The Dynasty Guru’s Top 50 Dynasty Relief Pitchers, Nos. 21-50
It’s the time of the year where we offer congratulations to those of you brave dynasty league owners that survived the offseason. The greatness that 2016 will surely offer is upon us and that means we’ll be spending the next six weeks moving our way through the positional landscape, offering thoughts on the respective values of roughly 700 players throughout the process.
We sincerely hope that you enjoy the countless hours of hard work that went into these rankings and continue to support The Dynasty Guru by showing your appreciation through this link or via the splendid ‘donate’ button located on the upper right-hand corner of the homepage. Donations of any size are greatly appreciated.
Players are ranked where they played 20 or more games at during the 2015 season at their highest position on the defensive spectrum, e.g. Chris Davis played 30 games in the outfield, meaning he’s an outfielder for our purposes. We can’t assume that a player will have eligibility at a position in the future (so no Hanley Ramirez at 1b for these rankings) or that a player will lose eligibility at a position in the future. This should clear things up for all non-Javier Baez/Jurickson Profar players, and we’ll do our best to explain where those players are ranked when the time comes. All DH types, such as Evan Gattis and David Ortiz, appear on the 1B rankings, as we will not be doing a UTIL rankings list.
We (thankfully) conclude our reliever rankings with a member of the Giants bullpen:
21) Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants (Age: 35, Previous Rank: 28)
Despite a less-than-normal skillset for a closer, Casilla was able to hold the job for the entirety of the 2015 season, finishing the year with 38 saves, and striking out a career-high 9.62 batters per game. With former closer Sergio Romo and heir apparent Hunter Strickland waiting in the wings, Casilla may not have a long leash, though you could do worse as a back-end option.
22) A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins (Age: 29, Previous Rank: NR)
Ramos handled his first year closing in Miami admirably, finishing the season with 32 saves, while striking out over 11 batters per game. Unfortunately for Ramos, his skillset and stats may not matter to the Marlins. Ramos’ biggest hurdle in securing the closing job in Miami is Carter Capps–who with a strong spring might be able to wrestle the job from him.
23) Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 21, Previous Rank: NR)
Osuna exploded on to the scene last year, making the opening day roster as a 20-year-old, and ending the season as the Toronto closer, racking up 20 saves. Despite the solid season, Toronto brought in Drew Storen to compete for the job, adding to an already crowded Blue Jays bullpen. Osuna still might convert back to a starter, but even if he stays in the bullpen and doesn’t beat out Storen for the job, he’ll be able to rack up solid stats, and be ready to take over the role if Storen falters.
24) Carter Capps, Miami Marlins (Age: 25, Previous Rank: NR)
I’m not one for hyperbole, but Carter Capps may be one of the best relievers in baseball. In 31 innings last year, Capps struck out almost half the batters he faced, 58 in total. When he wasn’t striking batters out, he was generating weak contact, allowing a miniscule .165 BAA. The Marlins have said there will be an open competition for the closer job, and if Capps’ new delivery is for real, he should be able to lock it up, making him a potential top 10 closing option.
25) Andrew Miller, New York Yankees (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 24)
If Miller had a closing job locked up, he’d be a top five option. Unfortunately for him (and his dynasty owners), the Yankees went out on a limb and traded for Aroldis Chapman. Chapman’s potential suspension may open up some opportunities, but even as a setup man, Miller’s strikeout rate and low ERA are enough to make him a startable option.
26) Dellin Betances, New York Yankees (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 5)
The third member of the vaunted Yankee bullpen, Betances is even farther away from saves than Miller, but still a viable option in most deeper leagues due to his strikeout rate and dominant batting average against. Betances’ value is bumped up in hold leagues, but with Chapman and Miller around, saves are going to be nearly impossible to come by.
27) Shawn Tolleson, Texas Rangers (Age: 28, Previous Rank: NR)
Tolleson rode a career-high strikeout rate and career-low walk rate to 35 saves in his first season as closer for the Rangers. The big righty threw less fastballs than previous years, leaning more heavily on his changeup, which led to solid results. Tolleson is set to open the year as Rangers closer, and if his rate stats hold, he will be a good-but-not-great option for saves.
28) Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 14)
Doolittle enters 2016 as the incumbent closer for the A’s, a job he inherited at the end of last season, after rehabbing from a labrum tear. If the shoulder injury wasn’t cause to worry enough, the A’s also signed Ryan Madson to add to an already full Oakland bullpen. Doolittle has the skill to close, as he showed in 2014, but the big question mark for him will be how his shoulder holds up over the course of a full season.
