2018 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Relief Pitchers
Everyone seems to have a different approach to drafting closers for their fantasy team. Some like to grab the elite studs at the top, while other punt saves altogether to stock up on starting pitchers. I don’t advise punting any category, so as irritating as they are to own at times, closers and select middle relievers are valuable commodities.
I know, it makes you want to pull your hair out when they allow five ER in 0.1 innings. We’ve all been there. But if you attack it right, you can end up with a solid core of closers that can help you out in more categories than just saves. Don’t forget middle relievers, too. They might not contribute more than a handful of saves, but their ratios and strikeouts can still provide plenty of fantasy value.
*PLAYER NOTES/ANALYSIS CAN BE FOUND BELOW THE RANKINGS TABLE.
Relief Pitcher Player Notes
1. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
There hasn’t been a more consistently dominant closer over the last six seasons than Kenley Jansen. Over his 474 career appearances, Jansen has a 2.08 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, and 14.0 K/9. Just when you thought it wasn’t possible for him to get any better, he did. Jansen raised his strikeout rate, lowered his walk rate, and upped his strand rate to a ridiculous 91.3%. There are plenty of dominant closers in the Major Leagues, but none quite as dominant as Jansen.
2. Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
If anyone can challenge Jansen for the top spot, it’s Craig Kimbrel. His first year in Boston was tumultuous due to a 3.40 ERA and 5.1 BB/9, but 2017 was a whole different animal. Kimbrel lowered his walk rate to 1.8 and the ERA followed suit, dropping nearly two full runs down to 1.43. Furthermore, his 16.4 K/9 and 49.6 K% easily led the Major Leagues. There’s a chance his control regresses back to what we have come accustomed to seeing from Kimbrel, but if he keeps locating his fastball and filthy curveball, he could finish 2018 as the overall RP1.
Craig Kimbrel's wicked Knuckle-Curveball movement pic.twitter.com/nhoVnIXmbk
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) September 19, 2017
3. Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
When he’s on, Chapman is just as good as the two men ranked above him. We all know the deal with Chapman. He combines a triple-digit heater with a wipeout power slider, and every now and then will mix in a high-80s change-up. That heater, which has been his go-to pitch in his career, was a little more hittable last season, leading to Chapman’s ERA rising to 3.22. On top of that, his strikeout rate has dropped in three straight seasons, though, a 12.3 K/9 is nothing to scoff at. Chapman is still an elite reliever, but he’s lost a step over the last two seasons.
4. Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers
If Knebel can better his control, he could very easily join the top tier at this position. Last season, he posted a 1.78 ERA and 14.9 K/9 while recording 39 saves. Unfortunately, his 4.1 career BB/9 has led to a 1.26 career WHIP, which is a tad higher than you’d like from your top closer. Knebel could challenge for the role of best fantasy reliever this season, but that lackluster control makes him slightly riskier than the three men above him.
5. Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays
This is the first noticeable drop in these rankings. The four men before Osuna should be the first four relievers drafted, hands down. That’s not to say Osuna isn’t a great closer, because he is, but the upside just isn’t as high. The 23-year-old Mexico native had a 3.38 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 11.7 K/9 with 39 saves last season. His 39 saves ranked 2nd in the AL, only behind Alex Colome of the Rays. A 1.74 FIP in 2017 signals a lower ERA in 2018 could be on the horizon this season for Osuna.
6. Felipe Rivero, Pittsburgh Pirates
In the midst of a disappointing season in Pittsburgh, Rivero emerged as a bright spot for the Pirates. Rivero inherited the closer’s role from Tony Watson mid-season and never looked back. He finished with a 1.67 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, and 21 saves. His dynamic four-pitch arsenal should allow him to approach top-five RP status during his first full season as a closer in 2018.
7. Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
Like Osuna above, Diaz ascended to the closer’s role quickly and has thrived in the role thus far. He’s racked up 52 saves in a year and a half of closing with a 3.06 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 13.5 K/9. If he can keep his control in check, Diaz should have another productive season as a top-10 closer.
