2019 Relief Pitcher Rankings
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2019 Relief Pitcher Rankings
RANK PITCHER TEAM
1 Edwin Diaz New York Mets
2 Blake Treinen Oakland Athletics
3 Craig Kimbrel Free Agent
4 Aroldis Chapman New York Yankees
5 Kenley Jansen Los Angeles Dodgers
6 Sean Doolittle Washington Nationals
7 Roberto Osuna Houston Astros
8 Brad Hand Cleveland Indians
9 Felipe Vazquez Pittsburgh Pirates
10 Corey Knebel Milwaukee Brewers
11 Josh Hader Milwaukee Brewers
12 Raisel Iglesias Cincinnati Reds
13 Kirby Yates San Diego Padres
14 Jose Alvarado Tampa Bay Rays
15 Will Smith San Francisco Giants
16 Jose Leclerc Texas Rangers
17 David Robertson Philadelphia Phillies
18 Wade Davis Colorado Rockies
19 Ken Giles Toronto Blue Jays
20 Cody Allen Cleveland Indians
21 Mychal Givens Baltimore Orioles
22 Drew Steckenrider Miami Marlins
23 Dellin Betances New York Yankees
24 Ryan Pressly Houston Astros
25 Jeremy Jeffress Milwaukee Brewers
26 Seranthony Dominguez Philadelphia Phillies
27 Matt Barnes Boston Red Sox
28 Trevor May Minnesota Twins
29 Pedro Strop Chicago Cubs
30 Andrew Miller St. Louis Cardinals
31 Alex Colome Chicago White Sox
32 Arodys Vizcaino Atlanta Braves
33 Jordan Hicks St. Louis Cardinals
34 Brandon Morrow Chicago Cubs
35 Greg Holland Arizona Diamondbacks
36 Brad Boxberger Kansas City Royals
37 Hunter Strickland Seattle Mariners
38 Joe Jimenez Detroit Tigers
39 Shane Greene Detroit Tigers
40 Chad Green New York Yankees
TIER ONE: Steak Sauce
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
If you draft Edwin Diaz, you are essentially paying for 2018. That is not necessarily a bad thing, because there is not a whole lot to suggest that last year was a fluke. His 1.96 ERA is fully supported by a 2.01 xERA, 1.49 SIERA, 1.61 FIP, and 1.78 xFIP. He excelled at getting ahead of hitters last year. He threw a first-pitch strike to 75 percent of hitters last year. Once he was ahead, he was almost unhittable. He struck out 54.3 of hitters who fell behind 0-1. The problem is that his ADP will be hard to “beat”. In addition to the outstanding peripherals, you are also essentially paying for the 57 saves Diaz had last year. That number is highly likely to dip and dip significantly. Still, it’s hard to argue against Diaz as the universal top reliever in 2019 drafts.
Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics
Blake Treinen was last year’s greatest value at the position. Most of us did not trust the gains he had made following a 2017 midseason trade to Oakland, but he kept progressing and was a top-tier closer last season. The key was incorporating a devastating cutter into his repertoire. He used it sparingly during the first half of the year, throwing it just 3.44 percent of the time through the end of June, according to Brooks Baseball. That number jumped to 9.05 during July and rose to 26.3 percent throughout the rest of the year. Combined with his elite sinker, this combination vaulted Treinen among the elite. The nine wins and 0.78 ERA will not repeat, of course. But Treinen is a top-notch option who should continue to dominate this season.
TIER TWO: Solid RP1 Options
Craig Kimbrel, Free Agent
It is crazy that Spring Training is about to begin and players like Craig Kimbrel (along with some others you may have heard of) remain unsigned. Despite the uncertainty, Kimbrel is still going third in drafts among relief pitchers, which is where I have him slotted. Kimbrel still has elite swinging strike rates, but there is a little cause for concern. His control reverted back to pre-2017 levels, and he lost over a mile per hour on his fastball. I also wonder why Boston would not make re-signing Kimbrel a priority given the uncertainty at the back end of their bullpen. Perhaps they are smartly waiting this situation out, as they did with J.D. Martinez a year ago. Kimbrel should land somewhere shortly and have a firm grip on a closer’s role no matter where he ends up.
