I hope you have been enjoying all our positional preview weeks here at Fake Teams. Sadly, last week was the final week of that run. Since we are not doing staff rankings for relief pitchers, I'm sure you are all wondering how we would rank them. I'm here today to answer everyone's burning question: how would Rob rank the relievers in 2015? I also decided to throw in team-by-team bullpen breakdowns to give you context for my rankings.
Below is a nice table that shows you my rankings for 5x5 leagues. I went to 56, simply because I could, even though there will only be 30 closers to start the season. Below the table you will get some hopefully useful explanations for my rankings! I will also briefly touch on all 30 teams bullpens.
|David Robertson||White Sox||5|
|Koji Uehara||Red Sox||13|
|Brett Cecil||Blue Jays||26|
|Junichi Tazawa||Red Sox||38|
To develop this list, I started with the Fangraphs auction calculator for a 5x5 league with 12 teams and downloaded the reliever list. From there, I moved guys up or down based on injuries or save opportunity potential. The calculator was way too high on guys with excellent skills in terms of Ks, ERA, and WHIP with either injuries to start the year or no chance at saves, so I had to make a number of adjustments. I also moved guys up if they look like they will have a shot at getting some saves during the season at some point due to the guy ahead of them getting injured or struggling.
30-team Bullpen Breakdown
Huston Street has the job to himself. While he is old, he has been very consistent, so nothing beyond injury will cause him to lose his job. Joe Smith is the setup guy, but he isn't all that good, so hopefully it doesn't come to that.
It looks like Luke Gregerson is the top guy for saves, but Chad Qualls was the closer last year and is still there, along with Pat Neshek, who is also very good. This is going to be a frustrating bullpen to figure out all year, but Gregerson is good enough to keep the job all year if healthy.
Tyler Clippard will start the year as the closer, while Sean Doolittle is recovering from a shoulder injury. There is no timetable for Doolittle's recovery yet, so Clippard could run away with the role all year. I hedged my bets and ranked them right next to each other. I would prefer Clippard, since we know he will get some saves and he is healthy.
Here's another mess. Right now, it is a battle between Aaron Sanchez and Brett Cecil, with Cecil having the inside track, in my opinion. The Jays may need Sanchez in the rotation with Marcus Stroman's injury. Either way, Cecil has shown in the past that he has the skills to keep the job, but last year he struggled a bit. I would take Cecil first, but Sanchez is pretty close.
No mess here. Craig Kimbrel. That's all. Ok, so I will add one more name: Jason Grilli. If the Braves decide to finish their rebuild, they may trade Kimbrel during the season. That would open up an opportunity for Grilli, who would probably take the closer role. It's too bad Shae Simmons will miss the entire season because I think he would have been an excellent replacement for Kimbrel.
This one is also pretty clear. Francisco Rodriguez will be the closer until he's hurt or his homer issues become so bad that they have to remove him. Behind him is the adaquately capable Jonathon Broxton, who would definitely be next in line.
Trevor Rosenthal is the man here with little competition. I think he has the stuff to move higher in the closer rankings this year if he can just cut down on walks. He could end up an elite option on a very good team. His setup man is Jordan Walden, who is pretty good in his own right and would be a good pickup if something happened to Rosenthal.
Hector Rondon leads this bullpen. He was sneaky good last year when he took the closer job and I see him continuing to do well this season for a much improved team. He is a good closer to have on your roster and likely won't cost much. Pedro Strop is good enough to make Rondon worry a little if he struggles early in the year. Strop would be a good pickup if Rondon struggles (which I don't expect) or gets hurt.
Now here's an interesting bullpen. First off, I don't like Addison Reed. I've never really liked his skillset and the Dbacks are going to be terrible this year, so there won't be many saves to go around. He gives up way too many fly balls in a hitter's park and despite a respectable 10.47 K/9 last year, managed only a 4.25 ERA and 4.03 FIP. Throw in the fact that he has had shoulder problems this spring and may miss the beginning of the season and I don't like him at all. Brad Ziegler is listed as the next in line, but he is a groundball specialist that might be best used to get out of jams earlier in the game. That is why I (and Fangraphs) like Evan Marshall as a sleeper for saves here. Marshall's got excellent skills and the repertoire to be a closer. I think he could end up with the most saves this year for 'Zona.
This would be another boring one if not for Kenley Jansen's foot injury. He is expected to be out until May-ish, so there will be opportunities for several guys while he is out. Joel Peralta may be the most likely, but he has some of his own nagging injuries. Brandon League is another possibility. I wish I could tell you with certainty which one will open the year as the closer, but I can't. I am leaning Peralta, but it will probably just be for a month or two at the most, so buy low on Kenley and reap the three plus months of rewards.
