Ranking relief pitchers is difficult at best. Yet, drafting multiple relievers is become a lot more popular in season long fantasy leagues. Of course, from here it depends on the categories that count. Some six category leagues include holds. That absolutely changes the reliever landscape. So, from here we are ranking closers and other relievers separately. We are including six categories (including holds) and total points as we have in the other positions.
However, we are changing things up a bit to handle the inevitable questions that come up with relievers. Primarily, we are shifting from strikeouts to strikeouts per nine innings. All other estimates are based on 60 innings pitched. As you might imagine, some will pitch more than that, but usage is so unpredictable that there really is no other way to go. As you will see, rate statistics are a lot more valuable. Just like with the other positions, projections and total points are based on the past three seasons.
Total Points= (2) INN + (3) Wins + (2) Saves + Holds + SO – ER – Hits – BB
Craig Kimbrel—Free Agent
Points: 710 (2nd)
Projection: 4 Wins, 35 Saves, 1 Hold, 2.45 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 14.92 K/9 (1st)
It says something that the best closer in baseball is still unsigned in mid-January. It’s not so much about Kimbrel himself although his demands for a five-year contract are definitely chilling the market. Closers just don’t have the shelf life. He looked human in the last postseason which probably also doesn’t help.
Kenley Jansen—Los Angeles Dodgers
Points: 775 (1st)
Projection: 3 Wins, 36 Saves, 0 Holds, 2.08 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 12.76 K/9 (3rd)
Grading out players according to wins, saves, and holds just seems so silly. Kimbrel is one tick better in all three categories. Predicting future performance in those metrics makes about as much sense as predicting the behavior of a rabid raccoon. I’d pay much more attention to the rate stats.
Aroldis Chapman—New York Yankees
Points: 582 (6th)
Projection: 4 Wins, 34 Saves, 1 Hold, 2.38 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 14.26 K/9 (2nd)
Again, we can throw a small blanket over the counting numbers of these three closers. Kimbrel doesn’t have a home yet, so predicting the future is cloudy. We assume he will hold the closer role even though Dellin Betances may be a superior pitcher. That’s another in a long line of peculiarities of evaluating closers.
David Robertson—Philadelphia Phillies
Points: 593 (5th)
Projection: 7 Wins, 17 Saves, 9 Holds, 2.84 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 11.88 K/9 (5th)
Okay, this doesn’t make much sense. This is what happens when you rank players partially based on wins, saves, and holds. Remove holds and he drops below the next few guys. His obscene wins total probably is more responsible than anything. Wins for relief pitchers are completely unpredictable.
Brad Hand—Cleveland Indians
Points: 660 (4th)
Projection: 2 Wins, 14 Saves, 12 Holds, 2.63 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 12.04 K/9 (7th)
Edwin Diaz—New York Mets
Points: 678 (3rd)
Projection: 1 Win, 34 Saves, 5 Holds, 2.64 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 14.18 K/9 (9th)
This is not an exact science, so if people really feel strongly they can throw Diaz in front of Hand. I won’t be offended. The numbers dictate my rankings so my emotions aren’t in it. What I can say is that Diaz was likely overused last season and that has a way of lingering. Look at the history of 50+ save seasons and look at the following one. It’s not pretty.
Felipe Vazquez—Pittsburgh Pirates
Points: 576 (7th)
Projection: 3 Wins, 16 Saves, 11 Holds, 2.85 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.95 K/9 (10th)
If we have learned anything from the Hall of Fame portion of our site it is that we learn more when we look for gaps in the data and not simply at rankings. Vazquez is a cut below the other closers. There is nothing wrong with that but every draft sees closers go and go fast. You want to resist giving into that hysteria if at all possible.
Blake Treinen—Oakland Athletics
Points: 572 (8th)
Projection: 4 Wins, 14 Saves, 8 Holds, 2.25 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.36 K/9 (12th)
We go back three years because we can drive ourselves nuts chasing single season phenoms. Treinen may have been the best closer in baseball last season, but is that likely to continue? The peripherals are not kind. He should be solid, but even if he is just as good, the A’s may not be.
Sean Doolittle—Washington Nationals
Points: 434 (16th)
Projection: 3 Wins, 24 Saves, 9 Holds, 2.53 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 11.13 K/9 (4th)
These numbers kind of jump off the page. Unfortunately, attendance is part of the grade. He just hasn’t been consistent in his durability, but he is an underrated pick at this point. The numbers after wins, saves, and holds are better predictors of future performance.
Roberto Osuna—Houston Astros
Points: 553 (10th)
Projection: 3 Wins, 33 Saves, 1 Hold, 2.86 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 10.07 K/9 (14th)
Can you check your humanity at the door? Osuna may very well be a scumbag and every fantasy player has to make up their own mind about whether they want to support a scumbag. On the pure numbers angle, give him his half season back and he would be a top five closer. Some fantasy players may take him off the board completely. If you can stomach it you could have quite a value pick here.
Wade Davis—Colorado Rockies
Points: 530 (11th)
Projection: 3 Wins, 37 Saves, 0 Holds, 2.91 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 10.99 K/9 (15th)
Remember when he was a starting pitcher? Chasing saves could be compared to chasing the heroin dragon. You get the saves, but what do you give up in the process? In the case of Davis you likely give up ERA and WHIP. You have to decide how much those saves are worth.
