Welcome to Baseball Prospectus in-season rankings update to our preseason positional tiers article. As we did before Opening Day, players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by a “star” rating. In addition, unlike with the preseason “star” ratings, these lists can also be viewed as a straight ranking.
If you are wondering why a specific player isn’t listed, please note that in many cases players in the one-star tier and players who are not ranked are interchangeable.
The rankings above assume a 15-team, standard 5×5 Roto 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). Position eligibility is based on either 20 games at the position last year or five games this year.
Here are the preseason rankings.
Here’s the schedule:
At this point, there’s no question as to who is the best reliever in baseball. It’s Kenley Jansen, and there’s no sign that this will change at any point soon. He’s in the perfect situation from a fantasy perspective. He strikes out a ton of batters while also keeping them off base; he pitches for a contending team; he throws in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. There isn’t a reliever anyone in their right mind should trade straight-up for Jansen right now.
I was lower than most on Davis coming into the year, mostly due to the injury that caused him to drop off a bit a season ago. Those worries are looking dumb right now, as Davis has been incredible for the Cubs to start the season. He is benefitting from a low BABIP, but that’s always been the case when Davis has been at his best, and the Cubs put a consistently strong defense behind him. After a brief break a year ago, Davis is back with the elite relievers in the game.
Five-Star Trade Target: Craig Kimbrel
Let’s face it, any of these three are going to cost a lot in a trade. That’s why they are alone in the top tier. Kimbrel is the most intriguing, though, for a few reasons. For one, his team hasn’t quite played up to expectations, although the same could be said for Davis, of course. Beyond, that, the rest of Boston’s bullpen is questionable at best, so Kimbrel should be leaned on heavily. The former Brave and Padre also possesses the best strikeout stuff of this group and owners could be wary that the control he’s shown this year might disappear in the blink of an eye. You’ll have to give up a lot to get Kimbrel, but you won’t regret having the resurgent closer on your roster.
Chapman started the season in the five-star tier and has been removed from that tier only based on health. Purely on talent, he’s still a five-star pitcher. However, shoulder injuries are always scary and he hasn’t started throwing from a mound yet. I’m comfortable enough that he’ll return in a few weeks, as mostly the same guy, to put him at the top of this tier, but I can’t in good conscience put him with the three above him.
After a shaky start the 22-year-old Osuna is looking strong. He’s striking out more than ever while inducing whiffs at an elite rate, he’s walking fewer than one batter per nine innings and is inducing more ground balls than ever before. Combine that with the fact that he pitches for a resurgent Blue Jays team, and Osuna is a top-five fantasy reliever.
Like Davis, I was way wrong on Holland coming into this season. Maybe I have a thing against former Royals closers. I was expecting Adam Ottavino to take over in Colorado, but instead Holland has looked like the Holland of old and has been one of the most consistent closers in baseball. I’m still skeptical he can maintain this low of a BABIP in Colorado, but the stuff and command is legit.
Melancon has been one of the few bright spots for the Giants this season, primarily because his control is on another level, with just one walk in 15 1/3 innings of work. He still lacks the elite stuff to put him higher on this list, but he’s a relatively safe option who plays in a good park.
Giles was my guy coming into the year, and while he’s still working on consistency, the stuff is still there with the Astros closer. He’s not someone you want if you’re worried about ERA spikes on your pitching staff, but he’ll give you plenty of strikeouts, and he handles the ninth inning for the best team in baseball.
Four-Star Trade Target: Allen
Allen might be the most under-appreciated closer in all of MLB due to his primary setup man. While he may not be as electric as Andrew Miller, he is remarkably consistent in the ninth inning, and has huge strikeout stuff. He’s prone to blowups occasionally due to lapses in command, so the next time that happens, approach his owner and hope they, too, are blinded by the light that is Andrew Miller to recognize how awesome Cody Allen can be.
Robertson quietly remains one of the most reliable ninth-inning arms in all of baseball, and has gotten over his control issues from a season ago. He’s likely to be traded soon, but I suspect he’ll remain a closer wherever he lands. Diaz lost the closer spot for a minute, but he’s back there, and is too talented to lose that job again. Colomé hasn’t been quite as dominant this year as he was in 2016, but he’s been much better of late while the Rays have started to surge. My biggest concern with Colomé is that he’ll be traded into a setup role, but if Tampa keeps playing like this that won’t be an issue. Oh is another closer who got off to a shaky start but has turned it around of late. His control hasn’t quite come around yet, but the stuff is good enough to keep him in the top 15.