Santiago Casilla took over last year and did a pretty good job. He doesn't have typical overpowering closer stuff and doesn't get a lot of Ks, but he is serviceable in that ballpark and will get lots of opportunities. Sergio Romo, the former closer, is still around and could take the job back so Casilla is no lock for a full season of saves. Romo's still got an elite slider, but his fastball struggled last year, so who knows if he can outplay Casilla or not.
Cody Allen eventually took control of this bullpen last year and showed why many wanted him to have the job in spring training. He is an excellent upper mid-tier closer with lots of strikeouts and a good ERA. His team will be better this year, I believe, so there should be lots of save opportunities. Draft him with confidence. Bryan Shaw is the setup man and even got some saves last year, but he probably won't have much of an opportunity this year and doesn't have Allen's skills. There is a sleeper lurking in this bullpen as well, but I'm saving that for my reliever sleeper post next week.
This bullpen belongs to Fernando Rodney. He is still a very good closer and this is a good team in a pitcher's ballpark, so he should be solid. Danny Farquhar is a very good setup man and would be excellent if Rodney gets hurt. Rodney would be a good pick to lead your fantasy team's bullpen once the top tier is gone.
Steve Cishek is often overlooked, but is a very good, consistent, healthy closer for a quickly improving team. Throw in the fact that the Marlins get to play the Braves and Phillies 38 times and you get an excellent fantasy investment. Carter Capps and Bryan Morris are two excellent setup men with upside, should something happen to Cishek, so pick either of those two up if you see him go down.
Jennry Mejia did a very good job last year filling in for the injured Bobby Parnell and earned the role for at least the first part of this season. Terry Collins has said that he wants Parnell to be the closer again, but Parnell still hasn't started throwing after his Tommy John surgery last April, so I expect Mejia to hold the job all season, or close to it. Parnell might get some late season saves, but don't count on it.
Drew Storen is the closer here after Rafael Soriano lost the job and then left for free agency. He is an above average closer and good enough to hold down the job all year, I believe. Casey Janssen, former Blue Jays closer, is next in line on the depth chart, but I think he has lost something and won't be all that good. I'm more excited about another guy emerging from this bullpen...(another plug for next week's post)
Moving down the Beltway, the Orioles found themselves a very good closer last year in Zach Britton. His absurd 75% groundball rate last year led baseball. He doesn't get the strikeouts you would like from a closer, which is why he is a little lower in my rankings, but he has a good ERA and WHIP and should rack up lots of saves. I like him a lot. Darren O'Day is a good setup man and would almost certainly become the closer if Britton goes down.
Joaquin Benoit is the man in San Diego. Although he is 37, he has excellent stuff (K%-BB% of 24.4). My only concern with him is injury. He did get dinged up a little last year. I moved him down a little just due to injury risk. When he was out, Kevin Quackenbush filled in admirably, but I think two of my relief sleepers would give him a run for his money if/when Benoit goes down.
Jonathon Papelbon is the closer here until he is injured or traded. A trade is much more likely than an injury, since Papelbon has been pretty healthy. Papelbon's skills have deteriorated over the years, but he is still capable of a sub-3 ERA and good WHIP. I don't expect another year with an ERA of 2.04 like last year because his HR/FB ratio was an absurdly low 2.4%! He gets below average strikeouts for a reliever as well. He does have the Proven Closer(TM) label that teams like so I think he will be a closer all season, even if he is traded somewhere. Behind him you have the very good Ken Giles, who would immediately become a top 15 closer if he gets the job. There's also another of my sleepers in this bullpen.
There's not much to say about this one. Mark Melancon is an under-appreciated stud who has earned his top-6 spot on my list. Good team, good park, good skills, lots to like here. Tony Watson would probably be close in value to Melancon if he had the job due to injury, so value him accordingly if that happens.
Neftali Feliz used to be an up-and-coming high-velocity closer but then he got hurt and lost his elite velocity. He showed flashes of greatness last year and is a good risky upside play for one of the last closers off the board. He doesn't have much competition behind him. Tanner Scheppers is next, but he is not much to write home about. This team will probably struggle this year, so don't expect a lot of saves from anyone.
Here is a situation very similar to the A's. Jake McGee, the incumbent closer, is likely going to miss some April time due to an elbow issue (non-Tommy-John division) that required surgery. He may miss some May games as well, but assuming he comes back healthy, he should continue to be an excellent option for the rest of the season, with top-10 Ks, ERA, and WHIP among closers. While he is out, it will either be Kevin Jepsen, Brad Boxberger, Grant Balfour, or Ernesto Frieri. Since the Rays love saving money, the assumption is they will go with a boring veteran that is post-arbitration like Balfour or Frieri. Jepsen just avoided arbitration, so he is another popular pick as well. Boxberger has easily the best skills of the group and the only reason to not give him the role is to save money. This bullpen will be a mess until McGee is healthy, so take a chance if you want on Balfour or Jepsen (the two most likely to get the job, I believe), but I will just take Boxberger and enjoy the top-5-caliber strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP even if the saves don't come.