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Aroldis Chapman finished 2018 with the second-highest fastball velocity according to Fangraphs. It was the first time in his career that he failed to hold the top spot in that category. Chapman also struggled with injuries during 2018. He labored through a knee injury which took him out for a month late in the regular season. Optimistic Chapman owners would suggest that his struggles (including an ugly 14.2 percent walk rate) were injury-related. Perhaps that is the case, though his 11.6 career rate is not exactly stellar. Chapman does have a good team behind him and an excellent bridge that can potentially create more save opportunities. He is not without his warts, but 30-save/100 strikeout seasons do not grow on trees, and Chapman is a pretty safe bet for both with a full season of good health.
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
I have always had a soft spot for Kenley Jansen. That was at least the case until he gave up consecutive homers with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 163 last year, costing me $150. But I digress. Jansen is still one of the best closers in the game and enters 2019 with a clean bill of health. But last season was a bit concerning on the field as well as off it. His heart condition certainly may have played a role, but some of his underlying statistics are troublesome. From 2011 through 2017, Jansen’s lowest strikeout rate was 37.7 percent, and his lowest K-BB% was 30.6. Last season, those marks fell to 28.4 and 22.5, respectively. Jansen also had a career-high contact rate allowed and a career-low swinging strike rate. His 3.01 ERA should have been a lot worse if you look at his ERA indicators. Any more erosion to his skills suffered this season could send owners into early-season panic mode.
Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
The knocks on Sean Doolittle are that he is oft-injured and is largely a one-pitch pitcher. But Doolittle has elite command and control that eases many of those concerns. He has posted a K/9 rate higher than 10.0 and a BB/9 rate lower than 2.0 in four of the last five seasons. Those qualities give him a solid floor and should keep him in firm standing in Washington’s bullpen. Doolittle had 22 saves before going down with a foot injury in early-July last year. He could have very easily approached 40 saves and 100 strikeouts last year had he stayed healthy. Last year, only three closers had 40 saves, and only three had 100 K’s. (Edwin Diaz was the only to reach both plateaus.) Those numbers are in play this year as well and can be had at quite a discount if early drafts are any indication.
Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros
Roberto Osuna seems to tinker quite a bit with his arsenal. Earlier in his career, he primarily featured a four-seam fastball and slider and would also incorporate a changeup on occasion. In 2017, he drastically altered his approach. A newly-developed cutter was used over 27 percent of the time in place of the four-seamer. Its usage was reduced all the way down to 32 percent as he also threw a lot more sinkers. After being traded to Houston last year, he made another adjustment. He increased the use of his changeup at the expense of a middling sinker. Regardless of which pitches are being featured, Osuna has always had an excellent command of the strike zone. His career 4.5 percent walk rate has helped Osuna post a sub 1.00 WHIP in each of his four Major League seasons. Osuna does not have the strikeout upside of those ranked higher, but he is a solid bet to league all of baseball in saves this season while providing excellent ratios.
Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians
The former San Diego Padre enters the year as the Cleveland Indians’ closer, a role that has proven to be a fruitful one in recent years for fantasy purposes. Hand misses bats with great frequency and has posted a strikeout rate of over 30 percent in three straight years. Hand’s major bugaboo has always been his control, but it’s not out of… (don’t say it… don’t say it…) his control is not terrible, is what I’m trying to say. He threw his sinker much less as a member of the Tribe following a midseason trade from San Diego. His sinker has always been fairly hittable and produces far fewer whiffs than his four-seam fastball, and certainly his slider. If that slight adjustment continues this season, it should lead to great things. It is entirely possible Hand posts a top-five season at closer in 2019.
Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates
It feels like every time I saw Felipe Vazquez last year, he was all over the place, walking hitters and blowing saves. Yet, at the end of the year, there he was posting a second consecutive $20+ season. Vazquez finished 2018 with 37 saves against just five blown saves. He also walked 8.1 percent of hitters. I would have definitely lost a bet on that one. Vazquez is one of the best in baseball at keeping the ball in the yard and he can keep hitters off balance with a good mix of pitches. He should once again produce solid if unspectacular peripherals while racking up another 30-40 saves this year in the Steel City.
