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“65Mustangs” Building a Better Bullpen, 2017 Relief Pitcher Rankings. Get a Clew or two.

Last week I talked about my top 15 relief pitchers for 2017, and now we’ll dig as deep as time and relevance allows as there are literally hundreds of relievers that contribute to an MLB season, and any one of them can deliver value at any given time depending on role and opportunity. As always, my rankings are a little different, as this is not just about closers and accumulating saves. This is about skills, opportunity and my league’s decision to stop chasing saves many years ago. For a more thorough explanation click on the link above for last week’s article. Briefly we measure Saves (S), Holds (H) & Inherited Runners Stranded or (IRS) in a six man bullpen that also contributes to the standard W, K, ERA & WHIP. With those three cats in an 8 X 8 scoring system the reliever stats are spread around. Here is a link to my rankings from pre-season last year if you want to see how close I came.  2016 Reliever Rankings for Major League Fantasy Sports,


I’ve ranked the closers of course, but I don’t automatically give them more value than non-closers solely based on their role. On many teams the closer is not the best pitcher in the pen. He may have more experience or the closer mentality, but on most teams one or two guys below him have better velocity & K-Rates, better walk rates & better ratios. They are likely accruing Holds & IRS as well if they are the primary set up man. Just as important, they are likely the next guy in line for saves if the incumbent gets hurt, traded or becomes ineffective. I call them CLEWS or Closers en Waiting. From my own calculations over the last few seasons, roughly 1/3 of the opening day closers are replaced by Memorial Day, and another third by the 4th of July, sometimes the same team more than once. Rather than chasing down the potential replacements in a foot race, or FAAB circus, why not have two or three of the most skilled on your roster? Based on the 2/3 turnaround I just mentioned you may have two of the replacement closers before the events even happen. In my opinion, the top three relievers on every team, if not more, should be rostered in EVERY type of league. Use the last few rounds or last few bucks for them instead of grabbing a back-up 2nd baseman or SP that would be there on the wire anyway if you need them.

I call it “Building a Better Bullpen” because it is ok, even preferable that it remains fluid as to roles, like an MLB bullpen. And most of them are easily replaced off the wire if you know the roles & ratios. Lastly, one of my favorite ways to get help for the stretch run for my bullpen is to add skilled relievers to trade negotiations. If you target them you’ll overpay, but if you are trading Sale for Encarnacion at the deadline, look at the other owner’s bullpen and say “We are close but the trade will be even if you throw in Kyle Barraclough”. He may be salivating so badly for Sale that if all it takes is to toss in a middle reliever…It is great in draft pick trades with non contenders. He doesn’t need Kyle Barraclough anyway, done deal. Either way if you don’t think to ask you don’t get.

I’ll continue ranking till I get to #25. Then I’ll list the best sources of Holds and IRS remaining with a brief comment about their 2017 outlooks. Don’t forget these names when the lightning rounds start. Throw a CLEW or Two in your Queue. ( I didn’t even do that on purpose.

Trivia Question: Which 1st year closer had a 15.3 K/9, 2nd only to Dellin Betances and a 34.3% swing and miss  rate on his slider which was best in the MLB in 2016?

16. Cody Allen, CL CLE: It is a testament to both the Indians trust in Allen and Andrew codyallenMiller’s versatility and team first approach that Allen is entrenched as the closer. He saved over 30 for the 2nd year in a row, and has maintained a K/9 of 11.0 plus for four years. The only thing keeping him out of the elite circle is his walk rate 3.6/9 and thus his WHIP. His curveball is deadly with a .191 SLG against. There are few more stable closers than Allen.

17. AJ Ramos, CL MIA: Ramos nailed 40 saves in 2016 after 32 the ramosyear before making him one of the more stable closers in the game. His margin for error is small though, considering he does not have blazing strikeout stuff, but instead is a breaking ball and off-speed specialist. His 4.9 bb/9 in 2016 was pretty bad, so he must be perfect, especially with the next guy on his heals.

