With draft season fast approaching, it’s time to take a look at the relief pitcher tiers with some thoughts and highlights included in order to make the necessary decisions with closers this year. Of course, much will be up to debate and personal preference, so not all of the NFBC average draft positions may apply in your league, but it’s a great exercise to see how players in mostly draft and hold leagues feel about the position.

Trying to split the pitchers into appropriate tiers proved to be tough due to clusters within the data, but the tiers below feel right. If a player’s already been profiled, it will be attached in lieu of a synopsis.

 

Tier One

  • Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers - 11th pitcher selected, 36.5 ADP

  • Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox - 13th pitcher selected, 44.5 ADP

Jansen represents one of three relievers to strike out at least 100 over the last two seasons, he turned in an almost perfect year as a closer in 2017 and he’s priced as such. It’s going to take an early pick to roster him, and he’s worth it. Just keep in mind there’s no room for profit when picking him in the third round of a 15-team draft. Some prefer stability and Jansen’s the only one to earn this right.

Although Craig Kimbrel turned out to be a discount in last year’s drafts, it’s full sticker price this year. Kimbrel’s struck out one-half of the hitters he faced last year, thrived in a bounce back with the Red Sox and paying for a repeat could be costly. He’s still terrific, but tough to reach for at this price.

 

Tier Two

  • Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers - 19th pitcher selected, 63.3 ADP

  • Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees - 20th pitcher selected, 64.5 ADP

  • Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays - 26th pitcher selected, 78.3 ADP

Corey Knebel emerged as a waiver wire hero or late round flier who paid huge dividends last year for those who speculated. He tied for the lead in strikeouts by a reliever with 126 but does come with some risk associated with his walk rates. Like Kimbrel above, be cautious paying for a career year with a reliever.

Did you know Aroldis Chapman’s yet to record 40 saves in a season? After another volatile campaign, he’s a year past his over usage by the Cubs and Joe Maddon. If Chapman’s last month hints at 2018, he’s a steal at his price. Over his last 12 innings in the regular season last year, Chapman allowed zero earned runs, struck out 17 of the 41 total hitters he faced with only two walks resulting in a 36.6 strikeouts minus walk percentage and a 0.42 WHIP. But, if he struggles with command again, the depth in this bullpen could see him lose the job if he struggles.

Roberto Osuna’s 2017 compares favorably to Kimbrel’s tough 2016 campaign, he’s younger and yet to record a WHIP over one in a season. His profile can be seen (here - please insert the Osuna profile) by Fantasy Alarm subscribers.

 

Tier Three

  • Felipe Rivero, Pittsburgh Pirates - 28th pitcher selected, 88.1 ADP

  • Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners - 29th pitcher selected, 89.5 ADP

  • Ken Giles, Houston Astros - 30th pitcher selected, 95.1 ADP

  • Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians - 31st pitcher selected, 96 ADP

  • Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds - 33rd pitcher selected, 99.8 ADP

  • Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies - 37th pitcher selected, 108.1 ADP

  • Brad Hand, San Diego Padres - 38th pitcher selected, 109.5 ADP

 

This tier’s akin to splitting hairs. Target the player or situation of preference and trust the process. Felipe Rivero took over as closer last year and never looked back. His profile can be read (here - insert his profile please). Edwin Diaz seems to be growing into the role and if he keeps him mechanics in line, the results will follow.

Which Ken Giles shows up will go a long way towards determining his outcome. In the second half of last year, Giles displayed dominant statistics ranking fourth of all qualified relievers with a 31.3 strikeouts minus walk percentage. He also finished with a WHIP below one, a 1.19 ERA and 28 ERA- after the All-Star break but struggled in the postseason. Those who remember Brad Lidge, understand the risk if Giles does not bounce back. Talent suggests he will, but relievers seem to be a tricky bunch.

Brad Hand represents the second of three pitchers to record at least 100 strikeouts in each of the last two seasons. He signed a team friendly contract to be the closer and their stopper. Hand could receive work outside of the ninth inning if a situation dictates, which hampers his total save number, but he’s still worthy of his draft price.

As for Wade Davis, keeping tabs on his fly ball rates the last three years along with last year’s spike in home run per fly ball percentage. Davis registered a 41.1 fly ball percentage in 2015, 33 percent in 2016 and back to 38.2 percent last year. Moving to Colorado coming off of a career worst home run per fly ball percentage of 12 as a reliever could be a warning sign to pay full price.

