Fantasy baseball: Relief pitchers to add and drop

The Rangers' Kirby Yates is among the most added relief pitchers. Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Jose Leclerc was one of the heroes for the Texas Rangers as they made a surprising run to last season's World Series championship. Leclerc saved only four games during the regular season, but come October, he saved four more, and he retired 10 of 11 hitters in the World Series. All signs pointed to Leclerc, after years of teasing fantasy managers with saves in six consecutive seasons, becoming a legitimate, reliable closer in 2024.

Things could change, but it doesn't look like Leclerc is going to be a legitimate, reliable closer anytime soon, and fantasy managers are wisely pivoting. Leclerc permitted runs in four of his first five appearances, earning one save, and then assumed a non-leverage role behind fellow RHPs Kirby Yates and David Robertson. Yates earned three saves last week, including a four-out door-shutting on Sunday night against the mighty Atlanta Braves.

Yates, 37, saver of 41 games with a 1.19 ERA for the 2019 San Diego Padres and then mostly absent for three seasons working his way back from Tommy John surgery, resurfaced to handle a key role in Atlanta's bullpen last season, striking out 80 hitters over 60⅓ innings, earning seven wins and five saves. He permitted a .124 batting average to left-handed hitters, and his reward was a one-year contract with the champs in December.

Today, Yates is among the most-added relief pitchers in ESPN leagues, as he should be. The Rangers are contenders, and Leclerc, with nine walks in as many innings, hardly seems a closing threat anymore. Robertson saved 18 games for the Miami Marlins/New York Mets last season, but he appears comfortable in a setup role. Yates, his split-fingered fastball again flummoxing hitters, has thrown 10 scoreless innings over nine appearances, retiring four hitters in three consecutive outings, and permitting two base hits and two walks with 11 strikeouts.