Closing Time Pre-Season Edition: Top 30 Closers for Fantasy Baseball in 2017
After going through our Top 100 Starting Pitchers and all position player rankings, we finally get to the Relievers. Today I will be ranking the 30 current MLB closers and tomorrow we will go through the Top 70 holds options for all of you in holds leagues. Finally on Wednesday, we put it all together with the top 100 combined relief pitcher rankings for leagues that use holds as well as saves.
In the spirit of our saves segment “Closing Time”, each tier will properly be named after a different 90’s one hit wonder song.
TIER 1: Nothing Compares 2 U
1. Kenley Jansen (Los Angeles Dodgers)—Grant Dayton, Pedro Baez
Lets just start off with the bad first, as there are 2 slightly concerning numbers on Jansen’s resume. His low BABIP and dead last GB % (among the 30 current closers) could mean he is due for a bit of regression. For anyone else, I would completely agree (see Roberto Osuna) but he has put up back to back dominant seasons now, despite his below average GB% and BABIP numbers. His high SwStr% along with the fact he doesn’t allow free passes (K-BB% 1st among all closers thru ’15-16) make me believe he will be dominant again this year. He and his cutter are as close to a Mariano Rivera clone as we’ve seen. He is the only RP I would consider in the 5th round as I feel there is more value down the board at the position this season.
2. Aroldis Chapman (New York Yankees)—Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard
I wont argue with you taking Chapman over Jansen as the two are almost identical when it comes to the numbers. I am a little bit concerned with Chapman’s over usage in the playoffs last fall, and we all saw how Chapman becomes average at best with just a tiny dip in his FB velocity. With Betances and Clippard behind him, over usage shouldn’t be a problem during the season so he should be fresh throughout. His SwStr% is still elite and he ranked 1st and 3rd in FIP and xFIP respectively on this list. If he can improve his command, the sky’s the limit for Aroldis. If he doesn’t and his velocity does begin to dip, the Yankees have possibly the best fallback option in baseball. Regardless, Betances is worth owning in standard save only leagues given his absurd K numbers and I’d target him right before the tier 4 group of closers.
3. Edwin Diaz (Seattle Mariners)—Steve Cishek, Nick Vincent
Going into publishing this list, I had Diaz anywhere from 2nd to 12th in these rankings. Statistically, across the board, Diaz is a top 5 option among this group in almost every category based on his 2016. As a rookie, he finished 4th in FIP, 2nd in xFIP and 3rd in SwStr% among active closers. The Mariners also managed to finish the season 2nd in total team save opportunities and figure to be at least an 80 win team again this season. His BABIP was abnormally high (.377), which I believe has to be more to do with bad luck than anything else. Even still, he managed to post respectable ERA and WHIP numbers. The only knock on him might be his occasional control struggles, but he still is 10th on this list in BB/9. If you are one to draft strictly on upside, you should target him early and often in your drafts.
4. Zach Britton (Baltimore Orioles)—Brad Brach, Darren O’Day
Last season may have been a statistical anomaly, but nothing points to Britton falling off the map anytime soon. Maybe not the highest upside RP in tier 1, but Britton may be the closer I feel most comfortable with heading into the season. He doesn’t miss bats quite like Chapman, Diaz or Jansen, but he still ranks 6th in SwStr% and 10th in K/BB% here. Add in his insane contact numbers last season (an eyepopping 80% GB rate, 30.9% soft contact rate and 14,8% hard contact rate) and there’s no reason to think he cant come close to following up his dominate 2016 season this year.
5. Seung Hwan Oh (St. Louis Cardinals)—Trevor Rosenthal, Brett Cecil
Oh exploded onto the scene last season taking over mid-season for embattled closer Trevor Rosenthal and never looked back. He will start the season in the closers seat and I just don’t see Rosenthal being able to take the job back any time soon. Oh’s SwStr% was 4th only behind Chapman, Diaz and Giles, thanks to an almost unhittable slider. However unlike those 3 in front of him, Oh’s walk rate is borderline elite. His velocity is just meh and his GB% is less than favorable but not something to be concerned with just yet. His K upside makes him slightly more favorable than Melancon to me.
6. Mark Melancon (San Fransisco Giants)—Derek Law, Hunter Strickland
What Melancon lacks in the K column, he makes up for with his consistency, ranking 1st in SV’s over the past 2 seasons. His 55% GB rate and low BB% (4.6%) makes him a safe bet for continued success and the Giants should give him plenty of save opportunities due to their great rotation and solid lineup. I had him and Oh basically ranked the same, but gave Oh the tiebreaker given his K upside. Melancon is still a fairly safe and solid RP1.
