Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings – Roto

Wade Davis

Relief pitcher rankings have always been one of my favorite to compile. Many fantasy experts will tell you that you never overpay for saves, but it’s not quite that simple. You have to remember that at any given point there’s at most 30 players that can be relied upon to get saves and that’s not something you can say about any other roto category.

Sure there are new closers that emerge every season, but if you’re in a competitive league there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be the one who gets them. Similarly, trading for relievers is difficult since teams with an abundance of saves are aware of their scarcity and thus tend to expect too much in return. Now I’m not saying you should go out and draft six closers, and a large margin of victory in the category is actually detrimental, but you have to invest enough to feel comfortable.

Personally, I tend to always grab a pair of guys in the 7-15 range and then one or two more options from the last tier of projected closers. Often, I’ll try to target someone who’s been an elite reliever before, but doesn’t have a track record of saving games. In 12-team leagues and deeper I’m also a big proponent of drafting dominant setup men to help manage your ratios and add strikeouts. Last year Wade Davis and Dellin Betances were the obvious candidates for this role while this season my preference would be either Carter Capps or Andrew Miller.

So with strategy now out of the way, here’s how I would rank the position:

C    1B    2B    SS    3B    OF    SP    RP

Tier 1 (The Elite)

  1. Wade Davis (KC)
  2. Kenley Jansen (LAD)
  3. Craig Kimbrel (BOS)
  4. Aroldis Chapman (NYY)
  5. Jeurys Familia (NYM)
  6. Mark Melancon (PIT)

This top tier represents the perfect combination of talent and opportunity. These are all top-level pitchers who play on contending teams and will receive plenty of save chances. Aside from providing stellar ratios, the top four options in this group should also all have double figure k rates. I’ll acknowledge that Melancon doesn’t really belong in this group based on velocity and overall arm talent, but Pittsburgh’s propensity for close games makes him one the safest bets to deliver a 40 save season.

Tier 2 (The Near Elite)

  1. Ken Giles (HOU)
  2. Trevor Rosenthal (STL)
  3. Zach Britton (BAL)
  4. David Robertson (CWS)
  5. Cody Allen (CLE)
  6. Hector Rondon (CHC)

The drop off to this second tier is rather minimal and I could easily see any of these guys finishing in the top five. The only knock on Giles is his relative lack of experience while Rondon would be ranked even higher if we could ever trust Joe Maddon to stop tinkering with his bullpen on a weekly basis. Rosenthal and Allen can be as dominant as anyone when they’re on, but they both have some control issues that can really damage your WHIP.

Britton doesn’t have a flashy k rate like many of these other guys, but his extreme groundball tendencies make him one of the safest options at the position. Meanwhile Robertson tends to have great peripherals, but is susceptible to giving up a few big innings. All that said I feel comfortable projecting all of the pitcher in this tier for 33-plus saves.

Tier 3 (The Reliable)

  1. Francisco Rodriguez (DET)
  2. Jonathan Papelbon (WAS)
  3. Shawn Tolleson (TEX)
  4. Huston Street (LAA)
  5. Brad Boxberger (TB)
  6. J. Ramos (MIA)
  7. Glen Perkins (MIN)
  8. Santiago Casilla (SF)

Although this tier doesn’t have many elite arms, it includes plenty of dependable options. Boxberger and Ramos are probably the most talented names in this group, but “Krod”, Papelbon and Tolleson are in much better situations. Meanwhile Street, Perkins and Casilla are a couple guys who won’t get anyone excited, yet will still give you 30 saves. Oh and on a totally irrelevant personal note, I won’t draft Papelbon because he’s a total douche and I don’t want him poisoning my fake team.

Tier 4 (The Uncertain)

  1. Sean Doolittle (OAK)
  2. Brad Zeigler (ARZ)
  3. Roberto Osuna (TOR)
  4. Drew Storen (TOR)
  5. Dellin Betances (NYY)
  6. Andrew Miller (NYY)
  7. Jake McGee (COL)

This group consists mostly of quality pitchers with a variety of question marks. Doolittle is coming off a lost season so he’s certainly a difficult guy to project. Still he performed at an elite level in 2014 so assuming he stays healthy I would expect him to be productive player once again. Ziegler is a reliable option, but his incredibly low k rate makes him someone I generally avoid.

Whoever wins the job between Osuna and Storen would be my #13 closer while the loser would likely drop into the next tier. Both Betances and Miller are top five options in terms of talent and will be worth rostering in many leagues even if Chapman remains the closer for the entire season. Similarly, McGee is a pitcher with elite skills who’s likely to be hampered by a lack of save opportunities.

Tier 5 (The Last Resorts)

  1. Steve Cishek (SEA)
  2. Will Smith (MIL)
  3. Arodys Vizcaino (ATL)
  4. J. Hoover (CIN)
  5. David Hernandez (PHI)
  6. Fernando Rodney (SD)

I don’t particularly like any of the players in this group, but they all currently project as closers for their respective teams. Smith and Vizcaino are the most intriguing as both had very good ratios in setup roles last season. Hoover and Hernandez should be passable save options, though they play on two of the worst teams in all of baseball. Lastly, I have no interest in owning a guy who’s constantly on the verge of imploding so I’m staying far away from Fernando Rodney this season.

Tier 6 (The Backups)

  1. Carter Capps (MIA)
  2. Jason Grilli (ATL)
  3. Joaquin Benoit (SEA)
  4. Kevin Quackenbush (SD)
  5. Jeremy Jeffress (MIL)
  6. Jumbo Diaz (CIN)
  7. Luke Gregerson (HOU)

This tier is comprised mainly of decent relievers from teams with messy bullpen situations. While none of these guys are projected to be primary closers, they each have a realistic path to saves via either a platoon or role reassignment. Capps is the obvious standout here, as his performance last year will make him relevant in deeper leagues even if he remains a setup man. That said if he does supplant Ramos he would instantly become a top 12-15 option for me.

Grilli is also worth monitoring given how well he pitched last year and Atlanta’s hesitation to hand Vizcaino the job. Gregerson would be in the top 20 if Giles were to go down, but aside from that none of these other guys have any upside.

And if you’re looking for points rankings, you can find those here

2 Comments

  1. jason williams

    March 1, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    cishek will be top 10 guarunteed. giles overated and will be homeless by october.

    • Damian Dabrowski

      March 1, 2016 at 8:40 pm

      That’s a bold statement. What makes you so down on Giles, or confident in Cishek’s job security for that matter?

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