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March 5, 2014

Fantasy Three-Year Projections

Relief Pitchers

by Craig Goldstein

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There’s something that needs to be said about three-year RP rankings: They shouldn’t be done. You’re not going to like this list, and I certainly didn’t like doing it. Relievers are far too fungible to project out three years when it comes to saves, which is the all-consuming overlord of reliever production in the majority of fantasy leagues. Speculating for saves has its time and its place, but that place is on the waiver wire and that time is no more than five seconds of your day, in this humble author’s opinion.

For every success story (Kenley Jansen) there is, well… Kenley Jansen. This is the first season he’s entering the year as a closer, despite being dominant for the last three. Think about Tyler Clippard, who “should” have ascended to the role before Rafael Soriano was signed. Then there’s Rex Brothers, who is 2014’s reliever du jour. Everyone and their mother loves Brothers, but the problem is he doesn’t have the closer gig, is left-handed, and the Rockies signed LaTroy Hawkins to split duties at the very least. And y’know what? Hawkins isn’t actually that bad.

This is a long way of saying that if you’re speculating on saves, bet on skills. At least when that pitcher doesn’t get saves, he’ll still be half-decent and you didn’t just waste your FAAB money on Chia-Jen Lo just to see Josh Fields (equally cruddy) get the job instead. Don’t put too much stock into these rankings, because they’re mostly favoring players who have jobs now or have elite skills that could propel them to top-seven status if they do get the job (Cody Allen).

This is making the assumption that Robertson has no issues with the full-time closer role, and if he does, he should join the elite group above. All six should be near the stop of the league in strikeouts, WHIP, and saves.

All of these closers are 32 or under and have at least semi-firm holds on their jobs, to go with reasonable upside. The shakiest in terms of job security is Frieri, but he has the upside to warrant this placement. The rest are solidly in their roles and have been productive in the past. There’s no reason for their teams to replace them, except quite possibly to cash in a trade chip (Glen Perkins).

Veteran closers, come on down! Johnson has the big save totals but is only secure in his role for one season (if that), plus he lacks the strikeout totals. Nathan is going on 39. Papelbon has been good despite his decline. Rodney is leaving one pitchers’ park for another, but more importantly, he’s leaving the tender guidance of Jim Hickey and the Rays coaching staff who originally fixed him. Balfour is entering his age-36 season and heading to Hickey and company for another go-‘round. He should be valuable over the next two years but going beyond his current contract is questionable.

With Allen we encounter the first of the non-closers on this list. He could be working the ninth inning by mid-season, though. The others below him are a mix of potentially elite closers if they get the job mixed with productive veterans who are only signed up for one more season at the moment. Soriano is coming off a massive drop in strikeout rate. Grilli has one elite season and is turning 37 in 2014.

There’s an argument for Street to be included in the grouping above this one, but I think his injury risk pushes him down, which applies to Parnell, too. Henderson has control issues and Axford might not last the season in Cleveland.

A mixed bag of part-time closers (Crain, Qualls, Fields), bad pitchers who have one-year closing gigs (Veras), guys who will be replaced (Hawkins), and then there’s the Soria/Feliz situation. Feliz seems to be the preferred candidate, but it’s not exactly clear how well he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery, as he was recently clocked in the 90-92 mph range compared to his past readings in the upper 90s. Soria, meanwhile, returned to strike out 28 batters in 23 2/3 innings last year. I’ve been ranking him above Feliz all offseason and think he takes the job and doesn’t give it back this season.

Benoit should probably be a full-time closer somewhere, but he signed in San Diego, which means he’ll be the setup man until Huston Street gets injured. This is all but an inevitability, but given Benoit’s own frail nature, we can’t be sure he’ll be healthy and able when that injury occurs. The rest are setup men who have a chance at saves going forward. There are myriad players who fall into this category, but it was arbitrarily cut off at 40 because, really, almost anyone can close if given the opportunity.

Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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