After each week of positional coverage, we will wrap things up here Sunday with our 2016 dynasty/keeper rankings. Players are ranked with the next five years of production in mind, so the higher ranked player is not always the best short-term solution.
The closer position is a volatile one with an ever-changing landscape; not just season to season mind you, but in season as well. In 2015 alone we saw over a third of the closer jobs change hands due to injury and ineffectiveness. That’s why when you look at the rankings below, you’ll see a sea of new faces joining the ranks. Steve Cishek and Addison Reed were supposed to be reliable middle of the road closer, but are now just an afterthought. Jonathan Papelbon was a stable low-end option, but this year did not crack the top 20 now. Koji Uehara has been replaced in Boston; Sean Doolittle has been majorly downgraded; Jake McGee was pushed aside for Boxberger; Drew Storen took a back seat to Papelbon; then there’s Fernando Rodney (insert favorite Rodney joke here).
These are tough things to deal with in seasonal leagues, even more so in dynasty where a number of those next in line guys are already rostered. The one constant though were the top 10 guys. Only 2 players from last years top 10 are no longer ranked. Doolittle lost his spot due to an injury so there is a chance he could return to fantasy relevance. The other is Greg Holland who will miss the 2016 season with Tommy John surgery. If you happen to own one or maybe two of those top 10 guys, consider yourself fortunate. If you don’t, be prepared to play the closer carousel as there is little guarantee the guy who started the year as your closer will finish with the job.
Taking part in our dynasty rankings will be Paul Hartman, Kevin Jebens, Jim Finch, Will Emerson, Ron Vackar and Michael Zakhar. Our six experts each ranked their top 20 relievers/closers. Players marked N/R were not ranked inside the top 20 by that particular person, Here are the results along with last year’s ranking.
Aroldis Chapman is the Clayton Kershaw of closers, often imitated; rarely duplicated. He has four straight season of 30+ saves and 100+ strikeouts, a career ERA of 2.17 (which would be under 2.0 if not for his rookie season), a career WHIP of 1.02 (which would be under 1.0 if not for that same rookie season), and a career BAA of .154. Craig Kimbrel has shared the top spot with Chapman for years, although after a subpar 2015 season some have discounted him slightly. Make no mistake though, Kimbrel is every bit the dominant force. While he may not strike out as many as Chapman, his ERA and WHIP will be lower more often than not.
Kenley Jansen is tied with Kimbrel for the second spot. He only has one season with an ERA below 2.0, but it has never been above 3.0. His lowest K total prior to 2015 was 96 and his WHIP has been 0.86 or lower in three of the past four seasons. Wade Davis is now out from behind the shadow of Greg Holland and closing for the Royals. As a starter Davis was nothing special, but as a relief pitcher he has been as good, if not better, than Craig Kimbrel. Rounding out the top five is Andrew Miller. Like Wade Davis, Miller is a former failed starter finding success in the pen. He is capable of a 100 strikeout season with a WHIP below 1.0 and should get ample save opportunities with the Yankees.
Editors Note: Chapman was traded to the Yankees.
As for the remaining players, our panel shares their thoughts on each below.
6. Ken Giles – Astros
- Jim: Giles had walk issues in the minors, but that’s really the only part of his game that needs improvement. His H/9 in the minors was 7.09 and that has gotten better at the ML level (6.52). As for strikeouts, he has a 2 year K/9 average of 11.72 k/9 combined with a 15.2 SwStr% and 61.2 F-Strike%. With a fastball that regularly clocks in above 95 MPH, the new Houston closer has a bright career ahead of him and is a future top 5 closer.
- Zak: I took a few pokes at those of you who held Giles all year in redraft leagues, but for those of you who have him in dynasty leagues, you are getting your payoff now. He has the stuff and skills to nudge up against the elite closers right away, and a small improvement in control will put him comfortably in their company.
7. David Robertson – White Sox
- Kevin: A bit of a spike in HR/FB the last two years is the only wart on his game. He posted his best BB/9 in 2015, and if he can hold on to some of that gain, he’ll continue as an elite closer option.
- Will: I thought he was gonna make the “jump” last year into an upper tier closer, but that didn’t really happen. He’ll be 31 on Opening Day and has seen ERA and ground ball rate drop in each of the past two seasons. Velocity is still there and the FIP points to some numbers headed back in the right direction, but that is not enough for me to put him higher than 10.