Pedro Strop—Chicago Cubs
Points: 411 (18th)
Projection: 5 Wins, 5 Saves, 18 Holds, 2.64 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.81 K/9 (8th)
Strop has been a better pure pitcher than about half of the guys above him over the last three years. He just hasn’t been a closer. This is where the debate will rage. Can anyone close games or does it take a special person? I suppose we will find out in Chicago next year. Everything is set up for him to put up big time numbers if he can handle the pressure.
Raisel Iglesias—Cincinnati Reds
Points: 554 (9th)
Projection: 2 Wins, 17 Saves, 2 Holds, 2.47 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 10.15 K/9 (18th)
Iglesias is a throwback to the closers of the 1970s. He was a failed starter, but has an elite enough fastball to dominate one time through the order. That gives him a few extra innings and some more counting numbers (like strikeouts) that make picking relievers an effective long-term strategy.
Corey Knebel—Milwaukee Brewers
Points: 492 (12th)
Projection: 2 Wins, 21 Saves, 11 Holds, 2.96 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 13.83 K/9 (16th)
Now we get to the fun part of the list. Knebel is a talented reliever and in a league with holds he is a safe pick. In saves only leagues it is a bit of a risky proposition. Will they go to Hader in the 9th? Does Jeremy Jeffress get opportunities? Knebel has the talent, but if he struggles early it could get interesting.
Kirby Yates—San Diego Padres
Points: 403 (19th)
Projection: 4 Wins, 5 Saves, 14 Holds, 3.52 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 12.75 K/9 (11th)
Yates was a brilliant pitcher until Hand was dealt to the Indians. Maybe there is something to this whole “only certain guys can close games.” In holds leagues he still has value as a high strikeout reliever.
Will Smith—San Francisco Giants
Points: 243 (25th)
Projection: 3 Wins, 9 Saves, 19 Holds, 2.90 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 11.52 K/9 (6th)
I used rosterresource.com to pick the 30 closers to compare. It’s a great site I wholeheartedly recommend, but occasionally I’m not sure how they pick certain guys. Mark Melancon has closed before and done it well. Using him would open up the Giants to use Smith more creatively, so stay tuned.
Arodys Vizcaino—Atlanta Braves
Points: 327 (22nd)
Projection: 4 Wins, 18 Saves, 8 Holds, 3.09 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 10.34 K/9 (10th)
Supposedly, the Braves are one of the few teams in the hunt for Kimbrel. The Braves have made finding a better closer than Vizcaino an annual affair. Every year he ends up being the closer by the end of the season. Like a bad penny he always turns up.
Mychal Givens—Baltimore Orioles
Points: 490 (13th)
Projection: 4 Wins, 2 Saves, 14 Holds, 3.29 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 10.29 K/9 (20th)
The main upside here is that there really is no one else. The downside is that the Orioles aren’t going anywhere. If Givens is bad they will keep giving him the ball anyway. If he’s good he is likely to be dealt to a contender at the deadline.
Jose Leclerc—Texas Rangers
Points: 292 (23rd)
Projection: 2 Wins, 7 Saves, 13 Holds, 2.52 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 12.20 K/9 (13th)
I still can’t stop laughing at the Rangers rotation. Leclerc is no laughing matter. Unfortunately, that doesn’t create save opportunities out of thin air. Teams are already asking about Leclerc and if they struggle again it will become increasingly more difficult not to listen.
Kelvin Herrera—Chicago White Sox
Points: 429 (17th)
Projection: 2 Wins, 19 Saves, 11 Holds, 3.19 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9.26 K/9 (24th)
Rosterresource.com has both Herrera and Colome as the closers. I suppose I could have included Colome, but decided to go with Herrera on the coin flip. We will see Colome in the next list. Herrera seemed to turn a corner last season before his season ending injury.
Jose Alvarado—Tampa Bay Rays
Points: 220 (26th)
Projection: 1 Win, 5 Saves, 25 Holds, 2.81 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 10.55 K/9 (17th)
Perhaps the Rays position in the financial hell of the game makes them freer to be more creative. Either way, they are entertaining to watch for those with a more analytical bent. Alvarado is the best relief pitcher they have right now, but whether that makes him the closer is anyone’s best guess.
Anthony Swarzak—Seattle Mariners
Points: 278 (24th)
Projection: 3 Wins, 3 Saves, 13 Holds, 3.83 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 10.81 K/9 (22nd)
Is he the best the Mariners have? Does it really matter? On the one hand, we could go with the ol’ adage that someone has to close games in the Pacific Northwest. Yet, odds are that it will be two or three guys doing it, so none of them are really all that viable. The fact that he is more viable than some closers really says something about closers.
Drew Steckenrider—Miami Marlins
Points: 215 (27th)
Projection: 3 Wins, 4 Saves, 18 Holds, 3.36 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 11.64 K/9 (21st)
Steckenrider is not bad. If you removed the counting numbers he would probably fall somewhere in the middle of the pack. He allows too many baserunners, but he also strikes out more than some other pitchers. When the Marlins deal Realmuto they will seal their fate as the worst team in the National League.
Ty Buttrey—Minnesota Twins
Points: 40 (30th)
Projection: 0 Wins, 15 Saves, 23 Holds, 3.38 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 11.25 K/9 (20th)
He’s really at the mercy of management at this point. Will they think he’s good enough to be a closer on a contending team? I could see this is a logic landing spot for Cody Allen. If that happens then Buttrey tumbles off of the board.