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Closer Rankings: The meaning of rest days

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Some guys pitch days in a row, and others get a week off. But how many days do you want your reliever to have?

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The week ahead is an interesting one, as far as schedules go. For whatever reason — and I'm not sure exactly what that reason is — there are no off days next week. Most weeks, every team plays on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but there are several teams off Monday and/or Thursday.

This week, though, every team plays seven games (weather permitting, of course). As a result, we're going to see a lot of relievers working multiple days in a row. For example, the White Sox close the week with three games against Texas. Chicago's three starters in that series are slated to be Chris Sale, Carlos Rodon and Jose Quintana. That's three lefties, against a Texas lineup with Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Mitch Moreland, Joey Gallo and Leonys Martin. All lefties. Heck, the Rangers just called back up Rougned Odor, which is nice, but bringing the kid back up after his early struggles just to face those lefties (plus Clayton Kershaw and Brett Anderson this week) is just brutal. The point of that, though, is that there's every reason to think the White Sox could sweep the Rangers this weekend, and if so, there's every reason to think David Robertson could see a lot of work this week.

That in mind, I started wondering about reliever usage. We always hear about guys doing better on a day or two of rest, but needing to get them work if they've been off too long. We wonder about three or four days in a row. All that stuff.

Well, I checked it with the relievers we care about. Using the top 30 relievers on ESPN's Player Rater so far this season (correcting for starters who still qualify as relievers), I checked how the guys fared on different amounts of rest.

Interestingly, the top 30 according to ESPN include some names you absolutely wouldn't have thought of. Here:

Top 30 Relievers, ESPN Player Rater
Rank Pitcher
1 Trevor Rosenthal
2 Jeurys Familia
3 Drew Storen
4 Andrew Miller
5 David Robertson
6 Huston Street
7 Joakim Soria
8 Dellin Betances
9 Glen Perkins
10 Santiago Casilla
11 Wade Davis
12 Zach Britton
13 Mark Melancon
14 Brad Boxberger
15 Aroldis Chapman
16 Jonathan Papelbon
17 Francisco Rodriguez
18 A.J. Ramos
19 Jason Grilli
20 Koji Uehara
21 Michael Blazek
22 Will Harris
23 Luke Gregerson
24 Craig Kimbrel
25 Brandon Maurer
26 Hector Rondon
27 John Axford
28 Darren O'Day
29 Shawn Tolleson
30 Joaquin Benoit

Sure, the top of the list makes sense. But Michael Blazek? Will Harris? Brandon Maurer? I get that Greg Holland, to name a name, has spent some time on the DL, and other guys don't have the typical save numbers, but you'd have expected the top 30 relievers to be names that, you know, are actually owned in fantasy.

Anyway, I used only those top 30 relievers in my study (because, for fantasy purposes, no one really gives a crap how many days of rest worked into Kevin Gregg's 10.13 ERA), and I ran their numbers by days of rest. Here's what I found:

0 days rest 1 day rest 2 days rest 3 days rest 4 days rest 5+ days rest
G 214 228 145 82 48 72
IP 215.2 219.2 152.2 85.2 48.2 73.2
ERA 1.92 1.68 2.12 1.47 2.59 0.61
WHIP 1.076 0.951 0.865 0.817 1.110 0.679
K/9 9.93 10.12 10.61 9.98 9.99 10.87

Ultimately, of course, good pitchers are good pitchers. When the worst you can find out of these guys includes a 2.59 ERA and more than a strikeout an inning, you're doing well. But, while I'm not surprised that five-plus days of rest yields great results from the top pitchers, I did find it interesting, if not particularly meaningful, that the overall results seemed to yo-yo. They were good on zero days of rest, better on one, worse on two, better on three, worse on four. You get the idea.

The takeaway, of course, is that different pitchers have different results, and not all "days of rest" are the same. Sometimes, a guy has a day off because the team doesn't play, and he spends his entire off day napping and watching Netflix. On another, he might get up to warm up in four straight innings, only to never get in the game. The "rest" is very different in those situations.

Anyway, there isn't a whole lot that can be done for fantasy because of this. We don't decide when these guys get used. (Though I like to imagine Joe Maddon reads every last piece of baseball analysis on the internet and figures out how to use each thing. Or at least he laughs at those of us trying to know things.) It is interesting, though, and worth knowing.

On to the rankings:

Right-Now Rankings

Rank Player Team Last Week Thoughts
1 Dellin Betances NYY 25 Andrew Miller's injury makes Betances the top option in the game. And he might keep the gig once Miller gets healthy.
2 Aroldis Chapman CIN 1
3 Kenley Jansen LAD 16 Between the vagaries of the Yankee relievers and the chances Chapman gets dealt, Jansen looks like the top option the rest of the season.
4 Drew Storen WAS 3 He's established himself as a definite top-flight closer.
5 Craig Kimbrel SDP 4
6 David Robertson CWS 5 He had a mini-slump a couple weeks ago, but he's bounced back fine.
7 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 6
8 Huston Street LAA 7
9 Greg Holland KAN 11 His numbers have gotten better and better since coming off the DL.
10 Joakim Soria DET 8
11 Glen Perkins MIN 10
12 Zach Britton BAL 9
13 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 13 Remember when he was almost out of baseball like four different times? He currently has a 1.13 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP.
14 Koji Uehara BOS 12
15 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 14
16 Jeurys Familia NYM 15
17 Mark Melancon PIT 22 He still isn't striking people out, but he's producing regardless.
18 Cody Allen CLE 18
19 Brett Cecil TOR 20 It isn't Cecil's fault the Blue Jays haven't managed many save opportunities; he's been fine.
20 John Axford COL 27 I just don't have it in me to rank Axford crazy high, but damn he's been stellar.
21 Luke Gregerson HOU 21
22 Shawn Tolleson TEX 17 I still think Tolleson is okay in the long run, but the Rangers' awful schedule this week hurts his ranking.
23 A.J. Ramos MIA 19
24 Santiago Casilla SFG 23
25 Tyler Clippard OAK 26 The news about Sean Doolittle keeps getting worse, so it's time to believe Clippard is the guy, at least until any possible trade.
26 Wade Davis KAN 24
27 Jake McGee TAM NR He appears to have taken the job back from Brad Boxberger. For now at least.
28 Brad Ziegler ARI 28
29 Jason Grilli ATL NR
30 Hector Rondon CHC NR Look, I don't know who is the long-term Chicago closer, if there even is one. (Hi, Joe! Are you a reader?)

Rest-Of-Season Rankings

Rank Player Team Last Week
1 Kenley Jansen LAD 9
2 Aroldis Chapman CIN 2
3 Drew Storen WAS 3
4 Dellin Betances NYY 25
5 Craig Kimbrel SDP 4
6 David Robertson CWS 5
7 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 6
8 Greg Holland KAN 10
9 Huston Street LAA 8
10 Joakim Soria DET 7
11 Zach Britton BAL 11
12 Koji Uehara BOS 13
13 Glen Perkins MIN 12
14 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 15
15 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 14
16 Andrew Miller NYY 1
17 Jeurys Familia NYM 16
18 Mark Melancon PIT 23
19 Cody Allen CLE 17
20 Shawn Tolleson TEX 18
21 John Axford COL 27
22 Luke Gregerson HOU 21
23 Wade Davis KAN 24
24 Santiago Casilla SFG 22
25 A.J. Ramos MIA 19
26 Brett Cecil TOR 20
27 Brad Ziegler ARI 28
28 Jake McGee TAM 30
29 Tyler Clippard OAK NR
30 Jason Grilli ATL NR