The Dynasty Guru’s Top 75 Dynasty League Relief Pitchers, Nos. 1-25
It’s been over two months since the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years, ending the 2016 baseball season. But if you’re like most fantasy baseball owners, those two months probably feel like two years. Considering it’s still another month until Spring Training even starts, late January has to be the worst time to be a baseball fan. It’s too late to reflect on last year, but next season is too far ahead to look forward to. Luckily, with a little help from The Dynasty Guru, the next month is survivable, as we’ll be ranking and commenting on a whole lot of players over the next six weeks.
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You can view our rankings for previous positions, and the dates future rankings will come out, by clicking the link to TDG’s 2017 Consensus Dynasty Baseball Rankings splash page. With that, let’s kick off our relief pitcher rankings with a new, but familiar, face at number one:
1) Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 4)
Jansen stands atop the pile of dynasty RP arms. For the most part, a dynasty ranking of relievers is a copy and paste job of redraft ranks, but Jansen offers slightly more security than the rest while simultaneously being a dominant force on the hill. He’s never had a season with a K/9 below 13, and his walk rate has steadily gone down since he entered the bigs; now comfortably sitting below 2 BB/9. A true one trick pony, his dominant cutter has a career .520 OPS against, and we at TDG don’t expect much to change in the next season. Congrats if you had the foresight years ago to pick up the former catcher for your dynasty team, as he’s the rare legitimate asset RP.
2) Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 2)
In his career Chapman is 0/2 at the plate with 1K, and if you expect him to get much better with the stick, you are likely a bad fantasy manager. But while toeing the rubber, Chapman turns the tables on his foes. His career 15.18 K/9 is the highest rate of all time. To make matters worse for hitters, his 2.79 BB/9 in 2016 was the best of his career, as for the first time, he walked fewer batters than the MLB average. Chapman possesses the hardest thing to square up: a four-seamer that averages 100.4 mph. He compliments the legendary heater with an excellent 88.2 mph slider that batters only make contact with 47.3% of the time. Chapman probably has the highest upside of all arms on this list, though there are surrounding how well he’ll age.
3) Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 8)
The man with arguably the best pitch in baseball slides in at third on our reliever rankings. The 96.2 MPH bowling ball of a two-seamer had batters struggling to the tune of a 25 wRC+ against it last year! His merely very strong strikeout and walk rates hold him back from the top spot, but his floor is arguably the highest of anyone on this list. Again, he’s a safe hold for this season.
4) Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 3)
For the fifth consecutive season, Craig Kimbrel saw his WHIP rise, yet it is still merely 1.094. Now Kimbrel dealt with a meniscus issue that caused him to miss roughly a month, and hopefully this was the issue that led to his wildness. His 5.09 BB/9 was the worst of his career, but that 14.09 K/9 was the 4th best among relievers, so his stuff certainly didn’t diminish. Last year was likely a hiccup for Kimbrel, but it’s the first dent in his armor we’ve ever seen. Again, he’s an arm you should happily own going into next year, and don’t let other owners sway your opinion because of the higher ERA… his strand rate was unusually bad, an indicator of bad luck.
5) Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners (Age: 23, Previous Rank: NR)
The first reliever who won’t be pitching at age 29 pops up on our list. Diaz features an explosive repertoire: a four-seamer, two-seamer, and slider. The heaters he pumps in the high 90s, topping out at 101, but his slider was his most devastating pitch. That offering had a meager 45.1% contact rate, resulting in a minuscule .335 OPS against. Diaz had some bad batted ball luck last season, as his .377 BABIP shows, but Seattle’s improved defense and some positive regression should change things there. And even if it doesn’t, Diaz should be fine, considering he’s striking out nearly two batters per inning.
6) Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 23)
While his nickname, per Baseball Reference, may be little cannon, this is the first reliever that we can question. Osuna has a strong 9.84 K/9, and an excellent 1.88 BB/9 over his career, but his 1.00 HR/9 leaves him with a weakness. Rogers Centre is a power paradise and him being a primarily fly ball pitcher can lead to a few more blown saves than you may be happy with enduring. But in the end, he’s still displaying a very strong skill set at an extremely young age, so there is little reason to be worried if you’re the Osuna owner.
7) Mark Melancon, San Francisco Giants (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 10)
Our first non-power pitcher to show face on the list. Melancon has ridden a 56.1% ground ball rate through his career and his 2.60 career ERA indicates that it works. His cutter and curve combination have proven to be very successful over the years, and a move to AT&T Park should only make his soft contact approach even better. If you wanted to search for potential problems, his cutter is now only 90.9 MPH, down 2 MPH from when he started throwing it in heavily in 2012. But with age comes a decline in velocity, so this is neither a surprise nor overly concerning. If he continues to get outs, you should happily continue rostering Melancon.
