The Dynasty Guru’s Top 200 Dynasty Relief Pitchers Nos. 1-20
Congratulations on surviving another off-season. Now that the new year is upon us, it’s time to spend the next month traveling across the positional landscape, labeling players with numbers that correspond to their value. It’s the very definition of freedom. A ton of hard work was put into these rankings, and will continue to be put in as we bring you just an ungodly amount of information over the next month. We hope you enjoy the product we’ve created, and if you’d like to show appreciation for that work you can do so through this link, or via the donate button on in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage. All donations are truly appreciated.
Relievers are the most finnicky of all the positions with a stellar top tier that erodes quickly in a mess of Cecils and Broxtons. The turnover throughout the list from year to year is fairly substantial outside of that upper echelon and this year is no different. There is a changing of the guard at the top, even though the reigning champ was still quite incredible.
1) Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 2)
Thanks to a spring training comebacker to the face, Chapman didn’t make his first appearance until mid-May but once he got going the results were absurd. His average fastball velocity was more than 101 miles per hour and his 52.5 percent strikeout rate is the highest in history in a sample greater than 50 innings. A 12 percent walk rate would be a problem for most relievers but when hitters can’t make contact, runners on first are of little consequence.
2) Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 1)
With the exception of a walk rate that increased by almost three percent and whatever that is he does when pitching out of the stretch, there is not much to nitpick. Closing for a bad Braves team may not provide enough opportunities to notch 40+ saves for a fifth consecutive season but Kimbrel is still in the middle of a historically dominant stretch and showing no signs of slowing down.
3) Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 4)
Holland’s second season as a full-time closer went almost as well as the first, as he posted a 1.44 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP, and approached triple-digit strikeouts on his way to converting 46 of 48 end-game opportunities. Between the raise he’s due, the Royals’ bullpen depth, and early projections that have the World Series runner-ups as a .500 or worse team, he’s a trade candidate but should close wherever he lands.
4) Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 3)
Jansen threw in the zone more last year and got more swings as a result. The upside was a career best whiff rate, the downside was a 27.6 percent line drive percentage and contact that was a little louder than he’s accustomed to. Those liners led to a .350 BABIP that inflated his ratios. Expect another 100 strikeouts, 40 saves, and an ERA/WHIP closer to his 2.04/0.96 career average.
5) Dellin Betances, New York Yankees (Age: 27, Previous Rank: NR)
The Yankees signed Andrew Miller in the offseason and at this point it is unclear who will handle ninth inning duties. From an economic perspective, they’d be wise to let Miller have the job to keep Betances’ arbitration value depressed. From an intellectual perspective, the best option is to let the game situation dictate whether the lefty or righty gets the call. This ranking reflects our belief that Betances will get the bulk of the opportunities. While he won’t pitch 90 frames like he did in 2014, he’ll provide supporting stats that could push him farther up next year’s list.
6) Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 28)
It was almost June before the Indians concluded that Allen was a better bet to finish games than John Axford. I’m not sure what Tito was looking at but Allen has an identical 2.99 FIP in consecutive seasons and will strike out close to 30 percent of the batters he faces. His nearly 40 percent curveball usage isn’t typical among high leverage relievers but the mix has been effective and Allen belongs solidly in the top ten now that opportunity isn’t a question.
7) David Robertson, Chicago White Sox (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 11)
Robertson came up one short of the 40-save mark in 2014 but should challenge it again in his first season on an improved White Sox team. A career high swinging strike rate led to a career high strikeout rate in 2014 and while those numbers will back up some, he’ll still post a punch-out total competitive with all but the very best alternatives.
8) Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 6)
Perkins is the first player on this list that carries significant predictable risk. He dealt with a nerve issue in his elbow last year, not exactly encouraging for a reliever entering his mid-30s. The strikeouts dried up from July on and if they don’t come back, the 11 per nine he tallied in 2013 will be an outlier. He doesn’t have any competition, so he’ll finish with a respectable save total if healthy but the rest of the profile is in question.
9) Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 27, Previous Rank: NR)
At a dead end as a starter, the conversion to the bullpen couldn’t have gone any better for the Orioles or for Britton, who saved 37 games despite not picking up his first one until the middle of May. He has limited strikeout potential but a historically high ground-ball rate caps the damage batters can do to his ratios.
10) Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 5)
Rosenthal slips a few spots in our rankings because of some fairly severe control issues in 2014. He walked 5.37 batters per nine innings but managed to escape without catastrophic damage to his ERA. He’s only 24 years old, strikes batters out at a healthy clip, and closes for a team that wins 85-90 games every year, so the potential is there for him to creep back up the list.
