From the 21st of January to the 20th of February, the writers at TDG will be taking you through our rankings position-by-position. As I mentioned in the primer, this year we’re doing things a little differently. Instead of having my personal rankings up on this site, like last year, these rankings for 2014 are of the consensus variety and being brought to you by all of the TDG staff. Everyone put a lot of work into this project, so we hope you enjoy the end result. And if you are looking for my personal dynasty league rankings, you can find them this off-season at Baseball Prospectus.
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Now the final 55 best relief pitchers in dynasty leagues, starting with an underrated closer who toils in the midwest in obscurity:
21) Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 75)
Henderson enters 2014 as the closer for the Brewers and if his 11.3 K/9 in 2013 is any indication, he should be able to hold the gig. One weak point was his propensity to give up home runs (1.2 HR/9), but his only real threat should he stumble is Francisco Rodriguez.
22) Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 16)
Feliz and Joakim Soria will duke it out for the closing rights this spring now that Joe Nathan has sailed. Feliz’s starting experiment seems to be over and now that he is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, he has the stuff to assume the closer role and never look back.
23) Jim Johnson, Oakland Athletics (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 12)
Traded to Oakland this offseason after back-to-back 50-save seasons in Baltimore, Johnson immediately assumes the role of closer for the Athletics. His K/9 topped out at 7.2 last year, which isn’t stellar, but he keeps a ton of balls on the ground and should continue to rack up the saves.
24) Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners (Age: 37, Previous Rank: 7)
Rodney recently signed a two-year contract with the Mariners, bumping Danny Farquhar to set-up duty for the time being. In 2013 his walk rate ballooned to almost 5 BB/9, but the bright side was that his K/9 increased as well (11 K/9). He’ll have value as long as he’s garnering saves, but his age makes him less appealing in dynasty formats.
25) Rex Brothers, Colorado Rockies (Age: 26, Previous Rank: NR)
Brothers isn’t likely to start the year as the Rockies’ closer, but he will certainly get his opportunities as the season progresses. The 26-year-old left-hander saved 19 games in 21 chances last year when Rafael Betancourt hit the DL. He’s also got the perfect first name to complement the Rockies’ mascot Dinger the Dinosaur.
26) Danny Farquhar, Seattle Mariners (Age: 27, Previous Rank: NR)
The Rodney signing hurts Farquhar’s value in the short-term, but should Rodney struggle (8 blown saves in 2013) Farquhar would be next in line for save opportunities. I flunked physics, but I think a Farquhar is also a form of measurement. (eg. I applied 3 Farquhars (Fq) of pressure to convert that save.)
27) Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox (Age: 28, Previous Rank: NR)
With Addison Reed out of the picture, Jones is the favorite to win the closer job in Chicago for 2014. He can hit triple digits with his fastball and in 2013 he saw his K/9 climb to 10.3 in 78 innings of work. His 4.15 ERA from last year doesn’t really tell the whole story, as he sandwiched a great June, July, and August between a lousy start and finish.
28) Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 70)
Allen is a great option in dynasty leagues because he’s got youth and talent on his side. John Axford may start the year as the Tribe’s closer, but it’s a safe bet to project Allen as their closer of the future. In his first full season (70 innings), Allen put up some nice numbers with a 2.43 ERA and 11.3 K/9. Definitely one to watch.
29) Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 63)
When Jason Grilli missed time with an arm injury last year, Melancon stepped right in and saved 16 games. He posted a tidy 1.39 ERA and 1.0 BB/9 and he was a big reason why the Pirates’ bullpen was one of the best in baseball last season.
30) John Axford, Cleveland Indians (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 21)
Axford didn’t record a single save in 2013 after racking up 81 in the two years prior, but he’s expected to start the year as the Indians’ closer. One issue was a big dip in his K/9, which went from 12.1 in 2012 to 9.0 in 2013 (a career low). It was also suspected that he was tipping his pitches…clearly the mustache’s fault. Stache culpa.
31) Joaquin Benoit, San Diego Padres (Age: 36, Previous Rank: 59)
Benoit saved 24 games in 2013 and makes an interesting handcuff to Huston Street, whose 1.9 HR/9 and 7.3 K/9 raised some red flags last year. So while Benoit might be 7 years older than Street, his numbers (9.8 K/9, 0.6 HR/9) might lead to a change should Street struggle or get hurt, and the chances of the latter happening are pretty good.
32) Jose Veras, Chicago Cubs (Age: 33, Previous Rank: NR)
The closer situation in Chicago is volatile, but for now it appears that Veras has the job. Pedro Strop and Blake Parker are lurking and while the 33-year-old Veras might appear to be a risky bet for saves, he actually pitched well last year. He made a noticeable improvement in his BB/9 and there is no reason to think he can’t handle the job as long as that carries over into 2014.
