RankingsMarch 8, 2009

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Positional Tiers: Relief Pitcher

By Michael Stephens

Who better to finish up the Café’s Positional Tiers Rankings than the guys who close out games night-in and night-out? After the clearly-defined top dogs, there are many closers and setup men that can help your fantasy team, both by booting strikeouts and saves and lowering your ratios, and there is a relief pitcher for almost every budget. Take one early and wait for a while, or wait a while and stock up on upside, it doesn’t really matter as long as you stock up when the time is right and remember the old adage…NEVER overpay for saves!

Tier 1: Rounds 5-6

Jonathan PapelbonBos512.340.9541577
Joe NathanMin651.330.9039174

If you are going to take a closer early, you are picking between one of these two guys. Papelbon has seen an increase in his numbers from God-like in 2006-07 to simply super-human in ‘08. With the increased fastball velocity and better control he exhibited last season, the ceiling for Papelbon could be even higher. Nathan has posted a sub-2.00 ERA in four of the past five seasons and is a lock for 35-38 saves with great peripherals. Everyone else below these two comes with a measure of risk that you don’t have to worry about with the Tier 1 guys.

Tier 2: Rounds 7-8

Joakim SoriaKC931.600.8642266
Mariano RiveraNYA741.400.6739677
Brad LidgePhi731.951.2341292
Francisco RodriguezNYN592.241.2962277

Soria is the only pitcher in this group that plays for a sub-par team, but don’t kid yourself; he has the stuff to thrive even on a team like the Royals. Don’t expect another sub-2.00 ERA, but you won’t be disappointed with his razor-sharp WHIP and save totals. Rivera returned to form in ’08, recording insane numbers at the age of 38 – with the rotation in front of him and the run support in the Bronx, he could easily sniff those numbers again. Lidge is back and a legit top-five closer, but don’t expect him remain perfect in save opportunities this season. Rodriguez rounds out the top-shelf closers, and you could do much worse than him as your first closer. Don’t be fooled by his move to the NL, and don’t expect anything close to 62 saves this season, but you should be handsomely rewarded otherwise.

Tier 3: Rounds 9-11

Jose ValverdeHou1133.381.1844683
Bobby JenksChA1072.631.1030338
Jonathan BroxtonLAN1163.131.1714388
Carlos MarmolChN1142.680.9372114
B.J. RyanTor1252.951.2832258
Brian FuentesLAA1262.731.1030182
Kerry WoodCle1273.261.0934584

These guys are a bit riskier than the six before them, but there are some bargains to be had. Valverde has topped 44 saves for two straight years and is joined by the established Jenks, Ryan and Fuentes as solid options in the early-middle rounds this season. Broxton and Marmol are both intriguing youngsters stepping into the closer role for the first time, and if they live up to their potential, they could both climb their way into the second tier of stoppers. Both will have their ups and downs and certainly aren’t without risk, but in the 10th-11th round, they are certainly worth the small gamble. Wood rounds out this tier and is the last guy who can provide 35-plus saves and solid strikeout numbers while not destroying your ERA and WHIP. He should be taken before even considering any of the closers below.

Tier 4: Rounds 12-14

Francisco CorderoCin1433.331.4134578
Matt CappsPit1513.020.9721239
Brian WilsonSF1584.621.4441367
Mike GonzalezAtl1744.281.1914044

As the rounds continue, the closer volatility meter continues to climb as well. Cordero saw a big spike in his WHIP toward his career norms, and you shouldn’t expect it to be as low as it was in 2007 in Milwaukee. Capps could be a steal here if he stays healthy, something he has not yet done since assuming closer duties in Pittsburgh. Wilson could challenge for 40 saves again but will not do you any favors in the ERA or WHIP departments. He is the last guy on this list whose job is pretty safe despite his volatility though, and an improved staff in front of him and lineup around him bodes well for at least a repeat of his 2008 line.

