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Fantasy Baseball 2017: Pure Reliever Rankings

A look at the best relief pitchers in baseball MINUS those pesky saves.

Felipe Rivero was awesome in the 1st half. Was it enough for him to claim the #1 Pure Reliever in baseball at the All-Star break?
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The 2017 MLB season is officially entering the All-Star break. With that, it’s time to take a look at the best relievers in baseball to this point. For new readers, here’s a little background into what goes into the Pure Reliever Rankings.

Fantasy baseball is all about accumulating the RIGHT stats. Sometimes this can be maddening to owners because they have to make sacrifices in order to make gains in certain areas. Whether it be having a guy who hurts your batting average but helps in power or a speedster that helps little anywhere else, owners must roster a balance of everything in order to win leagues.

Closers! So frustrating to own at times! It is so irritating when a guy goes into the 9th inning with a 3 run lead only to give up a couple of hits, walk a guy, and surrender two runs... BUT he gets 3 outs and the SAVE! This scenario leaves owners with an 18.00 ERA, a 3.00 WHIP, and 1 save. That 1 save is all owners care about, but wouldn't it be nice to have relievers that ACTUALLY PITCH GREAT!

The Formula

Although it's not rocket science here's the way I've calculated what I call 'Pure Reliever Ranking'. I take the overall performance of the reliever and minus BOTH Wins & Saves. Wins are complete luck and a lot of them come when a guy blows a lead only to have his team's offense regain the lead the following inning. I have already made my point as to why saves are out.

When I subtracted wins from the relief pitchers performance, it did not have as significant an impact as I initially thought. The truly eye opening data was when I took away the reliever's save total. This greatly changed the landscape of the top RPs and showed just how overrated certain closers are.

