We close out our series of consolidated rankings with the game’s most volatile position: the relief pitcher. Paul Hartman will be doing Fantasy Assembly’s closer report for the duration of the season. You can click here for his initial breakdown of each team’s bullpen which provides more detail on position battles.
In this piece we each listed our top 25 relief pitchers most likely to make an impact in 2014. How you choose to invest in your fantasy bullpen this year depends on how you view the elite arms near the top of the list. There are plenty of values to be had throughout, and even more quality non-closing relievers (not listed here) who could emerge as ninth inning options before too long.
We did not rank any RP eligible pitchers expected to start the season in the rotation. This is strictly a list of bullpen arms. To find some RP eligible starters, click here.
Without further ado, here are the ranks:
1. Craig Kimbrel, ATL-
Paul: Has struck out 43% of batters faced in his career. It’s unfair.
Peter: 4 years of K/9 north of 13 (translates to 100 Ks), ERA in the 1’s, 40+ save potential.
2. Kenley Jansen, LAD-
Jim: If he can do this season what he did last, he will move into Kimbrel’s neighborhood for good.
Tommy: There is not a big difference between any of the top 6 closers, but Kenley is the clear number 2 for me. He has improved his control every year in the bigs and now boasts a K/BB over 6. Pitching for a winning team in a pitcher friendly home is another huge plus.
2. Aroldis Chapman, CIN-
Kevin: Apparently he’s staying a closer, and that’s good for fantasy managers who enjoy 100 Ks from a reliever.
Peter: From @MatthewBerryTMR: Chapman only pitcher to record K/9 better than 15 in consecutive seasons.
4. Greg Holland, KC-
Kevin: He has strong strikeout ability, and his hiccup from 2012 can be ignored. He’s a top-5 closer for sure.
Paul: Struck out 103 with a 1.21 ERA in 2013 after cutting his BB rate nearly in half.
5. Koji Uehara, BOS-
Jim: His numbers last year were beyond awesome and give him a high ranking. Was the soon to be 39 year old a one hit wonder, or can he come close to repeating that performance?
Tommy: Koji induces weak contact, literally does not walk anybody and has a plus K rate for the defending World Series champ. I know he is old, but he puts up numbers that would be unrealistic in a video game. Seriously, his K/BB rates over the last 2 years were 14.33 and 11.22. No, that is not a typo.
6. Trevor Rosenthal, STL-
Paul: Showed no fear in the closer role in the 2013 postseason. Joins the elite 4 for 2014.
Tommy: Rosenthal is able to keep the ball on the ground and he has elite K ability. He obviously lacks an extensive 9th inning resume, but he is more than capable.
7. Glen Perkins, MIN-
Kevin: Some closers are forgotten about or discounted because they don’t play in big markets. Perkins should hold the closer job and contribute 35+ saves, no problem.
Peter: Another closer with a K/9 around 10, and the Twins should play a bunch of close games.
8. David Robertson, NYY-
Jim: Spent years as the understudy to Rivera. The skills are there, the only question is can he handle the pressure of the 9th inning.
Kevin: Everyone’s worried about whether he can hold the job. He’s not Rivera, but no one is. I’ve seen him go later than the #5 RP in a draft, which is a steal.
9. Joe Nathan, DET-
Jim: He should be able to repeat last years numbers now that Arlington isn’t his home, but just like Uehara there is a risk with any 39 year old pitchers not named Rivera.
Tommy: Nathan’s numbers from 2013 look awesome, but upon closer inspection, he benefitted from a 3% HR/FB rate and a .224 BABIP that looks impossible given his batted ball profile. He will have a long leash in Detroit, but don’t expect elite numbers.
10. Jason Grilli, PIT-
Paul: Forearm injury concerns are legitimate, but his 37% K rate is exceptional. Best to handcuff with Melancon.
Peter: Injury in 2013 slowed down a very impressive season. Bucks are on the rise.
11. Jim Johnson, OAK-
Jim: He will not receive 50+ save opportunities with the A’s and his new team does not hesitate to replace a closer who is struggling (like Johnson did last year).
Peter: All he did was back-to-back 50 save seasons in Baltimore. Oakland plays a lot of close games too, and he is at the back end of maybe the best bullpen in baseball.