Tier 5: Rounds 15-16

Trevor HoffmanMil1673.771.0430346
Heath BellSD1753.581.210671
Huston StreetCol1823.731.2118769
Joey DevineOak1880.590.831649
Frank FranciscoTex1873.131.155383
Matt LindstromFla1833.141.455343

At this point in the draft, you should either, A) already have decided to punt saves completely, or B) have a closer or two under your belt, because otherwise you will be wasting a pick on these guys. Other than Hoffman, who you can expect to keep his job for the whole year barring injury, and Lindstrom, who has very little serious competition in Florida, the rest of these guys have other bullpen mates breathing down their necks. I love the upside of Devine and Francisco, but there are not sure things by any means. Street takes his ballooning walk-rate to the Mile High City, which is grounds for some concern, and Bell has some seriously big shoes to fill in San Diego (not to mention he will have to do so with limited opportunities!).

Tier 6: Rounds 17-19

Joel HanrahanWas2033.951.369693
Chad QuallsAri1972.811.079471
Chris PerezStL2243.461.347342
Brandon LyonDet2174.701.4826344
Chris RayBal218DNP
J.J. PutzNYN2293.881.6015656
Troy PercivalTB2304.531.2328238
George SherrillBal2264.731.5031358
Brad ZieglerOak1961.061.1611330

This is the area where some of those hidden gems will come from once all the dust has settled. Hanrahan just misses out on the group above because of his poor control and the terrible pitching staff in front of him, but his stuff is good and he will rack up the strikeouts for you. Qualls, Perez and Lyon all have dubious situations and will likely not close all year for one reason or another (i.e. injury, ineffectiveness, etc). After those three, we move to the land of the “vulture save” and part-time closer candidates. Ray and Sherrill might finish with similar save numbers if Baltimore decided to ease Ray back into the closer role, while Putz and Ziegler look to clean up the scraps from Rodriguez and Devine respectively. Percival is just keeping the closer seat warm in Tampa and won’t get enough opportunities to warrant a higher spot on the list, even when healthy.

Tier 7: Fliers/Waiver Wire Fodder

Mark LoweSeaN/A5.371.761155
Grant BalfourTB2511.540.894682
Jose ArredondoLAA2561.621.0501055
Kevin GreggChN2543.411.2829758
Hong-Chih KuoLANN/A2.141.011596
Fernando RodneyDetN/A4.911.5913049
Manny CorpasColN/A4.521.464350
Jon RauchAriN/A4.141.1918466

Lowe is the lowest of all guys currently listed as the opening day closer for their team because he is the monochrome relief pitcher volatility. The job is his to lose though, and the hard-throwing youngster can run away with it if he pitches like he did before being injured in 2007. Balfour and Arredondo will post great peripherals and have chances to pick up some cheap wins and saves, though neither will get a significant enough role to justify taking them any earlier than this. Gregg could end up being the man in Chicago should Marmol falter or suffer an injury, and he would be a great low-risk pick at the end of your draft. Kuo proved his mettle in the latter parts of games last year and should be rostered by anyone looking for some cheap wins and a boost to their ERA/WHIP. The last three guys are on here because they are the second-in-line on their respective teams and represent decent upside if they stumble into a closer’s job, though you could do better if looking for solid MR-like numbers at the end.

As you can see in the tables above, the RP position becomes very volatile around the 15th round, and it’s a widely speculative task on draft day to pick the guy who fits your lineup the best. If you need some cheap saves and can take a hit to your ERA/WHIP, then feel free to grab that third or fourth mediocre closer, but at the same time if you need some help on your ratios and are well-covered in saves, you can always snag guys like Ziegler and Putz who could provide great sneaky values down the stretch – if you play your draft strategy right, it’s a win-win scenario!

We’ve now covered catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, outfield and starting pitcher. That’s a wrap, hope you enjoyed the series!

Michael Stephens is an avid sports enthusiast with over 7 years of fantasy experience, who writes for the Cafe. He is an aspiring sports journalist who hopes to continue fantasy writing as a career in the future. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, he is naturally a die-hard Mariner fan! You can find Michael in the Cafe's forums where he actively posts under the name of WaCougMBS.
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