Fantasy baseball bullpen watch: Who is 2021's most valuable reliever?

There was no better value to be found among relievers in 2021 than Cleveland's Emmanuel Clase. AP

It seems hard to believe now, but all the way back in March, when fantasy baseball managers drafted teams and constructed rosters Cleveland RHP Emmanuel Clase was not so popular. Nothing against Clase, but everyone loved James Karinchak -- and for good reasons. Karinchak was among the top-10 relief pitchers on draft day and a dynasty building block. Clase, despite featuring his own 100 mph fastball, certainly could not keep up with the electric Karinchak in terms of strikeout rate. Plus, Clase had missed 2020 due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension.

What Clase could do was pitch effectively on a consistent basis and ultimately avoid the type of struggles that got Karinchak demoted back to the Triple-A level. Clase, who came to Cleveland from the Texas Rangers in the Corey Kluber trade, enters the final days of the 2021 season among the top-10 relief pitchers on the ESPN Player Rater and just outside that range in points formats, with his 23 saves and a 1.39 ERA. Since he went mostly undrafted this season in ESPN formats, it is enough to make him the fantasy MVP among relievers.