Well, it’s a good thing we’re going deep into the Relief Pitcher rankings this week as we’re going to need them. Sure enough, it snowed again today, another six inches of heavy, wet snow. But we’ll shovel our way out of it by using the extra line of relievers we’ll draft in the last few rounds. At this point, quality and value depends as much on opportunity as it does on skills and ability. Which pitchers have the ability and potential opportunity to move into more prominent roles on the staff? Which pitchers have proven before that they have the mentality needed to close games or pitch in high leverage late inning situations with men on base? Those roles are where the Saves, Holds and IRS will come from. Otherwise, a reliever can only contribute K’s and an occasional counting stat. Plan before the draft to have a list of 20 – 25 relievers you want to own and maybe another 10 just in case. If you are lucky enough to get six of them in the draft you are doing well. Don’t leave the Relief Pitching spots to chance on draft day. Incorporate them into your overall draft strategy or you’ll be left with scraps. The rankings started here. Then Here, and Here.
We’ll start with a group of pitchers who have closed before, some more recently and relevantly than others. But if you’ve read my Reliever articles before you know I have a saying, “Closers Close”. Simply, pitchers who have shown the ability to close at this level nearly always get the chance to do it again. You’d like to own the ones that get the gig back in 2015 or reclaim it later in the season. But which ones have the best chance? Here are Eight “EX-” Closers plus one guy who is new to the role and their current situations. We’ll try to find the guys with the best “opportunity” to regain that Closer Gig.
51. (29) Luke Gregerson, RP/POSS CL HOU & 52. Josh Fields, RP/ POSS CL HOU – Gregerson is penciled in as the Astros Closer heading into 2015, and they paid him closer money for 3 years to be that guy. Maybe, but I don’t see it. He is a 30-year-old lifetime lefty specialist with no more than nine saves in any one season. He also does not excel in any one category other than ERA. I could see him back in a setup/specialist role, especially with this next guy in the same pen. I think Mr. Fields will close for the Astros at some point in 2015. He has lights out stuff with a high 12.0 K rate and a hand full of saves the last two seasons. He was primed to close in 2014 when injuries sidelined him early in the season. It will be interesting to see how the Astros play this out and I would not mind drafting both of them.
53. Joakim Soria, RP/POSS CLOSER DET – It was not long ago that Soria was an All-Star, lights-out Closer, and in 2014 he quietly saved 18 games, 17 for the Rangers before they traded him to Detroit mid-season. He’s got electric stuff and walks very few while striking out a batter per inning. I think it is a matter of time before he unseats Nathan.
54. Sergio Romo, RP/POSS CLOSER SFG – Romo is another former All Star Closer who started 2014 in the role. An uncharacteristic ineffective stretch lost him the job to Alexi Casilla, and both are still on the Giants. That team has thrived with the committee approach in recent seasons, and that bullpen has been together many years now. Casilla will start the season as closer, but watch Romo supplant him at some point. Either way, the other will be a great setup man.
55. Jason Grilli, RP/CL ATL & 56. Jim Johnson, RP/CL ATL – Here are two ex-closers who are blocked by Craig Kimbrel. Grilli is a flame thrower who racks up K’s when he pitches as opposed to the soft tossing, ground ball inducing Johnson. Both could probably benefit from not having the closing pressure to worry about, and I’m not convinced either ever gets another chance to close in their careers unless something were to happen to Kimbrel. Special mention goes out to Ernesto Frieri who was traded mid-season for Grilli in a trade of problem closers gone bad. Frieri was a good closer in Anaheim for a few years and will try to right the ship in the closer-less Tampa pen.
57. Edward Mujica, RP BOS & 58. Junichi Tazawa, RP BOS – If you were smart enough to own Mujica the last two seasons, you reaped the benefits of both Motte’s injury in 2013 and Uehara’s late season fade in 2014. But the Sox have given some good money to the 40-year-old Uehara to close for two more seasons, leaving Mujica to set up. But Closers close, so I see him filling in for Uehara some more the next two seasons, as opposed to Junichi Tazawa who is more likely to continue in his short relief role, one in which he is lights out. Both guys will get you Holds, but Tazawa is your strikeout and IRS man.
59. (30) Brett Cecil, RP/POSS CL TOR- Brett Cecil is the last of the 30 guys penciled in as the opening day closer. (and it took us until #59 to get there.) Cecil is a strikeout machine pitching as a setup man/lefty specialist, but has had mixed success as a Closer. With guys like Rafael Soriano and K-Rod still out there on the Free Agent scene, this situation could change in the blink of a Cecil fastball. Draft Cecil as a setup man so you won’t be disappointed. Nor will you be disappointed when you see that the kid with the thick glasses married Jennifer Jones.
