Are you getting ready for draft day? I wish I was spending more time getting ready. A good draft can go a long way to getting yourself in position for a good fantasy ending to your season. I’ll at least be ready to draft relievers as that is what I have been researching and writing about for the past two weeks. Last week, I gave my choices for my top 15 relievers and now we’ll take it another 15 deep.
I realize a lot of you are in 5 X 5 leagues or other leagues where the save is important and the most sought after stat all season. You’ll find this article helpful in not only ranking closers, but pitchers who may be next in line for the role if the incumbent closer were to get injured or fail. But many of you are in more progressive scoring leagues where a middle reliever can have value too, not just for K’s and ratios, but for holds and IRS (Inherited Runners Stranded) as well. Those same valuable middle relievers have even more value in a Closer En Waiting (CLEW) capacity in most leagues, also. I mix them all together in this article series, so you will not just get a closer ranking, but a reliever ranking, with several of the CLEWS just as if not more valuable than their team’s closers.
This week’s trivia question: Which AL reliever led all relievers in value on the FAntrax Reliever Player Rater for 2018. This rater includes Holds and Inherited Runners Stranded in it’s rankings. Hint: He led the AL in Holds, and led all of baseball in IRS + Holds, often serving as the designated “finisher” in his team’s complicated pitching strategy. Answer below.
16. Sean Doolittle, CL, WAS, 32 Years Old– Last week, I took some flack for not having Sean Doolittle in my top 15 relievers. People cited his other worldly WHIP’s and K rates and saves, etc. All of you are correct. Doolittle is a great relief pitcher. But in my world of fantasy baseball, health and ability to take the ball are just as important as skills. I think health and endurance is a skill set in and of its own. Sure, there are some unlucky guys out there, but when it comes to your fantasy team it should not matter. Stats matter. Innings pitched matter, and yeah, days on the DL matter too. So, in a snake draft or in an auction, your first two or three RP choices/investments, matter a lot. Sure, you can always find saves on the wire, but if you are in a progressive scoring league, where the almighty SAVE is not the most important RP stat, having a stable of healthy, high K-Rate RP’s is the goal. All that being said, Sean Doolittle is a great reliever. He has been for about seven years since breaking into the majors in 2012. He has lifetime a WHIP of .890, lifetime K/9 of 10.7 with four seasons topping 11.0 K/9 and last but not least he has accumulated 82 saves in baseball over the past five seasons. Ok, so what’s the problem? Doolittle can’t stay healthy for a full season. He has topped 70 games once and that was in 2013 before he became a closer, 60 games once, 50 games once and 40 games three times. He’s topped 60 IP twice and 50 once. I’m not going to list all his other stats as they are superb, almost perfect, as he does not issue walks or launch HR. He does everything a fantasy owner can ask other than staying on the mound for a full season. Sorry, but that is a fantasy skill set, staying healthy, especially at 32 years old. I think #16 is pretty generous, and I never look for him on draft day.
17. Kirby Yates, CL, SD, 32 Years Old – Ok, now that that is out of my system, I love me some Kirby Yates. With a full season as the Padres closer, I can see him coming in as a top-10 reliever. I got him on the cheap in 2018 in all my leagues and he contributed 12 saves, a 2.14 ERA and .92 WHIP. He also K’d 90 batters in 63 innings for an elite 12.9 K/9. He toiled in the minors for eight years with at at least five different teams seeing his talent and taking a chance with Rule 5 selections over the years. He pitched parts of four ineffective seasons in the MLB from 2014 to 2017 before finally landing in SD in 2017. Then, at the age of 30, he figured out how to throw in the high 90’s, not walk too many, and keep the ball in the park. In 2018, closer Brad Hand was traded and Yates took the closer gig and ran with it. Barring an unforeseen (enter potential trade or injury or signing here), he should continue as the closer in 2019. Expect lots of K’s, easily 100 after averaging 89 the past two years in less than full season innings. With a K/BB last season of 90/17 he seems to have figured it out, so expect good ratios and a good amount of saves in 2019. With Manny on board, it should give Yates more leads to protect as long as the set up men do their part.
