Like many of you who live in the northern part of the US, I’ve been digging snow, a lot of snow. I’m also on ladders chopping channels in the ice damns on my gutters, roof raking, catching any leaks in the attic before they drip down into the insulation and just trying to keep up with the deluge of snow and ice before it does real damage. It snows, we dig out. It snows again, we dig out. But it is getting harder to lift the snow up over the piles on both sides of the driveway and harder to lift the snow up over the ice damns with the roof rake. My shoulders are killing me, and there is more in the forecast. But we shovel. Sometimes we jam that shovel down into the snow and start to lift what looks like a hefty load of snow, only to bump the shovel on an icy outcropping just enough to tip the shovel and knock all that snow back down on the driveway. And we shovel it again, this time the shovel hits a crack in the driveway and jams our elbow or wrist to the point of pins and needles. At that point we stop and rest the shovel on our hip and look at the white carnage around us. After a moment of thought, we put the shovels away and head inside. It is not getting any better at this point. That is a picture of my back yard I took this morning.
This winter has reminded me of managing a bullpen during a six month fantasy season. We draft what we think will be a decent enough bullpen without overspending on any one reliever, thus needing a few things to fall in place to compete in those categories. One of our closers loses his job in spring training and the replacement is already owned, so we grab the next guy in line. But we don’t want to drop the incumbent yet because closers often regain their jobs. Now we are down a roster spot. Another closer starts the season blowing four of his first eight saves and his replacement is already owned. So we trade for a good closer, giving up some offense to get him and right the ship for the moment. Then one of the “closers in waiting” that we drafted suddenly is named the closer in XXX City and all is good again. Then it snows again. Our #1 reliever gets hurt in a freak injury, the one who got promoted loses the gig back to the original closer and we are left with the one we over paid for in a trade and a few other wannabes. We are exhausted from being outbid in FAAB drafts and rejecting trades that are trying to take advantage of our plight. We are tired from trying to get to the wire first for the next great saves machine. Then, one day in August we rest the shovel on our hip and look at the white carnage around us. After a moment of thought we put the trade offers away and stop trying to predict the next closer. It is not getting any better at this point.
Luckily most of us have found a way to cope, both with the snow and the management of our bullpens. We know relief pitching is a volatile commodity to say the least, so we do the best we can to insulate ourselves from a long winter……er summer. That is why I am promoting drafting on skills and not just save opportunity. That is why you have seen so many relievers who do not own a closing gig so high in my rankings. But now we are getting deeper into the relief pitching ranks and need to put some focus back on the closers. I would be remiss if I finished my top 60 relievers and there was still a closer outside looking in. There will still be some quality setup men and specialists listed here, but we are going to talk a lot about closers and pitchers who recently were closers. You’ve heard me say before that closers close. You can almost always expect a former closer with skills to have a good shot at closing again, so there is a special section here for former closers that can’t be overlooked on draft day. For the sake of ease and brevity some relievers will be grouped together either by team situation or if their rankings are roughly similar for other reasons.
31 (22) Hector Rondon, CL CHC –
If there is a reliever that you could make an argument I should have ranked higher, it would be Rondon. He has a 98 MPH heater and a good cutter that gets lots of strikeouts and groundouts. It took him to almost midseason but he finally earned the closer gig outright and went on to quietly record 29 Saves. I would draft him with confidence, but if you wanted to hedge your bets there are two other potential closers on that team and they are both pitchers who will get you good ratios and other counting stats even if they are not closing and they are 32. Jason Motte & 33. Pedro Strop. Motte was groomed to be the closer in St. Louis and finally reached that point in 2012 with 42 saves and ratios across the board that were great including an amazing 5:1 K/BB. He lost the next season to Tommy John surgery and had a chance to mop up for St. Louis in 2014, but his numbers hardly inspired. Now with a fresh start in Chicago, he hopes to recapture that 2012 lightning again. Motte will be 33 in June though so this season is pivotal for his career. Strop is a quality pitcher who had the closer role for a minute before Rondon took it. He is a quality arm who will give you K’s, holds and IRS pitching out of the back of the Cubs pen so he is worth owning as well even if he never does close.
34 (23) Cody Allen, CL/RP & 35. Bryan Shaw, RP CLE – Allen has secured himself as the Cleveland closer after saving 24 games once he took the role midseason. Before that, he racked up nine holds proving that he was worth drafting in most leagues even though he did not yet own the role. With a K-rate near 12, he is going to contribute across the board. Shaw has become a very reliable source of holds & IRS while putting up decent ratios. He would likely be next in line if something were to happen to Allen.
36. (24) Addison Reed, Closer & 37. Brad Ziegler RP, ARI – After Reed saved more than 100 games over last three years, one would think he would be higher on this list. The problem is that he has not been consistently effective and is prone to blowing saves in a big way. I’d draft him but I’m not going to be able to guarantee he closes all season. Ziegler has always been a solid reliever and has stepped in as a closer a few times in his career. It is doubtful he’d get a chance to close again at 35 years old but he did finish fifth in the MLB in holds in 2014 and should be rostered in all leagues.
38. (25) LaTroy Hawkins, CL & 39. Rex Brothers, John Axford, RP, COL – Hawkins’ wheels have to fall off at some point, no? He is 42 this season but keeps doing just enough to hold onto the closer role in Colarado. He is not a value play either way as he only recorded 23 saves last season and contributes little in other areas. I’ll let Rex Brothers and John Axford share the #39 position. Brothers was touted as the closer of the future before and Axford is a former closer himself. Both have talent and, if either of them ever gets their head on straight, they’ll give Hawkins a run for his money. I’m not sure I’d draft any of them unless there are deep benches.
40. Darren O’Day, RP & 41. Brian Matusz, RP BAL – Neither O’Day nor Matusz will be looked on to close games any time soon, however, these two guys were both in the top 10 in the majors in IRS + holds and O’Day pitched to brilliant ratios and K-rates. Both are worth owning with no closing aspirations .
42. (26) Neftali Feliz, CL TEX – You’ve heard me say before that “Closers Close”, and that is exactly what Feliz did when he came back from injuries in 2014 and saved 13 games at the end of the season, all with peripherals very similar to 2010 and 2011 when he saved 72 games. He is penciled in as the closer and is as safe a bet as any. He could be a great value on draft day.
43. (27) Jenrry Mejia, CL & 44. Bobby Parnell, RP & 45. Jeurys Familia, RP NYM- This is an interesting battle here as Parnell was the incumbent and may be given first shot at reclaiming after a couple years lost to injury. Mejia proved that he could close in NY, albeit with some heart pounders that he fueled himself, and will be next in line if Parnell is not ready. But the best pitcher of the three and the one that I want to own is Jeurys Familia. He has high heat and good control, but it remains to be seen how well he handles the next step which is setting up for whoever does close. I think Familia provides good value in any role.
46. (28) Jake McGee, CL & 47. Brad Boxberger, RP/POSS CL & 48. Kevin Jepson, RP & 49. Grant Balfour, RP/POSS CLOSER & 50. Ernesto Frieri, RB TB – This battle is interesting and one might get value from any of these relievers. McGee, Balfour and Frieri all have Major League Closing experience, but McGee is hurt and Balfour may not win the closer role back for a while after his own problems. That may leave Brad Boxberger to close in the meantime. He has no closing experience in the majors, but did save 26 games over several years in the minors. Boxberger is a flamethrower as good as any with a K/9 approaching a godlike 15.0. He’ll have a short window though to prove he can be the man with Balfour, McGee and Frieri breathing down his neck. Jepson is just a solid consistent reliever with great K-rates and was an MLB league leader with nearly 50 IRS + H.
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