The Dynasty Guru’s Top 75 Dynasty League Relief Pitchers, Nos. 26-50
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 continue our relief pitcher rankings with who may be the Brewers’ closer of the future:
26) Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 25, Previous Rank: NR)
The strikeouts (10.5 career K/9 rate) are clearly there, but there’s also a very limited track record with Knebel, who has thrown just 91 major-league innings over the past three seasons. After the Brewers jettisoned Tyler Thornburg to Boston this offseason, Knebel could emerge as the favorite to open the year as the closer in Milwaukee. It sounds like a risky proposition, but as we all know, the proper way to baptize any hard-throwing reliever from Texas is to toss them directly into the fire. If he survives this season, Knebel is going to be a good one for a long time.
27) Brandon Maurer, San Diego Padres (Age: 26, Previous Rank: NR)
Maurer may have ended the 2016 campaign as the Padres closer, recording 13 saves over the final three months of the season, but there’s a strong possibility that the California native is unable to hold down the role long-term. Veteran southpaws Ryan Buchter and Brad Hand–along with dark horse candidate Carter Capps–are all viable back-end options on hand to usurp him at any moment. Prior to last season, Maurer had never struck out more than a batter-per-inning, and a lackluster 4.14 career DRA leaves much to be desired. Dynasty owners are better served speculating for saves elsewhere this spring.
28) Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 28, Previous Rank: NR)
“Have you ever seen a game that you probably could save? But a year to get those saves, the front office wanted you to wait. Let me tell you the story of Neris’ situation.”
Those may be alternative lyrics to the ones the diabolical Biz Markie wrote in 1989, but they’re a fitting remix for the modern times in Philadelphia. Armed with his signature 87 MPH splitter–which he threw 703 times in 2016–the 27-year-old posted a 3.00 DRA with 102 strikeouts and just 30 walks over 80 1/3 innings of work in 2016. If Neris isn’t closing by mid-season, it would be the biggest upset since…well…you probably know where I’m going…
29) Sam Dyson, Texas Rangers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: NR)
There’s no denying that Dyson came back strong after serving up a season-ending home run to Jose Bautista in the 2015 NLDS. Despite a pedestrian strikeout rate (7.0 K/9), he managed to record 38 saves with a 2.43 ERA in 2016. The chasm between his actual ERA and Deserved Run Average (3.64 DRA) should be a major cause for concern, but until someone else steps up to challenge him for the role in Texas, he’s not losing his gig. Saves are saves.
30) Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox (Age: 31, Previous Rank: NR)
Virtually every facet of Jones career is extremely weird. Whether it’s his unorthodox delivery, or his path to the big leagues, none of it really makes any sense. A fifth-round selection back in 2007, it took him five years to reach Double-A and he didn’t make his major-league debut until he was 26-years-old. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he posted the sixth-lowest DRA (2.22) of any pitcher (min. 70 IP) in 2016. He’s locked into an extremely team-friendly contract for the next five seasons, and will get a chance to close once the White Sox move on from David Robertson.
31) Carter Capps, San Diego Padres (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 24)
Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote in his timeless classic Walden: “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” For 31 surreal innings (1.16 ERA with a 16.8 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9), Capps’ extraterrestrial hop-step delivery, which resulted in a major-league leading 101.52 MPH average perceived velocity on his fastball in 2015, was the truth.
Unfortunately, Capps missed the entire 2016 campaign after tearing his UCL in the spring and undergoing Tommy John surgery. He’s fully healthy this spring, and is a legitimate candidate to close for San Diego this season. The prodigious strikeout rate and unique delivery make him a true albatross, and the ultimate dark horse speculative pickup in dynasty formats. If he stays healthy for a full season, Capps could be an absolute monster. That’s the unvarnished truth.
32) Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 38)
The most talented reliever in Atlanta’s bullpen, Vizcaino posted a career-best 3.77 DRA with 10 saves and 50 strikeouts over 38 2/3 innings in 2016. Unless he supplants Proven Closer (™) Jim Johnson, which isn’t totally unrealistic, there’s a limit to Vizcaino’s immediate fantasy value. Injuries are the main variable that could potentially limit his chances of blossoming into a full-time closer in the future, as he already has Tommy John surgery on his resume and missed two months due to a strained oblique and subsequent shoulder inflammation last season. The health risks are real, but so is the talent.
33) Fernando Rodney, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 40, Previous Rank: 44)
“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means it’s going to launch into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming.” –Anonymous
Keep aiming those arrows Fernando. Saves are saves.
34) Jim Johnson, Atlanta Braves (Age: 34, Previous Rank: NR)
The 11-year veteran’s strikeout rate inexplicably spiked to a career-high 9.5 batters-per-nine last season, and the Braves inked him to a two-year contract extension last October. With 154 career saves under his belt, including back-to-back 50 save campaigns with Orioles, he’s earned the managerially-comforting Proven Closer (™) tag, and barring injury (or total ineffectiveness), Johnson is a safe bet to add 30 more to his total in Atlanta this season. Saves are saves.
