With closers being at a premium in most fantasy formats, fantasy managers are sometimes forced to look at middle relievers that can have some potential value in their respective fantasy lineups. For managers that play in deeper leagues, especially those that value statistics such as holds and K/9, it might be useful to take a look at some relievers that help get the ball to a team's closer.
Here are five relief pitchers that could be poised for breakout years in 2013:
Jeremy Horst (Philadelphia Phillies)
Horst finished off the 2012 MLB season in impressive fashion as he compiled a 1.15 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, .193 BAA, and one home run allowed.
Horst had a K:BB ratio that was just below 3:1 so he might not be the best option if one is looking for a bona fide strikeout reliever, but he can certainly climb Philadelphia's depth chart if Chad Durbin, Mike Adams, or Antonio Bastardo are ineffective. Even though Horst didn't have that great of a sample size in 2012 (31.1 innings pitched) to suggest that he could be a definite staple in the Phillies' bullpen in 2013, he certainly improved on his 2011 MLB totals. Horst had double the amount of innings pitched in 2012 than he did in 2011 and he successfully lowered his ERA, WHIP, BAA, and home runs allowed despite taking on a heavier workload. Fantasy managers should certainly keep their eye on Horst as he will probably be available in most fantasy formats and could prove to be a steal if he keeps up his steady improvement.
Junichi Tazawa (Boston Red Sox)
Junichi Tazawa was certainly a surprise for the Red Sox during the 2012 MLB season, especially toward the tail end of Boston's regular season.
Tazawa pitched to the tune of a 1.43 ERA and 0.95 WHIP, but his 9:1 K:BB ratio was definitely more astounding. Even though the reliever only managed to amass five holds during the 2012 campaign, fantasy managers should note that Tazawa recorded all five of his holds during the last month of the regular season. Tazawa's responsibility certainly increased during the last month of the season, but the reliever will also have to battle with the likes of relievers such as Alfredo Aceves, Koji Uehara, Daniel Bard, and Andrew Bailey as Boston's bullpen is full of quality arms at the moment. However, fantasy managers should not shy away from keeping the right-handed reliever on their watch-lists as he has shown that he can handle increased responsibilities in a jam-packed A.L East.
Kelvin Herrera (Kansas City Royals)
Herrera was certainly a standout in the Royals' bullpen during the 2012 MLB season and the reliever has a chance to climb Kansas City's depth chart if he keeps up his solid work in 2013.
Herrera appeared in 76 games for the Royals and amassed 84.1 innings pitched in that span. While the reliever did surrender four home runs during the 2012 season, his 3.5:1 K:BB ratio, 2.35 ERA, and 1.19 WHIP more than made up for his gopher ball activity. Furthermore, the Kansas City reliever was pretty versatile as he compiled 19 holds and three saves in 2012, something that could undoubtedly factor into a potential promotion if he keeps having formidable outings. Fantasy managers should try to snag Herrera in the late rounds if he is still available as he can be a valuable asset for any league that values middle relievers.
Jake McGee (Tampa Bay Rays)
For the past three seasons, fantasy managers have not known what returns they could potentially expect from Jake McGee. However, in 2012 the lefty reliever gave everyone a look at what he can do over the course of a full season when healthy and in a comfortable groove.
Not only did McGee rack up 20 holds out of the Tampa Bay bullpen, he kept his ERA to a very appealing 1.95 clip and had a WHIP of 0.80. McGee's 3.5:1 K:BB ratio was also very respectable, but the reliever also managed to limit the damage done to him via the long ball as he only gave up three homers during his 2012 MLB campaign. McGee will likely be pitching behind the likes of Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta, but if either one falters, then McGee could possibly ascend the depth chart. While fantasy managers shouldn't hold their breath on McGee overtaking the two aforementioned relievers, they should certainly try to target the reliever during draft day or pick him up on the waiver wire if he somehow slips through the cracks.
George Kontos (San Francisco Giants)
Credit must be given where it is due, so much thanks goes out to Gregory Churchill for pointing me back to George Kontos.
Kontos finished off his 2012 campaign with a 2.47 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and five holds, but he will have to battle a slew of talented relievers in San Francisco to collect a plethora of holds in 2013. With that being said, Kontos definitely has the potential to be an important part of the San Francisco bullpen.
While the reliever had a pretty sizable workload in 2012 as he worked 43.2 innings, there is no reason to suspect that he won't be able to replicate his totals in 2013 with an equal or greater amount of responsibility. Since San Francisco's bullpen is stocked with quality arms, Kontos likely won't be a highly sought reliever on draft day, but that doesn't mean that he shouldn't be kept on a manager's watch-list.