Fantasy MLB: Reliever Re-Ranks
By Michael Jokinen 5/29/13
(All eyes are on Mariano Rivera’s farewell tour, but is he the top dog among fantasy closers?)
I apologize in advance for talking about fantasy closers so damn much. I’m really sorry, except not that much. Fantasy value in baseball is far more inelastic than in football … with the exception of the closer market. That’s why I’m always keeping tabs on it. Things change quickly: closers blow out their arms, lose their jobs, or just plain stink. The market is always evolving. So here’s a quick updated look at how I’d rank relievers for a fantasy redraft today:
1.) Craig Kimbrel, Braves
2.) Jason Grilli, Pirates – Not who you were expecting? But yes, truly, Jason Grilli has climbed the mountain in 2013. I couldn’t believe how little buzz surrounded Grilli entering the season. People didn’t care to pay attention to a 36 year-old with only 7 career saves to his name. The Pirates weren’t a very ostentatious team and Grilli wasn’t a very ostentatious closing option for fantasy owners. But his numbers from 2012 are just ridiculous. Now have a look at his combined 2012-2013 numbers: 81.1 IP, 124 K (13.7 K/9), 2.43 ERA, 2.26 FIP, 2.56 xFIP, and 22-for-23 in save opportunities. Conversion to elite fantasy closer complete.
3.) Aroldis Chapman, Reds
4.) Sergio Romo, Giants – I’m a sucker for strikeouts, and that’s the reason for giving the nod to Romo over the likes of Rivera and Mujica.
5.) Mariano Rivera, Yankees
6.) Edward Mujica, Cardinals – Has quietly been a very effective reliever the past few years, but he’s taken his game from good to great this season, tacking on another 5.0% to his K%. And we’re all still waiting for him to blow his first save opportunity on the young season.
7.) Greg Holland, Royals – Remember when Kelvin Herrera was going to take Greg Holland’s job? … Yeah, me neither. After a shaky start, Holland has completely regained his form. He’s still walking too many batters, but he’s just so damn good at everything else.
8.) Addison Reed, White Sox – The breakthrough is legit, but expect some regression. He hasn’t allowed a single home run thus far in 2013, so we can anticipate his HR/9 to spike, as evidenced by an xFIP (3.65) nearly two full runs above his ERA. That said, he’s good for ~9.0 K/9 and has terrific job security.
9.) Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies – I know that his ERA is 0.92. And I know that he’s got imperious job security, but you should ship him off your roster as soon as possible. It’s a perfect sell high opportunity – his surface stats and name-recognition are a veneer for declining peripherals. He’s not the same pitcher he was a year or two ago, so it’s time to deal him while you can still reap a great bounty. So what’s wrong with Jonathon Papelbon in 2013? Well he’s still good, but he’s not the same dominant force that we’ve been accustomed to watching every year. For one, his xFIP sits at a chunky 3.69. Also, his HR/FB, LOB%, and BABIP are all due for steep regression. Top it off with a K% that’s 6.4% below his career mark, and there are some serious chinks in the armor. Trade him to someone who’s still enamored with the name Papelbon.
10.) Glen Perkins, Twins – So underrated. He’s sporting a 13.98 K/9 so far in 2013. Since the start of the 2011 season, Perkins’ ERA, FIP, and xFIP are all sub-3.00. I don’t care that he’s on the Twins – he’s gonna’ keep racking up saves, striking dudes out, and posting great ratios.
11.) Casey Janssen, Blue Jays
12.) Ernesto Frieri, Angels – I’m very bullish on this guy. People want to gripe about his bloated walk-rate, but that’s more of a concern for real-life than fantasy baseball. Walking batters and blowing the occasional save is more of a headache for Mike Scioscia than it is for all of the fantasy owners salivating over his Grilli-esk strikeout rate. Like a young Carlos Marmol, he can get away with a high walk-rate because he’s so unhittable. His stuff is that good. He’ll continue striking out well over a batter per-inning while contributing solid ERA/WHIP. It seems Ryan Madson’s latest set-back my permanently cement Frieri as the closer, so his job security seems fairly stable. The saves will come as the Angels right the ship.
13.) Grant Balfour, A’s
14.) Andrew Bailey, Red Sox – Much like taking Romo over Rivera and Mujica, I’ll go to war with Andrew Bailey over Wilhelmsen, Parnell, or Nathan because of the superior strikeout rate. His position as Boston’s closer seems set in stone providing he stays healthy.
15.) Tom Wilhelmsen, Mariners
16.) Rafael Betancourt, Rockies
17.) Bobby Parnell, Mets – Underappreciated. I think of him as like the N.L.’s version of Glen Perkins. Maybe a touch worse, but still pretty damn solid. I’d want him on all of my teams. Two most overblown storylines of the season: a.) what will the Braves do with Evan Gattis when Brian McCann returns? … and … b.) Will Frank Francisco threaten to take Bobby Parnell’s job when he returns from the DL? … Huh? Why would Frank Francisco take anyone’s job, let alone the super nifty Bobby Parnell?