12. Steve Cishek, MIA-
Kevin: I think the only thing stopping him from coming close to the top-5 RP is the fact that Miami may have a hard time winning games. But rest assured, his skills are solid.
Tommy: Cishek is a good pitcher on a bad team. He would be top 10 if not for the risk of a mid-season trade. Cishek is in the last year of his contract, so he could easily be pitching the 8th for a contender by the end of July.
13. Addison Reed, ARZ-
Jim: He will receive more save opportunities with his new home and his ERA, WHIP, BB & K’s are all headed in the right direction.
Paul: I dislike FB closers. Reed has a very good K rate but his role hasn’t been officially declared yet.
14. Grant Balfour, TB–
Paul: 36 year old closer has been one of the best over past 4 seasons. A return to Tampa will give him plenty of save opportunities.
Peter: Rays closers always seem to be solid options for saves.
15. Sergio Romo, SF-
Kevin: Another closer who doesn’t have huge name appeal. He’s going to contribute to your team, but he’s not a top reliever due to a three-year fade in K/9.
Tommy: Romo’s Ks have gone down 2 years in a row and he will always be an injury risk. He remains a solid option, but the upside isn’t really there anymore.
16. Rafael Soriano, WAS-
Kevin: He may reach 40 saves again, but his average ERA and WHIP prevent him from being a top closer.
Paul: High FB rate with a low K rate is a major cause for concern. Racks up saves though: 43/49 in opportunities in 2013.
17. Ernesto Frieri, LAA-
Jim: Ernesto gets tons of K’s, but walks and home runs have plagued him his entire major and minor league career. He’s the closer for the Angles, but only because they have nobody else.
Peter: Elite K, saved 37 games on an underachieving Angels team in 2013. I think we all expect a better effort from this team in 2014.
18. Jonathan Papelbon, PHI-
Kevin: His elite strikeout days are behind him, but his ability to save games keeps him relevant for fantasy purposes.
Tommy: Papelbon’s skills are fading with his velocity, but he has job security and he knows how to pitch. He could end up being a good value pick this year.
19. Casey Janssen, TOR-
Paul: Hugely successful whenever he pitches, Janssen once again has shoulder issues heading into 2014. Handle with care.
Peter: Might not be the best pitcher in the Blue Jays pen but he opens the season as the closer.
20. Fernando Rodney, SEA-
Jim: Rodney can be scary to own at times, but his new home park and division should aid him some and the Mariners should be pretty good this year.
Tommy: Rodney walks far too many and he has additional risk because of his age, but his velocity and K/9 actually went up last year. Like Johnson, his elite GB rate helps him keep the ball in the park too.
21. Bobby Parnell, NYM-
Kevin: If he had a clean bill of health, I’d rank him a bit higher than #17, but an injury risk closer means he may not reach 30 saves.
Paul: Groundball specialist keeps ball in the park with respectable Ks. Durability concerns, but sounds like he’ll be healthy for opening day.
22. Jim Henderson, MIL-
Jim: Heads were turned last year by his performance, but given the age of his breakout and low salary, he’s no lock to remain the closer if he struggles.
Tommy: Henderson should have a decent sized leash, but he will need to keep his BB total down and limit the long balls if he is going to help owner’s ratios. He has the K rate for sure.
23. Huston Street, SD-
Kevin: Like Parnell, he’s a pretty big injury risk. If he gets hurt, does he get his job back when he returns? It’s not for certain with Benoit behind him.
Peter: Velocity declining over the past few seasons, health sometimes an issue.
24. Tommy Hunter, BAL-
Jim: The winner in the Jim Johnson trade, Hunter should do a better than average job and will receive a fair share of save opportunities.
Paul: A solid 2013 lands Hunter as the favorite for saves in 2014. Low K rate and a career 4.47 ERA dampen the excitement.
25. Nate Jones, CHW-
Kevin: Hopefully he’ll get the closer role in Chicago. If he does, his K/9 is strong enough to make him a top-15 closer. However, at the time of this list there’s no certainty to his role.
Tommy: Jones is a good pitcher who was extremely unlucky last year. Expect an ERA near 3.00 and close to a K per inning. He is clearly the best pitcher in the Sox pen, but the ninth inning job could go to Lindstrom anyway.
Check out the rest of our 2014 rankings.