Way Too Early Rankings: Relief Pitchers

Actually Read This Intro

Today I have a weird thought experiment. You’ll need to pay attention for a moment. Back at the start of November, I secretly began my Way Too Early Rankings with a post about relievers. This article. As I was about to schedule it, friend Eno requested me to post my rankings in order (i.e. C, 1B, etc.), and kindly furnish End of Season rankings first. So this article was mothballed for two months.

What follows is that same article, unedited. I have provided commentary to my commentary in italics. The lesson is pretty simple – relief pitchers can experience rapid shifts in value. Now, let’s return to two months ago…

Holds leagues will eventually have a different rankings list which I’ll furnish much later in the winter. For now, here’s a list of the top closers and would-be closers. Let’s go ten at a time.

Honestly, any combination of the top five should lead to happy results. Chapman and Jansen are free agents, and either relief ace may land in the Bronx. I’m not betting on it at this time. We’ll want to keep an eye on Osuna’s health and Diaz’s role. Assuming nothing changes, they’re top young relievers. There’s a chance the Mariners may want one more look at Diaz in the rotation.

Ranking Miller and Allen eighth and ninth is probably incorrect. I’m assuming a 10-30 save split between the two with Miller’s ratios making up for his lack of saves. I feel like I may be underpricing Miller’s injury risk. With multiple forearm strains, he may be overdue for the surgeon’s knife. Or maybe I’m worrying too much.

What do you want me to say about Melancon? He’s almost boring despite such a long stretch of consistent excellence. He’s also a free agent, although I expect the Nationals to re-sign him. Next 10.

The Yankees blocked Betances again as I halfheartedly predicted, pushing him out of the top 10. He’s still somewhere in the top 20. Melancon gets a small upgrade with the Giants. That might actually put him in the top five. It just depends how much you want to pay for past consistency over future upside. At closer, I tend to discount a lot of what happened in the past.

I’m sure I’ll catch flak for listing Familia 11th after he led the league in saves. The Mets produced the most save opportunities by a wide margin, and their roster should perform comparably next season. After a second consecutive terrible October, Familia might not be on the most stable of ground. He’s not the best reliever in his bullpen either, but we’ll get to that later.

In many ways, I think I’m underselling Thornburg at 13th. I’m probably drafting him eighth for my teams even though I expect him to be closer to the 15th or 20th closer off the board. As of today, he’s the guy I’m waiting to get at a discount. We’ll see how discounted he looks in February.

As a whole, this cohort of relievers should provide value, but I’m certain there will be some shocking reversals of fortune in this group. The Rays are never steady with their closers, Robertson had a bumpy campaign, and Giles is suddenly homer prone. I trust Oh, but it’s hard to completely overlook a lurking Trevor Rosenthal rebound.

Many pundits may list Davis much higher (and Herrera much lower). As you might expect, I’m handicapping just half a season from Davis due to the forearm woes. It’s more likely we’ll get most of a season or none of it. That all or nothing potentiality makes both Royals high risk, high reward assets. I recommend grabbing Herrera and his ratios for half the price of Davis. Next 10.

Little did I know that Familia would run afoul of the domestic violence clause. A penalty has yet to be announced, but he’ll probably miss April (and possibly Spring Training). Reed is so good that Familia may also lose his job while sidelined. Big hit in the rankings to outside the top 20. 

Poor Thornburg is blocked by Kimbrel. Boo. If the Cubs traded Jorge Soler for Davis, I’ll take that as a positive sign about Davis’ health. He’s now back in the top 10 where his statistical production belongs. I’m still  letting other owners draft him. Relatedly, Herrera gets a big value spike into the top 10. 

Here’s where things start to break down. In many cases, we just need more information. I mentioned Familia isn’t the best Mets reliever – that’s Reed. Presently, I’m projecting 12 saves and strong ratios. Watson is blah. Ottavino is good but good god Coors Field. At times, Maurer was a mess. Other times, he looked excellent. He should be the guy on Opening Day, but I doubt he’ll last the year in the role.

Rondon would be much higher if I didn’t think the Cubs will re-sign Chapman or acquire Jansen. He’s the most likely to move up or down by 10 spots.

By all measures, Dyson is a solid closer. However, his ground ball skill set plays even better in a more flexible role. The Rangers have a whole host of traditional one inning relievers. We’ll get to them in a moment.

Who closes in Atlanta, the young guy with injuries or the old guy who came back from the scrap heap? I’m guessing they split the job with 15 saves apiece.

