5 Relief Pitcher Busts for 2024 Fantasy Baseball

Draft-day prices are too steep for these relievers.

In saves leagues, it’s critical to nail your RP selections. One or two picks on closers that don’t pan out can leave you lagging in saves all season in a rotisserie format or have you automatically losing a head-to-head category each week. In FAAB leagues, it can also ramp up the pressure to spend a healthy chunk of your budget on replacement closers. With that in mind, here are five closers I don’t expect to return value at their current pick. Average draft position (ADP) data is taken from the 21 Rotowire Online Championship (12-team) leagues drafted between February 1 and February 21.


1. Devin Williams (MIL, ADP 48.52)


Williams and Edwin Díaz (ADP 47.76) have been neck-and-neck this draft season as the first closer off the board. While some might see Williams as the safer option given that Díaz missed all of 2023 with a knee injury, this may not be the case. The Brewers are not poised to be a contender this season after trading away Corbin Burnes and losing Brandon Woodruff for all of 2024. PECOTA projections have the Brew Crew as an 80-win team, which would be a significant step back from their 92-win campaign last year. As a result, Williams could very well find himself with fewer leads to protect, harming his saves volume.

While Williams is virtually guaranteed to have a great ERA (1.89 ERA in 214 career IP), the same cannot be said for his WHIP. Williams posted a 12.1% walk rate last year, in line with his career mark of 11.7%. Williams uses his Airbender change-up, a true unicorn, to pile up strikeouts (37.7% K% last year) and suppress hits, but his high walk rate means that he needs to do this to maintain a strong WHIP. His 0.92 mark last year is somewhat misleading, as it came with a .198 BABIP (.261 career) and -17 hit luck. A reversal of this fortune could cause Williams’ WHIP to swell to around 1.10; our PLV projection has him posting a 1.12. This, when combined with fewer save opportunities, is enough to move him from a top-tier to merely a very good closer. Drafters may be better off getting a very reliable bat (Randy Arozarena, Manny Machado) or starter (Tarik Skubal, Max Fried) around that same pick.

2. Alexis Díaz (CIN, 81.48)


Díaz was fantastic last year, notching 37 saves and 9 wins with a 3.09 ERA and 86 Ks in 67 1/3 IP. This season, he has been going as the 10th closer off the board, but there are still some clear warts in his profile, with deficiencies similar to Williams’. The Reds greatly overperformed last year and will likely come back to earth a bit even as their young core continues to age (78.7 projected wins per PECOTA). Díaz also can’t be expected to record 9 wins again regardless of how good the Reds are, so drafters should take his finishing position from ’23 with a grain of salt.

Like Williams, Díaz attacks hitters with a two-pitch mix. The only difference is that Díaz’s slider (5.11 PLV in ’23, roughly average for a slider) is no match for Williams’ Airbender (5.57 PLV in ’23, 99th percentile). Díaz’s fastball is also underwhelming, as it posted a 4.69 PLV in ’23 and a below-average CSW% of 26.2%. His ERA estimators from last season (3.52 FIP, 4.20 xFIP, 4.36 PLA) further support the idea that Díaz didn’t fully earn his results. I still believe his role is secure, but drafters should be aware of the ratio risk (PLV-projected 3.93 ERA, 1.22 WHIP). PL reliever expert Rick Graham ranked him 21st in his Top 50 Closers article.

3. Paul Sewald (ARI, 91.05)


Last year was Sewald’s first full season as a closer, and he rewarded owners with 34 saves and a 3.12 ERA in 60 2/3 IP between the Mariners and Diamondbacks. He enters this season firmly entrenched as the closer for the D-Backs, though playoff star Kevin Ginkel (11.2 scoreless IP in the ’23 postseason) could seize the role if Sewald falters. My concerns with Sewald stem from his declining stuff and the ratio damage that often accompanies such a drop-off.

The definition of a late bloomer (he will turn 34 in ’24), Sewald broke out in 2021 after years of mediocrity (3.06 ERA, .175 BAA, 39.4% K%, 18.2% SwStr%). Since then, however, his SwStr% has steadily fallen (16.7% in ’22, 14.6% in ’23), and his xWOBA has slowly climbed (.253 in ’21, .259 in ’22, and .267 in ’23). Sewald will still be able to get whiffs and induce weak contact with a super flat fastball (-3.5 VAA in ’23), but this new top-100 price for him doesn’t give enough weight to the ratio risk inherent in his profile. Even with the injury concerns, I prefer Andrés Muñoz (ADP 89) to Sewald in this range.

4. Craig Kimbrel (BAL, 111.14)


As an Orioles fan, it pains me to include Kimbrel on this list, but I was surprised to see him being drafted this close to the top 100 given his inconsistencies in recent years. Kimbrel can always be counted on to record some saves, but he hasn’t had more than 25 in a season since 2018, and his wild swings in performance from season to season prove that he’s far more volatile than your average closer. While Kimbrel will always miss bats (33.8% K% in ’23, 39.4% K% for his career), he continues to surrender hard contact in the air. His ICR of 38.8% last year ranked in the 29th percentile, and his 33.8% GB% ranked in the 8th percentile. Camden Yards will help Kimbrel keep the ball in the park, but it won’t fix these problems.

I do have faith in the O’s to get the most out of Kimbrel given their recent track record with relievers (see also Félix Bautista and Danny Coulombe), but their bullpen has a capable closing alternative in Yennier Cano if Kimbrel falters. Tyler Wells could also see some high-leverage work if he returns to the bullpen in the second half of the season as he did last year. Even if Kimbrel maintains the role all season, I envision him putting up a 30-save season with an ERA between 3.50 and 4.00 and a WHIP somewhere around 1.20. Those saves will come in handy for owners, but the harm that could be done to owners’ ratios compared to other relievers in that ADP range (Tanner Scott, Ryan Helsley) might be underrated but important.

5. Alex Lange (DET, 198.95)


Lange is a far less risky investment than the other players on this list given the cheaper price for a guy who is all but guaranteed to open the season as a closer. But frankly, I’m not convinced that Lange is a good pitcher. He maintained a tenuous grip on the Tigers’ closer role all season in ’23, notching 26 saves with a 3.68 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. An ERA around 3.50 feels more like Lange’s 90th percentile outcome than the expectation given his serious control problems (15.6% BB% in ’23, 12.8% career) and lack of a dominant offering. Lange leans heavily on a power curveball (58.5% usage, 5.01 PLV) that gets a lot of whiffs (22.5% SwStr%), but he struggles mightily to land it in the zone (30.1% Zone%, 23rd percentile). The offering is Lange’s only pitch with a PLV above 4.75, so he needs to throw it consistently to get batters out, but this will continue to cause walk troubles.

Lange’s ERA estimators suggest that his results last year were better than he deserved (4.36 FIP, 4.38 xFIP, 4.77 PLA). His PL projection this year of a 4.20 ERA and 1.35 WHIP is not tenable for a closer, especially for a Tigers team that wants to continue trending toward contention. Jason Foley (2.61 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 5.24 PLV) outperformed Lange last season, and I expect him to take over the closer’s role in Detroit by the end of 2024.

Patrick Fitzgerald

Patrick Fitzgerald is a Staff Writer for Pitcher List's fantasy team. He is an alum of Vassar College, where he pitched on the baseball team and studied economics and political science. Patrick is an avid O's fan and head-to-head fantasy baseball player (roto remains a work in progress).

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