluster. There’s name recognition (Soto), though his skill set and arbitration window probably keep him furthest from saves in the Phillies bullpen. Interesting skill sets in Gallegos and Adam, relievers with HLR upside while recording valuable ancillary saves. Lange could collect 20 saves, or flame out if his command issues carry over into 2023. It felt like Estévez signed with the Angels as their primary save share, but he’s struggling this spring, which makes him a risky venture at this price point. If Barlow gets traded, sooner rather than later, then Chapman will receive a spike in ADP, especially if he keeps performing well in spring appearances.
Reliever Cluster Seven (Picks 300-plus)
- Taylor Rogers, SF (306.6 FantasyPros ADP; 309.19 NFBC OC ADP
- A.J. Minter, ATL (312.2 FantasyPros ADP; 356.86 NFBC OC ADP
- Rafael Montero, HOU (315.8 FantasyPros ADP; 343.08 NFBC OC ADP
- Daniel Hudson, LAD (327.6 FantasyPros ADP; 320.69 NFBC OC ADP
- Trevor May, OAK(366.8 FantasyPros ADP; 324.69 NFBC OC ADP
- A.J. Puk, MIA (373.2 FantasyPros ADP; 337.54 NFBC OC ADP
- David Robertson, NYM (374.9 FantasyPros ADP; 324.73 NFBC OC ADP
- Will Smith, TEX (395 FantasyPros ADP; 351.96 NFBC OC ADP
- Brusdar Graterol, LAD (401.4 FantasyPros ADP; 344.77 NFBC OC ADP
- Reynaldo López, CHW (402.6 FantasyPros ADP; 290.08 NFBC OC ADP
- José Alvarado, PHI (460.5 FantasyPros ADP; 359.38 NFBC OC ADP
- Michael Fulmer, CHC (566 FantasyPros ADP; 335.54 NFBC OC ADP
Tossing end-game darts remains a staple of the never-pay-for-saves crowd. There’s definitely optimal targets in this cluster, but nothing’s guaranteed at this point of any draft. My personal preferences include: Puk, Smith, López and Fulmer. If targeting strikeouts with ancillary saves, Alvarado enters the conversation.
With Díaz sidelined for the season, it’s possible the Mets run a match-ups based shared save approach. David Robertson and Adam Ottavino will see a surge in their ADP’s over the next two weeks, especially if one receives a vote of confidence from Buck Showalter. If he plays coy, Ottavino represents the team’s best option against a right-handed heavy pocket of hitters in high-leverage situations but may not operate as a closer because of his results versus left-handed hitters:
- Ottavino versus RHH 2022: 177 batters faced, 58:12 K:BB (26 K-BB percentage), .160/.226/.253 slash line allowed, 0.77 WHIP, .218 weighted on-base average
- Ottavino versus LHH 2022: 81 batters faced, 21:4 K:BB (21 K-BB percentage), .301/.358/.479 slash line allowed, 1.59 WHIP, .354 weighted on-base average
Robertson possesses better splits by batter handedness, which could provide him with more save chances, but it’s a fluid situation:
- Robertson versus LHH 2022: 133 batters faced, .168/.293/.257 slash line allowed, 44:18 K:BB (19.5 K-BB percentage), 1.18 WHIP, .259 weighted on-base average
- – Robertson versus RHH 2022: 131 batters faced, .179/.290/.339 slash line allowed, 37:17 K:BB (15.3 K-BB percentage), 1.14 WHIP, .281 weighted on-base average
With all of this in mind, here’s how the top relievers taken in these ADP comparisons appear. Relievers highlighted in green represent those taken ahead of the FantasyPros ADP and those in violet, relievers taken in NFBC drafts after their FantasyPros ADP:
Instead of using picks difference as an indicator, this chart highlights the relievers with the highest differential in their ADP between the two sets of data:
If targeting these relievers, one should plan on reaching ahead of their projected ADP, since their price points may increase as opening day approaches.
On the other end of the spectrum, these relievers own the most stable ADP:
Variance will happen, so build this into your draft plan when mapping out picks throughout the pick clusters. Avoid runs or making a pick based on tiered ranks. For those in deeper formats, or seeking a potential worthwhile end-game dart flying below the radar, these relievers may not appear in our clusters, but could earn a save share this season, split by league.
AL End-Game Fliers
NL End-Game Fliers
For those drafting soon, here’s this year’s high-leverage ladders.
2023 High Leverage Ladders
Best of luck and be well.
Statistical Credits: Fangraphs.com, Baseball-Reference.com, BaseballSavant.com, BrooksBaseball.net
(Top photo: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)