18. Kyle Barraclough, RP MIA: Kyle just turned 27 which is normallykylebarracloughskeaqe0l6qzm enough for me, however it gets better. In his 2016 rookie season he was likely the best man in the NL. The exact opposite of A.J. Ramos, Barraclough hurls a 96.6 mph fastball and had a 14.0 K/9 after striking out the 3rd most rookie strikeouts for a reliever with 113. His BB/9 of 5.5 shows he has work to do in the control department. If he gets that under control, Ramos will be looking in the rear view mirror a lot. If you have a corner pick in a snake, grabbing these two would be coup and draw lots of oohs and aahs in the lobby.

19. Kenny Giles, CL HOU: Giles is the reason I preach drafting the set up man over the closer


when the skills say to. He had a brutal April and poor 1st half, but wrestled the job from Luke Gregerson to log his 2nd consecutive 15 save season. Hitters managed a .093 BA and .186 SLG in 2016, coupled with a 14.0 K/9 which would make him elite. The difference being still flawed command & control skills. He is a few adjustments away from the top 10.

20. Kelvin Hererra, RP KC: It may finally be Herrera’s turn to man the closer role in KC after saving 12 after the since traded Wade Davis was injured in late 2016. He is 27 this season which is always a target age for me at the table. He is also one of the best set up men in baseball making me confident he will help me in any role. His K/BB in 2016 was a silly 7.2

21. David Phelps, RP MIA: For a stretch of 2016 Phelps was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball and it is a sin he was still sitting on many a waiver wire. He was the 14th rated phelpsreliever on our player rater in 2016. He was great in the counting stats, with 7 W, 4 S, 25 H & 10 IRS (83.33 Strand rate). He struck out 114 (3rd in MLB for relievers) in 86.2 IP for a K/9 just under 12 (13th in MLB). He did have a bloated 3.95 BB/9 which was mainly accumulated in one bad month, but he had elite ratios in other areas, 1.6 GB/FB rate, .62 HR/9 and an ERA/WHIP of 2.28 & 1.142. Between Phelps and Barraclough, A.J. Ramos has a lot to  worry about. Phelps is another mediocre starter who made good as a reliever.

22. Edwin Diaz, CL SEA: Diaz took the closer role in June and never looked back other than a bad few outings in September. His fastball velocity of 97.7 was 10th in the league, his K/9 of 15.3 was 2nd in the league to Betances, and his filthy slider had a 34.3% swing and miss rate which was tops in the league. There is a chance he’ll be way over drafted, but I see him as a top 10 closer. Exercise caution though as he has less than a year under his belt in the MLB.

23. Alex Colome, CL TB: Colome came out of nowhere to register 37 saves after starting his colomecareer as an average SP. He already has the control, command and 95.5 mph fastball & hard slider to remain a staple in the closer spot. His 11.3 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 are elite. He is another I can see moving up into the top 10 with another great season.

24. Tony Watson, RP PIT: One of the best set up men in the business until Mark Melancon was traded, inheriting him the closer role which he seems set to manage again in 2017.There are some warts however. He does not have great strikeout stuff and gives up some HR, but in 2016 he had trouble with righty batters for the first time in his career. If that corrects he should be fine as Daniel Hudson would be his back up.

25. David Robertson, CL CHI: Like many closers, he is mostly unhittable but has some lapses where he’ll give up a homer binge or walk a few at the wrong time. He normally makes up for that with a k/9 of nearly 11.0. He logged a reliable 37 saves in 2016 and his 3.47 ERA was bloated by a non save situation in late May where he gave up six earned runs in 2/3 of an inning. Man I hope you did not own him that day. That is FBB suicide right there. His biggest problem may be that he is 32 and has the suddenly elite Nate Joins breathing on his neck.

26. Tyler Thornberg, RP BOS: Thornberg had to step up in the Boston pen due to injuries to thornburgCarson Smith, and he was quite valuable finishing at # 10 on our reliever player rater. He didn’t dominate in any one counting stat but contributed positively in all of them with 8 W, 13 S, 20 H, 10 IRS 2 Wins shy of a quadruple double. His 12.09 K/9 is elite as was his opponents BAA of .162 leading to an ERA of 2.15 and a WHIP of .94. He is a must own as Kimbrel’s CLEW.

27. Pedro Baez, RP LAD: Baez had a good 1st season as Janson’s set up man posting 23 H and 15 IRS with a k/9 of 10.1 and a .195 Batting average against, giving him a shiny WIP of 1.00. His 1.23 GB/FB rate is nice but somehow led to a HR/9 of 1.34 and a 3.04 ERA. That and his command are two things he needs to work on going forward but the talent is there.

