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Relievers: the most vexing part of just about any roto roster. They’re mostly on your roster to contribute in one category, and their ability to rack up stats in that category depend on a lot of luck as well as the whims of their manager. Talent and performance aren’t enough to get a guy the closer’s gig, either. These vagaries explain why saves are the most frequently punted category, and why many owners who don’t punt saves refuse to pay for them.

Let’s take a look at the ten most expensive relievers at auction in 2016 in NL-Only leagues:

Table 1: 10 Most Expensive* NL Relief Pitchers, 2016

Rank

Player

$

Price

+/-

1

Kenley Jansen

$30

$20

10

2

Mark Melancon

$26

$18

7

3

Trevor Rosenthal

$3

$18

-15

4

Jeurys Familia

$23

$18

6

5

Hector Rondon

$12

$16

-4

6

Jonathan Papelbon

$6

$15

-9

7

Raisel Iglesias

$12

$14

-2

8

A.J. Ramos

$16

$12

5

9

Jake McGee

$4

$11

-7

10

Santiago Casilla

$14

$10

4

11

Brad Ziegler

$7

$10

-3

12

Arodys Vizcaino

$3

$8

-4

13

Jason Grilli

$0

$7

-7

14

Fernando Rodney

$11

$7

5

15

David Hernandez

$4

$6

-3

Average

$12

$13

-1

*The figures in Table 1 are rounded to the nearest whole number. Please don’t comment on anything you think is an arithmetical error unless you take that into account.

The top two guys, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon, ended up returning more for their owners than they cost. The third guy on the list, Trevor Rosenthal, was the first disaster. A 6.5 BB/9 and a series of injuries cost Rosenthal the closer’s job and a couple of months of stats. Seung Hwan Oh performed very well in the role in Rosenthal’s absence, meaning that Rosenthal is unlikely to be closing games for the Cardinals any time soon. In fact, St. Louis has been talking about giving Rosenthal a shot in the rotation, although a minor back injury may have set him back enough to make that an impossibility for Opening Day.

Raisel Iglesias’ appearance on this list is a bit of a fudge. When the 2016 season started, he was a member of the Reds’ rotation, not their bullpen. A shoulder injury landed him on the DL in May. Once he returned, he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen and ended up being one of only a few reliable parts of a horrendous Cincinnati bullpen, ending the season with a 2.53 and a 1.14 WHIP. The team has committed to Iglesias spending the season in the bullpen, but they haven’t committed to a single closer, leaning towards using some combination of the Cuban, Michael Lorenzen, Drew Storen, and Tony Cingrani.

It seems like every roto owner has a strong memory of Fernando Rodney ruining their season. Most years, though, he just goes out and turns a mild profit thanks to the bad memories those owners have that keep them from going the extra dollar or two on the soon-to-be 40-year-old. Now in Arizona, the veteran righty’s blowup potential is probably a little higher than it was in San Diego or Miami last year, but he should have a firm grip on the role to start the season.

At the bottom of this list, David Hernandez went for a speculative $6 as the presumed closer in Philadelphia. He started the season poorly and ended up losing the closing job to Jeanmar Gomez, who surprisingly held it for most of the season despite mediocre stuff. He’s a great example of the fact that all it takes for a newly minted closer to lose his job is one bad week.

Now let’s take a look at the list of NL relievers ranked by 2016 earnings:

Table 2: Top 10 NL Relief Pitchers, 2016

Rank

Player

$

Price

+/-

1

Kenley Jansen

$30

$20

10

2

Mark Melancon

$26

$18

7

3

Jeurys Familia

$23

$18

6

4

Seung Oh

$22

$1

21

5

Tyler Thornburg

$19

6

A.J. Ramos

$16

$12

5

7

Addison Reed

$15

$1

14

8

Santiago Casilla

$14

$10

4

9

Joe Blanton

$14

10

Shawn Kelley

$13

$1

12

11

Hector Neris

$13

12

Brad Hand

$13

13

Jeremy Jeffress

$12

$3

9

14

Jim Johnson

$12

15

Raisel Iglesias

$12

$14

-2

Average

$22

$19

2

*The figures in Table 2 are rounded to the nearest whole number. In addition, players who were not purchased at auction were not included in the averages for the Price and +/- columns. Please don’t comment on anything you think is an arithmetical error unless you take those factors into account.