18.) Joe Nathan, Rangers
19.) Rafael Soriano, Nationals – Where are the strikeouts? Consider me somewhat concerned.
20.) Jim Johnson, Orioles – I’ve never been prone to chase saves in fantasy, so I didn’t really care about Jim Johnson pacing the majors in saves last year. His strikeout numbers are just disgusting, and right now his ERA is settling in around 5.00. Tell me, why should I want Jim Johnson if he’s not providing elite ERA/WHIP? And he’s blowing saves! He’s not going to lose his job, and he’s a decent mid-tier closer, but I think he’s fairly overrated.
21.) Jose Valverde, Tigers – People thought Papa Grande was dead and buried. People thought wrong. I could see him fading down the stretch, but he’s got a closing gig and he’s cruising at the moment. If you got him, ride him.
22.) Heath Bell, Diamondbacks – I believe J.J. Putz is out of the picture. While Bell will likely never return to his 2009-2011, the 2013 model isn’t bad. His K/BB is a sterling 6.25 and his FIP and xFIP suggest he’s been unlucky.
23.) Fernando Rodney, Rays – What makes Rodney’s struggles really unsettling is the fact that his historical 2012 campaign came out of nowhere. I can totally see the wheels coming off. Here are his BB% from the past three seasons: 2011 = 18.7% … 2012 = 5.3% … 2013 = 19.2% … can you spot the outlier? His rise last year was just as sudden as his demise this season. While his manager continues to support him, memories of Rodney’s 2012 glory seem like ancient history. He’s got a 26.5 LD% and lacks command of an ineffectual changeup that was his bread and butter just last year. I have no sympathy for anyone who drafted him expecting a repeat of 2012. I expect him to fend off Joel Peralta and cling to his job, but don’t be shocked if his ERA is ~4.50 the rest of the way.
24.) Jose Veras, Astros – very unsexy choice on a garbage team, but that’s what intrigues me. He’s got sneaky-good job security, and sneaky-good production. A steady performer year-in and year-out, he’s rocking a 3.83 ERA and 10.2 K/9 since the start of the 2011 season.
25.) Huston Street, Padres – He’s a perpetual injury risk and his performance has been sketchy in 2013. He’s not striking out batters. He’s walking batters at a career-worst rate. His average fastball is a meek 87.8 mph, continuing a trend of declining velocity in the past few seasons.
26.) Kenley Jansen, Dodgers – Probably the most valuable set-up man in the game today. He’s got the talent of a Craig Kimbrel, he just needs an opportunity to take over the ninth inning. Brandon League is a ticking time bomb, and I think Mattingly’s tepid support of League suggests Jansen will find his way into the closing job sooner rather than later. If you’re a Jansen owner (like me) then be patient, he’ll get his shot. Worst case scenario, he’ll still give you stellar ratios and strikeouts while poaching the occasional save.
27.) Steve Cishek, Marlins
28.) Kevin Gregg, Cubs – A true fantasy zombie. I don’t want to like him but I have to grudgingly concede that he’s been surprisingly effective.
29.) Chris Perez, Indians (DL)
30.) David Hernandez, Diamondbacks
31.) Brandon League, Dodgers – He’s got a 4.66 ERA with a 5.08 FIP to match. He’s striking out 4.19 batters per-nine. Jansen will unceremoniously strip him of his closing gig any day now, I can feel it. It takes a lot of hard work to be a less appealing certified closer than Kevin Gregg, but Brandon League has accomplished the near-impossible.
32.) Jim Henderson, Brewers (DL)
33.) Vinny Pestano, Indians – After regarding Vinny Pestano as an elite holds option coming into the season, I’m now petrified of him. But somehow he’s on my roster anyways. Every time he’ll take the mound as interim-closer in Chris Perez’s absence I’ll be holding my breath. His ERA, FIP, and xFIP all sit right around 5.00 and his velocity is down. I guess you should pick him up if you’re desperate for saves, but pass if you can afford to. He’s got considerable risk and he’ll only stay closer for the one or two weeks that Perez is sidelined.
34.) Joel Peralta, Rays – Peralta is great but I just don’t see him wrestling the closing job away from Fernando Rodney. It’s not that I love Rodney but he’s got the support of the Tampa Bay brass and he’ll probably be at least passable enough to not lose the gig.
35.) Darren O’Day, Orioles – See my comment on Joel Peralta.
36.) Rex Brothers, Rockies
37.) Joaquin Benoit, Tigers
38.) Mike Dunn, Marlins – Steve Cishek was foul to start the season, but he’s been good as of late. He is off to a strong start, but Miami wants to keep Dunn as the LOOGY, so they’re going to give Cishek every opportunity to retain the ninth inning. Given that the Marlins don’t generate many save chances as is, and that Dunn will likely never do more than vulture the rare save, I wouldn’t be too excited here.
39.) Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
40.) Luke Gregerson, Padres