28. Jeremy Blevins, RP NYM: The first of our ranked lefty specialists, Blevins made a nameblevins for himself in 2016, leading the MLB in IRS with 47 and was 2nd in the MLB in IRS + H with 63, 2nd only to Zach Duke of CHW/STL who will unfortunately miss 2017 with an arm injury. Specialists tend to not add much in counting stats as they nearly always have low innings totals, but nearly always come in with men on base his 85.45 strand rate was one of the highest in the league with that may chances.

Tandems: Get the closer with the low floor and his set up man with the high ceiling. Perfect for leagues like mine that can handle changing roles seamlessly. In each tandem I’ll give my favorite to post the most 2017 value. After that I’ll take the remaining quality relievers that deliver in Holds or IRS and list them with their 2016 relevant stats so you won’t forget these guys on draft day.

29.Shawn Kelly, CL/RP & 30. Blake Treinen, RP WAS: Kelley is a CLEW who made good in 2016 taking over the closer role until the Nats traded for Melancon, racking up 7 saves. He should have the inside track in 2017 for the closer role though Blake Treinen could kelleycompete with him this Spring, though I’d not be too surprised if the Nats trade for a more established option. Kelley also chipped in 40 IRS+Holds and some sterling ratios K/9 & BB/9 ratios 12.4/1.7 for a 7.29 K/BB, wow. Like Dull above him, his HR/9 is around 1.4 on top of a .5 GB/FB rate so that could use some improvement. Treinen was more of a righty specialist in 2016 landing 4th in the MLB with 61 H+IRS If he can get his horrific 4.16/9 Walk rate down to meet his spectacular 3.83 GB/FB rate he can possibly move past Kelley.

31: Francisco Rodriguez, CL & 32. Craig & Justin Wilson, RP & 33. Bruce Rondon, RP DET: One of my own favorite quotes is “Closers Close”. One way or another, former closers find their way back to closing. Chalk it up to the resume, the mentality, being in the right place/right time, but usually it is true. We’ve been told to avoid Rodriguez for a few years now, and it is true he’s had off field problems, has had diminished velocity, eroding peripherals and is 35. So what do closers do? They come in 5th in MLB with 44 Saves. He used to blow hitters away, earning the nickname K-Rod, but now does it with guile and a GB/FB rate over 2.0. He’s not a 1st tier closer  but I’m writing him in for 35-40 saves until his arm falls off. Craig & Justin Wilson are also worth owning as good middle relievers and Rondon as a CLEW handcuff for K-Rod. Rondon has the most upside of this bunch and is likely the heir apparent.

34: Adam Ottavino, CL & 35.Greg Holland CL/RP & 36. Jake McGee, RP COL: All three of these guys have closer experience. Holland was a top three closer for two plus seasons but lost 2016 to injury. I’ll stash him but no one knows what we’ll get from him yet, just remember that Closers Close. McGee was a closer with the Cards a few seasons ago but is better served as a set up man. Ottavino is the incumbent as he has been for three injury marred seasons. He’s an overpowering extreme ground pitcher tailor made for Coors. He is the closer but history is not on his side between injuries and Holland in the wings.

37. Sam Dyson, CL & 38. Matt Bush, RP TEX: Dyson did a fine job after taking the closer role from an ineffective Sean Tolleson, racking up 38 Saves good for 7th in MLB. He does not have closer stuff and is not likely the long term answer. I’d rather own CLEW Matt Bush after his late blooming 2016 yielded an awesome combo of strikeouts and lack of walks (4.4 K/BB) and much better ERA/WHIP 2.50/.98. He’ll also rack some IRS + Holds while he is waiting.

39. Huston Street, CL & 40. Cam Bedrosian, RP LAA: Street is a good closer when healthy, but seldom is. Bedrosian is a hard throwing ground ball specialist. It is Street’s job to lose once again, but this is a perfect example of a handcuffed pair.

