Whoever coined that phrase was likely a fantasy baseball team owner in a standard 5 X 5 Roto League. I realize fantasy baseball probably didn’t exist when that phrase first evolved but just roll with me here for a minute. You know I am right if you consider how the definition fits the closer position in fantasy baseball. Last year, I lamented the Closer Conundrum both in my pre-season Closer rankings, and in my April 27th article which I wrote because of the record-setting closer turnover in the first two weeks of 2014. But then I had an epiphany in early June (not really, I just decided it was time to stop crying and do something about it) when I wrote about several practical ways to deal with the closer position and its problems going forward. That article outlines some alternate ways to score and play fantasy without deterring from the basic premise of a simple but realistic as possible scoring model.
My point is simple really. If you continue to play in 5 X 5 Roto leagues and keep trying to find better, faster and slicker ways to accumulate closers and saves over the course of a season, but expect that things are going to change because of your efforts, well quite simply, YOU ARE MAD. INSANE. I am no longer doing things the same way anymore both when it comes to ranking relievers and managing a bullpen. That doesn’t clear me of all traces of madness by any means, but it is a positive step forward in the right direction. And that is not bad for an old dog.
I have the honor of kicking off the 2015 Major League Fantasy Sports Fantasy Baseball season with the first of our 2015 articles. What better way to start the Pre-Season Rankings than with the last players who enter the game. As you might have noticed I named this the 2015 Relief Pitcher Rankings as opposed to the 2015 Closer Rankings. In our leagues at MLFS the better closers still carry a bit more value than all but the best middle relievers who collect Holds(H) and Inherited Runners Stranded(IRS), mainly because of their skill level and opportunity to rack up scoring stats. The gap is far more wide in a 5 X 5, or even a 6 X 6 that was forward thinking enough to add Holds. We use a scoring model that rewards Holds and IRS in a single category (IRS+H, clever huh?) as well as Saves of course, but it is also part of a big picture scoring model that gives all players an equal chance to contribute to your score. So, your closer is important, but no more so than your catcher or your second baseman or some of the other 6 members of your bullpen.
For the reasons stated above, my unique rankings will mix the middle relievers right into the same ranking as the closers. So, if you see a guy like Betances, with his 1 career save sitting amongst the top 10, please don’t write and remind me that he is not yet a closer. He was still one of the top 5 scoring relievers in our system in 2014. The draft day goals have only changed slightly. I still need a Closer anchor and at least one more bonafide closer, then a couple of specialists and set up men to get my holds and IRS, but then, I fill the rest of the staff with the players I think have the best chance of stepping into the closers role later in the year. Those closers in waiting will add some H, IRS and other counting stats in the meantime. Think about this strategy late in the draft: All the top closers are off the board and all that are left are the probable closers for (insert names of perpetually rebuilding team here). Someone will figure that “Hey, someone has to close there” and draft that likely closer. A closer look at the roster, however, shows a guy a little further down the pecking order who has far better stuff and skills but isn’t quite ready for the bigger role yet. He likely has better peripherals, more K’s, and a brighter future than say a Chad Qualls or Jose Veras. I’m drafting the guy I think will be the closer at the end of the season, not the one who will start the year as the incumbent mainly because of the digits on his paycheck and some past success, only to have to stew over dropping him in June.
If one drafts this way, he/she will “Build a Better Bullpen” and be far more insulated from the closer whirlwind that is constantly blowing around the pitcher’s mound and be far better equipped for a 6-month season. Closers will change and you may still want to add some of the new replacements, but at least it will be just another add, not the frenzied rush to the wire of the AOL Cowboy, or the FAAB budget-blowing folly of chasing every potential closer that comes along. It may also help you decide whether or not to take that slugging outfielder who can help across the board in the 4th round instead of Craig Kimbrel who you’d draft that early in the past because of your closer separation anxiety. (If you or anyone you know suffers from CSA, Closer Separation Anxiety, call 1-800-RELIEVER)
I’ll start today with my top 10 relievers for 2015, and over the next few weeks I’ll rank another 90 for a full 100 relievers that should be relevant in just about any fantasy baseball format. For those of you that still play in 5 X 5 Roto Leagues you have my closer condolences, but I will include a ranking for just closers as well. Preceding each Closer named on the list will be two numbers, i.e. 12(10), The 12 is that pitcher’s overall Relief Pitcher ranking and the (10) being his closer ranking. Lets do it:
1(1). Craig Kimbrel, Atl, Closer: How can you not name him #1 based on sheer consistency at such a high level for 4 years. The only thing that could derail him is an injury at this point. He has over 40 saves each of the last 4 years, and an ERA under 2.00 & WHIP under 1.00 3 years in a row now. With a K/9 of nearly 14 he helps in that category as well, though he did have a spike in BB/9 at 3.8, but it hasn’t seemed to slow him down at all.
2(2). Greg Holland, KC, Closer: I predicted Holland would win the 2014 AL Saves title this time last season, and he did not disappoint though he finished 2nd, two behind Seattle’s Fernando Rodney. With numbers across the board similar to Craig Kimbrel, albeit in only two seasons as closer, Holland should continue to dominate the AL 9th inning for years to come.