8) Ken Giles, Houston Astros (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 5)
Melancon’s former Pittsburgh brethren fits in at #8. Giles had a difficult start to his Houston career, as his home run rate almost quadrupled from where it sat as a Phillie, his BABIP exploded up to .349, and his strand rate dropped to a below league average 72.6%. His increased walk rate was his own fault, but his career high 13.98 K/9 gives us reason to remain very optimistic. Giles hard/medium/soft hit rates remained roughly the same they’ve always been, and his groundball and fly ball rates didn’t change enough to make sense out of all the homers he dished out. His plate discipline numbers improved pretty significantly, with his contact rate dropping almost 9% lower than it was in 2015. While he finished the season strong, if the Giles owner in your league was absent minded, now would be a good time to try and get Giles for cents on the dollar.
9) Wade Davis, Chicago Cubs (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 1)
Davis joins the mighty Cubs, and maintains his reputation as a strong relief option in dynasty. Davis pitches with a combination of good stuff, good control, and good ball in play results. His well-rounded overall approach isn’t that of the standard flame throwing reliever, but he’s been incredibly successful since he transitioned to the bullpen. The reason he slips from the #1 spot despite strong results is the combination of two unfortunate things. 1) Davis is 31, and everyone fears what is to come, as unfair as that may seem, and 2) Davis experienced a forearm injury towards the end of last season. We don’t need to tell you that those are a bad omen for fantasy owners, but the fear of potentially losing Davis to 16 months of Tommy John recovery is enough to put fear in the hearts of us TDG rankers.
10) Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 6)
As fair or unfair as this may seem, Allen holds the rights to being the closer in Cleveland. While it seemed Terry Francona would be mixing and matching as he went along, Andrew Miller only had 3 saves in 26 appearances as an Indian. But that’s enough Miller talk, Allen was excellent in his own right. He piled up strikeouts, and recorded a career high ground ball rate of 45.6%. The career high home run rate is alarming, but its only slightly higher than it was in 2013 and 2014 when he was as good if not better than he was last season. Allen is a strong asset to own as focal point in your dynasty bullpen.
11) Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians (Age: 31; Previous Rank: 25)
Coming off an electric postseason stretch where he struck out every batter he faced (ed. note: this is not true), Miller enters the 2017 season as the most dominant non-”closer” reliever in the game. Last season with the Yankees and Indians, Miller fanned 123 hitters in 74.3 innings. Seriously. He might not rack up a ton of saves, but he’ll surely be excellent everywhere else. You don’t become the poster boy for the new reliever revolution without being awesome at relief pitching.
12) David Robertson, Chicago White Sox (Age: 31; Previous Rank: 9)
It’s very unlikely that anyone will “oooh” and “ahhh” at your David Robertson pick. So if that’s what you’re looking for, look elsewhere. If you want a guy that just consistently picks up saves despite his team situation, Robertson is your man. He walked a few too many guys last season, which didn’t help his rates, but he still picked up 34 saves and whiffed over 10 hitters per nine innings for a struggling White Sox team.
13) Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals (Age: 27; Previous Rank: 35)
First came Soria, and he was great. Holland and Davis followed, also great. Now Herrera looks to take the baton as the next dominant Royals closer. It’s almost as if he knew he was auditioning for the role last season, posting career highs in WHIP, DRA-, cFIP, and walks per nine (or lows, you get it). He also added over two strikeouts per nine from his 2015 total, all while pumping 98 mph fastballs. If franchise history is any indication, Herrera could be special in the closer role.
14) Seung Hwan Oh, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 34; Previous Rank: NR)
After incumbent closer Trevor Rosenthal struggled, the Cardinals officially handed the ninth inning over to Oh in July. He immediately became one of the premier closers in the league, with a 95 mph heater that generates all kinds of whiffs. He might’ve gotten a touch lucky with his 6.7 percent HR/FB rate (despite inducing flyballs 40.5 percent of the time), but Oh should remain valuable for dynasty owners for the next handful of seasons. Also, his nickname, The Final Boss, could be the greatest closer nickname of all-time.
15) Jeurys Familia, New York Mets (Age: 27; Previous Rank: 7)
Familia gave up one homer in 77.7 innings last season. One. He induces a ton of groundballs, thanks to a special 97 mph sinker, and he has saved more than 40 games in two consecutive seasons. While he’s really great at his job, he’s also facing a rather lengthy suspension due to an offseason domestic violence incident, so it’s hard to confidently predict when he’ll be back saving games for the Mets.
16) Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 27; Previous Rank: 54 SP)
Heading into last season, Iglesias was Jeremy Renner coming off of The Hurt Locker. He was a breakthrough star that was moving on to bigger and better things. Heading into this season, Iglesias is Jeremy Renner coming off of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. He’s still very talented and an asset, but is probably more effective in smaller doses. Iglesias was pretty good last season after his move to the bullpen, striking out more than a batter per inning, and he’ll likely be in the hunt for the Reds’ closer job as early as this season.
17) Dellin Betances, New York Yankees (Age: 29; Previous Rank: 26)
Betances is easily a top-5 reliever, despite what Randy Levine says. Had Aroldis Chapman not re-signed with the Yankees, it’s reasonable to make the case for Betances topping this list. After logging 174 innings over the last two years, Girardi leaned on the 6’8” flamethrower a little less last season, and once again Betances put up otherworldly numbers. He fanned 15.5 hitters per nine innings with a 32 cFIP. His 3.08 ERA was slightly inflated, but his 1.44 DRA suggests that it was a little unlucky. Needless to say, Betances is worth more than $3 million and I’m not an astronaut.
18) Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 28; Previous Rank: NR)
The old sports adage that you can’t lose your job due to injury did not apply in the Rays’ bullpen last season. Colome took the ninth inning reins when Brad Boxberger went down, and performed admirably for the season. He saved 37 and added 11.3 strikeouts per nine while only surrendering 2.4 walks in the same time frame. Colome’s name was oft mentioned in trade rumors this offseason, and if he gets moved to a non-closer role, his value would dip, but until then, enjoy the saves.
19) Cam Bedrosian, Los Angeles Angels (Age: 25; Previous Rank: NR)
Son of Phillies’ great Steve, the younger Bedrosian has long been seen as a potential closer. He got that chance for a short stint last season before surgery to remove a blood clot in his arm ended his stint prematurely in September. Still, there’s a ton to like with Bedrosian. He pumps a 96 mph rising fastball that helps him induce plenty of grounders (52 percent last year) and plenty of whiffs (51 punchouts in 40.3 innings). He’ll get the chance again to win the closer role out of spring training, and if he does, he could launch up these rankings.
20) A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins (Age: 30; Previous Rank: 22)
Welcome to the weird world of the Marlins bullpen. Despite Ramos saving 32 and 40 games in the last two seasons respectively, the team went out and signed ALL OF THE RELIEVERS this offseason, casting some doubt on his role moving forward. Ramos walks a few too many guys and his 1.6 percent HR/FB rate last season is, um, likely unsustainable, but he does strike guys out and if he’s left in the ninth inning, he should continue to compile big save totals.
21) Francisco Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers (Age: 35, Previous Rank: 15)
No matter how you slice it, Rodriguez’ statistical results remain playable in a fantasy context. The Venezuelan native been extremely durable and consistent, firing 183 1/3 innings with a 2.85 ERA and 126 saves, over the last three seasons. Prior to last year, he had averaged over a strikeout per inning in every season dating back to 2002. While his walk rate (3.2 BB/9) backslid from a career-best 1.74 BB/9 the previous year in Milwaukee, it isn’t a major concern yet. He’s morphed into a changeup-first reliever, which is a bizarre profile, but he’s remained very effective. At his age, it’s imperative to remember that the wheels could come off at any point, but he’s a proven closer with minimal risk of losing his job. Those guys always have nine lives. Saves are saves.
22) Adam Ottavino, Colorado Rockies (Age: 31, Previous Rank: NR)
The offseason acquisition of experienced veteran Greg Holland via free agency, and the constant presence of Jake McGee, put a damper on some of the excitement surrounding Ottavino’s 2017 fantasy value. On the surface, it’s easy to wonder why dynasty owners should be excited about a 31-year-old that has thrown just 37 1/3 innings over the last two years. In his 10 appearances before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015, Ottavino’s average fastball velocity spiked to 96 mph. The velocity bump remained intact upon his return, as he racked up seven saves while posting a 2.67 ERA with 35 strikeouts and just seven walks in 27 innings last season. If he remains healthy, he’s a legitimate top-20 closer moving forward. There’s a ton of risk.
23) Tony Watson, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 48)
After five seasons of stellar relief in a setup capacity, Watson finally ascended into the closer role in Pittsburgh, notching 15 saves after Mark Melancon was dealt at the trade deadline last season. Unfortunately, the southpaw’s walk and home run rates spiked, leading to a 3.06 ERA, his worst mark in three years. Given the dearth of options in the Pirates bullpen entering the 2017 campaign, he’s extremely unlikely to walk the plank anytime soon, even if his struggles continue. Saves are saves.
24) Shawn Kelley, Washington Nationals (Age: 33, Previous Rank: NR)
Over the last four seasons, Kelley’s 11.8 strikeouts-per-nine ranks eighth out of 84 relievers with at least 200 innings. Following the departure of free agent Mark Melancon, someone has to close in Washington. The logical favorite to inherit the role would be Kelley, who was outstanding last season. In addition to recording a 2.86 DRA, he posted a career-high 80 strikeouts (12.4 K/9) and 11 walks (1.7 BB/9) over 58 innings. He’s one of the best relievers in baseball and he gets zero respect. That should change in 2017.
25) Tyler Thornburg, Boston Red Sox (Age: 28, Previous Rank: NR)
On the heels of a true breakout campaign, which featured 13 saves along with a 2.56 DRA (2.15 ERA) and 90 strikeouts over 67 innings in Milwaukee last season, the Georgia native will ship up to Boston with orders to lock down the eighth inning. He’s no immediate threat to Craig Kimbrel, who is under contract for the next two seasons. However, if Kimbrel’s major control issues persist (or he gets hurt again) all hell could break loose. Dynasty owners speculating purely on raw talent, regardless of situation, should keep Thornburg on their target list. It’s not impossible to envision a scenario in which he jumps into the top 10 on this list in the future.
Commentary by Jack Cecil, Mark Barry, and George Bissell