TIER THREE: Upside Gambles
Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers
I was on the Corey Knebel bandwagon last year, and it did not go well. He got injured right out of the chute in April and was out for over a month. He returned, but his performance was shaky at best. Knebel was ultimately relieved of his closer role following an early-August blowup. But Knebel finished the year with 17 consecutive scoreless appearances, albeit mostly in middle relief. The turnaround was fueled by greater control. During those 17 games, Knebel walked just three of 57 batters faced, a far cry from his 11.4 percent walk rate prior to that point. He also led all pitchers in strikeout rate from August 1 through the end of the regular season. When all was said and done, his indicating statistics ended up not being much different from those that accompanied his 2017 breakout. Knebel is the favorite for early saves in a stacked Brewers’ bullpen. He may have a short leash due to the high-quality arms behind him, but he can be an upper-echelon closer if he can get off to a fast start in 2019.
Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
I normally do not like to target middle relievers this early, but it is increasingly difficult to argue against Josh Hader. His skills are simply too great to ignore. If you are unable to acquire the services of one of the above closers, I would highly suggest giving Hader a long look here. There are other solid middle relief options who can fit in as well, but Hader is currently in a class by himself. His 46.7 strikeout rate from last season is absurd, yet largely sustainable. Even if he gets only a few saves, Hader will get you a ton of strikeouts while stabilizing ratios. He did falter a bit down the stretch last year, but I expect him to bounce back and continue his domination this season. There is also a decent chance he usurps Knebel in Milwaukee’s pecking order, which would instantly vault Hader into the elite tier.
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds should be much improved, and that should increase the number of save opportunities that Rasiel Iglesias will see. Perhaps that is enough to launch Iglesias into the next tier. But for now, I will rank him here. Iglesias is very good at most things and is featuring an improved changeup. But he lacks having that elite skill that so many closers possess. There are also rumors that he may see more of a swing role in Cincinnati’s new approach under pitching coach Derek Johnson. Ultimately, the package is not one I consider to be that of a top-ten relief pitcher.
Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres
Yates has bounced around in recent years but finds himself in a pretty nice spot for 2019 fantasy production. He is the odds-on favorite for saves in San Diego. He took over in that capacity following the trade of Brad Hand last July and finished the year with 12 saves. Yates has posted outstanding strikeout rates in each of the last two seasons and improved several statistics last season including his walk, flyball, and HR/FA rates. There is always the risk of an in-season trade, but the Padres should be improved and Yates is arbitration eligible in 2020. It is possible that San Diego leaves Yates in the role the whole year. If that ends up coming to fruition, the veteran can be a nice value come draft day.
Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays
Jose Alvarado does not get a ton of pub, but some of the numbers he posted towards the end of 2018 were flat out ridiculous. During the last two months of the season, the second-year Major Leaguer posted a 46.7 percent strikeout rate and a 59 percent ground ball rate. As Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs recently pointed out, Alvarado altered his arm angle, and that seems to have made a huge difference in both his sinking fastball and slider. His slider is borderline unhittable. Batters flailed against the pitch to the tune of an .083 batting average and .117 slugging percentage. They also whiffed at a 30.1 percent rate against the offering last year. We have seen Kevin Cash play musical pitchers with everyone on the Rays’ staff not named Blake Snell, so Alvarado may not be the trustiest source of saves. But even without a ton of save opportunities, he can be this year’s Hader and can be had several rounds later.
Will Smith, San Francisco Giants
If we’re drafting based on skills alone, Will Smith would be even higher on this list. According to Baseball Savant, Smith has finished in the top five percent in K rate, xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA in two of his last three seasons. He is an elite pitcher who is currently being drafted as a JAG (Just Another Guy). That needs to change. I’d be inclined to bump him up even higher on this list, except you’re likely to only get 80-100 games of saves, as Smith will likely be traded and moved to a setup role once San Francisco begins to fall out of contention. But he is going way late for the stability he can provide over the season’s first half. I would much rather draft Smith and play the FAAB game in July than draft a player who may well implode by Memorial Day. And stranger things have happened than Smith remaining a closer all year long, be it in San Francisco or elsewhere. Smith will likely provide owners with more stability and better numbers than several closers going ahead of him.
Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers
There is a lot to like about Jose Leclerc of the Texas Rangers. He already has the job going into spring training and comes off a year in which he struck out a whopping 38.1 percent of batters last year. He also led all pitchers last year in IFFB, which is a fancy acronym for pop-ups. His ability to avoid hard contact resulted in Leclerc leading all of MLB in xBA and xSLG while finishing second in xwOBA. But he still walked 11.2 percent of hitters, and his career mark sits at 16.0. That can be a major problem considering he is a flyball pitcher playing in Texas. In fact, on Leclerc’s Brooks Baseball landing page, it notes that all three of his signature pitches induce greater than normal flyball rates. A repeat of last year’s 2.0 percent FB/HR rate seems highly unlikely. The Rangers also figure to be among the worst teams in the sport, so I would not count on a ton of save chances. As intriguing as his skill set is, I’ll probably pass at this price for now.
David Robertson, Philadelphia Phillies
Robertson has struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings in each of his 11 MLB seasons. The veteran joins the Philadelphia Phillies and immediately enters the mix for saves. But the situation is less than ideal. Manager Gabe Kapler prefers playing matchups to employing a singular ninth-inning pitcher. Robertson is a more proven commodity than upstart Seranthony Dominguez, but that does not guarantee the lion’s share of chances. I am inclined to believe that Philadelphia did not pay Robertson to set up, so at the very least I would expect a split of ninth-inning duties. Robertson may not approach the save totals of the elite closers in baseball, but he could very easily have 20-30 saves with solid peripherals on what should be a contending Phillies club.
TIER FOUR: RATIO RAISERS
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Last season, Wade Davis provided what is roughly the best-case scenario for a Rockies’ closer. He gave you 43 saves and palatable ratios. But he still didn’t help in most categories. If you took a pitching staff that had accumulated 1500 innings with a 3.90 ERA and 1.25 WHIP and added 2018 Wade Davis, your ratios would just about remain the same. Adding Edwin Diaz to that same staff would have dropped your ERA by 10 points. Now granted, Diaz is not available in Round 11, which is where Davis is mostly being selected. But there are just too many things that can go wrong with Davis as your RP1. If he’s your second reliever after one of the elite closers, or even after Hader, I can get behind that. However, I cannot endorse Davis as anything more than a high-risk RP2 as long as Coors remains his home.
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Giles has a seemingly secure handle on Toronto’s closer role with a lack of quality options behind him. But he also sports a very hittable fastball and is a bit of a head case. On the bright side, Giles has at least acknowledged he needs to be more mentally focused, so perhaps he can erase that stigma and remain consistent this year. But the fastball… the pitch earned a negative grade per Fangraphs in two of the last three seasons. When you are a two-pitch pitcher, they should both be pretty good pitches. That is not the case with Giles. If hitters lay off the slider, which lands in the strike zone less than half of the time, they can tee off on the fastball. That will likely lead to bad things for Giles and his fantasy owners. He can provide some counting stats in the form of saves and strikeouts, but they are likely to be accompanied by some ugly ratios.
Cody Allen, Los Angeles Angels
The former Cleveland Indian closer signed a one-year contract to fill the same role for the Los Angeles Angels. While there is some comfort in drafting a player this late who has a pretty secure hold on the role, that is about the best argument you can make for Allen at this juncture. His velocity on both his fastball and curve have dipped in every season since 2014. Last year, Allen’s K rate, BB rate, HR rate, and BAA were the worst he has had in any season since 2012. Perhaps some West Coast living can help Allen find a bit of the magic he had in years gone by. But the warning signs are there, and they have bright lights and bold letters. The only thing I like about Cody Allen is his current draft price. He is unlikely to truly hurt after pick #200.
TIER FIVE: CLOSERS ON REALLY BAD TEAMS
Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles
Givens enters 2019 as the favorite for saves in Baltimore. The Orioles project to be among the worst teams in the sport, as they totaled just 28 saves as a team a year ago. It won’t always be pretty in weekly leagues, and Givens is likely a goner in July. But he is a solid pitcher who limits hard contact and excelled when given the role last season. From August 1 on, Givens allowed just 15 baserunners in 24 innings. He should provide solid ratios with a relatively low saves total for as long as he is in Baltimore.
