Saves sleepers for fantasy baseball 2024: Is it Mason Miller time in Oakland?

Identifying “sleepers” before spring training games begin can be daunting. For this exercise, relievers mentioned in this column will measured by their early average draft positions (ADP) from Fantasy Pros’ aggregated data of five different fantasy baseball contest providers (as of February 19, 2024). For our purposes, a sleeper will be a reliever valued improperly by my estimations. Some may feel obvious, but this will include some deeper league targets, late-round fliers, and dynasty options.

Let’s start by creating a baseline for saves in the upcoming season. In 12-team leagues, the NFBC runs an overall contest. This chart illustrates the average amount of saves, league finish, and number of relievers taken by Top 25 NFBC teams in a 30-round draft:

One does not need a first-place finish in saves for success, but being in the top third of the league, with at least 70 saves, helps ensure it. Viewing the current ADP, 10 relievers will be selected in the first 100 picks of most drafts. Five of the six relievers who posted a games-finished percent over 75, a save share percentage greater than 60 percent, and a K-BB percentage over 20 reside within this range of ADP:

Relievers worth targeting at their current price point with a chance of finishing in the Top 10 at their position get covered first. Then targets with an ADP past 200 will be highlighted, with a bonus section of “hybrid” relievers. A hybrid can log multiple-inning outings, with a chance to vulture a win, start games when necessary, or provide ancillary saves. Use Michael King as a reference for this type of reliever. Last, I’ll offer a short list of relievers worth stashing in dynasty formats who could receive save opportunities after the trade deadline passes.

Before doing this, though, here’s a bonus highlight. At this time last year, Félix Bautista had an ADP of just over 90 (90.4 to be exact) and ended the season highest on the player rater despite being shut down with elbow issues. If there’s a reliever capable of making the jump from the second tier into the top three, it’s Jhoan Duran. He owns a collective 76.8 ADP per Fantasy Pros, the sixth reliever taken on average. However, he owns a tantalizing arsenal featuring two pitches with a swinging strike rate of 19 percent or better:

When viewing his leverage trends versus Bautista’s in 2022, then his breakout in 2023, an interesting similarity emerged which may set the baseline for a jump in his results:

There’s no guarantee this will happen, but Duran could be this year’s candidate for most dominant high-leverage reliever. Now for the relievers worth taking past pick 100 this season.

Andrés Muñoz (SEA)

Not for the risk-averse, especially given his team’s concept of sharing leverage roles. Muñoz needed extra time off last year because of shoulder discomfort, and could not replicate the results from his tremendous rookie season in 2022. Still, he converted 13 of 16 save chances last year, and added a new pitch in the second half of the season:

Here are his splits by pitch since 2022:

Seattle may keep him healthy by reserving his outings for save chances instead of the highest-leverage reliever (HLR) role he filled while setting up for Paul Sewald. If this happens, Muñoz could record 25 or more saves while providing strikeout upside as a second reliever.

Pete Fairbanks (TBR)

Depending on league format and draft position, a double-tap of these two relievers could pay dividends. Of course, injury risk also must be weighed in both portfolios. Fairbanks registered career highs last year in appearances (49), innings (45.1), strikeouts (68), and saves (25). Among relievers with a minimum of 40 innings, he ranked second in batting average allowed (.164), second in opponent slugging percentage (.233), second in opponent on-base plus slugging percentage (.506), second in hits per nine innings (5.16) and fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (13.5).

He ramped up his slider use last year, fueling his strong outcomes:

Migration toward the mean happens with all relievers, but at this price point, simply repeating last year’s results provides a runway for profit. If he secures 30 saves, it’s icing on the cake.

Mason Miller (OAK)

  • Fantasy Pros ADP: 282.6 (he’s listed as an SP)

Before delving into the possibilities of him being this year’s Duran, no one knows how the A’s will deploy him this year. He will operate as a reliever, but will he earn the primary save share, be used as the HLR, work multiple-inning outings, or be built up as the season progresses so he can start next year? The good news, provided health, is that he could benefit fantasy managers since he will provide strikeouts and should protect ratios as a reliever.

Here are his splits by pitch during his limited sample in 2023:

Appearing as a reliever, he owned a 14.7 percent swinging strike rate with his four-seam fastball and a 17 percent swinging strike rate with his slider. How he handles the transition, and left-handed hitters, may determine his ceiling this year. But, banking on his talent, and velocity, makes sense. If he earns the “closer” role by the end of April, wheels up.

Hunter Harvey (WSH)

Finished fourth among all qualified NL relievers in WHIP (0.94), tied for fourth in K/BB (5.15), and 11th in K-BB percentage (23 percent). He converted six straight save chances during a 10-game stretch, then lost his grip on the preferred save option during a stint on the injured list. If he puts his arsenal together, and takes the lead in save opportunities this season, he will provide a nice return on profit:

Chris Martin (BOS)

This speculative pick requires Boston trading its current closer, Kenley Jansen. However, it feels like he will be moved before the start of the season, and Martin represents the placeholder until the team replaces him at the trade deadline. He’s logged at least 50 innings in consecutive seasons. Last year, he converted three of four save opportunities, and led the Red Sox in holds with 23, while posting a 1.03 WHIP, and a 19.1 K-BB percentage. A late-round flier for double-digit saves, even if the Red Sox deploy a shared save situation, he protects ratios, providing his fantasy team with solid production in daily or weekly formats. He’s a solid floor guy, unless he gets moved sooner rather than later, so monitor Boston’s moves closely leading up to drafts.

Deep League Sleepers

American League

National League

Hybrid Relievers of Interest

Depending on bench space and league size, there’s a unique market for hybrid relievers. Last year, Michael King made 49 appearances, including nine starts, finishing with a 4-8 record, 6 saves, 8 holds, and a 127:32 K:BB (22 K-BB percentage). Using his 10 wins plus saves as a baseline, these relievers may emerge as fantasy assets in 2024 operating in this evolving role:

Dynasty Relievers of Interest

American League

National League

Statistical Credits:;;;

For my daily work regarding relievers, check out Reliever Recon

(Top photo of Mason Miller: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)

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