TIER 2: Save Tonight
7. Ken Giles (Houston Astros)—Luke Gregerson, Will Harris
I was fooled by Giles heading into last season, and here I am again, hyping him up. I consider it more likely than not he turns things around and puts together a good FULL season finally in 2017. He comes in at 1 on this list in SwStr% from last season and finished 6th in xFIP. He had a high BABIP at .349, which is likely more bad luck than anything. But still, when he gets behind in counts (which at times is far too often) and is forced to rely on his fastball, he seems to be extremely hittable (not unlike Kimbrel). If he gets off to another bad start to the season, Harris and Gregerson are more than capable of locking down the closers role and Giles might not be giving another opportunity to reclaim it (at least in Houston). If he can reign in his control and stop compounding mistakes though, I’ll gladly take a chance on his SV/K upside over everyone else below.
When looking at current closer ADP’s, Herrera’s seems the most off. There’s absolutely no reason he should be 40 picks behind Roberto Osuna. Cody Allen is even getting more love than poor Kelvin. All he does is produce in the late innings, chipping in K’s, SV’s or Holds, and keeping his ERA and WHIP lower than most on this list. He ranked in the top 9 in FIP, xFIP and SwStr% on this list season, so he is no doubt a top 10 option in my mind. I wish I had it in me to place him higher on this list but save opportunities may not be available as much here as one would like. Draft him with confidence as your RP1.
9. Craig Kimbrel (Boston Red Sox)—Tyler Thornburg, Carson Smith
We all missed on Kimbrel last year. No surprise, as players (especially of late) tend to struggle moving to Fenway in their first season. Most however make significant jumps in their 2nd year and there’s no reason to believe Kimbrel wont do the same right? Well actually there is. While he still has the same arsenal and stuff he had during his dominant Braves stint, batters were much more disciplined against him in his move to the AL East last year. He will need to make adjustments to how he approaches hitters this year, or he is bound to struggle again. Sure he can rival Chapman/Jansen this season if everything falls into place and he gets his command back but I wouldn’t bet on it. The Sox being the early Vegas favorites to win the AL should lead to a plethora of save opportunities as long as he keeps the job in 2017. He is a risk/reward RP this season for owners hoping last season was just a fluke. Thornburg makes for an interesting lottery ticket late in drafts here, in case Kimbrel does implode.
10. Wade Davis (Chicago Cubs)—Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards Jr.
The real reason I even have Davis this high is opportunity, as his ERA and WHIP from last season is very deceiving. This Cubs team could very well win over 100 games this year giving Davis plenty of opportunities to cash in 50 saves. Most of his peripheral numbers would make it seem like he could regress hard this year. His xFIP, and SwStr% rank in the bottom half of this list from last season. There’s also some injury concern with his forearm troubles from last season and the Cubs may have the deepest bullpen in baseball this season with 4 possible closer candidates behind Davis. Edwards should be a closer in this league somewhere, as should Rondon.
11. Jeurys Familia (New York Mets)—Addison Reed, Hansel Robles
The saves leader from last season, Familia slips some as he is facing a lengthy suspension to begin the year (most believe he’ll serve 30 games, like Chapman did last year). Giving owners hope, Chapman came back on fire last season and ended up being a top 10 RP. Familia however is no Aroldis Chapman. The Mets also have a really good fallback option in Addison Reed who could steal the job away from him with a lights out first month and a half (unlikely but there’s still a chance). If Familia can regain the job after his suspension and keep the BB’s in check, there’s a legitimate chance he finishes as a top 10 closer again. But there is total bust potential here as well if things don’t work out. Definition of a boom/bust pick with Addison Reed a most own in all leagues.
12. Roberto Osuna (Toronto Blue Jays)—Jason Grilli, JP Howell
Quietly effective the past 2 years, Osuna has at least 2 major things going for him heading into 2017. Consistency and opportunity. However, Osuna is a flyball machine, which is bound to catch up with him at some point pitching at the Rogers Centre (and the rest of those AL East ballparks for that matter). He isn’t missing bats at a high enough pace or else I would say the flyballs aren’t a huge deal. He doesn’t allow free passes often which is nice and should keep his WHIP low. Just be aware, if his BABIP% goes up even just a few points, it could result in a drastic fall in production for Osuna going forward.