This tier also includes the three elite non-closers. Or, two elite non-closers and one elite closer who probably will be out of that role soon. Miller remains in the conversation for best reliever in the world, although as I said above I’d still take Jansen. Betances is as effective as ever and has been fine since taking over as closer for Chapman. Devenski has emerged this year to be on the same level, and while I have little doubt that his performance is sustainable, he trails because he doesn’t have a long track record.
Britton is, when healthy, much better than this ranking would indicate, of course. Unfortunately, he is still on the shelf with a forearm injury and that is one of the scariest injuries from which a pitcher can suffer. He probably won’t be back until around the All-Star break, and there’s no guarantee he stays healthy for the entire second half. Bush has pitched well since becoming the Rangers closer, but his fly-ball tendencies scare me and his strikeout rate this year has merely been good rather than elite. Reed is a weird case, because he is phenomenal in terms of strikeouts and walks. However, he gives up a ton of fly balls and a lot of them go over the fence, which is not a good thing for closers. I could see him moving far in either direction as the year goes on, so this seems like a good midpoint.
Three-Star Trade Target: Herrera
Herrera has had some rough moments for the Royals, who also aren’t exactly playing up to expectations. His value right now is as low as it’s going to get, and there’s a good chance he starts pitching extremely well again soon. His biggest issue has been the long ball, but his batted-ball profile hasn’t changed dramatically and I’d expect it to be a fluke. On top of that, there are still whispers about him ending up with Washington at some point this year, and closing games for the Nationals obviously would be a huge boost to his value.
Brach has been fine as the Orioles closer, but has only a month or two left with the role. He’s good enough to be rostered after that, and as I said there’s risk that Britton could go down again, but he’s not guaranteed saves for long enough to be ranked higher than this. Iglesias and Glover are two of my favorite closers based on talent (I was admittedly late to the Glover party), but circumstances keep them down here. For Iglesias, it’s a bad team, and for Glover, it’s the probability that the Nationals eventually trade for a proven closer. Neris has proven himself to be very talented, but between playing for a bad team and still being in something of a committee with Joaquin Benoit, he can’t be any higher. I’ve long been a Ramos defender, but his control is scary enough to put him with this group. Johnson has been surprisingly great with Atlanta, and I’m sold on him being close to this on true talent. However, I’m scared of the possibility of him being traded into a setup role. Kintzler is one of the least-exciting closers in baseball, but somehow figures out how to get the job done. Wilson has been fine since becoming Detroit’s closer and should be able to hold the cursed position for the rest of the year.
Two-Star Trade Target: Knebel
Knebel has been extremely impressive all year in Milwaukee and he hasn’t slowed down since taking over the closer role from Neftali Feliz. With the Brewers being surprisingly good this season, their closer actually is a valuable commodity. Knebel hasn’t been in the spotlight yet and still could have lower trade value than he deserves. Take the chance to try and add him and his elite strikeout stuff to your roster.
Watson hasn’t looked like the same guy as he was when he was a consistently solid setup man, but he’s still the closer in Pittsburgh and must be owned. Maurer has suddenly jumped back ahead of Hand on the Padres depth chart, but both will get saves, and are both talented. It’s not an ideal situation for fantasy, but they are worth rostering. The Angels also have an unclear situation so all three of their contenders are in this tier. Bedrosian is listed first as the most talented arm and the most likely to take the job and run with it. Norris will keep the job for the next couple of weeks, at least, as Bedrosian and Street get eased back into action, and if the latter two struggle in that period Norris could keep the job all year. Street could get the first chance at the job when he’s ready, but there’s little reason to believe he can hold onto it. Rodney and Casilla are both primary closers, but neither are very exciting. Rosenthal, Jones and Kahnle aren’t quite in the elite setup-man class for various reasons, but they post strong enough ratios and have enough of a chance of closing games to be worth looking into rostering.
One-Star Trade Target: Kela
Kela was one of my sleepers heading into last season, but that didn’t work out, to say the least. He’s come back this year and, despite a setback because of a team issue that resulted in a quick demotion in April, he’s worked his way up the Rangers depth chart. There’s a chance that Bush’s fly-ball tendencies hurt him for a long-enough stretch that Texas wants to make a change, and Kela would be the logical replacement despite fly-ball tendencies of his own. Even if that doesn’t happen, he has monstrous strikeout stuff that will certainly help on your roster.
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