We, at Baseball Prospectus, have been talking about closers, potential closers and middlemen for a while now (three days and change to be exact, depending on when you are reading this) 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.
This also requires a little more of an introduction, though we won’t let it get in the way of the comments. This question comes up every year when we do reliever rankings, and the answer still hasn’t changed—these rankings do not care for holds. If you want to know about holds, Eric Roseberry’s column from yesterday is a great resource. These rankings take into account two things, in the age of the reliever—a pitcher’s ability to rack up saves and a pitcher’s ability to return value regardless of saves via a combination of strikeouts and superb ratios. After all, when Andrew Miller is able to be a top-30 pitcher without a single save (he was also a top-15 pitcher with 12 of them), this means we need to adjust just how valuable a middle reliever can be regardless of the categories you use.
Also, this is also position where age and longevity are pretty unimportant, at least in the grand scheme of a dynasty league. Predicting saves a couple of years out is just about impossible for all but the most elite of relievers, and history has taught us this over and over again. So if this looks pretty close to a redraft list at times, that’s because it’s intentionally like that. Among the 10 relievers who saved the most games just 30 months ago were Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, K-Rod and David Robertson. But also among that group were Greg Holland, Huston Street, Steve Cishek and Trevor Rosenthal. Now most of those players are still on this list, but that’s damning with feint praise. Then there were super cool young closers like Hector Rondon, Sean Doolittle, Cody Allen and Jenrry Mejia. At least one of them is still a closer!
In closing (pun about 60 percent intended), don’t think too hard here. Let’s wrap the series in style. Relievers, ahoy!
1) Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
The consistency. The strikeouts. These two form a class of their own in both redraft and dynasty formats and now they’re both locked in to their current teams for a half-decade apiece. While it seems like that’s a better thing for Jansen now, it should be very good for both of them before too long.
A long favorite of mine, Britton has just really good strikeout numbers as opposed to the insane triple-digit numbers—and that’s what keeps him a notch below the first two names here. That said, his strikeout rate held at nearly 30 percent for a second season in a row, which means it’s here to stay.
5) Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
6) Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
7) Seung-hwan Oh, St Louis Cardinals
There’s really very little separation between this group of excellent closers. Melancon has the track record, consistency and the ballpark pushing him to the top of the group. Allen has the best reliever in baseball setting him up, in a variety of ways, but it doesn’t affect his value much for this year and it’s unlikely that situation will still be around once Miller hits free agency. Kimbrel looked shaky at times last season, but his elite strikeout rate has stayed in tact upon moving to the AL, even if his ERA projects to be closer to 3 than to 2. The Final Boss pitches like a veteran closer because he is a veteran closer, and it’s only his age and lack of MLB track record that keeps him from sitting at the top of this tier. Another season like 2016 and he’ll be there.
8) Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians
The aforementioned best reliever in baseball will hit free agency and grab a closer job after the 2018 season. At that point, he will crash the top tier on this list.
13) David Robertson, Chicago White Sox
There’s a lot of talent here, but history says something (or someone) is going to give. Osuna sometimes toes the line being a fly-ball pitcher in a homer-friendly park/division, but limits the free passes enough to not allow it to become his undoing. Davis and Robertson have both seen their best days behind them, but have a lock on the closer jobs in Chicago as long as they remain upright and, in fact, in Chicago. Don’t count on a return to elite status for either. Diaz and Giles are probably names you were expecting to see higher on this list, but neither has reached the point of safety yet. The former Phillie has yet to actually hold the closer role for a full season, and while he was Superman in July, he was still somewhat pedestrian even when he was not being terrible.
We don’t know how long the suspension will be at this point, but we’re pretty confident in saying there will be one and it should be at least similar to Chapman’s from last year. And like Chapman, he’ll be back and closing in New York once that suspension is up.
19) Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
This is at least a fun tier, as far as relievers go. Herrera, Iglesias, Betances, Bedrosian and Watson all have top-10 closer upside if they either: a) get a full-time gig, or b) pitch up to their skill level. Ramos is going to have to pitch well to hold off the four or five names behind him in the Marlins’ bullpen that could take his job, but he’s done that a lot the last 3-4 years. On the other hand, so has K-Rod, who has far less competition in Detroit.
