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It’s everyone’s favorite time of year! It’s when we rank fantasy relievers, with the full understanding that approximately one-fourth of closers will lose their jobs prior to the end of the season, so we can look back at this list in October and have a guffaw.

Players at each position are divided into five tiers, represented by a numerical star rating. Five-star players are the studs at their respective position. In general, they are the players that will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they'll fetch auction bids in excess of $20. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be early-round selections, and they are projected to be worth more than $15-20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late round sleepers and roster placeholders. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of last year’s values but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen in 2016.

We retained last year's roster requirements for the positional tier series. Dollar values come from this year’s PFM using a 15-team, standard 5×5 scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). The minimum bid for players is $1, and, as we did last year, we'll allocate $80 of a $260 budget to pitchers. The PFM is customizable, so if your league uses a different format you can adjust it to match your league settings and see how it impacts players’ dollar values.

FIVE STAR

Player

Team

Mixed $

AL/NL $

IP

SV

SO

ERA

WHIP

Wade Davis

KC

$19.23

$28.58

66.0

43

75

2.65

1.17

Kenley Jansen

LAD

$21.00

$28.30

62.0

40

87

2.38

1.02

Craig Kimbrel

BOS

$16.11

$25.09

58.1

39

79

2.96

1.16

The projection systems like Jansen best, and it’s not difficult to understand why this might be the case. His 57 cFIP is essentially identical to that of Clayton Kershaw. That’s undeniably a good thing. Only six pitchers (min. 40 IP) compiled a higher swinging-strike rate (16.6 percent) than Jansen last year, and he cut his walk rate to a minuscule 4.0 percent. He’s everything fantasy owners crave in relievers. The right-hander strikes out a ton of batters, limits free passes, and owns the ninth inning for one of the league’s premier clubs. That’s all good.

Kimbrel is somehow the “forgotten one” among fantasy relievers this year, which is a bit silly, since he redefined what it meant to dominate the ninth inning in the big leagues. Consider this: Of any qualified pitcher in Major League Baseball history, Craig Kimbrel has the lowest career ERA (1.63) ever. But, yeah, he’s only projected to be the third-best fantasy reliever in baseball this year, which primarily symbolizes how stupid-good Davis and Jansen really have been.

Five-Star Value Pick: Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals
Look, the PFM can say whatever it wants, but Davis is on another level. The projection system takes into account his time as a starter. Over the last two years, the 6-foot-5 hurler has a combined 0.97 ERA with an 0.82 WHIP. If we’re trying to put that in perspective, Davis’s 0.94 ERA last year is the 11th-lowest single-season ERA in the history of the game (min. 50 IP). That two-year stretch would still rank inside the top 15 ever. That’ll play.

FOUR STAR

Player

Team

Mixed $

AL/NL $

IP

SV

SO

ERA

WHIP

Aroldis Chapman

NYY

$13.46

$

48.2

33

77

2.57

1.11

Zach Britton

BAL

$12.69

$21.14

62.0

35

62

3.25

1.20

Jeurys Familia

NYM

$13.68

$21.46

60.1

35

63

2.98

1.17

Cody Allen

CLE

$14.05

$21.44

63.2

32

81

2.55

1.20

Ken Giles

HOU

$13.92

$22.47

54.2

37

65

2.96

1.20

Trevor Rosenthal

STL

$13.64

$21.61

62.2

35

75

2.90

1.24

Mark Melancon

PIT

$12.21

$19.83

63.0

33

56

3.13

1.18

David Robertson

CHW

$15.70

$24.22

61.2

37

78

2.96

1.14

Chapman is undoubtedly a five-star arm, but his 30-game suspension puts a dent in his fantasy stock. It’s dehumanizing to discuss how his fantasy value has dropped in a situation like this, though, so it’s best to just leave it at that.

The remainder of this tier is a combination of young guns and some of the most-consistent guys in recent years. Familia, Allen, and Giles all project to be high-end fantasy relievers but don’t have massive track records. Rosenthal, Melancon, Britton, and Robertson all have lost their luster a bit, simply because they’ve been around, but they’re still among the cream of the crop.

Some may be worried about Rosenthal blowing up in July and September last year, perhaps even taking it to be a potential injury red flag; however, the concern seems to be unnecessary on the surface. His strikeout rate actually climbed in the second half. His average fastball velocity in September was 99 mph—tied for the highest of his career. He’s seems fine.

It should also be noted that all of the closers above pitch for teams that project to be above average, or at least have a chance to be above average. That’s important for save chances. It’s also a clear signal that quality contending clubs are fully committed to beefing up their bullpens. Don’t let anyone tell you that teams aren’t copying the Kansas City Royals. Of course they are.

Four-Star Value Pick: David Robertson, Chicago White Sox
Home runs and pedestrian run prevention keep Robertson from flying up this list, but when it comes to striking out batters and limiting walks, he’s among the best. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that his strand rate will jump from 65.7 percent to somewhere near his career average, which is 79.0 percent. That should help bring his ERA down to a more attractive level, and all the other skills are elite.

THREE STAR

Player

Team

Mixed $

AL/NL $

IP

SV

SO

ERA

WHIP

A.J. Ramos

MIA

$7.48

$14.74

67.0

25

76

3.62

1.25

Huston Street

LAA

$9.33

$18.00

60.0

33

51

4.04

1.20

Francisco Rodriguez

DET

$13.13

$22.65

57.2

39

59

3.65

1.20

Jonathan Papelbon

WAS

$9.12

$17.97

58.1

33

51

3.87

1.25

Hector Rondon

CHC

$12.00

$21.21

51.2

38

49

3.48

1.24

Brad Boxberger

TB

$8.84

$15.46

60.1

25

74

3.08

1.22

Sean Doolittle

OAK

$12.04

$19.44

54.1

32

58

3.11

1.11

I’m not a huge fan of K-Rod or Papelbon this year, but the Fantasy Team yelled at me for dinging them too much. They have a point, too, as the two veteran closers are two of the safest options in the middle tiers. Street and, I’d argue, Ramos are also absurdly safe picks to hold the closer’s role for the entire year, especially now that Carter Capps (RIP) appears to be headed for Tommy John surgery. I’m sorry, George.

