Closers, the position fantasy owners loathe as much as catchers. The 2014 season hadn’t even started yet and Kenley Jansen was listed as being out for 8 to 12 weeks following foot surgery. If this had happened in-season owners would be scrambling to the waiver wire to grab Brandon League while Jansen owners would be screaming (expletive deleted) about wasting a 6th round pick on this piece of crap – the same piece of crap they propped onto a pedestal when selecting him early. Yes, we love to hate our players and then curse their existence when they show their human side and go down with an injury.
Injuries are not the only thing you have to worry about as demotions are also part of the game; more so with closers than any other position. Last season we saw over one-third of the closers yield their job to someone else, that’s 1 in 3 gentlemen. Not even players in the top 10 are safe. Looking back at our 2014 rankings we saw Jason Grilli demoted and shipped out-of-town and Koji Uehara break down late in the season Then there was Trevor Rosenthal who fell short of expectations and Joe Nathan – well, there are not enough words to describe the steaming pile of excrement he left on our doorsteps.
Jim Johnson, Grant Balfour, Sergio Romo, Ernesto Frieri, Tommy Hunter; all out of a job by or before mid-season. Closers are unpredictable, volatile and at times unreliable (at least a majority of them), yet each year we still chase them in the draft in search of saves. How many of you grabbed one of the above players during a closer run during the draft in 2014? Well, guess what, odds are you’ll do the same thing again this; we are creatures of habit, a glutton for punishment and just like those lottery tickets we buy, a society of dreamers believing that our lucky numbers will be the winning combination. Maybe this year will be your year; like the motto says, you never know.
Below are our top 40 relief pitchers/closers for the 2015 season. There will be no RP eligible starters listed here, those were covered earlier in the week by Tommy Lanseadel. If you feel we overlooked someone or would like to debate a players ranking, feel free to do so in the comment section below.
The top 5 are just that; short of an injury, there is not much to worry about here as far as production goes. I should say the top 6 as Cody Allen has quietly worked his way into the upper echelon; whether or not he stays there will be up to him. Betances and Jansen have their doubters for different reasons. Jansen will miss the start of the season with an injury and Betances isn’t guaranteed the closer job with Miller around. Cishek and Rosenthal are solid choices to round out the top 10, but Cishek was on the trading block not too long ago and Rosenthal wasn’t quite the player he was in 2013. Overall, this group is much more stable than the next 10.
Uehara ended the season on a sour note and is no spring chicken. Rodney has been solid, but his ERA is unpredictable and the WHIP can be scary at times. Both Doolittle and McGee will miss the start of the season, the former could experience more medical issues down the line while the latter isn’t guaranteed the closer role when he returns. Papelbon has been on the trading block for over a year; while his numbers are solid, if he is traded to a team that doesn’t need a closer his value is sunk. The other half of the group are fairly safe with the same caveat as the first group, only an injury will take their role from them.
You see how the issues start to build as we go down the list and it’s the same story, different chapter with the rest of the players. Some safe and steady options, others that will not be closing by mid-season and the remainder are players that could be closing at some point this year. Speaking of players that could be closing at some point this season, the following players did not make the cut but still could be of use depending upon your league size and settings. Chad Qualls, Kelvin Herrera, Casey Janssen, Joe Smith, Pat Neshek, Tony Watson, Adam Ottavino and Jordan Walden. Each player was ranked inside the top 40 by at least one of us but did not appear on more than 2 sets of rankings. Who are the players we are targeting (and avoiding)? Read on.
Players that you would reach for in the draft
Tommy: In roto leagues, I am reaching for the guys with the strong ratio stats. Dellin Betances could outproduce his current ADP even if he is not closing. If he is, then the sky is the limit. Sean Doolittle is risky with his injury issues, but he would be a top 5 closer if healthy. I am not downgrading him as far as most lists will. Brad Boxberger is another reliever who I love, He may not keep the closer job for long, but his upside far exceeds his ADP.
Kevin: Given the volatility of closers, you can always find saves in the FA pool during the season, however, it’s certainly nice to have a top-5 or top-10 guy who you know is safe to close until/unless injury hits. I’m very secure with my top-9 guys.
Will: I don’t generally reach for saves; if I were to ever recommend someone do it, I’d say Cody Allen is close to the top tier of closers and Steve Cishek might be worth taking as a top ten closer.
Ron: In leagues where I only lock up one true ace, I will be willing to reach into the pool of elite high-K closers. For me that would include Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Greg Holland, David Robertson, and Dellin Betances. That group goes early enough in drafts already that you’re not really reaching, save for maybe Betances given the unknown roles in the Yankees’ bullpen.
Jim: In a H2H league I refuse to reach, but in roto – and if I were to reach in H2H – it would be for the big names. Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Greg Holland are all elite K closers and getting one or two of them in a roto league is a worthy investment in my opinion. Also Kenley Jansen, who was injured and should slide enough to make him a worthy stash.