18. Ken Giles, CL, TOR, 28 – What Up Ken? I invested heavily in him in 2018 and he let me down. Then I traded him, and he got traded to Toronto and re-discovered it. He is the odds on favorite to close for the Jays (no competition) and will probably do just fine. I don’t believe that a pitcher like Giles suddenly forgets how to pitch, or barring injury loses his underlying skills. You’ll also here me always say “Closers Close” so they usually rise back to the top. What is Giles problem? In 2018, his problem was four games. May 1st when the Yanks got him for four runs in a third of an inning, May 27th when the Indians got three runs with no outs, and then the last straw was his last game in Houston, July 10th vs OAK where the A’s got three earned runs before Giles could get an out. In Houston, he had a 4.99 ERA, but only a 2.28 FIP. That is not a misprint. he had a 31/3 K-9 and only gave up 2 HR in 32 innings pitched. But in those three games he was knocked around. In Toronto he had another clunker in his 3rd game with Toronto giving up five runs in 2/3 of an inning to the Bosox. He only gave up 5 ER the rest of the season while saving 14 consecutive games. He still finished with 26 saves, a 4.65 ERA and his lowest K rates since he joined the MLB. I’m still all in on Giles. I hope he falls pretty far so I can scoop him up late in the draft. Yup, his wife is a pro softball player. They must have some great games of catch in their yard.
19. Cody Allen, CL, LAA, 30 – Allen was the Man in Cleveland for five and a half years until his curveball stopped working and is walk rate spiked in the 2nd half last season. He has always had poor walk rates for a closer but always offset that with equally high K-Rates. In 2018 though, he ended up with a 4.4 BB/9 and lost his job to Brad Hand after his trade from the Padres. He had previously survived several years with Andrew Miller in the same pen, but the Tribe was ready to turn it over to Hand last season. Allen, still only 30, landed a free agent contract in LA to play for the Angels in 2019 and I have no doubt he’ll close. Closers close, it is what they do. He is a risky draft pick though based on the second half last season, but hopefully he will fall to a palatable spot in your draft. His wife is excited to leave freezing cold Cleveland for the West Coast.
20. Jose Leclerc, CL, TEX, 25 – Leclerc will be a popular pick this draft season after posting 85 K’s in 57 IP for a 13.3 K/9. He also collected 12 saves as the Rangers closer after taking over the job once Keone Kela was traded. He contributed 15 holds and 28 IRS (Inherited Runners Stranded) to finish 5th among all relievers on the Fantrax Leagues’ Player rater. All his peripherals were great as well and his splitter is one of the nastiest in baseball. He has a history of walking too many batters, and at 3.9 BB/9 was still pretty high even though it was about half what it was in his first season. He has the stuff to close, and the mentality, as long as he can keep down the free passes. I’m not afraid to draft him, but he may be gone by the time I’m looking for closers. He looks like Aroldis Chapman in that picture.
21. Jeremy Jeffress, RP, MIL, 31 – The Brewers have a great pen, highlighted by three pitchers with electric stuff. We are only at #21 here and have already listed all three of them. Jeffress was golden in fantasy in 2018, contributing all across the board with a 1.29 ERA, .99 WHIP and 89 K’s in 76.2 IP against only 27 walks. He also chipped in eight wins, 15 Saves, 18 Holds and 30 IRS (Inherited Runners Stranded). All this was good enough to place 2nd among all relievers in the Fantrax Leagues’ Player Rater. Damn, I should have ranked him even higher. However, as we all know, relievers are fragile from year to year, so some regression should be expected. He should be owned in all leagues including 5 X 5’s.
