Fantasy Baseball 2021: Relief pitcher rankings, tiers, draft strategies and more to know

Get ready for your 2021 fantasy baseball draft by diving in to the relief pitcher position
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How you approach the reliever position in drafts largely depends on the format of your league plus what type of manager you are. In H2H categories league, I make it a priority to get at least one top closer with unquestioned job security, but in H2H points leagues and even Roto leagues I don't mind waiting until the middle tiers, taking one guy in that range and then snagging a few guys in unsettled roles late in the draft. That's because I know I'm going to scour box scores and waiver wires for the next few months with the expectation I'll be able to get the jump on emerging save options, so I prioritize every other facet of my fantasy team before turning toward relievers.

So how should you attack the position heading into your draft? I've done numerous mock and real snake and salary cap drafts heading into the 2021 MLB season, and I'm here to share the things I've learned so far. If you're a regular subscriber to SportsLine, you probably know me from dominating NFL picks for years, but did you know I actually got my start in sports media as a fantasy baseball analyst? I even finished No. 1 among all experts for my draft rankings the first year FantasyPros tracked MLB expert accuracy on their site.

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More tiered rankings: C1B2B3BSSOFSPRP

Here's how I'm ranking and approaching the relief pitcher position for fantasy baseball in 2021:

Relief pitcher ranking tiers

1. Josh Hader, MIL
2. Liam Hendriks, CHW
3. Aroldis Chapman, NYY
4. Edwin Diaz, NYM

I did one H2H categories draft where I took Hader at the beginning of Round 6, and when no one else jumped on a closer by the end of Round 7, I came back with Hendriks as my RP2. I ended up weaker at starting pitcher than I'm used to, but those guys will help push my Ks higher than if I went with weaker options in my RP slots, and the ratio help they provide should help mitigate starting worse options at SP4 and SP5. In other formats, I just avoid the top-end options at this position altogether, but that Hader-Hendriks draft wound up in a pretty good spot when all was said and done.

5. Raisel Iglesias, LAA
6. James Karinchak, CLE
7. Kenley Jansen, LAD
8. Ryan Pressly, HOU
9. Brad Hand, WAS
10. Trevor Rosenthal, OAK

Here's the end of the relatively safe options, and I'd look to snap one up if the value is right near the end of the tier, which I've seen happen with Hand and Rosenthal.

11. Will Smith, ATL
12. Rafael Montero, SEA
13. Alex Colome, MIN
14. Amir Garrett, CIN
15. Nick Anderson, TB
16. Devin Williams, MIL
17. Craig Kimbrel, CHC
18. Kirby Yates, TOR  

The Braves have enough lefties in their bullpen to deploy Smith as their primary closer, and if that happens as expected I can see him as a top-10 option at the position. I've ended up with him as my top closer in plenty of drafts while taking him in the Round 13-15 range, and I think that's a great strategy if you're committed to the in-season saves search. Players like Anderson and Williams have plenty of value in H2H points formats even if they aren't going to rack up the same number of saves as the other guys in the first three tiers. Yates is expected to miss time with an injury, but at some point in the draft he'll have value.

19. Greg Holland, KC
20. Matt Barnes, BOS
21. Daniel Bard, COL
22. Jordan Hicks, STL
23. Joakim Soria, ARI
24. Jake McGee, SF
25. Emilio Pagan, SD
36. Jordan Romano, TOR
27. Anthony Bass, MIA
28. Richard Rodriguez, PIT
29. Jose Leclerc, TEX  
30. Archie Bradley, PHI

Relief pitcher strategies

In H2H categories and Roto leagues, I'm typically taking one player from the top two tiers in these rankings, while in H2H points I'm probably passing until Will Smith in Tier 3, unless some great value is sitting on the board with one of the top 11 names.

Feel free to load up with potential closers late in the draft and drop whoever doesn't emerge as a saves option early in the season -- better to buy in bulk when there's little risk in the downside. For me, that means taking names like Bard, Soria, Hicks, McGee, Pagan and Bass and even some names outside my top 30 if the bench is deep enough, including Yimi Garcia, Giovanny Gallegos, Diego Castillo, Emmanuel Clase and a few others. Jordan Romano is a name to know in the wake of the Yates injury, and he could wind up running away with the job if he can keep the walks under control.

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R.J. WhiteSuper Stat Geek