Players you will avoid drafting
Tommy: Trevor Rosenthal seems overpriced to me with his sky-high walk rate. Also, I will be passing on the bottom tier closers, guys like Joe Nathan, LaTroy Hawkins and whoever closes for the Mets. I would much rather draft an elite set up guy than deal with the headache these pitchers are likely to cause.
Kevin: I try to avoid injury risk histories (Huston Street) and recent hiccups (Koji Uehara), but they still find their way onto my team if I need saves badly enough. I also feel Trevor Rosenthal is overrated.
Will: Any of the top 5-6 closers because I don’t draft closers that early, but also Zack Britton. I find his lack of Ks disturbing. I like Joe Nathan but I think his time in the sun is over and his days as Detroit’s closer are numbered. Latroy Hawkins, because he is old and doesn’t strike guys out…that’s gonna catch up with him in Denver, sooner than later.
Ron: Koji Uehara and Joe Nathan may have aged out last year as both seemed to hit a serious wall. Uehara may have the longer leash of the two but Joe Nathan will be at a high risk of losing his job to Joakim Soria if he continues to perform as he did in 2014.
Jim: Fernando Rodney may get saves, but the shaky ERA plus the damage he can do to your WHIP makes him someone I would avoid. I’m also not touching Joe Nathan due to last years meltdown or Koji Uehara after his late season slump.
Average Joe, the players that you would wait on and settle for.
Tommy: Joaquin Benoit, Hector Rondon and Luke Gregerson are all solid relievers capable of getting the job done. I would be happy to own any of these guys as my second or third closer.
Kevin: Luke Gregerson is my choice for closer, even though Chad Qualls is a 1A option. I also think you could do worse than guys like K-Rod and Jonathan Papelbon, veterans who aren’t elite but should hold the role (on their current teams, at least).
Will: As much as watching him close games can get scary, and as old as he his, Fernando Rodney still gets it done. Joaquin Benoit steps in as the Padres closer and has been very good for several years now. Addison Reed had a K/9 over 10 and a SIERA below three last year, but the ERA over four (and the fact he may start season on the DL) will drive his draft day value down and I happy to let him fall to me. (I’d handcuff him with Evan Marshall if I were you though).
Ron: Huston Street, Joaquin Benoit, and Hector Rondon will end up on a lot of my teams. Street is as consistent as they come and highly appealing as long as you can put up with the one or two 15-day DL stints he needs every year. Benoit has been steadily impressive for longer than most people realize. Rondon was quite impressive a season ago and should have a decent amount of leash as the 9th inning man for the Cubs.
Jim: Everyone is down on Jonathan Papelbon due to the decline in K’s, but his ERA and WHIP have been solid and he still gets enough saves to pay the bills. Joaquin Benoit is another very useful closer that is underappreciated and could close in on 40 saves with the revamped Padres.
Set-up men that could be closing at some point this season.
Tommy: Ken Giles is a must own in case Papelbon gets traded. Joakim Soria and Joe Smith are worth drafting as well in case the incumbents in front of them go down.
Kevin: The obvious one is Ken Giles, because the Phillies want to move Papelbon. But I also like Kevin Quackenbush behind Benoit, and Danny Farquhar behind Rodney. There are two amazing arms behind Holland if he gets hurt (Wade Davis – Kelvin Herrera).
Will: Joakim Soria – As I mentioned I think Nathan’s hold on that job is not so tight. Ken Giles could get saves, but it’s contingent on Paps either getting injured or traded. Evan Marshall will most likely close if Addison Reed gets hurt, but also if the ERA gets inflated again, Reed may have a short hook. As I already mentioned LaTroy Hawkins days are probably numbered in Colorado, so Adam Ottavino could find himself in the closers role.
Ron: I could rattle off about half the set-up men in the league and that would not be farfetched from what will actually happen. Brad Boxberger, Kevin Quackenbush, and Ken Giles are the guys I really want to see land a 9th inning gig. Something tells me drafters will be a little too high on the young flame throwers though and this will lead them to overlook the veteran group of Sergio Romo, Joakim Soria, and Kevin Jepsen. Veterans get closer roles because they are already paid as high dollar relief pitchers and because this helps to squash the cost of the younger arms when it comes to their arbitration years.
Jim: Everyone knows the Phillies are intent on trading Papelbon which means it’s a matter of when and not if Ken Giles takes over. The Tigers didn’t bench Nathan last season, but in the second and final year of his contract I can see that happening. Paging Joakim Soria, you’re wanted in the 9th. I have very little faith in Jenrry Mejia; with Bobby Parnell due back soon there could be a changing of the guard in New York. Finally, keep Tyler Clippard‘s name on your watch list. While Sean Doolittle seems to be improving, he will probably miss the start of the season and there is no guarantee how long he will last before the injury flares up again once he returns.
Still need more rankings, head on over to Fantasy Rundown where Goose will be compiling rankings for the 2015 season as well as prospect rankings and the best baseball links available this off-season.