29) J.J. Hoover, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 28, Previous Rank: NR)
Hoover has been given the first crack at the closer job by the Reds after Chapman was traded earlier this offseason. Unfortunately for him, that doesn’t mean he’ll be guaranteed to keep it. Last season, Hoover’s K/BB ratio was a paltry 1.68, and Jumbo Diaz along with former top prospect Tony Cingrani are possibilities to close as well. Hoover may chip in a few saves early in the season, but the odds that he keeps the job for the long haul are very small.
30) Steve Cishek, Seattle Mariners (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 12)
The fact that Cishek is so low on this list, despite being one year removed from back to back seasons of 30 or more saves with decent rate stats shows just how bad last year was. Cishek is getting another chance to close though, this time in Seattle. He’s already been named first in line for saves, but there are a handful of pitchers who will be ready to pounce if he falters.
31) David Hernandez, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 31, Previous Rank: NR)
The longtime Diamondbacks setup man’s stats have been trending in the wrong direction, with his K/9 going down, and his xFIP on its way up. Despite that, Hernandez got a one-year deal from the Phillies, and the inside track to the closer’s role. Hernandez’s best asset is the fact that the Phillies aren’t loaded in the back end of their bullpen, giving him a little more rope than most.
32) Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 24, Previous Rank: NR)
Knebel is one of the rare relievers worth holding onto in dynasty leagues. Riding a 10.37 K/9 ratio last year, he was able to dominate hitters, ending the season with a .232 BAA. Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith are thought to be getting the first crack at saves, but Knebel is the long-term player to own in the Brewers bullpen.
33) Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 28, Previous Rank: NR)
Jeffress looks to be the favorite for opening the season as the Brewers’ closer. Aided by his devastating sinker, Jeffress was able to induce groundballs nearly 60 percent of the time. Add that to his nearly a strikeout-per-inning pace, and he’s got enough tools to hold down the job successfully. With the left-handed Will Smith an option for saves, and the aforementioned Knebel next in line, Jeffress may not be able to afford any stumbles.
34) Carson Smith, Boston Red Sox (Age: 26, Previous Rank: NR)
If Smith was still in Seattle, there’s a good chance he’d be opening the season as a closer. Instead, he was traded to Boston, where he’s likely manning the seventh inning, where he’ll be setting up Uehera and Kimbrel. With those two pitchers in front of him, saves are unlikely, but Smith still can rack up tons of holds and strikeouts.
35) Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals (Age: 26, Previous Rank: NR)
With Greg Holland out of the picture, Herrera moves from his normal seventh inning duties to slide in as Wade Davis’ primary setup man. Davis is number one of this list for a reason, so barring an injury, Herrera isn’t a great bet to rack up saves, particularly with the re-addition of Joakim Soria to the Royal bullpen. In leagues that count holds, Herrera may be able to be an elite reliever, with the Royals expected to rack up wins just like the previous two years.
36) Keone Kela, Texas Rangers (Age: 23, Previous Rank: NR)
Kela started last season at Double-A Frisco, and after pitching all of two innings, he was called up to the Texas bullpen. He responded by posting a 2.38 ERA, striking out over a batter per inning, and posting the best walk rate of his professional career (7.4 percent). The 6-foot-1 inch Hawaiian right-hander has a pretty gnarly fastball that sits in the mid-90’s, but can be pushed higher on occasion with a hint of run, and he is able to compliment it with a league average curveball. He won’t get many save chances initially, but if Tolleson falters, Kela looks to be the next man up.
37) Kevin Quackenbush, San Diego Padres (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 49)
The “Quack-Attack” was a bit unlucky in 2015, posting a 4.01 ERA despite a 3.56 FIP. Going into his third season, he finds himself possibly third in line for saves, behind the newly signed Fernando Rodney and the newly acquired Drew Pomeranz, on a Padres team that doesn’t figure to win a ton of games. If he can reduce his walk rate and keep the ball in the yard, he may pay off for some intrepid investors.
38) Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves (Age: 25, Previous Rank: NR)
Heading into 2016, Vizcaino is currently blocked by an aging Jason Grilli in the closer’s role. If he can improve on his walk rate, while striking out batters at the rate he did last season, he should force himself into ninth inning duty in Atlanta pretty quickly–if father time doesn’t do it first.
39) Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals (Age: 32, Previous Rank: NR)
Soria saw a bit of a resurgence last year thanks to an uptick on his fastball velocity and a Joe Nathan injury. He made the most of his opportunity, saving 24 games for the Tigers while posting a 2.53 ERA. However, he’s most likely third in line for saves in the Royals pen behind the first and 35th ranked relievers on this list.