Pure Reliever Rankings

PLAYER, TEAM K W SV ERA WHIP PR Std Rank PR - Wins&Saves Pure RP Rank Change
PLAYER, TEAM K W SV ERA WHIP PR Std Rank PR - Wins&Saves Pure RP Rank Change
Felipe Rivero, Pit 0.56 0.3 1.16 2.4 2.35 6.78 7 5.32 1 6
Craig Kimbrel, Bos 0.93 -0.04 5.12 1.74 2.59 10.33 1 5.25 2 -1
Andrew Miller, Cle 0.9 0.3 0.23 1.86 2.37 5.66 13 5.13 3 10
Kenley Jansen, LAD 0.62 0.65 4.65 1.87 2.43 10.22 2 4.92 4 -2
Chris Devenski, Hou 1.09 1.34 0.46 1.18 2.09 6.17 9 4.37 5 4
Archie Bradley, Ari 0.34 0.3 -0.23 1.93 1.54 3.87 25 3.8 6 19
Raisel Iglesias, Cin 0.48 -0.04 3.49 1.63 1.47 7.03 6 3.58 7 -1
Brad Hand, SD 0.7 -0.04 0.23 1.37 1.28 3.53 30 3.34 8 22
Roberto Osuna, Tor 0.34 -0.04 4.89 1.18 1.82 8.18 4 3.33 9 -5
Corey Knebel, Mil 1.12 -0.74 3.02 1.61 0.55 5.57 14 3.29 10 4
Mike Minor, KC 0.31 1 -0.23 1.54 1.3 3.91 24 3.14 11 13
Chad Green, NYY 0.2 -0.74 -0.23 1.19 1.69 2.11 53 3.08 12 41
Yusmeiro Petit, LAA 0.5 -0.04 0 1.07 1.33 2.86 36 2.9 13 23
Pat Neshek, Phi 0.03 -0.04 0 1.6 1.27 2.86 37 2.9 14 23
Adam Warren, NYY 0 -0.04 0 1.22 1.64 2.82 38 2.86 15 23
Danny Barnes, Tor 0.28 -0.04 -0.23 1.16 1.42 2.58 41 2.85 16 25
Ryan Madson, Oak 0 -0.39 0 1.19 1.65 2.45 44 2.84 17 27
Chris Rusin, Col 0 0.3 0 1.37 1.44 3.1 33 2.8 18 15
Mychal Givens, Bal 0.25 1.34 -0.23 1.32 1.13 3.81 28 2.7 19 9
Brad Brach, Bal 0.17 -0.04 3.26 0.99 1.51 5.88 10 2.66 20 -10
Blake Parker, LAA 0.53 0.3 0 0.99 1.1 2.92 35 2.62 21 14
Matt Albers, Wsh 0.03 1 0.23 1.17 1.41 3.83 27 2.6 22 5
Carl Edwards Jr., ChC 0.42 0.3 -0.23 1.07 1.11 2.67 40 2.6 23 17
Justin Wilson, Det 0.39 0.3 2.09 1.01 1.17 4.97 17 2.58 24 -7
Tommy Kahnle, CWS 0.62 -0.39 -0.23 0.86 1.05 1.9 58 2.52 25 33
Anthony Swarzak, CWS 0.22 0.65 -0.23 1.15 1.14 2.92 34 2.5 26 8
Greg Holland, Col 0.22 -0.39 6.28 1.35 0.89 8.36 3 2.47 27 -24
Bud Norris, LAA 0.34 -0.39 2.79 1.13 0.88 4.75 19 2.35 28 -9
Addison Reed, NYM 0.22 -0.74 3.26 1.11 0.91 4.77 18 2.25 29 -11
Wade Davis, ChC 0.22 -0.04 3.49 1.15 0.86 5.68 12 2.23 30 -18
Keone Kela, Tex 0.2 0.65 0 0.78 1.19 2.82 39 2.17 31 8
Wandy Peralta, Cin 0.08 0.3 -0.23 0.74 1.35 2.23 48 2.16 32 16
Jake McGee, Col 0.25 -0.74 0 0.89 1 1.4 71 2.14 33 38
Pedro Baez, LAD 0.08 -0.04 -0.23 1.6 0.37 1.78 60 2.05 34 26
Will Harris, Hou 0.11 -0.04 0.23 0.76 1.12 2.18 52 1.99 35 17
Joe Kelly, Bos -0.25 0.3 -0.23 1.53 0.72 2.06 54 1.99 36 18
Juan Nicasio, Pit 0.17 -0.39 0 1.07 0.75 1.59 65 1.98 37 28
Andrew Chafin, Ari 0.14 -0.39 -0.23 1.15 0.69 1.35 76 1.97 38 38
David Robertson, CWS 0.31 0.65 2.79 0.69 0.84 5.28 15 1.84 39 -24
