2016 Relief Pitcher Rankings – Top 40

2016 Ranking LogoClosers: The position we love to hate.  Nobody wants to reach for a top closer; once one closer is taken it opens the flood gates and mentally obligates you to follow suit causing a run, and those that don’t join in on the fun are left to pick through the dregs – most of which will lose their job by mid-season. 

If you took one of the players we ranked inside our top 10 last year you were safe, for the most part.  Kimbrel had some bouts with control, and while his numbers were disappointing for where he was drafted he still put up solid numbers.  Chapman, Robertson, Jansen, Melancon and Rosenthal all did what they were supposed to do.  Betances was the only non-closer ranked, but he lived up to the hype.  Greg Holland blew up in August and then went down for the season, but for the first four months he delivered as advertised. Steve Cishek was the only real major disappointment who lost his job and was shipped out-of-town.

Once you pass the top 10 things go down hill.  Uehara became irrelevant due to the last-minute Craig Kimbrel trade; Drew Storen was pushed aside when the Nats acquired Papelbon; Doolittle took longer than anticipated to return, as did McGee who was never able to wrestle his job back from Boxberger.  And then there’s Fernando Rodney – shame on all of you who bought stock in this one.  It’s the same story as you continue down the rankings; there are winners and losers. 

Basically, once you venture outside the top 10 there is a 50/50 chance the guy you’re drafting will not be closing by seasons end.  That doesn’t mean you should avoid drafting a closer; just be smart about things when selecting.  Don’t get sucked into the closer run trap and grab any old guy just to get some saves.  Consider the player, his job security, how long of a leash he has, and what else is left on the board.  Sometimes the best closer pick you can make is the one that you decide not to make.  Draft smartly – not impulsively, and let talent dictate your decision.

Taking part in our rankings will be Tommy Landseadel, Kevin Jebens, Jim Finch, Ron Vackar, Michael Zakhar and Neil (Mister DFS). Our six experts each ranked their top 40 relief pitchers/closers for the 2016 season. Players marked N/R were not ranked inside the top 40 by that particular person. 

If you feel we overlooked someone or would like to debate a player’s ranking, feel free to do so in the comment section below.

Rank Player Team Kevin Neil Zak Tommy Ron Jim
1 Wade Davis Royals 3 3 2 3 1 1
1 Craig Kimbrel Red Sox 1 1 3 2 3 3
3 Kenley Jansen Dodgers 2 4 1 1 4 4
4 Aroldis Chapman Yankees 7 2 4 4 8 2
5 Ken Giles Astros 4 7 5 11 6 5
6 Zach Britton Orioles 11 12 6 6 2 7
7 David Robertson White Sox 5 8 10 9 9 6
8 Jeurys Familia Mets 10 9 9 8 5 8
9 Mark Melancon Pirates 6 5 11 10 7 13
10 Trevor Rosenthal Cardinals 16 6 8 7 10 9
11 Cody Allen Indians 12 13 7 5 11 10
12 Hector Rondon Cubs 9 10 12 12 13 12

With the exception of one rogue ranking each for Melancon, Rosenthal, Allen and Rondon, all of the players above were ranked inside the top 12 by the entire panel.  These are the players you want; the ones that are dependable, have job security, and short of an injury will finish the season as their teams closer.  Injuries can’t be predicted, nor can the occasional slump; all you have to go on here is track record and stability, and these guys have it.

Players that you would Reach for

Tommy: I am not against grabbing elite closers per se, but there is only one I am considering this year. Kenley Jansen is my top RP this year, but he is not ranked that way on many sites. His K/BB ratio last year was 10.00 and he pitches for a team that will contend every year. I also believe Cody Allen is being undervalued, as are Drew Storen, Jason Grilli and whoever wins the Brewers job (my money is on Will Smith).

Kevin: You can’t go wrong with a flamethrowing veteran, such as Kimbrel. Jansen or Robertson.