I got a bit of pushback for putting Doolittle in the three-star tier. The injury concerns exist, to be sure, but his velocity bounced back late in the season, and the upside is an elite fantasy reliever. He’s a season removed from a 1.71 FIP and a 37.7 percent strikeout rate—which is essentially Kenley Jansen or Andrew Miller without the price tag. You’d best believe I’m buying that stock.

Three-Star Value Pick: Brad Boxberger, Tampa Bay Rays
The right-hander saw his command waver last year, which caused his ERA to jump and his strikeout rate to drop. It’s worrisome, as he has a long history of high walk rates, dating back to his days in San Diego. Maybe that will continue. Maybe it won’t. I dunno, man, it’s a 60-inning sample and it’s probably best to acknowledge that we’re all just guessing at this point. But if he regains his 2014 form, he’ll outperform almost everyone in this tier.

TWO STAR

Player

Team

Mixed $

AL/NL $

IP

SV

SO

ERA

WHIP

Shawn Tolleson

TEX

$6.59

$13.71

61.2

25

60

3.74

1.24

Andrew Miller

NYY

$6.22

$8.96

58.1

9

86

2.40

1.02

Dellin Betances

NYY

$3.92

$5.88

63.1

3

93

2.38

1.09

Glen Perkins

MIN

$12.08

$21.18

57.2

37

57

3.54

1.23

Santiago Casilla

SF

$6.74

$13.78

61.0

25

56

3.56

1.25

Jake McGee

COL

$8.13

$14.75

60.2

25

70

3.18

1.25

Roberto Osuna

TOR

$14.20

$22.29

63.0

35

67

2.97

1.16

Drew Storen

TOR

$0.37

$3.20

63.0

5

61

3.54

1.20

Lower-tier closers, high-end non-closers, and one of the most-intriguing closer battles of the 2016 season. Miller and Betances are legitimately two of the best relievers in baseball. It’ll undoubtedly frustrate fantasy owners that they won’t amass high save totals after the month of April, but their penchant for the punchout should allow them to remain in the active roster on a weekly basis. After all, both of them had top-five strikeout rates in Major League Baseball last year.

Roberto Osuna, if he gets the ninth-inning job, is a four-star closer. If the Blue Jays give the gig to Storen, though, there’s a chance that returns to the minors to stretch out as a starter for the 2017 and beyond. Toronto does have Brett Cecil to help Storen close down the later innings, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that Osuna The Starter is a positive long-term project for the club. That’s just a big chance for fantasy owners to take before the club announces a plan.

Two-Star Value Pick: Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Perkins is the elder statesman of the two-star tier and should probably be ranked higher than this, but he’s 33 years old, saw his strikeout rate drop last season and is being drafted outside the top-20 relievers in NFBC drafts. This is where he’s being valued this spring. This seemingly represents an opportunity for value, though, so if you’re someone who prefers stability over upside among your relievers, Perkins is a great choice.

ONE STAR

Player

Team

Mixed $

AL/NL $

IP

SV

SO

ERA

WHIP

Arodys Vizcaino

ATL

$-1.98

$1.81

54.1

6

52

3.85

1.34

Will Smith

MIL

$1.73

$4.34

61.2

5

75

2.86

1.21

Steve Cishek

SEA

$5.94

$13.45

51.1

28

52

3.84

1.32

Brad Ziegler

AZ

$6.09

$15.60

58.1

32

39

4.34

1.35

On some level, it always feels like this tier doesn’t matter when it comes to relievers. It’s filled with guys who either have a very loose hold on the ninth inning or project to be part of a closer-by-committee situation. We see both kinds of relievers amongst the four listed above. Smith is clearly the best option, but Jeremy Jeffress could easily get the closer’s role in Milwaukee and push Smith to a set-up role. Vizcaino might lose the job to Jason Grilli before spring training is done. Cishek was named the closer, but is pretty Not Good and has a competent arm behind him in Benoit. Finally, the Diamondbacks brought in Tyler Clippard for a reason.

One-Star Value Pick: Will Smith, Milwaukee Brewers
Smith finally started utilizing his curveball against right-handed hitters more often last year, and it helped him eliminate much of the platoon split that plagued him in previous seasons. He projects to have as many strikeouts as David Robertson. The opaqueness of his role—even in the summer, if the Brewers look to trade him—keeps his fantasy value more depressed than it probably should be.

Thank you for reading

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jonkk1
3/08
Two-Star Value Pick has Perkins with the NYY.
bretsayre
3/08
Fixed. Thanks!
kvamlnk
3/08
30 guys got stars including 3 NYY.
David Hernandez PHI (someone has to do it in PHI)
JJ Hoover CIN likewise for CIN

Any source of Saves should get a mention...
davinhbrown
3/08
I worry that Ramos may get traded and end up in a setup role. Same with Jeffress or Will Smith.
ssimon
3/08
With Carter Capps out for the season, does AJ Ramos get bumped up into the 4-star tier?
starrdogg
3/08
No Jason Grilli? Worried about injury, performance, opportunities, or what?
wilymo
3/08
based on the arodys comment it seems based on the assumption that arodys currently holds the role over grilli, which last i've seen isn't actually the case. believe it's been stated outright by fredi et al that grilli gets the saves back, presumably in order to boost his value until they can trade him sometime during the summer