Arodys Vizcaino, Atl 0.11 0.3 0.23 0.99 0.71 2.35 45 1.82 40 5
Nick Vincent, Sea -0.23 -0.04 -0.23 1.22 0.81 1.53 66 1.8 41 25
Brandon Kintzler, Min -0.31 -0.04 5.35 1.18 0.88 7.05 5 1.74 42 -37
Alex Claudio, Tex -0.11 -0.39 0 1.03 0.82 1.35 77 1.74 43 34
Dustin McGowan, Mia 0.11 1 -0.23 0.94 0.65 2.47 42 1.7 44 -2
Kirby Yates, SD 0.22 -0.04 -0.23 0.81 0.58 1.34 78 1.61 45 33
Jose Ramirez, Atl -0.11 -0.04 -0.23 0.89 0.84 1.33 79 1.6 46 33
Michael Lorenzen, Cin 0.2 0.65 0 0.92 0.45 2.22 49 1.57 47 2
Ryan Tepera, Tor 0.39 0.65 0 0.37 0.78 2.2 51 1.55 48 3
Chase Whitley, TB -0.23 -0.04 0.23 0.63 1.09 1.68 63 1.49 49 14
Taylor Rogers, Min -0.28 0.65 -0.23 1.1 0.68 1.91 57 1.49 50 7
Cody Allen, Cle 0.39 -0.74 3.49 0.88 0.17 4.19 22 1.44 51 -29
Josh Fields, LAD 0.03 0.65 0 0.65 0.68 2.01 55 1.36 52 3
Joe Smith, Tor 0.34 0.3 -0.23 0.44 0.54 1.39 73 1.32 53 20
Koji Uehara, ChC -0.08 -0.04 0.23 0.72 0.66 1.48 68 1.29 54 14
Michael Feliz, Hou 0.56 0.65 -0.23 0.28 0.42 1.68 64 1.26 55 9
Sean Doolittle, Oak -0.17 -0.39 0.46 0.25 1.16 1.32 80 1.25 56 24
Ken Giles, Hou 0.11 -0.39 4.19 0.49 0.61 5.01 16 1.21 57 -41
Bryan Shaw, Cle 0.03 -0.04 0.23 0.93 0.23 1.37 74 1.18 58 16
Matt Barnes, Bos 0.39 1 -0.23 0.45 0.33 1.94 56 1.17 59 -3
Ryan Buchter, SD 0.2 0.3 0 0.7 0.26 1.46 69 1.16 60 9
Edwin Diaz, Sea 0.36 -0.04 2.79 0.43 0.31 3.86 26 1.11 61 -35
Jared Hughes, Mil -0.14 0.3 0 0.77 0.46 1.4 72 1.1 62 10
Hector Neris, Phi 0.2 -0.04 1.4 0.46 0.44 2.45 43 1.09 63 -20
Joakim Soria, KC 0.36 0.65 0 0.51 0.21 1.74 61 1.09 64 -3
Cam Bedrosian, LAA -0.39 -0.04 0.46 0.67 0.66 1.36 75 0.94 65 10
Trevor Rosenthal, StL 0.5 -0.04 0.7 0.15 0.22 1.53 67 0.87 66 1
Dellin Betances, NYY 0.5 0.3 1.16 0.5 -0.17 2.3 46 0.84 67 -21
AJ Ramos, Mia 0.2 -0.04 3.72 0.41 0.22 4.51 21 0.83 68 -47
Jim Johnson, Atl 0.36 1.34 4.19 0.07 0.36 6.32 8 0.79 69 -61
Jose Torres, SD 0.17 1 0 -0.11 0.67 1.72 62 0.72 70 -8
Seung-Hwan Oh, StL 0.08 -0.39 3.96 0.48 -0.12 4 23 0.43 71 -48
Alex Colome, TB 0.03 -0.04 5.59 0.35 -0.04 5.87 11 0.32 72 -61
Aroldis Chapman, NYY -0.03 -0.04 1.63 0.28 0.06 1.89 59 0.3 73 -14
Matt Bush, Tex 0.03 -0.04 2.09 0.39 -0.23 2.24 47 0.19 74 -27
Santiago Casilla, Oak -0.14 -0.04 3.26 0.26 0.02 3.35 31 0.13 75 -44
Kelvin Herrera, KC -0.06 -0.39 4.19 -0.08 0.13 3.8 29 0 76 -47
Brandon Maurer, SD 0 -0.74 4.19 -0.65 0.53 3.33 32 -0.12 77 -45
Mark Melancon, SF -0.45 -0.39 2.33 0 -0.03 1.46 70 -0.48 78 -8
Tony Watson, Pit -0.17 0.65 2.09 0.28 -0.64 2.21 50 -0.53 79 -29
Fernando Rodney, Ari -0.03 0.3 4.89 -0.56 0.01 4.61 20 -0.58 80 -60

