Previous articles in this series:
- Top 50 Dynasty League Catchers
- Top 50 Dynasty League First Basemen
- Top 50 Dynasty League Second Basemen
- Top 50 Dynasty League Third Basemen
- Top 50 Dynasty League Shortstops
- Top 125 Dynasty League Outfielders, Part 1
- Top 125 Dynasty League Outfielders, Part 2
- Top 175 Dynasty League Starting Pitchers
We, at Baseball Prospectus, have been talking about relievers for far too long now (nearly four days now, depending on when you are reading this, though really any amount of time on relievers feels like too much sometimes) and the party continues to rage on. Yet before we rage, we shall calibrate—since rankings aren’t useful without knowing what you’re reading. The list you are about to read here presupposes a 16-team standard (read: 5×5 roto) dynasty format, in which 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 2016 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or -only formats.
Ranking relievers in a dynasty setting is a weird exercise for a whole host of reasons. First of all, It’s the list that most closely resembles a redraft list—and the biggest reason for that is because there’s always a trapdoor somewhere. Let’s just go back two years (to the first one of these lists I put together here at BP) and look at some of the names that resided in the top-20. What you’ll find is that the studs are often studs, but anyone not nailed down gets blown away. Now keep in mind that these players were all relatively “safe” closers at the time, and the hilarity of what makes a “safe” closer is most of the issue here. From #9-12 you have throwbacks such as Addison Reed, Joe Nathan, Neftali Feliz and Koji Uehara. Also in the top-20: Sergio Romo, Steve Cishek (why oh why do the Mariners do what they do), Ernesto Frieri, Rafael Soriano, Jim Henderson and Grant Balfour.
So what’s the moral of the story? Invest in your studs (to an extent—closers should rarely be top-100 dynasty league players) and just throw darts for the rest, grabbing quantity where you can do deal with the depressing attrition rate. And speaking of studs, let’s start with a bunch of those:
1) Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals
The new top dog, Davis proved himself to be far more machine than man in 2015 and there’s no reason to expect things to be any different going forward. Since moving to the Kansas City bullpen, he has a 0.97 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. Them’s video-game numbers.
2) Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
3) Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
4) Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
The next three names are not very far behind, and are more or less self-explanatory. Kimbrel should be an anchor in Boston, Jansen should continue to do so in Los Angeles, and the only reason why Chapman is behind either of these two is because of the suspension that will keep him out of 30 games this year. Without that, he’s second on this list.
5) Ken Giles, Houston Astros
For any dynasty leaguers freaking out a little because Giles has struggled to start the spring and there are whispers that the Astros are considering leaving last year’s closer, Luke Gregerson, in that role, stop. Please stop. Believe in the talent, not the craziness of spring.
6) Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
7) Jeurys Familia, New York Mets
8) Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
9) David Robertson, Chicago White SoxIf it feels like the safer group of closers (note safer, not safe) is expanding that’s because it is. With high-end relievers like Britton, Allen and Robertson continuing to keep a stranglehold on their closer roles, their value is solidified. Britton may not match the rest of this group in strikeouts, but that doesn’t mean he’s a slouch. His strikeout rate jumped from 2014 to 2015, yet he kept just pounding sinker after sinker at a 90 percent clip, and it may not stay much above a strikeout per inning. Allen and Robertson get the sexier strikeout rates, but each saw a bit of an ERA spike this year. Then there’s Familia who might be the most unhittable looking pitcher in the National League when he’s on. He is real and he is spectacular.
10) Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
11) Trevor Rosenthal, St Louis Cardinals
12) Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs
Whether they are truly warranted or not, these three carry small question marks into the 2016 with them. Melancon saw a significant drop in velocity at the start of 2015, and while it rebounded somewhat, it still ended the year a mile per hour below the previous season. You’d never know it by his performance though. Rosenthal still walks a few too many hitters, but he showed a marked improvement over his 2015 rate. Rondon was great, but with Joe Maddon at the helm, there’s always the risk that he could see save opportunities go elsewhere in that bullpen.
13) Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
14) Jonathan Papelbon, Washington Nationals
15) Francisco Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers
And here is the boring tier, yet even the boring tier has plenty of risk. I like all three of these guys to finish as top-15 closers this year and there’s no reason to think they won’t have a closer job in 2017 as well. That’s enough to place them above the what-could-bes and the maybe-never-wills.