40) Luke Gregerson, Houston Astros (Age: 32, Previous Rank: NR)
After years of dominating in the setup role, Gregerson was finally given the keys to the ninth in 2015, and he didn’t do that bad. He saved 31 games, but was incredibly unlucky in the final month of the season which prompted the ‘Stros to acquire one of the best young closers in the game. On the bright side, Gregerson is still pretty valuable in leagues that count holds.
41) Kevin Jepsen, Minnesota Twins (Age: 31, Previous Rank: NR)
Jepsen has always had late-inning stuff; he just has never translated it into high-end numbers until the last two seasons. He filled in well for an injured Glen Perkins last year, picking up 15 saves and posting a 2.33 ERA, despite a 3.54 FIP. If the same situation arises again this season, he should be first in line to pick up the slack.
42) Darren O’Day, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 33, Previous Rank: NR)
O’Day had an absolutely stellar year in 2015, posting a career high 31.9 percent strikeout rate, a 5.5 percent walk rate, and a career-low 1.52 ERA. He has gotten inarguably better over the past four seasons, but he is behind one of the most consistent closers in the game, and could even lose opportunities should they arise to the young Mychal Givens. O’Day is still a very valuable reliever in leagues that go beyond the typical standard scoring categories.
43) Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants (Age:33, Previous Rank: 32)
Many thought that Romo would regain the closing role in San Francisco in 2015 after losing it the previous season. That never happened, despite his 2.98 ERA and four-year best strikeout and walk rates. Additionally, his 1.91 FIP and abnormally high .331 BABIP hint that his numbers have room for improvement. Heading into 2016, Romo is again a good bet to regain the closer’s role, but then we’ve said that before, haven’t we?
44) Fernando Rodney, San Diego Padres (Age: 39, Previous Rank: 21)
Rodney lost the ninth inning gig in Seattle in spectacular fashion by blowing six saves in 22 chances, and posting 5.68 ERA in 2015. He’ll get another shot after signing in San Diego, but they’ll most likely have him on a short leash, so make sure you have a backup plan.
45) Jumbo Diaz, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 32, Previous Rank: NR)
His name is Jumbo. What more reason do you need to roster someone than that? Okay, for those who need more, Diaz struck out 27.5 percent of hitters over 61 appearances last year and while that 4.18 ERA is terrible, his BABIP and FIP suggest that it may have been a little higher than it should have. Oh yeah, and he’s one of the favorites to win the Reds’ closer job out of Spring Training.
46) Joaquin Benoit, Seattle Mariners (Age: 38, Previous Rank: 22)
Benoit joins a Mariners squad that just dealt away one of the best young relievers in the game. However, last season he finally started showing some signs of age as his strikeout dropped below a batter-per-inning and his walk rate increased just over two percent. Benoit has been steady and reliable for the past few years, and would be next in line for saves if Cishek can’t hold the job, but at 38-years-old, the decline could become more pronounced at any moment.
47) Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics (Age: 27, Previous Rank: NR)
Hendriks spent his first full-season in the Toronto bullpen in 2015 and posted a career-best 9.88 K/9 and 2.92 ERA. He steps into an Oakland bullpen with two former top closers in Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. If Doolittle can’t hang onto the gig, and Hendriks continues to pitch the way he did last season, he could find his way into the closing role and provide a huge return on investment.
48) Tony Watson, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 31, Previous Rank: NR)
Though Watson’s numbers dipped a little last year from his incredible 2014 season, he still managed solid strikeout and walk rates, along with a sub-2.00 ERA. He gave up just three homers in 77 appearances, and continued to induce groundballs at a 47 percent clip. Watson has value in deeper leagues thanks to his great ratios, even if Melancon continues to be one of the more reliable closers in the game.
49) Arquimedes Caminero, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 29, Previous Rank: NR)
Caminero has the tools to be a very effective late-inning guy. His big, upper-90’s fastball is complimented well by his above average splitter and slider. The problem throughout his professional career has been his propensity to issue free passes, which he did at a nine percent rate in 74 innings last season. If he can reign in his control a bit, he has the potential to become a sneaky valuable piece in deep leagues.
50) Ryan Madson, Oakland Athletics (Age: 35, Previous Rank: NR)
Not only was Madson not ranked prior to last year, he hadn’t even pitched a big league game in three years. According to his numbers, he didn’t miss a beat. His ERA and strikeouts were both in line with what he put up in 2007-11, and he lowered his walk rate and WHIP. Even his average velocity is virtually identical. The question is whether he can keep it going–considering he outperformed his FIP in 2015 by a healthy margin and benefitted from a .249 BABIP.
Commentary by Jesse Meehan and Travis Johnson