Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
Craig Kimbrel is not a bad closer. He's a very good closer. Since 2011, he leads all relievers in saves by a mile, trails only Aroldis Chapman in strikeout rate (K%) and ranks third in ERA (although not behind anyone who has logged as many innings). That'll do. Last season didn't go so well, though. Don't blame the torn meniscus — Kimbrel's ERA improved after he returned from surgery and rehab. But that ERA remained inflated all season, and potentially irreversible trends could be to blame.

Kimbrel walked more than five hitters per nine innings last year. Five! Maybe that one can be chalked up to his injury — he walked almost seven hitters per nine upon returning — but it had hovered above 4.0 BB/9 even prior to his stint on the disabled list. Ironically, Kimbrel threw more first-pitch strikes than ever before, and it's not even close; you'd think that'd portend better control. Yet he threw fewer pitches in the zone than ever before — a stark contrast. Combine that with the fact he kept leaving pitches up in the zone, and it all may be enough evidence to suggest he's losing it a bit. His velocity dipped ever so slightly last year, making me wonder if he reached back a bit extra to maintain his velocity at the expense of control.

If that's true, then something's gotta give. If not — even if all this fretting is for naught — I think I'd rather wait for any of the half-dozen very talented relievers that have followed Kimbrel off draft boards. –Alex Chamberlain

David Robertson, Chicago White Sox
Everyone as a different strategy for how they approach the reliever position in fantasy drafts or auction. Personally, I typically find a tier of three or four from which to choose my top RP, and then fill out the rest of my staff as the draft falls. Shortly after my tier this year (which is Ken Giles, Kelvin Herrera and Alex Colome, for what it’s worth), there is David Robertson. There aren’t many names who have been relevant in fantasy circles for as long as Robertson, who has at least been one of the better set-up men available since 2009.

This year, however, I don’t think the price matches the value he’s going to put up. Part of the issue is the team for which he plays. The White Sox aren’t going to win many games in 2017, meaning there won’t be many save chances. Obviously, Robertson has been a part of many trade rumors, but that worries me too. The Nationals have been the most popular trade destination for the righty, but landing there is no guarantee. There’s a chance someone like the Dodgers could deal for him and put him in a set-up role, severely dinging his fantasy value.

Then, there’s his actual performance on the field. Robertson is about to turn 32 at the start of the regular season, meaning he’s likely on the back nine of his career. He’s not totally done, but we saw some signs of decline last season. He gave back all of his gains in control that he made in 2015, walking 12 percent of his opponents last year. Worse than that, he struck out just 28 percent of his opponents, his lowest rate since 2010. There is some upside for Robertson, which mainly comes into play if he gets dealt to Washington. I’m still going to pass, though. Between the chances of him either staying in Chicago or going to a team that already has a closer and the natural decline in his game, I’d opt for A.J. Ramos in the same range or guys like Adam Ottavino, Dellin Betances, Cam Bedrosian or Shawn Kelley later in the draft.

Francisco Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers
The fact that Francisco Rodriguez has remained a fantasy relevant reliever for most of his 15-year career is a testament to his talent level. In 2016, he accumulated the fifth most saves in baseball (44), and he’s tallied 126 saves over the past three seasons. However, there are several trends that suggest you might want to avoid him in 2017.

Rodriguez’s strikeout rate dropped to a career low 22.1 percent last season. His walk rate climbed to its highest mark since 2012 (8.9 percent), and he posted the third highest ERA of his career (3.24). Both FIP (3.79) and DRA (3.51) validate that ERA. Not only did these numbers move in the wrong direction, but Rodriguez’s fastball velocity dipped to 89.3-mph.

There were other concerning aspects of Rodriguez’s performance in 2016. His numbers moved in the wrong direction from 2015 to 2016, but they also tumbled from the first half to the second half of the season.




First Half

2.93 (3.02)

24.6 percent

8.2 percent

Second Half

3.58 (4.74)

19.5 percent

9.7 percent

Rodriguez’s ability to induce more ground balls over the past three seasons has prolonged his effectiveness. Even so, most of his metrics are clearly trending down. That’s a lot of risk to take on when you could snag another closer within one to two rounds of when you would take K-Rod. —Eric Roseberry

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