Speaking of little competition, it’s a good thing these three have relatively long leashes. Well, at least Maurer will until the next pitcher comes back.
26) Carter Capps, San Diego Padres
He’s baaaaaaack. And he’s still a baaaaaaaad bet to stay healthy.
27) Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox
29) Greg Holland, Colorado Rockies
30) Addison Reed, New York Mets
33) Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels
36) Kyle Barraclough, Miami Marlins
37) Carl Edwards Jr, Chicago Cubs
38) Jeanmar Gomez, Philadelphia Phillies
39) Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics
Hey, look, it’s a bunch of not-so-great closers with jobs or good relievers with either little or no job security. Jones deserves to be higher on this list, but he’s stuck behind Robertson until the White Sox move him. Kelley also deserves to be higher, but until it’s clear that the Nationals are going to hand him the job to run with, his value is stalled out a bit. Let’s also not forget that he’s never thrown 60 innings in a season. Reed is a better pitcher than Familia right now, and was last year, but it won’t get him the job unless Familia imploded after returning from his inevitable suspension. Barraclough and Neris are gunning for jobs in the NL East, while Street and Holland will fall back on their Proven Closer status to get saves, even if it’s not with their current team.
40) Keone Kela, Texas Rangers
42) David Phelps, Miami Marlins
43) Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs
44) Trevor Rosenthal, St Louis Cardinals
45) Daniel Hudson, Pittsburgh Pirates
46) Matt Bush, Texas Rangers
47) Tyler Thornburg, Boston Red Sox
48) Adam Ottavino, Colorado Rockies
49) Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves
50) Santiago Casilla, Oakland Athletics
And here we have the fun sleeper picks, for the most part. Kela is the best reliever the Rangers have and I think it will bear out this year despite the hideous ERA from 2016. Whether that ends up with him getting saves likely depends more on Dyson than on him. Rondon could be a high-end closer once more if Wade Davis gets hurt. Hudson is a reclamation project in a great place for reclamation projects, and even billing him as that is a bit of an affront as DRA liked him a whole lot more than ERA did last year. Watch out for Casilla in Oakland as well—he’s got the recent closing experience and he wasn’t nearly as bad as you’d think if you polled people in the Bay Area on the street. Though you’d probably also have more pressing questions to ask them than what they think about Santiago Casilla.
51) Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers
52) Drew Storen, Cincinnati Reds
53) Frankie Montas, Oakland Athletics
54) Michael Feliz, Houston Astros
55) Michael Lorenzen, Cincinnati Reds
56) Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
57) Mauricio Cabrera, Atlanta Braves
58) Trevor May, Minnesota Twins
59) Will Harris, Houston Astros
60) Felipe Rivero, Pittsburgh Pirates
61) Joaquin Benoit, Philadelphia Phillies
62) Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles
63) Dillon Tate, New York Yankees
64) Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds
65) Blake Treinen, Washington Nationals
66) Joe Jimenez, Detroit Tigers
67) Carson Smith, Boston Red Sox
68) Hunter Strickland, San Francisco Giants
69) Luke Gregerson, Houston Astros
70) Joe Kelly, Boston Red Sox
71) Brad Ziegler, Miami Marlins
72) Derek Law, San Francisco Giants
If these names all look the same, it’s because they are the same. Everyone has potential. Everyone has performance risk. Everyone has injury risk. Quantity beats quality and situation beats skill.
73) Nick Burdi, Minnesota Twins
74) Zack Burdi, Chicago White Sox
It’s tough to be a reliever prospect. Ben Carsley said it a ton in the Top 10 lists, and I said it a ton in previous years’ versions. Just ask Craig Hansen. Or Casey Weathers. Or Josh Fields. No not THAT Josh Fields. There was a worse one than that. Trust me.
75) Mariano Rivera, Free Agent
As always, just in case.