16) Brad Boxberger, Tampa Bay Rays
17) Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
18) Andrew Miller, New York Yankees
19) Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels
20) A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins
21) Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays
22) Shawn Tolleson, Texas Rangers
With Jake McGee out of town, Boxberger just got a whole lot safer, and his strikeout numbers keep fantasy owners from worrying too much about his home run and walk rates (or at least they did in 2014). For someone who’s thought of as an injury risk, Perkins has still saved 30 games each of the last three years. You can also copy and paste that comment for Street. Ramos just got a lot safer with Carter Capps going under the knife—as there’s little competition left for that role. I’m the low man on Tolleson, who had a great year in 2015, but was worked very hard, gave up too many home runs and has some very talented pitchers behind him. Osuna may or may not have the job this year, but he also may or may not be a starter in the future, which would be a boon for his value.
23) Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
This ranking presumes Betances never is a closer. He’s that good of a reliever.
24) Drew Storen, Toronto Blue Jays
25) Jake McGee, Colorado Rockies
Both of these relievers got traded into a better situation, and while McGee has Coors working against him, he has more job security than the right-hander. That said, I think the odds of Storen getting the job this year is close to 70 percent.
26) Greg Holland, Free Agent
There is an incredibly high chance that Holland is closing somewhere in 2017. Can you really say that about anyone behind him on this list?
27) Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles
Yes, the odds are that Bundy’s days as a starter are over. And yes, there are two of perhaps the top-10 relievers in the AL directly ahead of him for saves. And yes, he can’t stay healthy. But, there’s enough of a glimmer of hope still in his profile that he’s worth hanging on to. For now.
28) Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics
29) Brad Ziegler, Arizona Diamondbacks
30) Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves
31) Francellis Montas, Los Angeles Dodgers
32) Jason Grilli, Atlanta Braves
33) Steve Cishek, Seattle Mariners
34) J.J. Hoover, Cincinnati Reds
35) Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers
36) Joaquin Benoit, Seattle Mariners
37) Fernando Rodney, San Diego Padres
So many relievers who may either may have a closer job in 2016 and be bad or relievers could sneak into a closer job and be good. Remember when Doolittle, Grilli, Cishek, and Rodney were reliable closers? That all happened within the last 24 months. Time flies when your UCL is tearing one pitch at a time.
38) Keone Kela, Texas Rangers
39) Will Smith, Milwaukee Brewers
40) Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays
41) David Hernandez, Philadelphia Phillies
42) Carter Capps, Miami Marlins
43) Nick Burdi, Minnesota Twins
44) Yaisel Sierra, Los Angeles Dodgers
45) Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee Brewers
46) Kevin Jepsen, Minnesota Twins
47) Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals
48) Hunter Strickland, San Francisco Giants
49) Jumbo Diaz, Cincinnati Reds
50) Kevin Quackenbush, San Diego Padres
Same as the last tier, we have some “future closers” in Kela, Burdi, Jeffress, and Strickland—though only the Milwaukee right-hander finds himself with a near-term chance for some saves. We also have Smith, who should start the season as the Brewers’ closer, but is left-handed and all but guaranteed to be dealt at the trade deadline to a team that won’t use him as a closer. Sanchez and Duffy might still be starting pitchers, but neither should see saves this year. Then there’s Capps, who prior to his Tommy John surgery this week was hovering around the early 20s on this list. If he could stay healthy, he’d be a top-five closer. And if a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his ass when he hopped.
51) Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds
52) Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
53) Luke Gregerson, Houston Astros
54) Seung-Hwan Oh, St Louis Cardinals
55) Ryan Madson, Oakland Athletics
56) Addison Reed, New York Mets
57) Carson Smith, Boston Red Sox
58) Darren O’Day, Baltimore Orioles
59) Alex Meyer, Minnesota Twins
60) Luis Garcia, Philadelphia Phillies
61) Tyler Clippard, Arizona Diamondbacks
62) Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals
63) Adam Ottavino, Colorado Rockies
64) Brett Cecil, Toronto Blue Jays
65) Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs
66) Brandon Maurer, San Diego Padres
67) Shawn Kelley, Washington Nationals
68) Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
69) Carl Edwards Jr, Chicago Cubs
70) Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics
71) Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
72) Sam Dyson, Texas Rangers
73) Jim Johnson, Atlanta Braves
74) Sam Tuivailala, St Louis Cardinals
75) Mariano Rivera, Free Agent*
Finally, the prestige. How did we get here again? I think I’m going to sit down for a while.
*Just kidding, it's Nick Wittgren. But really, if you’re investing in Nick Wittgren, you might as well own Rivera. Just in case.