13. Alex Colome (Tampa Bay Rays)—Brad Boxberger, Xavier Cedeno
Colome never looked back after snatching the closers role from Brad Boxberger last season and put together a fine season for fantasy owners. Two things that worry me this year with Colome. His so-so GB% mixed with his high BABIP make me think a rise in ERA is inevitable. He will also be heavily rumored to be dealt, quite possible to a team looking to use him in more of a setup role. Proceed with caution, but at this point, you can do a lot worse.
14. Cody Allen (Cleveland Indians)—Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw
While Andrew Miller gets all the love in the Indians bullpen, Allen has put together 2 really solid seasons in a row as the 9th inning man for the Indians. His FIP and xFIP rank in the top 12 on this list during those 2 seasons, so this seems like a fair spot for him to land. His numbers are actually similar to Craig Kimbrel’s the past 2 seasons with the only difference being Allen’s much higher BaBip%. I still prefer taking Miller as the higher upside option in this bullpen. It wouldn’t surprise me if Miller transitions into more of a conventional closers role to keep his innings down with Allen taking on the 8th inning role at some point. In save only leagues, I’d list Miller at 11 on this list.
15. A.J. Ramos (Miami Marlins)—Kyle Barraclough, Brad Ziegler
The Marlins clearly don’t feel comfortable with Ramos as their closer, making serious runs at Chapman and Jansen this offseason. They fact they clearly aren’t sold on him as a closer, probably due to his below average fastball, makes me feel uneasy drafting him. He does a good job keeping the ball on the ground for the most part, but still, his xFIP and SwStr% from last season put him in the bottom third of active closers. Opportunity is in his favor, as I don’t think Ziegler will challenge him and Barraclough still needs to iron out his control issues before being strongly considered for the role.
TIER 3: Bound for the Floor
16. Fransisco Rodriguez (Detroit Tigers)—Bruce Rondon, Justin Wilson
Its amazing to think about how long K-Rod has been closing out games. Mike Trout was still in little league when Rodriguez notched his first MLB save. He doesn’t have the same velocity he once had, but he’s still been fairly effective and has one of the filthiest changeups in baseball at times. He also doesn’t have much competition as of now (Rondon and Jimenez may give him a run at some point). His BABIP seems mostly due to luck, and he is becoming a bit of a HR risk. You could do worse with your second (hopefully) RP.
17. Shawn Kelley (Washington Nationals)—Blake Treinen, Koda Glover
If Shawn Kelley was announced the closer tomorrow, he instantly moves up 6 spots in my rankings. He ranks 4th in xFIP, 7th in SwStr% and the Nationals are favored to win the NL East so plenty of save opportunities should be available. But the fact is, no one really knows who will win this job. Kelley is definitely the clubhouse favorite here, but Treinen’s numbers aren’t too shabby either and Koda Glover has the prototypical closer build/arsenal. Glover is the real darkhorse here, as some really believe he will be closing games sooner rather than later as long as his can harness his command problems. David Robertson has also been rumored to be a target for the Nats, and he would certainly get a boost in these rankings if that happens.
18. Adam Ottavino (Colorado Rockies)—Greg Holland, Jake McGee
Ottavino, similarly to Kelley, would be higher on this list if I wasn’t worried about his job security following the Holland signing. His numbers make him a fit in the low teens, and while he doesn’t miss too many bats, he keeps the ball on the ground which is obviously a huge plus pitching at Coors. He’s more likely to keep the job all year compared to Kelley, but I like Kelley’s K and opportunity upside better. Beware though, both also come with significant injury risk.
19. David Robertson (Chicago White Sox)—Nate Jones, Michael Ynoa
As I mentioned a little earlier, Robertson would get a nice boost in these rankings if he were acquired by the Nationals. Until this happens, I’m staying away as he will be too hard to trust this season. Pitching for one of the worst teams in baseball, and coming of a disappointing 2016, I find no reason to believe he can improve upon his numbers in Chicago this year. Based of this list, he was ’21 in FIP and xFIP, 19th in SwStr% and 17th in GB% so 19th overall seems completely fair to me. I highly recommended scooping up Nate Jones late in your draft, who to be honest, is probably the better pitcher of the two at this point in their careers.
Unlike the previous two players mentioned, the only reason Dyson is rated this high is his relatively high job security. I’m not convinced Bush is really a good closer option and Jeffress didn’t exactly excel in that role with the Brewers. Maybe Keone Kela can bounce back this season and take the role, but until he proves he’s healthy and can be that guy, the jobs all Dyson’s. The Rangers were 3rd in save opportunities last year and figure to be a top 10 team in MLB again this season. Dyson is a distant second on this list to Britton in GB%, which is nice to have pitching in Arlington half the year. So now the negatives. 23rd in FIP, 27th in xFIP and 27th in SwStr%. Huston Street missed bats at a higher clip than this guy. That’s not someone I feel comfortable with in the last inning of a ball game in 2017.