3(3). Aroldis Chapman, Cin, Closer: If you were to take any of these first three as the first reliever off the board, I could not argue that. Chapman is only below these two guys because he’s not yet cracked 40 saves in three seasons as closer. Also, his ERA and WHIP ratios are a tad higher than Kimbrel or Holland. He also walks too many guys for my liking but he does follow that up with the highest K/9 rate in recent memory at 17.7%. With well over 100k’s each of the last two seasons and great ratios, he’s like having an extra SP.
4(4). Kenley Jansen, LAD, Closer: As one of the hardest throwers in the NL, it was only a matter of time before Kenley was the full time closer. His numbers in 2014 mirrored Aroldis Chapman, other than walk rate, which Jansen took by a full 1.5 walks. I think he is ready to join Kimbrel and Chapman as the NL elite for years to come.
5. Dellin Betances, NYY, Probable Closer: Have you looked closely yet at his final numbers? Really have you? I realize he is not guaranteed to be the closer on opening day, but, would any team, fantasy or otherwise, not be excited to have this guy on their menu? Rivera retired, then Robertson was allowed to pack up for Chicago, and even though they brought in Miller it still appears to be Betances’ job to lose. So, why is he up here in the top 5? In our Fantrax Leagues, Betances was the number two RP in baseball in 2015 even though he had all of one save. He was tied for 12th in our system with 55 IRS + H, but had far better ratios than ever pitcher ahead of him other than one Andrew Miller. His k/9 was 13.5 coupled with a low walk rate of 2.4. Here is where it gets more amazing. All these stats were accumulated in 90 innings pitched. A 1.40 ERA, .778 WHIP, 135 K to 24 BB. Yeah, that is 135 strikeouts (1st in MLB among relievers) in 90 IP, or 26 more K’s than the 2nd best RP total. He even led the league for relievers with a 3.2 WAR. Sounds like Chapman when he first became the Reds closer, no? He does not officially own the closer’s role yet but I could see him being my first RP off the board.
6(5). Sean Doolittle, Oak, Closer: If you play in a keeper league he was a tough drop before draft day. We’ve known for a long time now that he was to be the A ‘s future closer, we just never knew when. WHEN! He’s got filthy stuff and 89 strikeouts in 62 IP puts him near a k/9 of 13.00. Even more amazing are his 8 walks in 62IP giving him an otherworldly 11.13 K/BB. It is easier to close if you don’t put anyone on base.
7(6). David Robertson, Chisox, Closer: This was a curious move on the part of the Yanks but I think they thought the price was too high for a RP who will be 30 soon when they have Betances. But 39 saves and 96 k’s in 64 IP spells Elite Closer. He did have a 3.00+ ERA but I think he takes the next step in 2015 for the White Sox.
8. Andrew Miller, NYY, Set Up. Potential Closer: Miller had a far better 2014 than many realize. Between Boston & Baltimore he pitched in 73 games with a 2.02 ERA (1.35 after coming to Baltimore for the stretch run), 0.802 WHIP, and his 103 strikeouts in 62 Innings Pitched gave him a K/9 of 15 and a K/BB of 6. He was 7th in our system with 57 IRS + H and had far better ratios than every pitcher ahead of him. He only has 1 save in his career which he got in 2014, and the Yankees are saying that he is a potential closer candidate in Spring. I don’t think Betances has to worry as Miller is a lefty specialist and they seldom make for good closers. That Betances kid is pretty good, too. Did I mention that already? They may be a handcuff to each other, but the scenario of Miller setting up Betances landed both of them on this list. It seems Miller has been around a long time but he is only 29.
9(7} Mark Melancon, Pit, Closer: Yes that makes 4 players in this top 10 that either are Yankees now or were recently. I don’t know what that means but I thought I’d bring it up anyway without admitting I’m a Yankee fan. It seems Melancon has been around a long time but he is only 29, and I think it is time that someone names him THE closer already. He logged 33 saves in 2014 and struck out 71 in 71 innings pitched, but with only 11 walks. Yeah that is an 8.5 K/BB. His 1.90 ERA was a full half a point higher than his 2013 ERA and still didn’t reach 2.0 and his WHIP over the same two years is .900. He is as close to a lock as anyone, in any format.
10(8). Zack Britton, Bal, Closer: Another Baltimore closer that was a starter just about yesterday. This one looks ready to assume the role permanently and seems comfortable in the role as opposed to starting, plus he is only 27. He quietly put up 37 saves in 2014 with an ERA of 1.65 and .904 WHIP even though he is not a “dominant” pitcher. While it may seem odd to see Zach Britton in the top 10 MLB closers, just look at a closer depth chart for all MLB teams and tell me how many lockdown closers you see. No, I couldn’t plug Papelbon, K-Rod, Rodney, etc in the top 10 and Nathan looks ready to retire. The position is definitely in flux.
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Major League Fantasy Sports Radio: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday February 15th from 7pm-8:30pm EST for this years first episode of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. We will be taking live callers during the show at 646-915-8596.