This table illustrates the variability of relief pitchers in roto. Five of the top 15 relievers in terms of earnings weren’t purchased during the auction in expert NL-only leagues. That isn’t because experts don’t know what they’re doing, it’s because of the variability and lack of predictability at the position. It’s also why punting saves on auction day doesn’t necessarily mean punting saves for the season. Saves will show up in the free agent pool during the season.

Here are a few lower tier bullpen options in NL-only leagues that are worth investigating as long as they stay inexpensive.

Will Smith – Giants (2016 NL-only earnings: $5)

He was expected to split closing duties with Jeremy Jeffress in Milwaukee going into the 2016 season, but he injured his knee towards the end of Spring Training while taking off his shoe in the locker room and didn’t end up making his season debut until June. He ended up getting traded to the Giants at the deadline and will start the season there. He won’t have a shot at saves with San Francisco’s offseason signing of Mark Melancon, but he should be able to provide what he usually does: tons of strikeouts and a few too many walks.

Adam Ottavino – Rockies ($7)
Rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Adam Ottavino made his season debut in July. He wasn’t expected to have much of a shot at the closer’s role after the Rockies traded for Jake McGee in the offseason, but the former Ray’s injury issues and poor performance opened the door for the 31-year-old. He’s the clear frontrunner for the closing job coming out of camp this year, a job which he should be able to keep via his high strikeout rates and low walk rates. The fact that he only had seven saves last year and only threw 27 innings could keep his price relatively low on auction day, as could the bias against Colorado pitchers.

Kevin Siegrist – Cardinals ($11)
He won’t get more than 3-5 saves, but Kevin Siegrist provides plenty of value in NL-only leagues via his stellar strikeout rate, his ERA and his WHIP. These are the kinds of guys that can be difference makers in the endgame of an auction: non-closing relievers with the potential for double-digit earnings despite the lack of saves. Siegrist has been productive along these lines in three of the last four seasons, making him one of the more consistent relievers of this type, but you definitely shouldn’t pay anything more than $2 – $3 for guys like this given their fungibility and variance.

Ryan Buchter – Padres ($10)
An old rookie at 29 last year, Ryan Buchter made quite an impression with the Padres. He posted a 2.86 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP with three wins, one save, 78 strikeouts and 31 walks in 63 innings. He has four pitches, but he throws his 93 MPH fourseam fastball nearly 84 percent of the time. He’s not first in line for saves in San Diego and the fact that he’s a lefty probably hurts his chances for saves slightly, but the absence of an established Padres closer means that it’s not too hard to imagine Buchter getting saves this year if he performs the way he did last year.

Carl Edwards Jr. – Cubs ($6)
Joining the big league club midseason, Carl Edwards Jr. quickly became one of Joe Maddon’s most trusted arms out of the bullpen. He put up a 3.75 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP in 36 innings with 52 strikeouts and 14 walks, good for $6 in earnings for half a season’s work. He won’t be closing after the Cubs traded for Wade Davis in the offseason, but he could be in line for a higher leverage role in 2017, similar to the one he filled for the Cubs throughout the playoffs.

Grant Dayton – Dodgers ($5)
Like Ryan Buchter, Grant Dayton is a lefty who was an old rookie last year who throws a 93 MPH fastball the vast majority of the time. He also posted a 2.05 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP with 39 strikeouts and only six walks in 26 1/3 innings. He won’t be in line for saves with Kenley Jansen firmly entrenched in that role, but Dayton should provide good endgame value via the strikeout, ERA and WHIP categories.

Shawn Kelley – Nationals ($13)
I can’t entirely explain why, but I don’t think Shawn Kelley will end up getting most of the saves in Washington this year, regardless of how roles are defined when the Nationals break camp. He’ll still strike out tons of guys and put up good rate stats, though. For a lot more of my thoughts on Kelley, check out this fantasy profile of him that I wrote earlier this week.

Hector Neris – Phillies ($13)
I wrote about Hector Neris as a fantasy player to target in this BP feature earlier this week. I haven’t changed my mind about him since that piece was posted. He’s a better pitcher than Jeanmar Gomez, the guy in the closer’s role in Philadelphia. Even if he doesn’t supplant Gomez and start racking up saves, he’ll strike out tons of guys and put up good rate stats. And he’ll probably supplant Gomez. I mean, come on. He just has to.