21. Neftali Feliz (Milwaukee Brewers)—Corey Knebel, Jacob Barnes
Feliz had a nice comeback season last year, and seemed to regain his stuff from past years. Ranking 13th in SwStr% makes me almost feel guilty for putting him this low. The fact the Pirates didn’t try resigning him when they needed to replace Melancon and his 29th ranking in FIP though make me feel more confident that this is where he belongs. The Brewers were bad last season, but they still managed to churn out the 10th most save opportunities. Knebel is a threat if he can put it all together this season but I see Feliz running away with the job if he can stay healthy.
22. Jim Johnson (Atlanta Braves)—Arodys Vizcaino, Mauricio Cabrera
I really wanted to convince myself to rank Johnson higher on this list. He ranks in the top 16 in FIP and xFIP, he should be giving a fairly long leash in the role and the Braves SHOULD be a little bit better than last year, right? For a team rebuilding, I feel like its inevitable for them to move Johnson and go with one of their young talented relievers (Vizcaino or Cabrera). His SwStr% is pretty terrible too, which limits any potential upside in the K department. Still, he can be a solid, if unspectacular RP2 if he has the job all year.
TIER 4: Better Days (and the Bottom Drops Out)
23. Tony Watson (Pittsburgh Pirates)—Felipe Rivero, Daniel Hudson
Tony Watson is a nice above average MLB relief pitcher any team would like to have. He’s just not really the guy you want pitching in the 9th with a lead. He misses some bats and he should have the opportunities if he holds the job, but his FIP (28th ranked) is worrisome. My guess is Romero or Hudson end up taking over the job at some point this season, but late in drafts Watson can be worth a flier.
24. Raisel Iglesias (Cincinnati Reds)—Drew Storen, Michael Lorenzen
Like I said with Watson, Iglesias is a nice MLB reliever, he just isn’t quite closer material. Unlike Watson, there’s a guy behind him who has closing ability who just happens to have never put it all together. Iglesias is still the guy I’d rather own here, but Storen makes for an interesting late round option to stash on bench. Lorenzen is an interesting sleeper for save opportunities this year as well.
25. Brandon Maurer (San Diego Padres)—Carter Capps, Kevin Quakenbush
IF Carter Capps can remain healthy for a full season he is by far the best closing option in San Diego. Given his funky delivery and injury history, Id say the odds of that were like the odds of Hacksaw Ridge winning best picture last night. I’m interested to see if Buchter gets any save chances this year, as he was the most dominant option out of the bullpen last season. Still, I’d prefer Capps in the last round to Maurer a few rounds earlier.
26. Fernando Rodney (Arizona Diamondbacks)—Jake Barrett, Randall Delgado
From here on out, the list gets really ugly. “Fernando Rodney” and “easy save” have never been mentioned in the same sentence, and I doubt he can miraculously turn things around at this point of his surprisingly lengthy career. He at least has little to no competition so there’s that.
27. Ryan Madson (Oakland Athletics)—Sean Doolittle, Santiago Casilla
After a good start to last season, Madson completely fell apart in the 2nd half. I don’t expect him to hold on to the job, if he even wins it, for much longer than April. Doolittle is my favorite to end up with the most save opportunities, but Casilla could wind up with a few too.
28. Brandon Kintzler (Minnesota Twins)—Glenn Perkins, JT Chargois
Kintzler actually is a pretty nice 7th inning/situational option most managers would like to have. His stuff by no means is closing caliber, and he will likely be exposed early in the season. He should however keep the job until Perkins can get healthy as there are no other options (unless Chargois has a lights out spring maybe?)
29. Jeanmar Gomez (Philadelphia Phillies)—Hector Neris, Joaquin Benoit
I get why the 3 mentioned above are their teams respective closers (and even the last name on this list for that matter) but Gomez has not earned this job. Benoit or Neris are both better options by a mile, with Neris being a nice upside pick late in drafts.
30. Huston Street (Los Angeles Angels)—Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bailey
Street completely bottomed out last year and at this point, there can’t be much left in the tank. Bedrosian will be the guy at some point, it’s just a matter of when not if. I’d take Bedrosian late in drafts and leave Street alone.