ErnestoFrieri (Source: USAToday)

 

With pitchers and catchers set to report to spring training within the next several weeks, fantasy managers might have started to prepare for upcoming drafts.

 

Strong statistics from offensive players and starting pitchers could win leagues for fantasy managers, but relief pitching could also help one tip the scales in tight competition. Despite the fact that managers can alternate their relief pitching as the season progresses, there is certainly no harm in identifying which relievers might be primed for success in the upcoming baseball season.

 

Here are some relief pitchers that could wind up contributing to fantasy teams in a big way during the 2013 fantasy season:

 

5.) Ernesto Frieri (Los Angeles Angels) – Ernesto Frieri seemingly came out of the blue last year and put up some very respectable numbers with the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Angels. During his time spent between the two teams, Frieri managed to amass 23 saves, 7 holds, and a K:BB ratio that was a little bit better than 3:1.

 

While Frieri gave up nine home runs over 66 innings pitched, fantasy managers must remember that most of this damage came over the span of four outings (August - September) where the reliever gave up six of those nine gopher balls. Despite the fact that the Angels believe that off-season acquisition Ryan Madson will be their closer, Frieri is a very reliable late-inning option that can secure holds and adequately handle the closer's duties if Madson does not perform well after returning from Tommy John surgery.

 

For the meantime, fantasy managers should certainly consider giving Frieri a look in the late rounds of a draft, especially for those that play in leagues that value holds.

 

4.) Tom Wilhelmsen (Seattle Mariners) – Wilhelmsen quietly had a very productive year for the Seattle Mariners. After compiling several holds by working in the late innings, Wilhelmsen stepped into the closer's role for Seattle and registered 29 saves.

 

The reliever did give up five home runs, but he also managed to put up a 3:1 K:BB ratio and held his ERA to a very respectable 2.50 clip. Not only was Wilhelmsen's 2012 performance a pleasant surprise for fantasy managers, but the fact that the reliever amassed such numbers with an underperforming Mariners team speaks volumes for itself. Fantasy managers should definitely give Wilhelmsen the green light on draft day as many managers might not immediately recognize the reliever's name or his previous season's accomplishments.

 

3.) Sean Doolittle (Oakland A's) – Last season, Doolittle emerged as one of Oakland's most reliable relievers during the team's surprising run to the top of the A.L West. Even though the reliever might be behind Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook on the depth chart, fantasy managers should expect Doolittle to be used in key situations during the late innings as a bridge to the closer.

 

Doolittle's K:BB ratio was greater than 5:1 last season and the reliever only allowed three gopher balls in 47.1 innings pitched while pitching to an ERA that was slightly above 3.00. Pitching in the friendly confines of the Oakland Coliseum will undoubtedly aid Doolittle's totals, but fantasy managers should not let this take away from the reliever's talents. Despite the fact that Doolittle did not have a full season's worth of work during his 2012 campaign, his ability to collect 18 holds while only pitching with Oakland since the month of June should be enough to have managers strongly consider the reliever during the late stages of most fantasy drafts.

 

2.) Vinnie Pestano (Cleveland Indians) – Pestano was one of the most efficient relievers for the Cleveland Indians during the 2012 MLB season. The right-handed reliever was mainly used as Chris Perez's setup man, but if Pestano continues his strong performance into the 2013 season, then he may earn himself some serious consideration for Cleveland's closer role if Perez is inconsistent.

 

As a setup man during the 2012 campaign, Pestano racked up 36 holds, two saves, a 2.57 ERA, and a K:BB ratio that was slightly better than 3:1. For the last two seasons, Pestano has recorded more than 60 innings pitched, but has managed to keep his numbers very consistent during that span. Fantasy managers shouldn't hesitate to draft Pestano as the reliever will certainly grab his fair share of holds and could step into the closer's role if something happens to Chris Perez.

 

1.) Wesley Wright (Houston Astros) – Wesley Wright was one of the few bright spots for the underperforming Houston Astros last year. Wright registered twenty holds and a K:BB ratio that was slightly higher than 3:1, but his 3.27 ERA suggested that the reliever was also putting in a fair amount of work when his number was called upon.

 

Since Wright is a left-handed reliever, there will usually be a spot for him on most MLB rosters, but fantasy managers should carefully monitor this option once the season begins. It is unlikely that Wright will be a hot commodity on draft day, even if your league does play with holds, but that doesn't mean that he can't be placed on a watch-list once the MLB season starts. Fantasy managers should keep a close eye on Wright as he may step in for Jose Veras if the latter reliever proves to be ineffective in the closer's role for Houston.

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