22. Jeurys Familia, RP, NYM, 29 – Familia is only 29, but it seems he has been around forever. It was only three seasons ago that he saved 51 games for the Mets after saving 43 the year before. He missed time in 2017 and reclaimed the roll in 2018, saving 17 games in the first half. Those of us who drafted Familia very late in 2018 drafts were giddy when he was paying huge dividends in the first half. Then he broke our hearts, getting traded to the A’s midseason for two players you’ll never hear about again and some bonus pool money. But I hope you didn’t drop him. Familia was one of the best relievers in the AL in the second half last season setting up for Blake Treinen. He finished 18th on the Fantrax Reliever Player Rater. He’ll start the season setting up for Edwin Diaz in NY and, if Diaz stays healthy, that will be for a long time. But I think Familia can handle that. And he would be an Edwin Diaz injury or his own trade away from being a closer again.
23. AJ Minter, RP, ATL, 25 – Minter is a must own in any league in 2019. He will likely start the season as Arodys Vizcaino’s setup man, and that alone should make him valuable. However, Vizcaino would be near the top of ANY Most Likely To Lose Their Job list that gets generated. If I were a betting man, I’d draft Minter as if I knew he would take over the closers’ role, whether by injury or performance, before the season is half over. As you see I have him ranked higher than Vizcaino as it is. He’d be worth owning anyway, even if he does not jump into the slot. Not only did Minter grab 15 saves in 2018, but he also nailed a dozen holds, and his 97 mph fastball struck out 69 batters in 60 IP against only 22 walks. (His slider averages 92 mph). In non 5 X 5, he might be my second reliever to draft and in 5 X 5 no more than the third I draft.
24. Andrew Miller, RP, STL, 34 – This could be the bargain of the draft if he falls far enough. Miller was mostly hurt last season, missing time to the DL three times for a shoulder issue. He was never the closer in Cleveland, but has been a closer in the past. Saint Louis, his new team, has an unproven closer. At the very least, I can see Miller snagging a dozen saves to go along with his other elite numbers that no one here needs me to go over. I think he will make a healthy enough come back to be his elite self for a while longer. If he doesn’t, hopefully you did not invest a lot in Miller and can cut bait. I think he’ll be fine, and I’ll be looking for him late in the draft. Miller’s wife Katie donates her legs to charity runway events whenever she can.
25. Chad Green, RP, NYY, 28 – Hiding in the shadows of Aroldis Chapman and Delin Bettances has allowed Green to be one of the best relievers in baseball that no one knows about. But in the past two seasons, Green has struck out 197 batters against only 32 walks in 144.2 innings (6.7 K/BB). I owned Green the past two seasons and you cannot expect a lot of counting stats other than K’s and he did manage to nail eight wins last season. He did have 12 Holds and 20 IRS, but that is not why you drafted him. Green’s time will come, in the meantime he is worth owning anyway.
26. Ryan Pressley,RP, HOU, 30 – Wow, another great reliever stuck behind a veteran closer. Pressley is stuck behind Roberto Osuna in Houston, but should put up some banner numbers anyway. Coming out of seemingly no where last season, as he had been a middle reliever in Minnesota for six years without much fanfare or accomplishment. Pressly really came alive after his trade to Houston. Once in Houston, he struck out 32 against just three walks and pitched 21 consecutive scoreless appearances. So, if your league rewards middle relievers, he is definitely worth a late round draft pick. If not, he is likely the handcuff to Roberto Osuna. Either way, he should be universally owned. Chicks dig the high hard one and Pressley is dating Cowboys Cheerleader Kat Rogers.
27. Seranthony Domingez, CL. PHI, 24 – If this was merely a closer ranking I might have him higher than this. But, Dominguez truly came out of nowhere last season to notch 16 saves. He had been a mediocre starting pitcher in the minors, then came to Philly and pitched brilliantly in a setup role with a 1.61 ERA in 18 games. But once he became the closer over Hector Neris, he was not quite as good. He had a 3.79 ERA and blew 4-of-17 save chances. He might be more valuable to continue as a setup man at the age of 24, but unless the Phils sign an established closer, he might just be the man. I think he is a risky pick if only because he only has one season of history in the MLB to go by. Another guy who looks like Aroldis Chapman on the mound.
