THE DYNASTY GURU’S 2021 TOP 200 DYNASTY LEAGUE RELIEF PITCHERS, #1-20
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Without further ado, it’s time to continue our 2021 consensus rankings by kicking off our dynasty RP ranks, 1-20.
1. Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 1)
Still number one on the list, and in your hearts, Josh Hader is the king of fantasy relievers. Josh offers truly elite strikeout rates of 14.68/9 last year and 16.41/9 the previous year. His walk rate almost doubled in 2020 but he also cut a full 5 mph off his average exit velocity, meaning he was still difficult to square up. A common theme among the top relievers is also shared by Hader: he has quite a bit of job security in the closer role. It was rumored the Brewers might trade him this offseason, but that could very much be the team seeing if anyone would overpay for a reliever. As far as dynasty leagues are concerned, it’s almost a certainty any team acquiring Hader would want him closing games. Hader’s spot towards the top of these ranks should continue for years to come. (Ken Balderston)
2. Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 6)
Welcome to Chicago Mr. Hendriks, and while he’ll be calling a tougher park to pitch at home, he’s proven the last two years he can do the job anywhere.
Similar to Hader, Hendricks provides elite strikeout rates and also elite ratios. He’s a bit older than Josh but the 3yr/$54M contract he received this offseason shows the White Sox commitment and faith in his abilities. With Chicago looking to emerge as a playoff team in 2021, Hendriks should have plenty of save opportunities this year and going forward. (Ken Balderston)
3. Edwin Diaz, New York Mets (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 3)
No, it’s unlikely the Mets ever appear to be winners of the deal that brought Diaz to New York, but he’s still an extremely talented reliever. After a tough year in 2019, he bounced back with his second sub 2.00 ERA season in three years, and also struck out more than 15 batters per 9 innings for the third straight year. He also managed to keep the ball in the yard for the most part, which is consistent with his career norms.
Diaz might be the first closer on our list to have some doubts about his job security, having it questioned in 2019. Now again this offseason with the team adding Trevor May and Aaron Loup to a pen that already included Dellin Betances, Seth Lugo, and Jeurys Familia. I see these moves representing a team looking to contend, adding the bullpen depth needed to go deep into the playoffs. But if Diaz pitches even close to his abilities, he will very likely run away with the closer role and anchor a playoff-caliber pen. (Ken Balderston)
4. James Karinchak, Cleveland Baseball Team (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 26)
Another flame-throwing strikeout machine, the type of profile that fantasy players absolutely love. Armed with a 95 mph fastball and curve that comes in over 12 miles per hour slower, Karinchak is very tough to square up and struck out almost 50% of the batters he faced last year (top 1% in the league). Karinchak figures to be the closer in Cleveland, and while he only has one career save (admittedly in only 32 career innings), that’s more a reflection of the team formerly rostering Brad Hand than anything. Karinchak has the elite stuff to run with the role, and the ability to be a dominant closer for the foreseeable future. (Ken Balderston)
5. Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 5)
Love him or hate him, Chapman will likely go down as one of the all-time best closers in the history of baseball. Now 33 years old, Aroldis looks to add to his 276 career saves (34th all-time) and should have plenty of job security as the Yankees’ closer. He maintained elite strikeout rates approaching 17 batters per 9 innings, thanks to his fastball velocity still averaging over 98 mph. He did have an elevated home run rate of 1.53/9, but that’s literally only 2 home runs in 11 regular-season innings and allowed one more in 4 2/3 playoff innings. Chapman comes with his own personal drama, but there are few in the league with his level of job security. For years, the Yankees have rostered one of the deepest and most talented bullpens in baseball, and Chapman is rarely questioned as the closer despite his off-field issues or health. Look for him to continue his climb up the career saves list and help many a competitive dynasty team for years to come. (Ken Balderston)
6. Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 13)
Coming off a tough season in 2019, where he had an ERA north of 4.00 and 12 losses, Iglesias had a lot to prove last year. That’s kind of funny because the previous three seasons his ERA was around 2.50, his strike-out rate always over 10/9 even in ’19 when he struggled, and he still managed to save a career-high 34 games. Now with the Angels, Iglesias should have plenty of job security not only because he’s earned it, but nobody else in the Anaheim pen has ever closed regularly in the majors before. The Angels will look to make a run at the playoffs and having a dependable closer at the back of their bullpen will be a big part of that. (Ken Balderston)
7. Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 32)
Pressly has quite a bit of job security despite only having 18 career saves. Thanks largely to being a very effective reliever the past three seasons, and having very little competition for the job in Houston. In fact, Pressly is the only member of the Astros’ pen projected to have a sub 4.00 ERA on Fangraphs Roster Resource. He’s also going to help with gaudy strikeout numbers, sitting at 11.93 K/9 or higher the last three seasons, and less than a home run per 9 IP as well. I wouldn’t say age is a concern either, as seven of the top ten guys on this list are thirty or older. (Ken Balderston)
8. Brad Hand, Washington Nationals (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 7)
After being surprisingly waived by Cleveland this offseason, rather than pick up his $10 million option, Hand signed with the Nationals for what I’m sure is a non-coincidental amount of $10.5 million. I’d say he’s well worth it too, over the last five seasons, his 162 game average is 2.70 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 24 saves, and 97 strikeouts in 72 innings. He’s also very consistent; in that same time frame, he’s never had an ERA over 3.30 or a WHIP over 1.24. Coming off a season where he led the majors in saves at 16, Hand now joins a retooled Nationals team who are looking to make another run at the postseason, meaning he should see plenty of save opportunities. (Ken Balderston)
9. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 9)
It’s been nine years now that Jansen has been the closer in Los Angeles, and he sits 24th all-time with 312 career saves. Another 30-save season would vault him past Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers. I mention this because, despite so much success, it seems that people keep waiting for Kenley to fail. Maybe it’s the tough outings in the spotlight of the postseason, but Jansen was still huge in dynasty scoring periods. Last season he was in the top 1% in baseball for both Hard hit rate (14%) and exit velocity (82.7 mph). No longer a cutter only profile, Kenley has added a sinker that he throws over 28% of the time and managed a Wiff% of 35.8% with the pitch. He keeps getting outs, he keeps getting saves, he keeps helping your dynasty team win. (Ken Balderston)
10. Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 11)
One of the most dominant relievers in baseball since coming over from Miami in trade, his last 37.2 innings Anderson has a 1.43 ERA and 0.584 WHIP, with 16 strikeouts per 9. That’s absolutely amazing production, and the reason he might be the first non-closer on the list. Tampa also has Diego Castillo in their ‘pen who seemed to share the closer role with Anderson last season, as well as Pete Fairbanks who the team showed confidence in late high-pressure situations during their playoff run. It’s very possible all three of these guys see save opportunities in 2021, but Anderson has been so dominant he provides ratio and strikeout value some full-time closers can’t. [ALSO OF NOTE HE REPLACED BLAKE SNELL IN GAME 6 LAST YEAR AND PROMPTLY GAVE UP THE TYING AND GO-AHEAD RUNS AND I KNOW THE RAYS OFFENSE SHOULD BE CAPABLE OF PRODUCING 2 RUNS OVER 3 INNINGS BUT IT’S VERY HARD TO NOT FEEL LIKE ANDERSON LOST THE SERIES FOR THE RAYS, SO IF HE’S OWNED BY ANY RAYS FANS YOU CAN PROBABLY GET HIM AT A DISCOUNT IF HE HASN’T ALREADY BEEN CUT- Ed., who may or may not be a Rays guy] (Ken Balderston)
11. Devin Williams, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 26, Previous Rank: NR)
Relief pitchers don’t normally excite me but Devin is an exception. In the 2020 short season he posted an insane 53 strikeouts in 27 innings of work. With that kind of damage, he was obviously a force to be reckoned with when he stepped on the mound last year. Taking a look at his metrics you will find that he dominated in that area as well. His xwOBA, xERA, xBA, xSLG, K% and Whiff % were all ranked in the 100th percentile. Yes, you read that correctly. 2020 was a small sample size but I am all on the Devin Williams hype train for the long haul. (Brent Cook)
12. Drew Pomeranz, San Diego Padres (Age: 32, Previous Rank: NR)
It seems like Drew’s days in a starting rotation are past him. He posted a few good years back in 2016 and 2017 but his numbers as a starter began trending in the wrong direction in 2018. With all this being said, it seems like Pomeranz is best suited in the bullpen. He did very well in San Diego as a reliever, as he struck out 29 in 18.2 innings. He also had nine holds and four saves which shows he was mostly utilized in high-leverage situations. (Brent Cook)
13. Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins (Age: 30, Previous Rank: NR)
Taylor is another dynasty victim of the short season. Plain and simple, Rogers just wasn’t the same. His fastball velocity was down from 2020 which was the story of many pitchers. Rogers was also getting rocked, as his hard-hit percentage dropped from the top seven percent of the league to the bottom 22nd percent. His strikeout numbers were in the 90th percentile in 2019 but dropped to the 65th percentile in 2020. What encouraged me with Rogers is that he still maintained good command of the strike zone as he stayed in the top ten percentile in walk percentage. Don’t be afraid of going after Rogers. (Brent Cook)
