Waiting Game: Comparing Reliever Tiers


This series goes position by position, comparing the average production you get out of the top 5 ranked (or top 10 for OF and SP), the next group of players, and so on. We’re looking for where the value of players starts to drop, so that you can see how long you can wait on a position and what kind of hit in production you’ll take if you do. One thing to note is that I’m not restricting players to only one position for the stat information. If a guy qualifies at 2B, SS, and OF, his numbers are going to appear in all three sets.

There’s a lot of discussion about tiers in ranking players. Some fantasy managers live by it, because they like to make cut-off points where they feel the talent is noticeably different between one group of players and the next group. Other managers don’t like it and prefer a simple straight ranking. I’ve always enjoyed tiers, and depending on the format of your league, there really can be obvious gaps in talent level at a certain number of players. 

I’ve done two things here. First I use CBS’s ranking info for 5×5 roto leagues, and I show the average numbers for the top 10 players at relief pitcher compared to groups of 10 after that. Next I’ll take data from a private CBS points league and show the averages for the same breakdowns. Although it’s a custom scoring league, there aren’t major differences from CBS’s public points system, and anyway, a lot of times the points rankings are very close to the 5×5. The nice thing is that it boils down production to a common denominator (points) regardless of whether a player was more speed or power.

The 5×5 Roto Comparison

Here are your 5×5 averages of the top 10 relievers, followed by 11-20, 21-30, and 31-40. I’ve rounded to whole numbers.

  • #1-10: 2.10 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 2 W, 41 SV, 81 K in 65 IP
  • #11-20: 2.22 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 5 W, 24 SV, 91 K in 71 IP
  • #21-30: 2.57 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 5 W, 19 SV, 71 K in 66 IP
  • #31-40: 2.80 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 6 W, 8 SV, 71 K in 69 IP

Just like the starting pitchers, the top tiers of relievers manage to put up some great ERA and WHIP. In roto leagues where saves is often the biggest weighted value for relievers, it makes sense that the top-tier is SV heavy, with the lowest being 33. In tier two there are two non-closers who bring down the average, and tier three has three RP under 10 SV and two more under 20. Strikeouts and stellar rations are also a strong factor for RP, regardless of role: Wade Davis (109 K) and Dellin Betances (135 K) are ranked 11th and 12th for RP, despite their lack of saves.

The Points Comparison

Here’s the breakdown. I didn’t compare tiers that were more than two apart.

  • Range, 1-10: 581 – 650, avg. 618.1 points
  • Range, 11-20: 525.5 – 575.5, avg. 550.3 points
  • Range, 21-30: 451.5 – 505.5, avg. 480.9 points
  • Range, 31-40: 410.5 – 440, avg. 420.8 points
  • Difference between avg. of 1-10 and 11-20 = 67.8 points = 12.3% more
  • Difference between avg. of 1-10 and 21-30 = 137.2 points = 28.5% more
  • Difference between avg. of 11-20 and 21-30 = 69.4 points = 14.4% more
  • Difference between avg. of 11-20 and 31-40 = 129.5 points = 30.8% more
  • Difference between avg. of 21-30 and 31-40 = 60.1 points = 14.3% more

There is a difference between the top closers and the second tier, but it’s pretty much the same difference between the second and the third. There were seven closers with 40+ saves in 2014, and six of them were in the top-10. There were ten closers with a save total in the 30s, with three in each of the top three tiers, and the straggler, Addison Reed, in the fourth tier. It does seem that this was the year of the non-closers, because the number of RP with 5 saves or fewer in each tier was as follows: 1 in tier one, 3 in tier two, 2 in tier three, and 5 in tier four.

The Bottom Line: I really hate rostering poor RP who have a closer tag to start a season, just because I need to collect saves. One year in a 15-team 5×5, I had traded away some of my picks, so I opted to punt saves because I needed to spend those picks shoring up the rest of my team, not fourth-tier closers. However, I did pick up three non-closer RP at the end of the draft, and by mid-season two of them were closing. I traded for one above-average closer, and I was able to climb from last in saves to 7th in a few months. Spend some money on a top closer, but in leagues with more than 12 teams, you’re better off passing on guys like Joe Nathan (age, struggled) and Trevor Rosenthal (poor WHIP) and targeting options like Wade Davis or Brad Boxberger to boost your strikeouts and ratios until they finally get an opportunity to close. I’ll pay for a guy like Kimbrel, but because the turnover on the closer role is so high every year, and new sources emerge every month, I’ll choose elite skills over an empty, one-category contributor.

Compare tiers for the rest of the positions

CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird Base ShortstopOutfieldStarting PitcherRelievers

Kevin Jebens

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.