8. Ken Giles, Houston Astros
After a tumultuous 2016, Giles got back on track in 2017, lowering his ERA nearly two full runs from 4.11 to 2.30. Unfortunately, a K/9 drop from 14.0 to 11.9 came with it, but I can’t imagine fantasy owners were complaining. Giles will again be closing games for the defending champs and one of the best teams in the Major Leagues. Pencil him in for 30+ saves, low ratios, and a bunch of strikeouts.
9. Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Allen often gets underappreciated in fantasy circles, but all he does is churn out one productive season after another. In his five full seasons, Allen has never had an ERA above 2.99 or a K/9 lower than 11.3. He’s one of the safest and most consistent closers around and is a fine selection around pick 100. Don’t overlook him on draft day.
10. Brad Hand, San Diego Padres
Ever since arriving in San Diego, Hand has been one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball. As a Padre, he’s combined for a 2.56 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 12.0 K/9 in 168.2 innings pitched. Hand was one of the most popular waiver wire pitching additions last season after he took over at closer when Brandon Maurer was dealt to Kansas City. The two men saved a combined 41 games on a bad Padres team. Now the full-time closer, Hand could very easily eclipse 40 saves on a much-improved San Diego squad. He’s been a player I’ve been targeting heavily after pick 100 in drafts.
11. Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
He might not have been able to make it as a starter, but Iglesias has turned into a solid closer for the Reds. In 2017, Iglesias saved 28 games with a 2.49 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 10.9 K/9. He ditched his sinker and started throwing his four-seamer more frequently, which raised his average fastball velocity up to 96.4 MPH. That seemed to be the right move, as his four-seamer proved to be a more valuable offering for him and his K/9 rose from 9.5 to 10.9 as a result. With his new approach, opposing batters were only able to make hard contact 24.4% of the time, which ranked 9th in the Major Leagues. The Reds could push 100 losses this season, but Iglesias should still be able to approach 30 saves with good ratios.
12. Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
There’s top-10 RP upside here, but unfortunately, Doolittle has had a tough time staying on the field enough to prove it. He’s averaged just 36 appearances and 35.1 innings per season over the last three seasons. Those durability concerns will cause him to slide a bit in drafts, but make no mistake, Doolittle has the talent to finish the season as a top-10 RP. Closing games for the Nationals doesn’t hurt, either.
13. Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
This might seem a tad high, but Neris warrants this type of love on draft day. He took over as the closer in Philadelphia last season and saved 26 games with a 3.01 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 10.4 K/9. His 16.6% swinging strike rate ranked 7th in the Major Leagues last season, ahead of names like Giles, Miller, Diaz, and Rivero. The one thing holding Neris back is the longball. If he can keep the ball in the park more, Neris could far exceed his current 165 ADP.
14. Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Welcome to the Rockies closer carousel, Mr. Davis. Saying that Colorado has had struggles in this spot is rather obvious. Just look at the stats of the last four men to lead the Rockies in saves:
No ERA lower than 3.31 or WHIP lower than 1.15. Outside of Holland’s 41 saves last season, you have to go back to Rafael Betancourt in 2012 for the last time a Colorado closer reached the 30-save mark. That’s not to say Davis can’t succeed in the role, but he’s a risky selection as your top closer.
15. Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves
With Jim Johnson out of the picture, Vizcaino is once again the full-time closer in Atlanta. This two seasons after posting a 6.1 BB/9 and losing the role to Jim Johnson. You never quite know what you’re going to get with Vizcaino. His ERA in the last three seasons has fluctuated from 1.60 to 4.42 to 2.83 last season. If he can keep his control in check, he has top-10 RP upside, but there’s certainly risk here.
16. Jeurys Familia, New York Mets
You can say that 2017 didn’t go quite as planned for Familia. He started with a 15-game suspension stemming from domestic violence accusations, and then he missed three and a half months recovering surgery to fix an arterial blood clot. And when he was on the field, he wasn’t his usual effective self, posting a 4.38 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and just six saves. However, don’t forget that this is the same man who had three sub-2.55 ERA seasons from 2014-2016 and combined for 94 saves in 2015 and 2016. The Mets plan to mix and match in the ninth inning this season, but Familia still figures to lead the way.
17. Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Regardless of how many games he saves this season, Bradley needs to be owned in all formats. In his first season as a reliever, Bradley dominated to the tune of a 1.73 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 9.7 K/9. I think it’s safe to say his days as a starter are numbered, at least for now. Bradley will factor into the mix for saves with newcomer Brad Boxberger, but he is the better pitcher of the two and figures to lead the Diamondbacks in saves in 2018. If he’s named the closer before the season, bump him up a few spots in drafts.
18. Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays
There aren’t many core members of this Rays team left after an off-season of wheeling and dealing. Colome is one of the unlucky few remaining on a team that figures to push 100 losses this season. That doesn’t bode well for last season’s American league saves leader. You can kiss 47 saves goodbye. That, plus his lower strikeout rate (7.8 K/9 in 2017), drops Colome out of the RP1 discussion this season.
19. Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians
Man, is this guy good or what? You’ll have a difficult time finding a better left-handed reliever over the last several seasons than Andrew Miller. Over the last four seasons, Miller has a 1.72 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and a 14.5 K/9. Need I say more? Even without a high saves total, Miller is a fantasy asset due to those low ratios and elite strikeout potential.
Andrew Miller, Nasty 83mph Slider Movement (home plate view). ? pic.twitter.com/DfXvxanqW6
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 12, 2017
20. Mark Melancon, San Francisco Giants
Before last season’s 4.50 ERA, Melancon had four straight seasons of a sub-2.25 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP. Furthermore, his 98 saves in 2015-2016 were the most in the Major Leagues. The reason for the higher ERA was that his go-to pitch, a cutter, was a far more hittable and less valuable offering for him last season. It remains to be seen if he can correct that and get his ERA back down around 2.00, but his hefty contract will likely keep him in the closer’s role unless he’s a total train wreck, which means 30+ saves on an improving Giants squad.
21. Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics
Treinen was a completely different pitcher after a mid-season trade to the Athletics. In 35 appearances with Oakland, he recorded a 2.13 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 9.9 K/9. He’ll start the season as Oakland’s closer and doesn’t really have much competition for the job.
22. Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles
Brach figures to get the lion’s share of the save chances while Britton is on the shelf. And with Britton not due back until near August, Brach could rack up 20+ saves before potentially relinquishing the role. Don’t let Britton’s mid-season return scare you away from drafting Brach, either. There’s no guarantee Britton returns at all or is even effective if he does return. Brach makes for a fine selection as a back-end RP2.
23. Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals
After years in middle relief for the Royals, Herrera has ascended to the closer’s role and will start 2018 in that same spot. Herrera has an electric fastball that he compliments with an upper-80s slider and changeup. The Royals likely won’t win many games, so don’t expect more than 30 saves or so, but Herrera is usually good for an ERA around 3.00 and a K/9 near or above 9.0.
24. Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
The door hasn’t been closed on Hader as a starter, but for now, he’s sticking in the pen as a reliever and a damn good one at that. Hader finished 2017 with a 2.08 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 12.8 K/9. His fastball-slider-changeup combination racks up plenty of strikeouts, and he could get some save ops if Knebel is forced to miss any time this season.
25. Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs
The narrative on Morrow has remained constant throughout his career. He had solid potential, but he has a hard time staying healthy. Last season was no different. Morrow posted a 2.06 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 10.3 K/9, but made only 45 appearances. If Morrow lands on the DL again this season, he might not get the job back, as Carl Edwards is right behind him licking his chops.
26. Greg Holland, Free Agent
Okay, I’m a tad worried that Holland won’t find a home before the season. It’s shocking that a reliever that has 30+ saves in four-straight seasons and 40+ saves in three of those seasons can’t find a job. This ranking is going off the assumption that he finds a job here fairly quickly, as there as still several uncertain bullpen situations around the Majors.
27. Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
Do we even want Betances to close anymore? He’s proven time and time again that he’s best suited in a set-up role. He has a 3.82 ERA in the ninth inning as opposed to a 2.08 in the seventh and 1.82 in the eighth. Even if he doesn’t save one game this season, Betances is one of those elite middle reliever that needs to be owned in all leagues for his strong ratios and dominant strikeout numbers.