Drew Steckenrider, Miami Marlins
You can bypass Givens and take Drew Steckenrider a round later if you’d like. Both will struggle to generate a lot of saves on anything resembling a consistent basis, and neither is a dominant pitcher. If you are confident in scouring the waiver wire or your FAAB prowess, I have no issue with grabbing one of these relievers as your RP2 to begin the year. Sometimes having the job at the beginning of the year is all that matters. On the other hand…
TIER SIX: WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ SAVES!
The players in this tier do not have “the job” at the moment but are arguably more valuable than their closing counterparts. Saves is not the end all be all of fantasy value, even for relief pitchers. Case in point: according to Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster, Brad Boxberger and Shane Greene combined for $19 of value in mixed leagues last season. Each had 32 saves to his credit. Josh Hader earned $21 by himself. That’s an extreme case to be sure, but it is proof that selecting an elite middle reliever can be better than taking a lower-tier closer. Here are some of my favorite middle relievers who are likely to be Draft Day bargains. Depending on the structure of your roster and league, I would be fine taking anyone in this tier over the players in Tiers 4 and 5.
Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
The 6’8” right-hander is one of baseball’s best setup men. Last year, he ranked in the top five percent in both strikeout rate and hard-hit rate, leading to top-ten overall finishes in xBA, xSLG, and xwOBP. Those aren’t fantasy categories, unfortunately. But they highlight Betances’ dominance. He owns a career 2.36 ERA and 1.04 WHIP and has averaged 121 strikeouts per season since 2014. Because he’s not the closer, he can be had after the 20th round in 12-team leagues. Sign me up.
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
If you are in one of my leagues, please skip to the next paragraph. Thank you. OK, now that they’re gone, let me tell the rest of you about the best reliever in baseball that nobody is paying attention to. I’m talking about Ryan Pressly of the Houston Astros. The former Minnesota Twin made some adjustments at the beginning of last season (shoutout to former Twins’ pitching coach Garvin Alston from my hometown of Mount Vernon, New York) and the results were incredible. Pressly has always had an intriguing skill set. He has the second-highest spin rate on his curveball and ninth-highest on his fastball. But it’s his slider (23rd-highest, for those curious) that is quickly becoming one of the best pitches in the sport. According to Brooks Baseball, Pressly generated a whiff on 31.91 percent of sliders in 2018. For reference, Edwin Diaz came in at 29.06 and Josh Hader posted a 26.96 mark. Pressly ranked in the top ten among all pitchers in xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA last year. You can draft Ryan Pressly for a song. He is currently going outside the top-400 in drafts. You can take him five rounds ahead of his current ADP and still get a bargain. Heck, I wouldn’t blame anyone who wanted to take him above some of the iffy closers listed above. He has tremendous standalone value at his current draft price and is a Roberto Osuna injury or off-field incident away from being a top-ten reliever in fantasy. I need a cold shower just thinking about it.
Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee Brewers
Guess who else in Milwaukee’s pen earned $21 last year? Jeffress may be a bigger threat to Knebel’s status in Milwaukee than Hader is, as the Brewers seem to prefer the latter in the swing role he filled down the stretch of 2018. Jeffress has one of the best arsenals in all of baseball and should continue to be used in high-leverage situations. He excels at keeping the ball on the ground (career 58.1 percent GB rate) and the increased usage of his curveball helped propel his strikeout rate to a career-high 29.8 percent. His ERA is likely to be twice as high as last year’s 1.29 mark, but he is still a buy at his current draft price.
Seranthony Dominguez, Philadelphia Phillies
While I believe David Robertson will get the bulk of early save chances, there is a non-zero chance that Dominguez and Robertson trade places on this list by the time the regular season begins. The young fireballer acquitted himself quite well regardless of which role he found himself in. Last year, the rookie struck out 32 percent of hitters, exhibited good control, and kept the ball on the ground and in the park. He finished last year in the top-10 in hard-hit rate against, which resulted in a top-25 finish in xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA. My guess is that Kapler uses Robertson as the 1A to Dominguez’ 1B, at least early on in the year. Either way, Dominguez should be a good reliever to own this season.
