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J.J. Jansons and I are taking turns doing the three-year rankings, and we’ve arrived at the last installment, relief pitchers. In case you missed any of the previous positions, you have some catching up to do:

As I’ve said before, these rankings function best as something like a cross between keeper preferences and dynasty rankings for those whose window of contention is open in the immediate future. Crucially, these rankings are mine alone. They no doubt vary from the opinions of other smart evaluators on this site, and that’s okay. Good, even. This wouldn’t be much fun if we all thought the same thing about every player and couldn’t learn from each other in the cases where we diverge. Here we go:

1. Wade Davis
2. Kenley Jansen
3. Craig Kimbrel
4. Aroldis Chapman

The first three constitute a pretty clear top tier for 2016. Davis offered up a 1.00 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in 2014 then improved on both in 2015 (0.94 ERA, 0.79 WHIP). Jansen struck out 40 percent of all comers last year and trimmed his walk rate to a career low 4.0 percent, leading to a shrunken WHIP (0.78). That bumps him up to the second chair. It’s kind of mind boggling that a 2.58 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 13.2 K/9 represents Kimbrel’s worst season as a major-leaguer. On skills alone, you could make an argument for Chapman as high as the second spot. His 30-game suspension knocks juuuuust enough off his present value to push him down to the bottom of this group.

5. Cody Allen
6. Ken Giles
7. Jeurys Familia
8. Zach Britton
9. David Robertson
10. Trevor Rosenthal

I covered Cody Allen at some length on Monday, so no need to rehash here. I feel somewhat confident that he’s the best of his group but you can take the other five and order them however you please. No matter who you take, you’re getting job stability for a solid club, double-digit K/9, and ability to pitch to elite-level ratios.

11. Hector Rondon
12. Jake McGee
13. Mark Melancon
14. A.J. Ramos

Each member of this group comes with a deficiency that leaves him a half-step behind the tier above. For Rondon, it’s strikeout upside. He’s a hair short of one strikeout per nine innings in each of the past two seasons. Impressive groundball and walk rates will keep his ratios stable and he could save as many as 162 games, depending on how Joe Maddon utilizes his bullpen. Many will probably stay away from McGee because of the move to Coors and the alleged competition from veterans. Neither scares me off enough to discount the elite skills. Melancon has been steady for three seasons and probably deserves to be higher for 2016 alone, but his strikeout numbers dipped considerably in 2015 and he’ll be a free agent this winter. All the talk about Carter Capps this offseason has obscured how good A.J. Ramos was in 2015 and opens the door for a nice value play. He’ll strike out more than any closer below him on this list and his underlying performance was in line with Familia, according to DRA- and cFIP. We’ll have to wait and see if the substantial improvement in his walk rate is real.

15. Andrew Miller
16. Dellin Betances

I’m betting on one or both of these guys to be a full-time closer for part of the three-year window these rankings consider. Even if I’m wrong, the ratio and strikeout boost is enough to justify a top-20 placement. Miller will likely earn a handful of April saves while Chapman sits, which willd help his short-term value. Betances’ position behind the two lefties may seem to impair his value but I like him better there than I would if he was a true eighth inning guy. Betances recorded more than three outs on 26 occasions last year, racking up 84 frames in the process. It’s that volume of elite performance that makes him a top option even if he doesn’t have a path to saves. Approaching that total is more likely as a bridge from the Yankees mediocre rotation to its pair of lights-out southpaws than it would be from a defined position.

17. Roberto Osuna
18. Drew Storen

It’s hard to handicap this situation right now, but the remaining closers are uninspiring enough that I think the reward of a top-12 closer is worth the risk that you end up with a setup man. The spring winner gets to bump up into the top 15 and the loser moves down towards the bottom of this list.

19. Sean Doolittle
20. Brad Boxberger
21. Shawn Tolleson
22. Francisco Rodriguez

This is an aggressive ranking on Doolittle given the injury concerns. As with the Toronto pair above, the potential payoff is a more attractive proposition to me than “safe” veteran options. Between the deterioration in his walk rate and some expected BABIP correction, Boxberger’s WHIP ballooned in 2015. Poor control and a propensity to give up the long ball make him a risky bet, albeit one that can pile up Ks. I prefer Tollseon to the older set even though I don’t completely buy his age-27 breakout and am nervous about the viable alternatives in Arlington if he falters. This might be K-Rod’s last go-‘round. Even so, I have him comfortably ahead of his mid-30s peers.

23. Will Smith
24. Arodys Vizcaino

If it were more clear that Will Smith is going win and keep a ninth inning job, he’d move well up the list. He has tremendous swing-and-miss stuff and advanced metrics fancy him an elite pitcher. Unfortunately, he’s reportedly competing with Jeremy Jeffress for the role and a rebuilding Brewers team has little incentive to keep him around. Vizcaino’s competition for 2016 saves is a 39-year-old whose Achilles went poof seven months ago. I like Vizcaino’s chances. Bump him a few spots if he officially gets the job to open 2016.

25. Huston Street
26. Jonathan Papelbon
27. Glen Perkins
28. Santiago Casilla
29. Brad Ziegler


30. Steve Cishek
31. J.J. Hoover
32. David Hernandez

Fine, I’ll put all the closers on the list. Except Fernando Rodney. You can’t make me.

33. Mychal Givens
34. Carson Smith
35. Darren O’Day
36. Kevin Siegrist
37. Liam Hendriks
38. Pedro Strop
39. Keone Kela
40. Hunter Strickland

For all the talk about the Yankees stable (and rightfully so), the Orioles ‘pen is pretty nasty too. O’Day would be a top-15 option if anything happens to Britton but the bird I’m really crushing on is Givens. He was nasty in a 30-inning sample in 2015 and like Betances, has the ability to amplify his value with innings volume; he threw 87 1/3 across two levels last season. The rest of this crew consists of low-ratio, high-strikeout options with the stuff to close. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to whether they will get an opportunity to prove it. There are several more unlisted names that are essentially interchangeable with this bottom five.

Thank you for reading

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How far up would you move Wil Smith in a holds league?
I haven't gone through the exercise but probably somewhere in the 20-25 range. I like some of the guys at the bottom of this list (and maybe a couple off the list) more than Smith if saves and holds are of equal value.
Mark Melancon is a free agent at the end of the year and the Pirates are disinclined to pay 8 figures for a closer.

Tony Watson is under team control for 2017, but not 2018. After 2017 who knows, but Watson is worth investing in to get 1 great MR year and then a strong chance of 1 good closer year.
Yeah, I made the point about Melancon's free agency in the column. I tend to agree that the Pirates won't pay him to close but (a) who knows and (b) that doesn't mean some other team won't. I do like Watson quite a bit, he was probably the last one off this list.
Any love for Shawn Kelley? I had Capps as my closer and the news he was having pain came 3 days after my draft. So I grabbed Hoover to have an arm who had save potential, but we use SV+HLD. Would Kelley be high on the list for holds? Also considering Jumbo, Trevor May/Alex Meyer, Colome, etc. Any advice appreciated!