Jim: It’s no secret I’m a fan of Ken Giles.  The man is a future top 5 closer; I said that when he was with the Phillies.  He’s being taken as early as round 6 and in round 9 on average in early drafts.  If I can’t have Wade Davis I’ll grab Giles a round (or two) early.  If Giles gets snatched up on me, David Robertson is my fallback option.  The LD% worries me some and his ratios aren’t overly impressive, but they are solid, he does get a lot of K’s, and most importantly he has job security.  Once the top guys start to go he’ll be in my queue. Finally there’s Aroldis Chapman.  He’ll miss the first 30 days due to a suspension, but remember when he missed a month after getting beaned in the head by a line drive – he came back and dominated.  This is a marathon, not a sprint; don’t be scared off.

Ron: In a deep roster and AL-Only formats I will make a slight reach for Zach Britton, my number two RP for 2016. Britton is slightly more appealing to me than some other top-tier closers because he has a lights out, big-K 8th inning guy in Darren O’Day who you can back him up with to ensure you lock up all the saves the Orioles have to offer in 2016. 

Zak: Ken Giles does not have closing experience, but he has electric stuff and is ready to be a top 5 closer already. There are rumblings that his job might not be 100% secure, but that means we might have a chance to get him at a lower value. Zach Britton added K’s to his groundball ways. People may hesitate because of his failings as a starter, but that was a long time ago and he has shown no vulnerability in this role.

Neil: No one?  If I had to reach for anyone, I would reach for Aroldis Chapman who is far and away the most dominant relief pitcher in all of baseball. Folks may shy away from him because of his suspension, but he is still a safe bet for 30 saves and 14.0 K/9.  If you can afford to punt saves for a month, he’s the guy to take.

Rank Player Team Kevin Neil Zak Tommy Ron Jim
13 Francisco Rodriguez Tigers 14 14 16 13 14 23
14 Jonathan Papelbon Nationals 13 15 15 14 15 24
15 A.J. Ramos Marlins 18 30 14 15 12 15
16 Huston Street Angels 19 11 22 17 17 20
17 Andrew Miller Yankees 8 23 17 22 24 17
18 Brad Boxberger Rays 21 18 18 23 16 16
19 Jake McGee Rockies 22 25 13 20 19 14
20 Glen Perkins Twins 17 19 20 18 20 22
21 Shawn Tolleson Rangers 20 16 21 16 21 25
22 Sean Doolittle A’s 25 17 27 19 22 18
23 Dellin Betances Yankees 23 24 19 25 26 11
24 Drew Storen Blue Jays 15 26 25 21 18 32
25 Brad Ziegler Diamondbacks 26 21 23 26 25 21
26 Santiago Castilla Giants 27 20 24 27 23 26
27 Roberto Osuna Blue Jays 33 27 26 31 27 19
28 Steve Cishek Mariners 30 22 28 28 30 28
29 Will Smith Brewers 28 29 30 29 28 33
30 Jason Grilli Braves N/R 32 32 24 29 30
31 Arodys Vizcaino Braves N/R 28 31 33 31 31
32 Darren O’Day Orioles 31 38 36 40 38 27
33 David Hernandez Phillies 29 N/R 29 30 33 N/R
34 Joaquin Benoit Mariners N/R 39 34 32 32 35
35 Tony Watson Pirates 24 37 40 N/R N/R 29
36 J.J. Hoover Reds N/R 31 33 39 35 N/R
37 Jeremy Jeffress Brewers 32 N/R 35 37 36 N/R
38 Jumbo Diaz Reds N/R N/R 37 38 N/R 34
39 Fernando Rodney Padres 40 N/R N/R 36 34 N/R
40 Luke Gregerson Astros 34 35 N/R N/R N/R N/R

A number of closer roles are still up in the air which is why you see some mixed rankings along with some missing players from the top 40 or multiple mediocre players from the same team.

