3 relief pitchers who don't need saves to be helpful in fantasy baseball this year

Saves tend to be the be-all, end-all for relievers in fantasy baseball, but these three stand to have value beyond tallies in that category.

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When it comes to relief pitchers in fantasy baseball, everything starts and (as a practical matter) ends with the marquee category: saves. Closers get drafted, some highly, and as long as they deliver volume in that category (with a nice strikeout rate, of course), everything else can tend to get overlooked.

But changes in the actual game of baseball broaden the base of useful relief pitchers, depending on league settings. Saves-plus-holds, rather than just saves, has become a category in some fantasy leagues. Some non-closer relievers end up delivering noticeable innings, making that inning sample impactful to fantasy managers over the course of a season (good or bad).

Closer situations are always subject to change, with injuries and ineffectiveness pushing a move to someone else.

But as we sit right now, these three relief pitchers don't necessarily need a pile of saves to be useful to fantasy baseball owners in 2024.

3 relief pitchers who don't need saves to be useful in fantasy baseball this year

Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros

Over the last few seasons, Pressly has been the ideal fantasy baseball combination of being a good closer on a good team. But last season, spurred by an ERA north of 5.00 during the second half, his ERA inflated to 3.58, and his peripherals during that fade were concerning.

The Astros didn't necesarily have a big need at closer, but they made a big move to sign Josh Hader to a five-year, $95 million deal anyway. That means Pressly will move into the primary setup role, with Hader of course taking over as the closer.

Pressly will be first in line for saves in the Houston bullpen on days Hader is not available. Even in his second half drop-off last year, his ground ball rate was good, and he still finished with a 10.2 K/9 rate and a 2.2 BB/9 for the season.

Pressly could still push toward double-digit saves, along with good ratios. The high-leverage spot in the Astros' bullpen vacated by Hector Neris should be his. Neris had 31 holds and six wins last season, so there's a path to some fantasy value in that spot, even with Pressly losing save opportunities.

Fantasy Pros Consensus ADP (2/29/24): RP28, pick No. 207 overall

Yennier Cano, Baltimore Orioles

Out of nowhere, Cano became a dominant reliever for the Orioles last season (2.11 ERA, 58.9 percent ground ball rate, 1.6 BB/9 over 72 appearances). It might be nice to see higher strikeout rates (8.1 K/9, 23 percent strikeout rate). To that end, his four-seam fastball seems to be a legit weapon he could use more (46.2 percent whiff rate, .222 slugging percentage against last season).

Cano took over as the Orioles' closer when Felix Bautista went down late last season. Craig Kimbrel was signed to take over the ninth inning this season, and he should be fine in the role. But if/when Kimbrel struggles, Cano could step in and never give back the closer role.

Cano could end up with a lot of saves this season if Kimbrel can't hold down the closer role for Baltimore. Luckily, though, he will not need them to be an incredibly useful reliever for fantasy managers.

Fantasy Pros Consensus ADP (2/29/24): RP34, pick No. 270 overall

Erik Swanson, Toronto Blue Jays

After he posted a 1.68 ERA for the Seattle Mariners in 2022, the Blue Jays had Swanson change his pitch mix, throwing his split finger a lot more and reducing the usage of his four-seamer.

The results were still good (2.97 ERA, 1.10 WHIP), and he had an improved walk rate in the second half of last season, to go with 29 holds and an uptick in his ground ball rate (40.4 percent for the season).

Jordan Romano has a lock on the closer role for Toronto, but Swanson is lined up for the eighth inning role again. Home runs could still be a thing (eight allowed last year, over 66.2 innings), but Swanson offers strong across the board ratios and is lined up to be an asset in holds leagues.

Swanson Fantasy Pros ADP Consensus (2/29/24): RP76, No. 465 overall