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March 6, 2014

Dynasty League Positional Rankings

Top 75 Relief Pitchers

by Bret Sayre

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For the earlier editions in this series, follow the links below:

The Primer:
Because dynasty league rankings are relatively league dependent, I set up parameters for ranking the players below (and the ones who will follow at other positions). The list here presupposes a 16-team standard dynasty format, where there are no contracts/salaries, players can be kept forever and owners have minor league farm systems in which to hoard prospects. So feel free to adjust this as necessary for your individual league, whether it’s moving non-elite prospects without 2014 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or only formats.

Let’s be honest right up front: if there’s anything that can be as fickle as a prospect list, it’s a long-term reliever list. Relievers break out, they break down, they lose roles and that can all happen in a single year. When you look at the position across many years, the task grows fickle as unlike any other position, reliever values are predicated on saves and saves are determined, not by skill but, by manager preferences. And predicting manager preferences three years down the road is, well, kind of pointless. Additionally, this list does not presuppose that your league counts holds—it’s the save’s world and we just occupy it. You’ll also notice that there are a small handful of players on this list who project as potential starting pitchers down the road, but if they would only have been eligible in a RP slot (if your league designates like that) and are not guaranteed a rotation spot in 2014, they will be ranked here and not on the starting pitcher list. The two biggest examples of that are Carlos Martinez and Drew Smyly, so value them accordingly.

And now, your Top 75 relief pitchers in dynasty formats:

No matter how you slice it, this is your top five. These closers are all reasonably young, throw gas and capable of striking out over 100 batters per season. In dynasty leagues, it’s not wise to invest heavily in closers because of the huge turnover, but if you’re going to invest, these five are the safest bets. On top of that, there’s very little risk of any of them moving into the rotation—it’s always going to be a slight, slight concern with Chapman and Rosenthal, but I don’t think it’ll ever happen for either.

  • 6) Carlos Martinez, St Louis Cardinals

This was a big point of contention between me and noted Carlos Martinez fanboy and fellow BP writer Craig Goldstein, but let me clarify a few things. One, I do believe that Martinez can start long term from a talent perspective. Two, I don’t believe he’ll crack the rotation in 2014, despite him being a better option than Joe Kelly. Three, I don’t know what the Cardinals have in store for him long term. The talent is there. Buy accordingly.

Here’s the next group, and it rounds out our top 10 nicely. Robertson should be able to run with the job in New York and be fine, but then again, we all thought that when Mariano Rivera went down in 2012 too. Reed hasn’t been as good at the major league level as we thought when he dominated the minors, but he can be better than this—even in that park.

We’ll just call this group the velocity question marks. Feliz is having trouble getting his trademark heat squared away this spring and could start the season on the disabled list if things don’t improve. Papelbon lost his fastball in 2013, but early reports would lead you to believe that it has a chance to bounce back this year. Romo’s velocity continues to decline, especially in the second half of 2013. There aren’t too many closers out there who throw 87 mph. Then there’s Uehara, who doesn’t fit in that category, but scares me regardless because of the 2013 workload including the playoffs.

Solid guys here. And likely to hold on to their jobs, too.

  • 17) Drew Smyly, Detroit Tigers

It would be a big upset if Smyly didn’t make the Tigers’ rotation, but his stats aren’t likely to look as rosy in the rotation as they did in the pen. He’s a solid back-end guy but unlikely to be more.

More closers. They’re probably going to hold on to jobs if they stay healthy. If they hold on to their jobs, they’ll get saves, which is the end goal of all human life.

In terms of skills, Allen may be a borderline top-10 reliever on this list. Unfortunately, life isn’t fair and John Axford has a manly mustache.

Some of these guys have jobs, but some do not. The ones who do not are close to having one and could potentially see real saves in 2014 if things (read: the guys in front of them) break right (read: down).

These three throw very, very hard. Managers love closers who throw very, very hard.

Let’s be honest, you’re not expecting much out of any of these guys. If you got five saves from any of these players you’d be thrilled and it will have been worth the trouble. But I’ll spare you the pain, in dynasty leagues, they’re not worth the trouble.

  • 75) Mariano Rivera, Free Agent

Because, hey, you never know.

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

12 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


Bret, can you clear up for me the difference between Dynasty leagues and regular keeper leagues? I know that dynasty rosters are bigger and carry a lot more minor leaguers, but I'm not sure how those players factor in. Thanks

Mar 06, 2014 05:11 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Craig Goldstein
BP staff

Generally a dynasty league will keep a vast majority, if not all, of the active roster.

Mar 06, 2014 11:18 AM

Just a small point Gregerson is now in Oakland.

Mar 06, 2014 05:30 AM
rating: 1

As you rate RPs, are you figuring the standard five categories? If so, how would you recommend uprating setup guys in points leagues that count holds?

Mar 06, 2014 07:01 AM
rating: 0

Oh, and Carter Capps is a Marlin, not a Ray.