28. Arodys Vizcaino, CL, ATL, 28 – Vizcaino is a quality pitcher. He has proven that. But he is starting to remind me of Sean Doolittle as one of those relievers/closers who are extremely skilled, but just can’t stay on the field. They are great when they play but don’t play enough. That is one of the reasons I suggested drafting Minter along with Vizcaino, or even Minter OVER Vizcaino. Vizcaino has never pitched 60 innings in one season and has only reached 40 once. But when he is on the mound the results are terrific, consistently posting ERAs under three and good K rates. He could afford to cut down on his walks a bit, but otherwise he could be a top closer. I would not draft him unless I though I could nab Minter too. It would be hard in one of my leagues as I would already own Minter by the time you drafted Vizcaino. Yep, it is like that. I’d rather own the guy who takes over mid-season, than the guy who gets us there. If you own both, you are golden.
29. Will Smith, RP/CL, SF, 29- I think you could even put Mark Melancon here, but all the pundits are tabbing Smith to be the closer in San Francisco. Smith lost 2017 to Tommy John surgery, but came back in 2018 with an elite fastball and slider and took the closer gig when Mark Melancon could not. He put up a 12.1 K/8 with a small BB/9 of 2.5 en route to saving 14 games in 17 chances. One thing going against him is the fact that he is a power lefty which managers often prefer to use situationally. Smith will have value either way as a closer or a setup man. But you are better off drafting him as an either/or. He may not be the closer. Yes, I know that is the wrong Will Smith. Just making sure you are paying attention.
30. Keone Kela, RP, PIT, 26 – Kela may be one of the best relievers in the MLB without a closing gig. He was a fine closer for the Rangers, saving 24-of-25 save chances. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball at inducing weak contact and his awesome curveball helped him to a .119 batting average against. But, Kela was traded to the Pirates — where Felipe Vazquez is the closer. So, Kela will still be a huge addition to any fantasy pen even if not getting the saves.
31. Jose Alvarado, RP/CL, TB, 24 – While his surface numbers don’t jump off the page, like his 1-6 W/L record, Alvarado was a valuable fantasy asset in 2018, especially in leagues that reward middle relievers. He picked up eight saves, often being used as Tampa’s designated “Finisher”, but he also led the American League with 32 Holds and led all of fantasy baseball with 69 H + IRS. Combine that with his 11.3 K/9, 2.39 ERA and 1.11 WHIP and you have a top end reliever for fantasy. He was good for 10th best on the Fantrax Player Rater for relievers in 2018, and I’ll be looking for him on draft day. He features an absolutely filthy 97 mph sinker and his slider has developed into an awesome put away pitch, with 30% of the 196 sliders he threw resulting in swinging strikes. How the Rays will actually use him, or any pitcher not named Blake, for that matter, is another story. But, either way he is the real deal. He looks a bit like Fernando Rodney on the mound. Not sure if that is good or bad. YES, Jose was the answer to this week’s trivia question.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, and next week I’ll wrap up my reliever rankings and squeeze as many of them in as I can, including the rest of the projected closers and some specialists as well. As always I’ll be on Twitter today talking relief pitchers and all things fantasy. If you want to reach me directly, my email and Twitter are below.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore on Thursday February 28th, 2019 from 9pm – 10:30pm EST for the Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show. Call in number is 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. You can listen live on blogtalk, majorleaguefantasysports.com, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. Now that we have finished our divisional break downs we move on to breaking down each position for fantasy purposes. This week we will discuss corner infield. (1B/3B)
Be sure to check out our Sunday night show March 3rd from 8pm to 9:30pm EST. They will cover the middle infield (SS/2B)
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday March 3rd, 2019 from 8-9:45pm EST for episode #142 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. You can listen live on blogtalk, majorleaguefantasysports.com, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. Our topic this week is middle infield (2B/SS).
Our guest this week is Joel Gullo. Joel hosts a podcast at lennymelnickfantasysports.com.