Kintzler works as a closer even though his strikeout rate leaves much to be desired. Whether or not he retains the role probably depends on the older, always injured vet. I may be criminally undervaluing Bedrosian after a breakout season. I expect the Angels to acquire a veteran closer like…

Reed gets a bump into the top 20 with Familia so likely to miss time. Rondon leaves the top 30 behind. I’m now convinced Johnson will take at least two-thirds of the Braves saves which probably pushes him up around number 25. Vizcaino falls out of the top 30. The health reports on Perkins are positive enough that I’m now projecting him to be ready by Opening Day or at least mid-April. Kintzler leaves this article entirely if he isn’t closing.

The 31st-40th Closers
Rank Player
31 Derek Law
32 Glen Perkins
33 Matt Bush
34 Sean Doolittle
35 Jeanmar Gomez
36 Trevor Rosenthal
37 Jonathan Papelbon
38 Huston Street
39 Santiago Casilla
40 Steve Cishek

…Papelbon, Casilla, or Rosenthal. In any event, an Angels offseason without a massive overhaul to the bullpen is a failed offseason. Street’s still hanging around too, although he was a disaster when healthy this year. Don’t forget, he used to be injury prone, and now he’s also old.

Law seems like the obvious in-house candidate to close in San Francisco. They could also re-sign Casilla. Maybe they try Hunter Strickland or Sergio Romo, neither of whom I have ranked at this time. San Fran fits as a trade destination for Rosenthal too.

Perkins is supposed to be recovered in time for at least part of Spring Training. We’ll see if he can recover enough to bump Kintzler back to a roving role.

Bush is my first choice for a Dyson replacement in Texas. The stuff is impressive even if his strikeout numbers leave something to be desired. Perhaps he’s a little too predictable when he falls behind in the count.

I’m not sure what to expect in Oakland. Ryan Madson had a terrible season, but he’s still around. Doolittle will hopefully be healthier in 2017. One thing is certain, Oakland won’t be signing one of the big name free agents.

Gomez is on the way out as the Phillies closer. He may enter the season as the guy, but there’s no way he hangs onto the job for a second consecutive season. He’s by far the worst reliever in the top 40 with the possible exceptions of Street, Kintzler, and Rosenthal.

I missed the seriousness of Cishek’s hip injury. He won’t be ready for Opening Day, giving him no hope to close. Gomez is probably out in Philadelphia. Joaquin Benoit likely has the con. Law and his fellow Giants are now behind Melancon. The Angels bullpen is still a disaster. The health outlook for Cam Bedrosian is better than I anticipated, and there are actually some things to like about Andrew Bailey’s spin rates.

The 41st-52nd Closers
Rank Player
41 Ryan Madson
42 Carter Capps
43 Hector Neris
44 Nate Jones
45 Kyle Barraclough
46 Liam Hendricks
47 Keone Kela
48 Luke Gregerson
49 Will Harris
50 Tony Cingrani
51 Brad Ziegler
52 Fernando Rodney

Here’s the rest of my list – for now. Madson and Hendricks are the other internal options in Oakland. I know a lot of people talk about Ryan Dull, but I just don’t see it.

Capps has top closer potential – as in better than Chapman – if he can return to action, if he can grab hold of a job, and if his stuff and command are still intact. Big if’s for a guy who will start the season on the disabled list.

Neris is one of a dozen hard throwing Phillies relievers. They’re basically all fly ball pitchers in a homer friendly park. Anybody could be closing in Philly next season.

If Robertson keeps flopping, Jones showed enough in his return to health. Similarly, Barraclough has awesome stuff and shady command. He could close if Ramos fails.

In Texas, Kela is an alternative to Dyson and Bush. And if Giles continues to scuffle in Houston, Gregerson and Harris are still hanging around.

Cingrani is terrible at the whole closing thing, Ziegler should remain buried, and I doubt anybody will hire Rodney for the ninth inning. Maybe the Diamondbacks? I didn’t mention them or their free agent “closer” Daniel Hudson.

Rodney got another closer job. Bump him way up despite the inconsistency. He’s like the Chris Carter of closers. A god when hot and soul crushing when cold. The Marlins put a lot of depth next to Ramos who they clearly don’t trust. I get it, he doesn’t have a fastball.

Shawn Kelley is conspicuously missing from the rankings. I just assumed the Nationals would get one of the free agents. Now Kelley looks more and more likely to take the job. I’d hold off on paying to acquire him in keepers/dynasties unless he comes at a discount.

Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen appear to be the first choices for closer in Cincinnati. They used Iglesias very successfully in a multi-inning role which could be a strike against him for becoming closer. Then again, Lorenzen is suited to the same multi-inning dominance. Personally, I think they’re both starting pitchers. 

Corey Knebel looks to be the guy in Milwaukee.

You can follow me on twitter @BaseballATeam

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It seems to me the top 15-20 closers are the best crop we have had to begin the season in years.