41. Santiago Casilla, CL & 42. Ryan Madson, RP/CL & 43. Sean Doolittle, RP OAK: This is pretty ugly. Madson is much better as a set up man, and Doolittle has the best stuff but has not been healthy since, well, ever. Casilla has the most recent closer resume, is healthy, is older and is not dominant. Take your pick depending on what you need, but if Doolittle is healthy he is the guy to own.

44. Neftali Feliz, CL & 45. Corey Kneble, RP MIL: Feliz has long had dominant stuff, likely the stuff to make him a top 10 closer. What holds him back is the common control & command struggle. As long as the closer roles are so volatile he’ll keep getting chances and could bust out and have a career year. He is only 28, has been a dominant closer in the past, and had the best k/9 of his career in 2016 outside of his rookie season.Kneble has shown a ton of promise in the minors but has a long way to go in MLB mainly because of command control issues. He is an extreme ground ball pitcher. I’d still rather own Feliz. I want him when he puts it together.

  1. Jim Johnson, CL & 47. Arodys Vizcaino, CL/RP ATL: One of my own favorite quotes is “Closers Close”. One way or another, former closers find their way back to closing. Chalk it up to the resume, the mentality, being in the right place/right time, but usually it is true. Jim Johnson has never been a top 10 closer, and likely never will be. But he gets written off every season on draft day and seldom finishes with less than double digit saves, twice topping 50 with the Orioles only a few seasons ago. He’s not overpowering, he’s hittable, but he seldom walks anyone and even less often gives up a HR. Arodys Vizcaino has long been billed as the closer of the future, and still may be. He has better stuff than Johnson and started 2016 with 10 saves in 12 chances until injuries ruined his season. Vizcaino is the arm to own long term but who would not want Johnson at the back end of their bullpen, especially if you are shy on closers. He’ll produce either way.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Here are the rest of the closers and their handcuffs. I highlighted my preferred reliever to own:50. Jeanmar Gomez, CL & 51. Hector Nerris, RP & 52. Joaquin Benoit, RP PHI:53. Raisel Iglesias, CL/RP & 54.Tony Cingrani, CL/RP & 55. Drew Storen, RP CIN:56. Brandon Maurer, CL & 57. Brad Hand, RP & 58. Ryan Buchter, RP SD:59. Brandon Kintzler, CL & 60. Ryan Pressly, RP MIN:61. Fernando Rodney, CL & 62. Jake Barrett, RP AZ:

Thanks for reading. Next week we will analyze the roster of the 2017 New York Yankees and talk about their prospects (pun intended) for 2017. I’m a Yankee fan and I’m excited. I’ll try to be non bias though. See you then.             @joeiannone2 on Twitter


Major League Fantasy Football 2017 League Openings

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Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join guest host Lenny Melnick, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday February 26th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #76 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we break down both East divisions. We will discuss potential lineups, rotations, bullpens, and any minor league potential for each team along with a heavy fantasy spin.

Our guest’s this week will be Andrea Lamont, and Hernan Batista. Hernan is a frequent guest on our shows, and an experienced MLFB league member. Andrea is a former member of the website rotoxperts, an experienced female fantasy baseball connoisseur, and is married to the Legend Lenny Melnick. Amongst other things she does baby sit Lenny and change his diapers. Lets say she is the brains of the operation. Andrea will join us from 8-9pm EST.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”


(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday March 5th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #77 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we break down both Central divisions. We will discuss potential lineups, rotations, bullpens, and any minor league potential for each team along with a heavy fantasy spin.

Our guests this week are Hernan Batista, and Jesse Ellison. Jessie is the owner of Ellison Baseball Instruction in S.E. VA. You can visit his organization at Hernan is a frequent guest on our shows, and an experienced MLFB league member.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

I'm an accountant and an amateur writer of fiction and sports commentary, mostly baseball. I've been a student of the game of baseball since the Dinosaurs roamed the earth, or at least since a few years before the world knew what a designated hitter was. Otherwise, I like "antique" cars of the 60's and 70's and have been a fantasy baseball fanatic since my first draft many years ago. I live in CT with my wife Megan of 25 years, our daughter Caitlin and their (their) cats. I'm also the better looking of the two guys in the the photo.

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@brandonziman You are more than welcome Brandon. You were a fantastic writer and a joy to work with. As we move through a very big transition for us hopefully we can continue to work with one anither.

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