When playing typical fantasy baseball, the main thing that fantasy managers typically worry about regarding relievers is one thing: jobs. If a reliever is a closer, he has value. If not, they generally are considered to have very little value except in very deep leagues.
In FanGraphs Points leagues, however, a reliever’s job means a bit less, because saves (worth 5 points apiece) are worth only marginally more than a hold (4 points). With that in mind, I think it’s interesting to take a look at reliever rankings without worrying about jobs. In a sense, what we’re talking about are “true talent” projections for relievers, but still including things like park factors that do matter for fantasy comparisons. If you have an estimate of a pitcher’s true talent, you may be able to find that cheap bargain pitcher who will outperform bad relievers with jobs. And in all likelihood, the best pitchers would be expected to be among the first to take on the closer role once it becomes available.
So, here are reliever rankings, based on averaged, up to date, rest of season projections for ZiPS and THT’s Oliver. Because I play in FanGraphs Points leagues (and similar lwts-style leagues), I’m going to rank the players based on FIP, since that is the core of that scoring system. Here are the top-30:
Of the top 31, 13 are currently closers. And another 7 or 8 have been in that role in the recent past (including some who have already lost the job this year!). Clearly, most teams do put their top (or one of their top) relievers into the role of closer. That’s not surprising. But even so, I think there are a lot of surprises on this list. For example, how many would have guessed that Hong-Chih Kuo would have the best FIP projection…by a considerable margin, no less? And while park factors do come into play, San Diego’s bullpen is just beyond stacked with top-tier talent. Also, you can see why I was pretty confident in Joel Hanrahan when he was given the closer job this spring (and before he had a terrific April…although, what’s going on with his strikeout rate this year?).
I wouldn’t recommend using this as the only determination of how you draft relievers, even in leagues like ottoneu (I sort of tried that this year, and I’m getting killed). The typical closer will still get more save opportunities than setup guys will get hold opportunities, for example, and saves still count for more. But this is a good reference to use when going after non-closers, whether you are prospecting for saves or just going after reliable setup men.
What about the rankings of true closers? Here are the current (and I mean current, so Neftali Feliz is replaced by Darren Oliver) closers for MLB teams:
Not surprisingly, the bottom of the barrel is where you get the most movement and the least amount of job security. Mitchell Boggs has been getting a lot of press as he assumed the job this year, for example, but I wonder whether he’ll keep it for the rest of the year given his weak projection. Oliver and ZiPS do think he was a small upgrade over Ryan Franklin (4.36 projected FIP), though Jason Motte may be the best pitcher of the group (3.62 projected FIP). Also, while the typically awesome Matt Thornton arguably should have gotten a longer audition for the job, Sergio Santos doesn’t look like a half-bad choice for the White Sox gig; he’s right there with Chris Perez in the rankings.
Justin is a lifelong Reds fan, and first played fantasy baseball on Prodigy with a 2400 baud modem. His favorite Excel function is the vlookup(). You can find him on twitter @jinazreds, even though he no longer lives in AZ.