28. Chris Devenski, Houston Astros
In his two seasons in the Major Leagues, all Devenski has done is develop into one of the best relievers in baseball. He finished 2017 with a 2.68 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and a 11.2 K/9. His 17.1% swinging strike rate was the third-highest in the Majors last season for pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched, trailing only Kimbrel and Jansen. Devenski needs to be owned in all formats and would become a borderline top-10 RP if anything were to happen to Giles.
29. Blake Parker, Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have three candidates to close to start the season, with Parker being the best of the bunch. He’s had a disastrous spring so far (17.47 ERA in 5.2 IP), but he still is the top choice to lead the Angels in saves this season. Parker had the best season of his career last season with a 2.54 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, and 11.5 K/9. There’s top-20 RP upside here if he can keep his control in check.
30. Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers
Listen up, kids, if you don’t make it as a starting pitcher, try the bullpen. Greene stunk as a starter but has transformed into a solid reliever last season for the Tigers with a 2.66 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and a 9.7 K/9. All of which were career-bests for the 29-year-old Greene. He’s expected to open the season as the closer in Detroit.
31. Addison Reed, Minnesota Twins
He might not be the closer quite yet, but Reed is my pick to lead the Twins in saves this season. Fernando Rodney is bound to implode at some point, and when he does, Reed has the arsenal and experience to thrive in the role.
32. Carl Edwards, Chicago Cubs
Edwards is one of my favorite non-closer relief pitcher target this season. Why? I don’t trust Brandon Morrow to stay healthy. Edwards should sneak in 5-10 saves this season and has the stuff to be a top-15 RP if Morrow goes down.
33. Kyle Barraclough, Miami Marlins
Sorry, Brad Zieger, I have zero confidence that you’re going to be the closer the entire season. And in fantasy, who wants a 4.79 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, and 5.0 K/9 on their roster? Barraclough has an arsenal much better suited for both the closer’s role and fantasy relevance. Over his three seasons with the Marlins, Barraclough has a 2.87 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 12.1 K/9. It shouldn’t be long before he takes over for Ziegler and runs away with the role.
34. Fernando Rodney, Minnesota Twins
He might be listed as the Twins closer, but Rodney isn’t the type that instills a ton of confidence in his fantasy owners. If it weren’t for a ridiculously good 28-appearance stretch where he allowed just one earned run, Rodney would’ve had an ERA above 4.00 in three straight seasons. He’ll be good for some saves, as he is every season, but Reed is right on his heels ready to take over if/when Rodney begins imploding.
35. Joakim Soria, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox haven’t named their closer, but Soria figures to get the first crack due to his closing experience. Soria registered a 3.70 ERA last season, which was a tad inflated as his FIP was just 2.23. He also recorded his highest K/9 (10.3) since 2014. Expect him to add another 25+ saves to his career total of 204 this season.
36. Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
After being nearly unhittable with a 0.54 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 2016, Britton struggled last season, both with health and performance. Those health problems carry over into the 2018 season, as Britton will be out until mid-season after rupturing his Achilles tendon back in December. He’s risky, no doubt about it, but also makes for an intriguing DL stash.
37. Brad Boxberger, Arizona Diamondbacks
The other half of the closing duo in the desert does have a 40+ save season under his belt, but has also made only 57 appearances over the last two seasons. If Boxberger can stay healthy, he should end up with 15-20 saves and a high strikeout rate.
38. Alex Claudio, Texas Rangers
The Rangers bullpen is an absolute mess. As of now, Claudio seems to be the leader in the clubhouse for save ops to start the season. Expect solid ratios with a vastly underwhelming strikeout rate.
39. Luke Gregerson, St. Louis Cardinals
Gregerson is dealing with some oblique tightness that could land him on the shelf to start the season. In his absence, Dominic Leone makes for a solid short-term saves addition.
40. Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles
Brach figures to get most of the save chances while Britton is out. However, don’t be surprised if Givens vultures 5-10 saves to go along with a sub-3.00 ERA and 10+ K/9.
Thank you for reading and I hope you can use this article to your advantage. Got a question that I didn’t cover here? Then follow me on Twitter @EricCross04 and ask there.