8. Jeurys Familia – Mets
- Paul: A 58% GB rate (57% career) and a 28% K rate (24% career) make Familia an elite closing option. Factor in the Mets rotation and it’s not hard to imagine another 43 save season ahead. In fact, it wouldn’t even surprise me if he ended up the most valuable fantasy closer next year. He’s that good.
- Ron: Clearly I am a tad more giddy over Jeurys Familia than my Fantasy Assembly counterparts. Maybe it’s that he averages 97 MPH with his most frequently used pitch. But every team has a guy that can top 97 MPH you say? Sure, but they’re doing that with their fastball. Familia does it with his sinker!
9. Zach Britton – Orioles
- Kevin: You may not get crazy strikeout ratios from Britton, but dear lord, look at that ground ball rate! At first glance his HR/FB looks dangerously high, but when you consider he had a fly ball rate under 10% — you read that right — it means you don’t have to worry. He set career highs in K/9 and BB/9 as well. I expect him to be able to sustain his current ERA and WHIP, but he could easily end up with 40 saves.
- Will: It was always about the low K numbers for me with Britton, but he figured those out last season while reducing walks. His xFIP was almost a run lower than it was in 2014, and I look for that to regress, based solely on my gut and bitterly harping on the Britton of old with no Ks and high ERA.
10. Trevor Rosenthal – Cardinals
- Zak: There was a time where I thought Rosenthal would be talked about in the same breath as Kimbrel and Jansen. He throws hard and the Cards are always good so he will get loads of saves, but I’ve grown accustomed to a few more in-season hiccups than I’d like.
- Ron: Trevor Rosenthal seems like he is at the beginning of a Jonathan Papelbon-like career. He’s a closer for a winning organization and he gets the job done.
10. Cody Allen – Indians
- Paul: A rough start put a damper on Allen’s final numbers, but he certainly showed why he was so highly ranked heading into 2015. After April 5th, he pitched 61 innings, collecting 30 saves with a 36% K rate and a 2.05 ERA. That’s top 5 stuff there, so don’t be afraid to invest.
- Jim: Allen hit a few bumps in 2015, but when he was on we saw the dominant closer many expected. Allen is good for a minimum of 80 strikeouts and will flirt with 100 annually thanks in part to a blazing fastball and a knuckle (or spiked) curve which is a work in progress. Allen could rank higher, but needs to gain a little more consistency from outing to outing. Overall, a solid low-end RP1 / high-end RP2.
12. Dellin Betances – Yankees
- Ron: This one is tough since Betances is not currently a closer. That said, he might be the best pure relief pitcher in the game no matter which inning he pitches. I have to believe he will get his shot at full 9th inning work at some point and I want him on my team no matter what.
- Kevin: Very high IP for a reliever, which makes his tiny ERA all the more valuable. He has crazy strikeout ability despite the less than ideal walk rate from 2015. He’s the new version of Tyler Clippard, the one non-closer RP that everyone knows about and will draft, even if he never gets a shot at more saves.
13. Mark Melancon – Pirates
- Jim: Double M has always been a solid relief pitcher and has done quite well the past two seasons as the Pirates closer. There isn’t a lot of heat behind his fastball so he needs a strong secondary pitch to get by, and his revamped curveball (now a knuckle curve) seems to have elevated his game to another level. You’ll get close to a strikeout an inning with strong peripherals and ample save numbers.
- Will: I didn’t care for the K drop last year, but he induced ground balls at roughly his usual rate and induced soft contact at the highest rate of his career. Plus, staying in Pitchburgh can only help his cause, right?
14. Roberto Osuna – Blue Jays
- Paul: The impressive thing about Osuna’s 2015 season, other than his 20 saves, 28% K rate and 2.58 ERA, is that he did it as a 20-year-old, never having pitching above High A before. Whether he starts or closes in the future is a bit up in the air, but he should find success wherever he ends up.
- Zak: Osuna came out of nowhere last year to stabilize the ninth inning in Toronto. He’s very young, but held up well, especially late in the season. Be aware there is a danger here that Toronto could turn him into a starter, but based on what we know now we have to think he’ll hold on to the gig for a good long while.
15. Hector Rondon – Cubs
- Kevin: He made small improvements on his solid 2014. Even if there may have been a little luck in strand rate, the skills are there for continued success. And let’s not forget that the Cubs are actually contenders now, which means 40 saves is in reach.