14. Kirby Yates, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 33, Previous Rank: RP18)
Well wouldn’t you know it, another 2020 victim. If you remember, Kirby was only able to pitch four innings in 2020 before injuring his pitching elbow. The season before Yates was an All-Star and led the league in saves with 41. With Yates in Toronto, he should have the nod as the opening day closer. If he doesn’t begin the year as the closer and they have some trouble finishing games, then look for the Blue Jays to turn to the savvy veteran. For those in dynasty leagues, if you need a potential closer but you don’t want to send your whole farm system, try a sneak attack and try to get Yates on your team! (Brent Cook)
15. Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 24, Previous Rank: RP 17)
Hicks didn’t have any MLB experience in 2020 as he was recovering from Tommy John. Looking at his 2019 numbers, it isn’t hard to see why he is at this spot on the list. Hicks had fourteen saves that season as well as three holds. His fastball is elite and is in the league’s top percentile according to Statcast. Given the fact that Hicks is only 24, you are going to have a little more difficulty in trying to make a move for him. Where you see Hicks on this list will more than likely be the last time you see him this low for a few more years, so get him if you can! (Brent Cook)
16. Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Baseball Team (Age: 22, Previous Rank: NR)
Here we are with another fireball pitcher! When Clase was with the Rangers back in 2019, he boasted a cutting fastball that ranked in the top two percent in velocity. The spin rate on this cutting fastball was also among the league’s best, as it ranked in the top four percentile of the league. He also featured a slider and a four-seam fastball but the cut fastball was his bread and butter. Clase had high-leverage success in Texas and he is primed to have the same success long term in Cleveland. Clase is only 22 which makes him very appealing since we are talking about dynasty. (Brent Cook)
17. Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs (Age: 32, Previous Rank: RP6)
“The bigger they are, the harder they fall” is definitely a true expression. It seems to be fitting for Kimbrel. Kimbrel was among the top closers in the league since he joined the Braves bullpen in 2010. Last year his fastball velocity actually improved from 2019 to 2020 in terms of sheer velocity, but just because you can pump the radar gun doesn’t mean you can pump it past the barrel of the bat. This is true for Kimbrel. After a stop-off from Atlanta to Boston, he has been in Chicago for two seasons and there hasn’t been much to show for it. He has only pitched 35 innings the last two years due to injuries and on top of the injuries his WHIP numbers are his career-worst. Hopefully, 2021 will be kind to Kimbrel and he makes a huge leap on this list next year. (Brent Cook)
18. Alex Colome, Free Agent (Age: 32, Previous Rank: RP30)
Colome is intriguing to me. His numbers show that he is actually getting better. I don’t think that is just the short 2020 season talking either. What worries me with Colome long term is that he has backed away from having a true off-speed pitch. In 2020 he broke away from his changeup. He used that pitch less than 3% of the time in 2019 so maybe he just realized he didn’t need it, but it still concerns me over the stretch of a long season. His sabermetrics were the best of his Statcast days. Definitely try to grab Colome wherever you can, as he should have a good role in the Minnesota bullpen. (Brent Cook)
19. Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers (Age: 27, Previous Rank: RP11)
You want to get crazy? Whether you want to join the craziness or not it is happening. Make a deal for Leclerc right now. The first reason is because Leclerc just came off an injury that kept him out of the 2020 campaign, so maybe someone else doesn’t value him as highly as you do. The second reason is that in regards to sabermetrics, Leclerc was among the league’s best in 2018 and 2019. The only area that Leclerc struggled at was in walk percentage where he actually declined in the 2019 campaign. The craziness I am going out on a limb to say is that Leclerc is going to climb into the top ten next year. (Brent Cook)
20. Jake Diekman, Oakland Athletics (Age: 34, Previous Rank: NR)
If you are in a league where you need holds then Diekman is your guy. Over the last three seasons, Diekman has averaged over 20 per season. The Athletics have shown how much they trust in Diekman as a setup guy ever since they traded for him in 2019. Since then, he’s recorded 13 holds in just over 20 innings of work in each year. Even better with Diekman is the fact that he only allowed one run all year. He was a man among boys so if you are looking for someone to bolster your relief pitching, then Diekman is your guy! (Brent Cook)