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Matt Barnes has increased both his strikeout and ground ball rates in each of his five MLB seasons. Not coincidentally, he has also increased the use of his outstanding 12-6 curveball each year. Last year’s numbers were plain filthy. Barnes finished with a 36.2 percent K rate and a 53.0 percent GB rate. My best guess is that Craig Kimbrel re-signs with Boston and Barnes goes back to being a setup man. Even if that is the case, Barnes is still a nice value. He is currently going outside the top-400 overall and top-60 at RP. With the possibility that Kimbrel signs elsewhere, Barnes can close and be a borderline RP1. The potential for such a scenario makes Barnes someone to target ahead of his current ADP.
TIER SEVEN: TIMESHARES AND RANDOS
Trevor May, Minnesota Twins
May would jump up in the rankings a bit if I knew for sure that a couple of things had happened. First, he would have to be named closer ahead of Blake Parker, who was recently signed by Minnesota. The second thing is May would have to scrap his slider. I suppose it is possible that he was simply getting a feel for it last season after returning from Tommy John surgery. But the results were, um, not good. Opponents hit .625 and slugged 1.125 against May’s slider. The pitch also generated a whiff rate of just 8.33 percent. Tweaking that pitch (or getting rid of it altogether) may serve both purposes and help ensure that he vaults ahead of Parker for good. If May does indeed get the job, he is likely to run away and hide. He has top-20 upside on a sneaky good Twins team.
Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs
I keep seeing Brandon Morrow being drafted ahead of Pedro Strop. Every time it happens, I assume there was some good news on Morrow that I missed. But there isn’t. Morrow is going to miss the first month of the regular season. That’s not the end of the world, except where is it explicitly stated that Morrow needs to be the closer upon his return? Strop filled in admirably last season and is likely to do the same in April. He is not markedly worse than Morrow. To be clear, he’s not markedly better either. But if he gets off to a hot start, I don’t see any reason to disrupt things and force Morrow back into the role. If you are confident in your ability to grab a reliever via trade or free agency, Strop can likely be bumped up another tier or two.
Andrew Miller, St. Louis Cardinals
Miller and Jordan Hicks will likely form a 1-2 punch at the back end of the Cardinals’ bullpen. That makes each a viable fantasy contributor who can contribute upwards of 20 saves. Miller has been able to handle hitters from both sides of the plate throughout his career, whereas Hicks had stark splits during his rookie campaign. Miller also clearly has much more closing experience, which could curry favor to begin the year. I think the veteran southpaw will outperform the young gun and has a shot at a double-digit dollar value in 2019.
Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox
I do not know for sure who will get the majority of save opportunities in Chicago this year. I am going to give Alex Colome a slight edge over Kelvin Herrera, but it’s really nothing more than an educated guess. Herrera is going several rounds later, so you may want to try to pluck value that way. I prefer Colome’s ability to keep left-handed hitters at bay with his excellent cutter, as well as his knack for inducing ground balls. If you’re in a shallow league, you can probably afford to pass on both options and see how the situation shakes out during Spring Training.
Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves
Vizcaino is seemingly locked in a battle with A.J. Minter for ninth-inning duty. There are also rumors of Atlanta potentially having interest in Craig Kimbrel. Even if he is deemed the closer, I would not put a ton of faith in Vizcaino. His xERA has been 4.21 in each of the last two seasons, while his actual ERA is just 2.54. There is something to be said for a pitcher who outperforms his peripherals. But at some point, that will probably reverse itself. And I don’t want to be left holding the bag when it does.
Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals
When you become the first pitcher in nearly a decade not named Aroldis Chapman to lead baseball in average fastball velocity, people take notice. However, his fastball failed to produce the results one would expect considering its velocity. Left-handed batters hit nearly .300 against Hicks’ 101+MPH sinking fastball, and the rookie struck out just 20.7 percent of hitters last season, barely cracking the top-200 among hurlers who threw at least 50 innings. As noted above, Hicks and Andrew Miller figure to share the ninth inning for the Cardinals. Hicks will have his moments, and with some improvement can relegate Miller to setup duty. But it will be difficult to time him in weekly leagues until there is further clarity on the situation.
Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs
If Pedro Strop falters in the first few weeks of the 2019 season, Brandon Morrow will likely resume the role of Cubs’ closer once he returns to full health. No part of that equation is guaranteed, however. His arm troubles are a major concern considering he hasn’t thrown 45 MLB innings since 2013. Also, it is not as if we are talking about a dominant pitcher who has long been entrenched in the role. If you are utilizing a precious spot that can go elsewhere on the hopes that Brandon Morrow is a top-15 closer this year, I’m afraid you’re in trouble.