- Will: I like Rondon fine, but he just doesn’t strike me as a shutdown closer just yet. Hector only retired every batter he faced in six of his last 18 outings in 2015. A low BABIP helped keep the ERA and WHIP down, but the walks per nine still hovers around two and he induced soft contact just under 20% of the time. He is solid enough as your RP2, but you may be reaching for the Mylanta many a night.
16. A.J. Ramos – Marlins
- Ron: Ramos would not have made this list a season ago, but so goes the back-end of the yearly closer rankings. He got the job done and is cost controlled for the next three seasons, much of which he should spend wrapping up victories.
- Zak: Dominant stuff, but are the control gains real? If not there could be trouble. And even if they are, you know the Miami organization has a knack for turning any nice situation into a quagmire. He only established himself for half a season so he could be yanked after a bad week, and if he pitches well he might be setting up someone more established before you can say “Leo Nunez.”
17. Brad Boxberger – Rays
- Jim: Boxberger’s fastball is nothing special, but the movement he gets on his changeup is game changing and enables him to record a double-digit K/9 each year. He does have a few issues though, walks being one of them (a BB/9 over 4.0 is never good) and home runs the other. A HR/9 over 1.0 combined with high walks is a dangerous combination as a closer, and with Jake McGee breathing down his neck he’ll need to improve both these things to keep his job.
- Paul: Boxberger makes me nervous; in fact, I almost wish I would have reversed him and McGee (who I ranked #20). Boxberger’s K rate plummeted in the second half, though he still managed 74 K in 63 innings. He also has a propensity to give up the long ball and his walk rate was over 11%. He does have the job though, and he can go stretches being dominant so there is still the chance he outperforms McGee in the long-term.
18. Francisco Rodriguez – Tigers
- Paul: At 33 years old, KRod still has plenty of years left, and if 2015 is any indication, his best may not be behind him. An improved change-up has become Rodriguez’s go-to pitch more often than not, and it rates as one of the best change ups in the game. He can’t blow away hitters anymore, but he’s very much an evolved pitcher who may end up one of baseball’s best all-time closers.
- Will: Walks decreased, ground balls increased, ERA drops .83? K-Rod will be 34 on Opening Day and his velocity has already dropped in the previous three seasons, to where his average fastball was sub-90 last season. Not impossible, but also not super probable that a 34-year old with declining velocity will be a highly effective closer. Pass.
20. Glen Perkins – Twins
- Kevin: He’s not young, and there are some signs of decline, though they could be due to injury bugs. He’s certainly useful as a veteran closer, but he’s not a top-10 guy anymore. Signs of rising FB% and HR/FB, plus a lower K/9, need to be kept in mind. That said, his walk rate is still great, and he’s reached 30 saves for three straight years, with a fourth year likely if healthy.
- Jim: His strikeouts have declined some and he has given up a little more contact the past few years, but he has gotten much better in the walks department (1.60 BB/9 the past 2 seasons). Perkins is a flyball pitcher and could be in trouble if the Twins decide to trade him, but for now he is an acceptable low-end RP2 that will get you 30+ saves.
20. Huston Street – Angels
- Zak: You don’t need me to tell you that Street is injury prone, but when healthy I expect he will be locked into the ninth inning for years to come. He’s only 32 years old, is getting good results for now, and is in a regressive organization that will give him a longer leash than he deserves.
- Ron: He’s the greatest smoke and mirrors closer in the game; when his magic act will end I do not know. I also don’t know why it seems like Street is 38 years old when he’s really just 32. Must be all the little nagging injuries he’s racked up.
Luke Gregerson, Drew Storen, Shawn Tolleson and Jake McGee were each ranked on 2 lists so there is some value here. Carson Smith, Brett Cecil and Sean Doolittle were each ranked on only one list, mostly due to the fact their closing futures are uncertain at this time. While Greg Holland was not ranked by anyone, he makes a perfectly good stash candidate for 2017 – once fully recovered and depending on where he signs of course. If you own a closer that was not mentioned here, odds are his long-term value is limited so you may want to start sizing up replacements.
That wraps up dynasty league rankings. Well, almost. There is one more left, and that is our top 200 list which will be posted in a few weeks. Starting in January Paul Hartman and Andy Germani will begin posting their prospect rankings and the rest of the team will be bringing you our 2016 rankings. Stay Tuned.
Still need more rankings, head on over to Fantasy Rundown where Goose will be compiling rankings for the 2016 season as well as prospect rankings and the best baseball links available this off-season.