The next 15 pitchers are probably not going to close, but these are good relievers to own if your league rewards Holds and IRS.
60. Will Smith, RP MIL – Smith was the Brewers primary setup man all season though he faltered the last month of the season. He allows too many base runners but did come in fourth in the MLB with 30 Holds and, with another 27 IRS, was one of baseball’s top five in H + IRS. He is both striking out and walking more batters than he did in the minors, so expect that to level out a bit as he gets more experience. He is only 25, and he may also pirate some saves in 2015 with Jon Broxton expected to close.
61. Tony Watson, RP PIT – Watson has become an ironman in the Pirates bullpen, and while he will likely not get more than a handful of pirated saves, he should reprise 2014 as one of the best relievers in the National League. Watson was 2nd in all baseball with 34 Holds and was the 10th-highest scoring reliever in the MLFS scoring model. Draft him with confidence.
62. Al Alburquerque, RP DET – At age 27, Al started putting it all together in 2014. He cut his walk rate in half and while his K rate dropped a notch or two, the tradeoff was well worth it. His 34 IRS were among the league leaders and he contributed nearly 20 Holds.
63. Kelvin Herrera, RP KC & 64. Luke Hochevar, RP KC – Herrera did not allow a HR in 70 games in 2014, quite a feat for a middle reliever. His 20 H and 34 IRS placed him among the league leaders in those areas. He will not get a chance to close though unless something catastrophic happens to Greg Holland. Hochevar is another mediocre SP turned lights out reliever and, along with Holland, Herrera and Wade Davis, gives KC a rock solid pen. He both increased his K Rate and decreased his Walk Rate in 2014 leading to his best season yet at 31 years old.
65. Tommy Hunter, RP BAL & 66. Brian Matusz, RP BAL – Hunter is another SP turned successful RP. While he is not a dominant pitcher, he seldom walks anyone and hardly gives up any HR. He started 2014 as the O’s closer, though an injury & six blown saves opened the door for Britton to take over. Still, with 11 Saves, 12 Holds and 27 IRS, he contributed across the board. Matusz is still another former SP (the Orioles seem to have collected several) who put it all together in 2014 as a 27-year-old giving the O’s a stellar pen along with Hunter, O’Day and Britton. Matusz was the lefty specialist and finished fifth in MLB with 39 IRS.
67. Jordan Walden, RP STL – Some forget that Walden was the Angels closer in 2011 saving 32 games. He has filthy stuff, striking out more than 10 per 9 IP over his five year career. He also walks too many which may stop him from getting back to that 9th inning role, especially if Rosenthal continues to lock down the closer spot.
68. Adam Ottavino, RP COL – Adam cut the walks and increased the K’s in his age-28 season and had himself a nice year. His 51 IRS + H put him in the top 20 in the MLB. With a 60-year-old closer and Rex Brothers ahead of him, it is not inconceivable for Ottavino to log some saves.
69. Danny Farquhar, RP SEA – Following the theme, Farquhar cut the walks in his age-27 season and carved out a nice role in the Seattle pen. This is another pen with an aging closer so saves could be in the near future. He gets a lot of K’s and chipped in 33 IRS + H.
70. David Carpenter, RP NYY – He’s being reunited with Brian McCann, his catcher in Atlanta when he was Craig Kimbrel’s set up man. The Yanks expect a lot of him and I’ll be looking for him late in the draft. His 42 IRS + H were top 25 in MLB.
71. Jeremy Affeldt, RP SF – Affeldt is the lefty specialist in that great SF bullpen committee. He has been in the MLB for 13 years and has it figured out. He has not given up more than 1.0 HR/9 in all but two of those seasons and doesn’t kill himself with walks. He had a down year in the sometimes hard to predict H+IRS, but I expect that to rebound.
73. Aaron Loup, RP TOR – Loup has the distinction of leading the MLB in the IRS category in 2014, making him a valuable draft day add. He also added 13 Holds & 4 Saves, but is a bit prone to the walk. He’s 27 this season so I think we’ll see him take the next step in that respect.
We’ll finish up today with two of the better lefty specialists and pitchers who have been around a long time as both are 38 years old.
74. Scott Atchison, RP CLE – Atchison was just outside the top 10 in H + IRS in 2014. He has become a very reliable lefty specialist for the Tribe, giving up few walks and even less HR.
75. Matt Thornton, RP WAS – He didn’t have the greatest peripherals in his lone season as the Yanks lefty, but he was among the top 10 league leaders in IRS + H coming in with 55. He’ll be setting up for Drew Storen in Washington now.
We will wrap up the relievers next week when we go from 76 to 100. YES there are 100 relievers worth owning in a Fantasy League, especially one with balanced stat categories. See you then and thanks for reading this far.
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