  • Cincinnati: Hoover, Diaz, Tony Cingrani
  • Atlanta: Grilli, Vizcaino
  • Milwaukee: Jeffress, Smith
  • Blue Jays: Osuna, Storen
  • Mariners: Steve Cishek, Joaquin Benoit

Anything can happen with these clubs between now and opening day, and whoever starts off with the job won’t necessarily finish the season with it.  Don’t overpay for these players, but don’t ignore them either.

Players you will avoid drafting

Tommy: Aroldis Chapman is an amazing talent, but his 30 day suspension plus the amazing options behind him make me not want to invest a top pick in him. I am also avoiding J.J. Hoover, Santiago Casilla, Fernando Rodney and Steve Cishek. I don’t have much confidence in any of those guys keeping their jobs all season.

Kevin: I’m going to be wary about veterans who are aging or near the end of a contract and may get traded. I’m looking at you Papelbon and K-Rod.

Jim: I’m staying away from anyone on the Reds or Phillies.  The closer job up for grabs, and the winner’s hold on the job will be tentative at best.  I’ll let someone else waste a pick here.  I’m not touching Fenando Rodney.  If he was bad in SAFECO, he’ll be bad in Petco – queue Kevin Quackenbush.

Ron: Fernando Rodney, Steve Cishek, and JJ Hoover seem likely to make me want to punch my laptop whenever they pitch. Laptops are expensive so I’ll be avoiding these WHIP and ERA murderers. Shawn Tolleson isn’t likely to make a roster of mine either. The Rangers already moved on from Tolleson once at the end of 2015, and I don’t get the feeling they’re overly committed to him.

Zak: Brad Boxberger‘s combination of poor control, declining strikeouts, and proneness to the big fly is a lethal combination. Just because Jake McGee is gone doesn’t mean all these issues go away. Shawn Tolleson was a feel-good story last year, but he struggled down the stretch to the point where the Rangers were going with closer by committee. There are lots of good arms in that Texas pen so don’t overbid.

Neil: Fernando Rodney. In a rotisserie style league, modest gains in one category (saves) are not worth the dumpster fire to your WHIP and ERA.  I would rather throw a guy like Koji Uehara in there who will help your rate stats and pick up 5 saves, instead of a 20 save disaster like Rodney.

Setup men you can see closing at some point this season

Tommy: Andrew Miller is the obvious choice with top 5 overall upside. I am also keeping an eye on Joaquin Benoit, Jumbo Diaz and Romo/Strickland in San Francisco. If you play in a league with innings limits, pitchers like Dellin Betances and Darren O’Day become immensely valuable also.

Kevin: Tony Watson is an obvious choice. Luke Gregerson is a nice option if he’s traded or Giles struggles. Joakim Soria has returned to KC and will step in if Wade Davis gets hurt.

Jim: I’m a big fan of Tony Watson for reasons explained HERE Joaquin Benoit has a good chance of taking over the ninth if Steve Cishek flounders early, and he has shown he can be successful in the role when given the chance.  Finally there’s Jumbo Diaz.  How can you not root for a guy named Jumbo – he really is Jumbo coming in at 6’4″ – 315 pounds.  Despite his size and age (32), the man can bring some heat with a 97 mph fastball.  Hoover will have a short leash if he breaks camp as the Reds closer.

Ron: I wrote a Save Speculation article earlier in the week outlining about a dozen relievers who could be closing at some point this season.

Zak: Sean Doolittle is pretty risky from a health perspective, and we may have already seen his best. Ryan Madson should be the man in the eighth and could slot in there if Doolittle doesn’t regain his form. Hunter Strickland seemed to put it together last year while Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo were up-and-down. Maybe it’s because he reminds me of those hard throwers with gimmicks that I grew up watching like Goose Gossage, but I am really pulling for Strickland to claim the ninth this year.

Neil: Does Jason Grilli count?  He may start the season on the shelf due to an injury to his Achilles, while Arodys Vizcaino closes.  When Grilli does come back, he may retake the job if Vizcaino struggles as he has handled the role before and even had 24 saves in 2015.


That Wraps up our relief pitcher/closer rankings. Check back next week when we bring you our top 200 players for the 2016 season.


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