33) Joakim Soria, Texas Rangers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 56)
Soria is coming off of his second Tommy John surgery, but with Joe Nathan gone and Neftali Feliz returning from injury also, there is a window of opportunity for Soria to snag the ninth inning in Texas this spring. He still has the stuff to strike batters out and keep the ball on the ground, so health is really the biggest concern here.
34) Brian Wilson, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 46)
Wouldn’t It Be Nice if Wilson could stay healthy All Summer Long and keep those California Girls swooning with his super-low HR/9 and solid GB%? Don’t Worry Baby, I Get Around and Wilson is going to put up solid numbers setting up Kenley Jansen. After that he may just get into his Little Deuce Coupe and head somewhere to close again.
35) Tommy Hunter, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 27, Previous Rank: NR)
With Jim Johnson gone, there’s a battle for the ninth inning in Baltimore and Hunter seems to be the favorite to win the job. He’s not a strikeout machine like some of the other relievers, but his solid 1.5 BB/9 should keep him out of trouble and in the mix for saves. He made gains across the board in 2013 and it’s worth noting that as a former starter he could continue to improve as he adapts to his new role.
36) Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 2)
Tommy John derailed Motte’s 2013, and now Trevor Rosenthal is going to be the man in the ninth for St. Louis. This leaves Motte in a setup role for the time being. Prior to his injury, Motte was fantastic – posting a K/9 of 11.8 and a BB/9 of 2.1. He should be able to find himself again once the TJ surgery is completely behind him.
37) Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 69)
Specs falls behind Rafael Soriano in the Nationals’ bullpen and while he’s a great arm, he did see his K/9 fall below 10 for the first time in three years. Still, he’s one of the better options for fantasy among the non-closers and should continue to vulture some wins for the Nats as well.
38) Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 34)
McGee has all of the peripherals, but a crowded Rays’ bullpen might keep from getting a shot to close games. Regardless, he’s a nice option for strikeouts and he keeps the ball in the yard. The Rays are also the type of smart team that will keep putting him in good situations. The left-hander has also been successful against both lefties and righties.
39) LaTroy Hawkins, Colorado Rockies (Age: 41, Previous Rank: NR)
Hawkins is actually going to oil up his joints to start the year as the Rockies’ closer, but he’s not necessarily going to be valuable outside of the saves themselves. In fact, even those might be in jeopardy if Rex Brothers has anything to say about it. You have to respect a guy who has been pitching since ‘95, you just don’t have to invest in him.
40) Ryan Cook, Oakland Athletics (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 44)
Cook is a solid piece to have on a fantasy roster with two straight seasons of a sub-3 ERA, a HR/9 under 1, and solid strikeout numbers. He’ll get a chance to close should Jim Johnson struggle or find himself on the move. He makes a nice play in dynasty leagues at just 26 years old.
41) Luke Gregerson, Oakland Athletics (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 48)
Like Cook, Gregerson may be in line for save opportunities if Jim Johnson moves out of the ninth inning. He’s consistently been one of the best setup men in the game and his new home park in Oakland should treat him as kindly as PetCo did. At 29, Gregerson provides the consistent track record fantasy owners like when investing in an arm.
42) Heath Bell, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 36, Previous Rank: 62)
It’s easy to look at Bell as an arm to avoid at 36 years old and an ERA over 4.00 each of the past two years. He did make some significant improvements with Arizona last year though. He raised his K/9 and lowered his BB/9 and while he’s not going to close games in Tampa Bay with Grant Balfour in town, he should still be able to garner enough strikeouts to be useful in fantasy. He’s in a better park for pitching with a better defense behind him as well.
43) Carter Capps, Miami Marlins (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 58)
The Marlins acquired Capps from the Mariners in the Logan Morrison deal. While he’s still young and has time to develop, last year he was hurt by the walk (3.5 BB/9) and the home run (1.83 HR/9). Those two blemishes showed in his 5.49 ERA. The good news is he moved from one pitcher’s park to another and still has a nice mid-90s fastball to build from.
44) Sergio Santos, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 40)
Injuries have really limited Santos, who missed time in both 2012 and 2013 and now finds himself behind Casey Janssen on the depth chart. Santos probably has the best stuff of the bunch, however, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him closing games for the Jays or another team (via trade) in the near future.
45) Jesse Crain, Houston Astros (Age: 32, Previous Rank: NR)
Crain has been solid over the past three years for the White Sox, but he really turned it on in 2013, earning himself an All-Star appearance with a 0.74 ERA and 11.3 K/9. Now he takes his talents to Houston, where he’ll battle Josh Fields and Chad Qualls for the ninth inning job. He’s a good bet to close there, but it’s also one of the more volatile bullpens around.
Hembree graduated to the big leagues last year, making nine appearances and striking out 12 in seven-plus innings after spending the better part of two seasons in Triple-A. He has nothing left to prove on the farm and has skillset to become a very capable late-inning reliever.