35) Ryan Madson, Oakland Athletics (Age: 36, Previous Rank: 50)
Madson was sidelined for three consecutive years (2012-2014) due to Tommy John surgery and recurring elbow issues, but bounced back strong with Kansas City, tossing 63 1/3 innings in 2015. After signing a three-year deal with Oakland last offseason, he racked up 30 saves for the first time in five years, while posting a pedestrian 4.69 ERA and just 49 strikeouts over 64 2/3 innings. Saves are saves.
36) Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 12)
Sources indicate that Rondon checked into the witness protection program following the mid-season acquisition of Aroldis Chapman. Now, this is not the venue for me to lay out all of the evidence, but just talk to anyone in Illinois about it. Rondon made just 16 appearances over the final 68 games and pitched just seven innings in the postseason, leading to speculation that his triceps injury was a far more serious issue than initially reported. The lack of work is odd because Rondon is really, really good when healthy; in his 54 appearances, he posted a 3.28 DRA with 58 strikeouts and just eight walks in 51 innings. Rondon will likely open the season setting the table for Wade Davis, but he could easily reclaim the ninth inning at any moment, making him a supreme buy-low opportunity in dynasty leagues this offseason.
37) Carl Edwards Jr. Chicago Cubs (Age: 25, Previous Rank: NR)
With the Cubs on the verge of clinching their first World Series in 108 years, it was the 25-year-old rookie, Edwards, whom manager Joe Maddon called upon to take the mound in extra-innings. The former 48th rounder in 2011 finally made his major-league debut in 2016, posting a stellar 2.59 DRA with 52 strikeouts and just 14 walks in 36 innings last season. Armed with a four-seam fastball and curveball that generate truly elite whiff rates, it may be only a matter of time before Edwards ascends to the closer role in Chicago. The time to invest in dynasty leagues is right now.
38) Addison Reed, New York Mets (Age: 28, Previous Rank: NR)
One of the most intriguing speculative targets on this list, Reed has re-invented himself in New York, evolving into one of the most effective relievers in the game over the past two seasons. In addition to slashing his walk rate to a minuscule 1.5 per nine innings, he posted the highest strikeout rate (10.5 K/9) and lowest ERA (1.97) of his career. With entrenched closer Jeurys Familia facing a likely suspension, Reed should be able to rack up at least a month’s worth of saves to begin the 2017 campaign. Armed with a slider that would make the folks at White Castle envious, Reed should be able to provide–at the very least–a solid boost in dynasty owners’ ratios and strikeouts over the final five months. He’s the real deal. Honestly, it’s a total mystery to this author as to why he ranks so low on this list.
39) Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 11)
The list of former closers to successfully transition into a starting role is almost non-existent. The most prominent example in the current era (since 1998) is Hall of Famer John Smoltz. Over a four-year stretch (2001-2004), Smoltz recorded 154 saves before transitioning back into the rotation and making 135 starts over his final five seasons. In arguably the most intriguing storyline this spring, Rosenthal, a successful starter throughout his entire minor-league career, will attempt the feat himself. The loss of top pitching prospect Alex Reyes to Tommy John surgery could open a rotation spot for Rosenthal, but his questionable control threatens to slam it shut and he’ll likely need time to be sufficiently stretched out. Unless he makes substantial progress this spring, let someone else roll the dice.
40) Brandon Kintzler, Minnesota Twins (Age: 32, Previous Rank: NR)
There’s nothing inherently exciting about Kintzler, except for an avalanche of unverified reports that the 32-year-old would rather wrestle a grizzly bear than walk an opposing batter. Kintzler’s walk rate (1.3 BB/9) was the sixth-lowest of any major-league pitcher (min. 50 IP) in 2016. He won’t be an asset in strikeouts, but a 60 percent career groundball rate, fueled by a heavy diet of sinkers, insulate some of the risk in his profile. Unlike the #FakeNews referenced earlier, verified reports indicate that Kintzler is slated to open the regular season as Minnesota’s default stopper. Saves are saves.
41) Joaquin Benoit, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 39, Previous Rank: 46)
It’s completely fair to wonder if there’s anything left in the tank with Benoit, as he started handing out free passes (5.5 BB/9) like a Six Flags employee during his brief Seattle stint, and ended up getting shipped to Toronto for the embattled Drew Storen. While he gave up just one run over 23 2/3 innings in the land of maple syrup and hockey, his season came to an end in truly embarrassing fashion. For reasons that remain unclear, Jeanmar Gomez will open the season as the Phillies closer. If Gomez falters early, manager Pete Mackanin may vote to hand the ball to his in-house Proven Closer (™), but we all know that elections have had strange outcomes recently.
42) Kyle Barraclough, Miami Marlins (Age: 26, Previous Rank: NR)
First of all, it’s pronounced “Bear-Claw.” A former collegiate starter at St. Mary’s, Barraclough became just the fourth pitcher since 1998 to record both a punchout rate of over 14 per game and issue more than five walks per nine. That’s absurd. Even if he fails to reign in the command, there’s a chance that he surpasses incumbent A.J. Ramos (and other relievers the Fish imported this winter) for the ninth inning sooner, rather than later. By DRA, his 2.33 mark was the 11th-best mark in baseball in 2016. If he starts throwing more strikes, the upside gets scary. There’s still time to join #TeamBearClaw in dynasty leagues, but the hype train is about to leave the station.
43) Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 13)
“I’m really glad you lost some weight,” said Angels owner Arte Moreno to his 33-year-old closer (of whom he will pay $9 million this season) last week. Ouch. That’s one of the worst backhanded compliments you’re ever going to see, especially when you consider that the 13-year veteran (with 324 career saves on his resume) is being forced to compete for his job in spring training. There are two contenders entering the arena. The first, Cam Bedrosian, has legitimate durability issues, but the 25-year-old is a fresh-faced future stopper, with an electric arsenal at his disposal. The other, Andrew Bailey, is a resilient, injury-scarred long shot, looking for redemption. The three-headed competition is a compelling storyline, but a motivated and re-energized Street is a lock to keep his job this season. As you may have heard, saves are saves.
44) Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 28)
The embattled 30-year-old southpaw has battled chronic shoulder woes in each of the last two seasons, limiting him to just 52 2/3 innings over that span. Fortunately, he enters the impending campaign “fully healthy” after racking up nine injury-free appearances in September. Setting aside the persistent durability issues, Doolittle, who owns a 3.08 DRA with 10.9 strikeouts-per-nine and just 1.7 walks-per-nine in 231 career appearances, has the raw stuff to close for the A’s again. For fantasy owners speculating on potential closers in dynasty formats, it’s critical to remember that Ryan Madson isn’t exactly the picture of health either. If the opportunity arises, Doolittle is in a prime position to take advantage–health-permitting, of course.
45) Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 31, Previous Rank: NR)
A criminally underrated middle reliever, Brach posted a 2.63 DRA (2.05 ERA) with 92 strikeouts and just 25 walks in 79 innings in 2016. His electric three-pitch mix–highlighted by a 96 mph fastball–delivered out of a low three-quarters arm slot, limited right-handers to a paltry .126/.187/.212 (.399 OPS) slash line in 2016. “Oh, that’s nasty,” as Cleveland Brown would say. Granted, Brach’s long-term fantasy upside is limited by the presence of sinker specialist/elite closer Zach Britton, but given the volatility of non-closing relievers from year-to-year, he’s one of the safest investments at the position right now.
46) Matt Bush, Texas Rangers (Age: 31, Previous Rank: NR)
At this time last year, Matt Bush was best known for being one of the biggest busts in MLB history and was just finishing with his work in the Florida Penal League. Now, he is one of the top candidates to pick up saves should Sam Dyson stumble. In 56 major league appearances, Bush struck out nearly a batter per inning while posting a 2.48 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and held opponents to just a .193 batting average. If he can continue to put up numbers like that, he has immense value in leagues that count holds–until he gets a crack at a bigger role.
47) Hunter Strickland, San Francisco Giants (Age: 28, Previous Rank: NR)
Over the past few seasons, Strickland was tabbed as a potential replacement for any number of previous Giants closers. The previous occupants have all moved on, but that real estate now belongs to someone else who is a few spots higher on this list. Strickland still can be counted on to strike out roughly a batter per frame with around a 3.00 ERA and 1.10-ish WHIP, and has averaged 19 holds over the past two seasons. He still retains some solid value in holds leagues, but his profile is pretty common without the added value that closer status encompasses.
48) Jeremy Jeffress, Texas Rangers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 33)
Jeffress is the type of player who usually gets lost in the fantasy shuffle–a reliever without a loud profile who doesn’t pitch in the ninth inning. That changed in 2016, when he was given the closer gig in Milwaukee, and Jeffress converted 27 out of 28 opportunities before being traded to the Rangers at the deadline. He joins a trio of talented righties waiting in the wings in case Sam Dyson can’t hang onto the job. Jeffress’ strikeout numbers don’t exactly fit the profile of a typical shutdown reliever, but he’s got more closing experience than the competition–which could count for something should any save chances arise.
49) Daniel Hudson, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 30, Previous Rank: NR)
For the past two seasons, Hudson’s name has been floated as a possible dark horse to take over closing duties in Arizona. With the move to Pittsburgh, he finds himself in a similar situation, this time behind another unlikely closer in Tony Watson. Over the past two years, Hudson has averaged about a 9.0 K/9, but his peripherals have been less than stellar. There is a good chance he could run into some save opportunities, but he holds little value until that happens.
50) Drew Storen, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 20)
At a glance, Storen’s 2016 numbers look pretty rough. Most of the damage was caused by a first-half in which he posted a 1.50 WHIP, and opponents hit .291 against him with a 15.2 percent HR/FB rate. He fared much better in the second-half, posting a 1.07 WHIP, .230 batting average against and 11.8 percent HR/FB rate. That last number still represents a career-high, so hopefully for Storen that second-half reduction continues in 2017, as he moves back to the National League and looks to enter a dreaded closer-by-committee situation in Cincinnati.
Commentary by George Bissell and Travis Johnson