Mar 06, 2014 07:03 AM
rating: 0

Noticing that Brian Wilson is smack dab in the middle of the mess o' closers tier, can you elaborate on this? Does this say more about Kenley's health/hold on the job, or that Wilson is among the most skilled of the setup guys?

Mar 06, 2014 07:24 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Craig Goldstein
BP staff

As the resident Dodgers fan, Kenley's hold on the job is fine, but my guess is Wilson will pick up some saves as the backup closer and Bret might be betting on him to snag a closers gig going forward. He did recently say he wanted to pitch til he was 50.

Mar 06, 2014 11:16 AM

I think you might move Jake McGee into the group above as a pitcher who throws hard and could pick up saves, especially if Balfour has a problem. In fact, he might belong 2 groups higher.

Mar 06, 2014 07:55 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Craig Goldstein
BP staff

My guess is that this might have happened but for Heath Bell and his closing experience in Tampa (at least for 2014), along with Balfour's fairly hefty (for Tampa) 2 year pact.

Mar 06, 2014 11:17 AM

It looks like Bret doesn't like to speculate saves, which, inline with what Craig discussed with us in comment yesterday, it's understandable.

Maybe it's best for the non-RP thread, but I view setup-could-turn-closer just like prospects. Except they actually contribute to my stats if the league rewards holds. There is def. risk, just like prospects. If you could rank prospect OF ahead of some fulltime OF, I think it only just to have RP fully rank for future too.

This could be just my league, but I'd throw it out there to see the feedback. I have 4 OFs slot, and 4 RP slot to fill. Granted there are three OFs every team, maybe two or less on RP for speculate. It's clear that RP actually could be an market inefficiency, for lack of better word, to know who could get more playing time (capital C closer) and stat, all with the same skill set. Sometimes he doesn't require the "step forward" projection we throw on young OF prospects to get that.

If OFs can be 150 deep, the last paragraph def. need more elaboration. I know it's a lot of factors off the field, manager preference, contract size, arb...etc, however, that 's probably what we need these in-depth dynasty format of analysis fo.

end of rant.

Thanks Bret and the whole BP fantasy team, this is a grand slam what you delivered this preseason. I guess I was complaining about the HR trot.

Mar 06, 2014 08:43 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Craig Goldstein
BP staff

The issue with this is what Bret described above. We're not analyzing skills, but manager preference first and foremost, and that can change in a heartbeat. Remember that Tazawa was going to be the closer in Boston? Except that it ended up being Uehara and he ran with it. Managers ride hot hands in the bullpen more than anything, and beyond that the small sample of innings provides the most variability in projecting out.

Sure we can speculate on a guy like Cody Allen because his skills are tantalizing, but the point is that if it takes him 3 years to take hold of the job a la Kenley Jansen, the odds are you've wasted the roster spot holding onto him when you could have just cycled through any number of relievers.

The difference that non-saves relievers make in fantasy leagues just isn't worth the time it takes to decipher them because by the time you've finished, the situations have changed, at least in my opinion.

I understand that relievers who accrue holds also add value, but a) there are a massive player pool who can contribute meaningfully to holds while the saves player pool is about 40, b) the year to year correlation on holds is very low and c) the correlation is low because it's very dependent on manager tendency, which is subject to change at a moment's notice because it's very in tune with things we're not privy to necessarily such as his confidence in a player, the player's confidence, etc.

Mar 06, 2014 11:15 AM

Thanks for the reply. I think now I understand why a RP ranking for long-term is not favored. But that gives me another idea, maybe more like a discussion thread, that we could all chime in with source (in lieu of whatever non-skill news you may care about when it comes to RP). Everyone has their own opinion, but at least for me I want to see BP fantasy team speak on this subject, hence the request for RP ranking.

I know Bret did postmortem on his ranking, which I respect who he holds himself with accountability. Maybe I just want to read gossip when it comes to RP ranking, a bad analogy would be: RP ranking is like the fantasy baseball version of People magazine. And I don't expect to hold whoever generate RP ranking accountable three years from now. Despite what a fool's errand it may sound, folks who are in dynasty league still try their best on picking RPs. To me, that means a need for RP list, or chat room, or open discussion thread.

Despite the correlation year to year is low for hold, there is value in analysis and research. I know I am speaking for minority of subscribers (perhaps only me feel this way), but when your league is deep enough that roster spot actually is more valuable to the replacement level player in FA pool, you don't want to just pick a random RP and call it a day. In a way I like when Mike Gianella mentioned Ryan Webb on the recent flags fly forever podcast, who is not even a setup man, signed for a two yrs contract, and whose peripheral is not prototypical closer stuff, but close to Jim Johnson who used to close for Orioles. To me, that's valuable information, even if Webb doesn't pan out as closer, I still learned something from absorbing that sound bits. And I won't just harass Mike three years from now if Ryan Webb didn't close a game in Baltimore. You gotta believe BP subscribers are better than that.

Mar 07, 2014 11:24 AM
rating: 0
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