Koji Uehera is less than a month from 40. That is not a typo. Despite his age, when healthy, he is still a top-10 closer on a very good team, so you have to draft him accordingly. However, I am very worried about his health and would keep a close eye on Junichi Tazawa and, to a lesser extent, on Edward Mujica. I like Tazawa more and think the Sox do as well, so he could be a good stash if you miss out on a closer late in the draft.
This is the Aroldis Chapman show! He's number 1 at this position and there isn't really an argument to be made. There are rumors that the Reds could trade him midseason if they are out of it. Even if he gets moved, he will be the closer on any team, so there's no need to worry. In fact, it would only improve his chances of getting saves by moving to a better team. If he does get moved, Jumbo Diaz is next up and doesn't really offer much, so I would avoid this bullpen after Chapman.
LaTroy Hawkins, 42 years old and counting, is still the closer here, somehow. I think he probably belongs below 10 non-closers in my rankings but because saves are so valuable I could only put a few non-closers ahead of him. He doesn't have much stuff, he is prone to batted ball damage, won't give you Ks, and can look very shaky out there in Coors. John Axford looks to be the heir apparent right now, and the Rockies seem to be leaning toward him as their next closer. He was really good a few years ago in Milwaukee, but he hasn't quite regained that prowess since. He is better than Hawkins, but I'm not sure he can hold down this job for a full season. My next sleeper pick could be the real future closer in Colorado. Regardless of who closes, this team won't have many save opportunities and Colorado is a tough place to pitch.
Greg Holland is the clear third-best closer in baseball. He is healthy. 'Nuff said. Wade Davis is the best setup man in baseball, but won't get an opportunity without an injury. He is still a good late buy if you just want the good ratios and Ks without the saves or if you are punting saves.
Joe Nathan is the closer by default, but he struggled last year and is 40 years old. He is one of the shakiest closers in baseball, just behind Hawkins and Addison Reed. He pitches for a good team and was really good two years ago, but I just don't see much to be excited about here. His setup man, Joakim Soria, is much better than Nathan even though he struggled at the end of last year. Soria did very well in Texas prior to his trade to D-town, so I expect him to rebound this year and emerge as the closer by mid-season. Take a chance on Nathan if you are just desperate for saves, but Soria is the guy you really want and might have the best chance of any closer-in-waiting to actually get the job.
Glen Perkins is dealing with some injuries, but is getting better and should be ready for opening day. He is a clear top-10 closer with a good track record playing for an improving team in a pitcher's park. He is unsexy, but a solid option that is often overlooked. Casey Fien is his backup, but isn't very exciting and isn't worth much discussion. Two very deep sleepers in this bullpen are young kids: Alex Meyer and Nick Burdi. Both throw 95+ mph and have devastating secondary pitches. Meyer is currently a starter at AAA, but could pull an Aaron Sanchez and work in relief to get a taste of the big leagues. Burdi is a 2014 draft pick that closed in college for Louisville. He should move quickly through the system and could see time in the second half of the year. If Perkins gets hurt, these two are the guys you would be excited about picking up.
With the addition of David Robertson, this bullpen went from a mess to a very clear heirarchy. Robertson is a top-tier closer and one of my personal favorites. I love his skills and his pitch mix. There is a reason I have him at #5. After him, it gets murky with Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam. New acquisition Zach Duke is probably the best setup guy they have, so he would be interesting if he got a chance.
We end with another interesting situation. Both Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are monster relievers with rare skills. The consensus seems to be that Betances will be the closer. Maybe it is due to the fact that he is right-handed and most closers are northpaws. Their skills are so close, it is a tough call. My rankings assume that Betances is the closer and Miller is right with Wade Davis and Brad Boxberger as elite setup men with no save opportunities. Use Miller like you would use those other two: to get Ks and help with ratios. There is a chance that Miller gets the job, so you may have to draft him higher than my ranking to get him. That's the real challenge with this bullpen: you will have to pay a high price for either of the two potential closers. Lurking in the minors is Jacob Lindgren who is a 2014 draft pick that is ready for MLB right now after plowing through the minors last year. Too bad he's not on a team with a shaky closer.
Welp, that's it. That's my 3100-word relief pitcher rankings and bullpen analysis. I hope you enjoyed it and let me know in the comments what you think. As promised, I will follow up next week with my bullpen sleepers. Tschus!
Note: Fangraphs.com and closermonkey.com were great resources for putting this together