 

Tier Four

  • Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays - 45th pitcher selected, 124.8 ADP

  • Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals - 47th pitcher selected, 130.2 ADP

  • Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies - 52nd pitcher selected, 143.7 ADP

  • Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves - 54th pitcher selected, 151.5 ADP

  • Greg Holland, Free Agent - 57th pitcher selected, 153.8 ADP

 

Here’s where the decisions need fine tuning. Of this group, each comes with a question mark, so deciding on who to take could be pivotal. Alex Colome seems on the precipice of a decline on a team looking to potentially move him, but every day they hold him, his value potentially decreases. If Colome starts hot, fantasy owners should follow suit and sell high before he’s dealt to a team which could slot him in as a set-up pitcher.

New Nationals manager, Dave Martinez, endorsed Sean Doolittle as his closer for this year. Doolittle’s battled injuries in the past, but when healthy, he’s a terrific relief pitcher. After joining Washington, Doolittle worked in 30 games with 21 saves, a 31:8 K:BB, 2.40 ERA and a WHIP of one. Not too shabby, if healthy, he’s worth the pick at this price.

It feels like either Hector Neris or Arodys Vizcaino could be a steal here, but be aware Neris does give up home runs if he misses with the splitter and Vizcaino’s results depend on his ability to limit walks. More traffic for Vizcaino equates to more late inning meltdowns. As for Greg Holland who thrived in the first half and struggled in the second, much will depend on who he eventually signs with to gauge his value.

 

Tier Five

  • Mark Melancon, San Francisco Giants - 62nd pitcher selected, 174.5 ADP

  • Jeurys Familia, New York Mets - 63rd pitcher selected, 177.3 ADP

  • Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs - 66th pitcher selected, 184.11 ADP

  • Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks - 67th pitcher selected, 185.5 ADP

  • Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics - 69th pitcher selected, 186.2 ADP

 

Prior to the news of Mark Melancon experiencing a “dead arm” in camp, he seemed like a prime target in this tier. With this being said, keep tabs on Tony Watson if taking Melancon as insurance. With the Mets backing off of their closer by committee, it seems Jeurys Familia should break camp in the closer role. He’s off to a rocky start and he’s profiled here (please insert Familia’s profile) for subscribers.

Personally, Brandon Morrow and Blake Treinen make excellent targets in this range. Although the strikeout upside does not reside in them, Morrow’s shooting up in average draft position, almost 30 spots from two weeks ago due to the Cubs looking to him as the closer. Morrow compared favorably in the second half to Davis in the second half last year which bodes well for those who speculate.

As for Treinen, do not overlook his 19.2 strikeouts minus walk percentage in the second half with 13 saves in Oakland. They want him in the role.

 

Tier Six

  • Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals - 73rd pitcher selected, 200.2 ADP

  • Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians - 76th pitcher selected, 207 ADP

  • Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles - 78th pitcher selected, 209.9 ADP

  • Blake Parker, Los Angeles Angels - 83rd pitcher selected, 213.9 ADP

  • Fernando Rodney, Minnesota Twins - 90th pitcher selected, 234.6 ADP

  • Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers - 91st pitcher selected, 236.3 ADP

 

Whether taking a chance on a Kelvin Herrera bounceback or getting Brad Brach for his two months or so production, this tier incurs tons of risk. Can anyone trust an Angels reliever? Rumors seem to be surfacing suggesting Parker may not break camp as the closer although he finished last year the strongest.

Does anyone like taking Fernando Rodney? He’s in a better ballpark for his skill set, on a team who wants him to close but with Addison Reed and Trevor Hildenberger lurking. As for Shane Greene, he did well taking over for Detroit in the second half, but they could trade him midseason if Joe Jimenez ever marries his talent to getting major league hitters out.

Although the tiers continue, it’s best to leave off here with mentions of pitchers going after the 100th pitcher taken in NFBC leagues. This include the third pitcher with at least 100 strikeouts the last two years, Dellin Betances of the Yankees. Others of note, Josh Hader who could be a cheaper version of Andrew Miller, Zach Britton as a bounce back flier, Joakim Soria who should close for the White Sox, Brad Ziegler of the Marlins and Tyler Glasnow as a multi-inning strikeout upside pitcher.

Deep sleepers you ask? Yoshihisa Hirano of Arizona, A.J. Minter of the Braves, Dominic Leone in St. Louis and Drew Steckenrider of the Marlins.

 

Statistical Credits

Fangraphs.com

Baseball-Reference.com

Playnfbc.com/ADP