Greg Holland, Arizona Diamondbacks
My hope is that the recently signed Holland wins the job from Archie Bradley in spring training. That is because I may or may not have an interest in Bradley if he wins the job. But I know for sure that I have far less interest in Holland. After signing with St. Louis on Opening Day last season, the veteran closer was a trainwreck and was ultimately released. He caught on with Washington, and his numbers looked good on the surface (0.89 ERA, 0.84 WHIP). But those shiny numbers don’t pass the eye test. He continued to fall behind batters and his fastball has been below average for years. That is a recipe for disaster. He does come at a highly discounted price as a recent signing, but I’ll likely let someone else draft him and prove me wrong.
Brad Boxberger, Kansas City Royals
If you are absolutely desperate for saves, feel free to draft Brad Boxberger. He recently signed with Kansas City, which is arguably the one place where he should be in line to win the closer’s role. Please be aware, however, that his saves will likely be few and far between, and they will cost you in the form of ratio damage. Since 2015, he has produced a 4.02 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. He has racked up decent strikeout totals in that stretch but has never had a swinging strike percentage better than 12.1 percent. You’re probably better waiting it out or selecting a potentially dominant non-closer.
Hunter Strickland, Seattle Mariners
Seattle was downgrading at the back end of their bullpen regardless of who ends up taking the mantle for Edwin Diaz following his trade to New York. But boy, did they commit to it. As of now, Hunter Strickland is the favorite for the job. Strickland’s strikeout rate has dropped in each season, ironic given his penchant for punching (i.e. Bryce Harper and a door). Strickland fanned just 18.4 percent of hitters in 2018 while walking 10.5 percent. That is an ugly combination that will not inspire much confidence in his ability to hold the job for any length of time. The only bright side is that Seattle’s other options are perhaps even less inspiring. I would still avoid the situation if possible.
Joe Jimenez, Detroit Tigers
I will not be in any rush to run out and grab a closer on the Detroit Tigers. But if I do take one, it will be Joe Jimenez. Add in the fact that Jimenez can be had several rounds later than incumbent Shane Greene, and it’s a no-brainer for me. Jimenez exhibits tremendous spin on his fastball and is in the top 15 percent in fastball velocity, strikeout rate and xBA. He still struggles in terms of allowing too much hard contact, but at least there’s some optimism that he can turn into a quality arm at the back end of the bullpen. If you can afford to stash and hold for a while, take Jimenez at the end of the draft. Otherwise, prepare to pounce once Greene officially loses the gig either via trade or incompetence.
Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers
I feel obligated to list him because there are 32 teams and he has already been named the team’s Opening Day closer. But make no mistake when I say that if you’re drafting Shane Greene, I can only assume that your parents did not show you enough love as a child, and so I feel sorry for you. According to Fangraphs, all three of his offerings returned negative value last season. He has only reached as much as a 9 percent swinging strike rate in one of the last four years. Joe Jimenez will almost certainly wrestle the job away from Greene at some point. Even if Greene keeps the job somehow, you do not need saves this badly unless you are in a 30-team league. Hard pass.
Chad Green, New York Yankees
Green will have no chance at saves in the Yankees’ vaunted bullpen. But that does not mean he is a zero-player. If anything, it will drop his draft day price, as people will often prefer to speculate on closers in the later rounds rather than pickup up solid arms without a more defined role. If nothing else, Green will help fortify ratios and offers huge strikeout potential. Since 2017, he has struck out 35.8 percent of hitters. Green has the control and command to earn some ROI for fantasy owners even without ever earning a save opportunity.
Are you digging Mick’s Relief Pitcher Rankings? For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2019 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
Mick Ciallela has been writing for FantraxHQ since July 2017. He has also written for Bleacher Report. He is a lifelong sports fan and has been an avid fantasy sports player for many years. Mick was the Overall Champion of both the 2016 Football Challenge – Roto and 2017 Play 3 Football contests hosted by CDM Sports. Mick was born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York and currently resides in New London, Connecticut.
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