Relief Pitcher Tiers

Written by: David Holler

You can’t win your fantasy league with a strong bullpen alone, but you can absolutely lose it with an awful one. Getting this position wrong means watching your ERA and WHIP race skyward, one blown save at a time. Saves are vitally important to winning your 5×5 fantasy leagues. The following relief pitcher tiers are all about handicapping the probability of earning saves during the 2017 season.

There is no position more volatile than a team’s closer. On Tristan Cockroft’s pre-season 2016 relief pitcher rankings, the only closer ranked past the top 15 who is still expected to get save chances this season is Ken Giles. Conversely, 12 of the top 15 on that list are still lined up for closing duties. That level of consistency is exactly what fantasy owners are willing to pay a premium for.

If job security and consistency are so rare at this position, why do the fantasy baseball pundits consistently say “don’t pay for saves?” The first reason is a simple math problem that deals with innings pitched. A workhorse season from a relief pitcher could net you as many 75 innings pitched. An effective starting pitcher might throw for over 200 innings, and an elite option might stretch beyond 225. That sparkling ERA and WHIP from your elite closer is having one-third of the impact on your team totals as that starting pitcher you were considering.

The second reason not to pay for saves is that save chances are extremely random and have very little to do with a pitcher’s ability. A good comparison would be the kicker on your fantasy football team. Conversion percentage is extremely important in both cases, but you can’t make field goals you don’t attempt and you can’t save games without a save opportunity. Someone in the lower tiers will make the most of those opportunities.

I say ignore both of these, at least in regards to the top closers. If they have job security and will produce strong ratios, pay a little extra. Those two to three closers can add up to one giant ace.

The Elite Tier

These guys put out fires faster than Kurt Russell in Backdraft. You’re going to have to invest heavily to score one of these seven relievers. They are as close to a sure thing as there is at the position.

  • Kenley Jansen LAD 29
  • Aroldis Chapman NYY 29
  • Zach Britton BAL 29
  • Mark Melancon SF 32
  • Wade Davis CHC 31
  • Roberto Osuna TOR 22
  • Seung Hwan Oh STL 34

The Rock Solid Tier

These guys have the opportunity for big save counts, but lack the certainty of the elite tier. There is plenty of upside here. Given consistency and opportunity, the save counts could be just as high as the elite closers.

  • Edwin Diaz SEA 23
  • Ken Giles HOU 26
  • Cody Allen CLE 28
  • Kelvin Herrera KC 27
  • Jeurys Familia NYM 27
  • Craig Kimbrel BOS 28
  • Alex Colome TB 28

The Fallback Tier

These closers have the job – for now. If you choose not to invest big bucks or a top pick a closer, these are the type of fallback options you’re forced to consider. In deep leagues you may even consider “handcuffing” these closers with the appropriate setup man who would inherit the job should the incumbent falter or get traded.

  • David Robertson CWS 31
  • A.J. Ramos MIA 30
  • Sam Dyson TEX 28
  • Francisco Rodriguez DET 35
  • Tony Watson PIT 31
  • Jim Johnson ATL 33
  • Brandon Maurer SD 26
  • Fernando Rodney ARI 40
  • Neftali Feliz MIL 28

Super Setup Men

These guys have top end stuff and could make elite closers one day. What they lack is save opportunities, for now. Miller and Betances are already viable mixed league options while the other four are better left for deeper leagues. Be aware of all these names in case the leading man can’t get it done.

  • Andrew Miller CLE 31
  • Dellin Betances NYY 29
  • Addison Reed NYM 28
  • Kyle Barraclough MIA 26
  • Carter Capps SD 26
  • Luke Gregerson HOU 32

Unsettled Situations

As of late February, these team’s relieving hierarchies remain ominous. Generally avoid these closing committees as save chances may be divided based on matchups. Relievers lose value in time shares, and the chances of your draft pick being a total bust increase.

Closing situations are fluid, and a few of these depth charts should resolve themselves during Spring Training or the first few weeks of the season. Monitor these situations closely in leagues where saves are valued at a premium. There will be a few diamonds in the rough.

  • Nationals: Kelley/Treinen/Player to be acquired later
  • Phillies: Neris/Gomez/Benoit
  • Angels: Bedrosian/Street/Bailey
  • Reds: Storen/Iglesias/Lorenzen
  • Rockies: Ottavino/Holland/McGee
  • Twins: Kintzler/Perkins/May
  • Athletics: Madson/Casilla/Doolittle/Dull


Previous Tiers
Catcher First BaseSecond BaseThird BaseShortstopOutfieldStarting Pitcher


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