11) Drew Storen, Washington Nationals (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 46)
Drew Storen had a 1.12 ERA in 2014. Now that is likely to start trending more towards his 2.71 FIP, but the 4.52 ERA of 2013 should be a thing of the past. Like many Washington pitchers, Storen put up a career low walk rate in 2014, so there should be a bit of stability going forward. Storen misses less bats than the elite closers (only 7.3 in 2014, down from 8.5 in 2013), but at only 27 with the closing job for the best team in the National League it is only a minor blip in his value.
12) Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins (Age: 28, Previous Rank:14)
This past year saw Cishek’s ERA increase to a slightly less impressive 3.17. However, given that his K/9 suddenly jumped from 9.6 to 11.6 there is plenty to like here. The big concern with Cishek coming into the offseason is whether the Marlins would look to deal him, but with a revamped club looking to compete it looks like he is here to stay. Cishek saved 39 games in 2014, and there is no reason to think he can’t build on that in 2015.
13) Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 29)
At some point we need to just accept the almighty power of Pittsburgh pitching and just forget that Boston ever happened for Melancon. Melancon has now spent two years with an ERA under 2.00 while not walking anyone (3.4%) and striking out a batter per inning (25.3%). At this point he should be in this range going forward, giving you 30-40 saves a year, until he just suddenly just isn’t good. Tis the way of the “established closer”.
14) Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 54)
It is a simple formula here for the former first baseman: Doolittle throws fastball for strike, batter swings and misses at fastball, Doolittle throws another fastball for strike (or an 11 percent chance of slider). The thing to be scared about is that Doolittle will miss time in April due to a tear in his rotator cuff. Shoulder injuries are scary, even if the indication is that Doolittle will be fine. Also Billy Beane might trade him at any point to anyone for anything. But with a 12.78 K/9 and 17.5 percent infield fly ball rate, Doolittle should be dominant regardless.
15) Ken Giles, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 24, Previous Rank: NR)
Ken Giles is the perfect realization of that all fastball guy you hear rumbles about in the low minors. Not only did he find his control, his velocity actually increased and his fringe average slider went to a plus plus destroyer of worlds. Among relievers with at least 40 IP here is how Giles’ year stacks up: ERA – 3rd, FIP – 3rd, K/BB 9th, HR/9 10th, K rate – 7th. It was an all around dominance capped off by a September where he faced 37 batters, allowed 4 of them to reach base (2 hits and 2 walks), while striking out 15. The scary thing is that he might only be getting better, the only reason he is this low is because he is on the same team as the guy with the 3rd most saves among active players.
16) Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox (Age: 40, Previous Rank: 7)
Koji’s ERA should start to look more like 2012 and 2013 (1.31 vs 2.52 in 2014), which should make him one of the most valuable closers in 2015. The problem is that he is nearly 40 and on a two year deal. But even if you only get two years of stats here, that might still be better than a younger player with risk at holding down a job.
17) Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 38)
You can take everything about Doolittle and put it here. Almost all fastballs (96.4%), check. Batters miss said fastballs (32.9% K%), check. Coming off injury (loose bodies in his shoulder), check. On a team that has never really had a long term relationship with a closer, check. McGee does not have a strong grip on the Rays’ closer job, but he is the best pitcher in their bullpen. The key to McGee being an elite pitcher will be maintaining his control, which he has done in two of the past three years.
18) Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 18)
Street gets a knock for being injury prone, but since coming up in 2005 he has averaged 59 innings, a 2.02 ERA, and 28 saves. His ERA should stay under 3.00 now that he has been saved from Coors. (he has averaged 1.97 over the past three season) Street doesn’t have the strikeout rate to be elite, and doesn’t have the control to have incredible ratios. In reality, Street is about as much of a lock as exists to be a solid, boring closer.
19) Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 22)
It is really fun to believe that the 26-year-old who put up a 1.99 ERA in 2014 was the Neftali Feliz of old. But Feliz’s average velocity was down from 96 to 93, and he allowed a ton of home runs while striking out no one (6.0 K/9). But that is until you break down his year and realize he was still returning from injury. His average fastball velocity from July to September by month was 92.9-93.7-95.8. The rest of his profile has responded as well, with his K/9 jumping from 3.4 over his first 13.1 innings to 7.9 over the next two months. There is still some projecting you need to do, but there should be optimism that he can be close to what he once was.
20) Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals (Age: 29, Previous Rank: NR)
This is the point where you just don’t care if a guy has a job or not. Davis is good enough that he should be valuable even without saves. As a reliever, Davis has career a 1.65 ERA with a 12.0 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 so his 2014 isn’t too far out of line. When it comes to saves, it does not seem like they are coming anytime soon, which is unfortunate for Davis owners. His contract makes him very valuable to Kansas City (3 year $25 million), so unless they get blown away with an offer it is hard to see Davis or Holland moving on.