Interesting Finds

Felipe Rivero heads into the All-Star break as the #1 Pure Reliever in baseball. His insane ratios are certainly a huge factor in this ranking. A 0.76 ERA and 0.72 WHIP over 47.1 innings of work are pure dominance. His ERA is the best of any RP on this list.

Despite moving up to the #1 RP in standard scoring, Craig Kimbrel falls to #2 on the Pure Reliever rankings. His 1.19 ERA was his ‘downfall’. Kimbrel does have the best WHIP of this group at an amazing 0.50. He also has his highest K/9 since 2012 currently at 16.2! The reigning 2016 Pure Reliever of the Year, Andrew Miller, is sitting at #3. This is 10 spots higher than his rank in standard scoring.

Taking away wins most greatly impacts Dustin McGowan. Despite a solid 2.91 ERA, losing his 5 wins on the year drops him 25 spots when wins are not factored in.

The most eye opening data came from removing saves.

Eliminating saves and wins puts the top 5 at Rivero, Kimbrel, Miller, Kenley Jansen, and Chris Devenski. Of that group, only Kimbrel and Jansen are also top 5 in standard scoring. Among the top 10 RP in standard fantasy, Rivero, Kimbrel, Jansen, Devenski, Raisel Iglesias, and Roberto Osuna remain in the top 10 Pure Relievers.

Of the remaining 4 top 10 RP in standard fantasy, only Brad Brach cracks the top 20 Pure Relievers. Let’s take a closer look at the other 3 pitchers in the next section of the article. It’s time for the Jeurys Familia Problem!

The Jeurys Familia Problem

This is my favorite part of this research. This section of the post is dedicated to those relievers whose value is tied almost ENTIRELY to saves. When I first wrote this article back in June of 2016, Familia was piling up saves for the Mets but his stats outside of that category were dreadful. When I removed his value tied up in wins and saves, Familia dropped a whopping 70 spots between his standard fantasy rank and his Pure Reliever rank. Thus, this section of the article is named after him.

In the last edition of these rankings, I gave the Jeurys Familia of 2017 to Tony Watson. Watson, unlike Familia in 2016, actually was removed from the closer’s role in Pittsburgh. The current #1 Pure Reliever, Felipe Rivero, took over. (Sure do wish the Mets would have done this with Addison Reed last season!) With that, I guess it’s time to name a new Familia! Right now, we have a pretty even 3-way tie between Jim Johnson, Alex Colome, and Fernando Rodney. Both Johnson and Colome drop 61 spots from their standard scoring rankings without saves. Rodney drops 60 spots. It’s too close to call right now so be on the lookout from a ‘winner’ in the next edition of these rankings.

Historically, (1 year of data, I mean) low strikeout pitchers do very poorly in this study. It should come as no surprise among the biggest drops in the Pure Reliever rankings is Brandon Kintzler. The Twins closer drops 37 spots with his saves. Amazing he is the #5 RP in standard scoring despite having the same number of saves as strikeouts (24). Greg Holland also took a bit of a dip without his saves. Holland leads the majors with 28 saves so it’s no surprise his value takes a hit. Without saves, he drops from RP #3 to Pure Reliever #27.

4 relievers on this list are actually having a negative impact on their fantasy teams outside of their saves. Mark Melancon has had a down year with a few DL stints. Tony Watson is no longer a closer. Brandon Maurer just isn’t very good. Fernando Rodney is, well, Fernando Rodney.

Here are a few relievers who lost the most value without their saves:
Greg Holland #3 to #27
Wade Davis #12 to #30
Brandon Kintzler #5 to #42
Cody Allen #22 to #51
Ken Giles #16 to #57
Edwin Diaz #26 to #61
Jim Johnson #8 to #69
Alex Colome #11 to #72
Kelvin Herrera #29 to #76
Fernando Rodney #20 to #80

Conclusion

This is not a harbinger to cut all these closers. Saves are still an important stat to a fantasy owner's success. This is simply a post to open some eyes and inform baseball fans most closers are unjustly overrated. This data can also be used to show how well some under the radar non-closers are pitching. These relievers can build counting numbers without damaging other ratio categories. The purpose of this post is to show the true value of a relief pitcher beyond the world of saves.

Please leave comments if you have any further questions and feel free to let me know what you found most interesting in this research. Thanks for the read and see you at the 3 quarters mark!