What does it take to be a top fantasy closer? More than anything, a pitcher needs Talent. Without keeping runs off the scoreboard, a closer can only think of his current job as temporary. The best way to do that is keeping runners off the bases, and the best way to do that is to keep the ball out of play via strikeouts and to not give batters a free pass to first base.

The next most important thing to do is get in and remain in the manager's good graces and keep getting the Opportunity to close. Perfectly capable pitchers have toiled away in the seventh and eighth innings their entire careers, and while they bring quite a large amount of value to their teams, they have very limited value in fantasy due to the lack of saves.

Next, stay in good Health. It's impossible to rack up saves while on the disabled list, and an extended absence only allows a less heralded pitcher to become established as a viable closing option. Most managers tend to role with the closing option with which they're already comfortable, but if that guy is off the table, another pitcher gets the opportunity to prove himself.

Finally, the Winnability (I know it's not a word, but you get it) of a team plays a small role in adding save opportunities, as it's easier to rack up saves on a 95-win team than on a 75-win team. Outliers happen, as the 88-win A's tied for the second-least amount of saves in 2014, while the 79-win Braves finished second. However, eight of the top 10 teams in saves finished with at least 87 wins, while four of the worst five had 70 wins or less.

Knowing these four things, we can put together a more detailed ranking of relief pitchers to inform our draft or auction decisions than we could for a position like shortstop. I've considered each of the four aspects of closing in the tiers below, with different point scales based on the descending weight of the category: Talent at 1-10, Opportunity at 1-7, Health at 1-5 and Winnability at 1-3.

Before you read the tiers, be warned that some elements of each grade I assigned each closer are subjective on my part. If you find value in this method but want to tweak the numbers to fit your own views of each pitcher, please do so. These ratings also aren't going to line up completely with my own rankings at the position, but I may rely on the ratings more so in my own drafts.

Tier 1

Team

Name


Talent

Opp

Health

Win

Total

KC

Greg Holland

10

7

5

2

24

ATL

Craig Kimbrel

10

7

5

1

23

CIN

Aroldis Chapman

10

7

4

2

23

PIT

Mark Melancon

9

7

5

2

23

MIA

Steve Cishek

9

7

5

2

23

STL

Trevor Rosenthal

8

7

5

3

23

The top of Tier 1 shakes out about how you would expect. Holland earns a near perfect score, with his only lost point coming due to the quality of his team – if the Royals were to win 90-plus games this season, he'd easily be the best of the bunch. As it is, there's a competitive group in the 23-point range, highlighted by Kimbrel, whose team is projected to have the worst season of the bunch, and Chapman, who I considered a minute health risk but who could easily be argued onto Holland's level. Melancon, Cishek and Rosenthal make for valuable Plan Bs once the top three names are off the board.

Tier 2

Team

Name


Talent

Opp

Health

Win

Total

NYY

Dellin Betances

10

5

5

2

22

CHW

David Robertson

9

7

4

2

22

CLE

Cody Allen

8

7

5

2

22

BOS

Koji Uehara

10

6

2

3

21

PHI

Jon. Papelbon

8

7

5

1

21

MIL

Franc. Rodriguez

8

7

4

2

21

SD

Joaquin Benoit

8

7

4

2

21

SEA

Fernando Rodney

8

7

3

3

21

WAS

Drew Storen

7

7

4

3

21

Betances, Robertson and Allen stick out as the cream of the Tier 2 crop. Betances would be a Tier 1 guy if I was confident that Andrew Miller wouldn't siphon off some of his saves. Allen could also jump into Tier 1 if he can make some small gains with his control. Uehara has an excellent mix of talent and team quality, and he could easily finish as fantasy's best closer with a healthy season. Papelbon could jump towards the top of the tier or even into Tier 1 with a trade to the right team. Rodriguez, Benoit and Rodney stick out as having value at their draft slots in my recent mocks.

Tier 3

Team

Name


Talent

Opp

Health

Win

Total

LAD

Kenley Jansen

10

6

1

3

20

MIN

Glen Perkins

8

7

4

1

20

LAA

Huston Street

8

7

2

3

20

TOR

Brett Cecil

8

6

4

2

20

BAL

Zach Britton

7

7

4

2

20

CHC

Hector Rondon

7

6

5

2

20

ARI

Addison Reed

6

7

5

1

19


Jansen is of course dealing with an injury that will sideline him for the first month of the season, but he's so good when on the mound – and the Dodgers have no viable options to potentially run with his job – that he shouldn't fall too far in drafts. Street has the most potential to outperform his tiermates with good health. I worry enough about Britton's low K rate that I tend to lay off him unless he comes as an incredibly reduced draft price.

Tier 4

Team

Name


Talent

Opp

Health

Win

Total

OAK

Sean Doolittle

10

5

1

2

18

HOU

Luke Gregerson

7

5

4

2

18

TB

Jake McGee

8

5

2

2

17

OAK

Tyler Clippard

8

2

5

2

17

TB

Brad Boxberger

8

2

5

2

17

TEX

Neftali Feliz

6

7

2

1

16

NYM

Jenrry Mejia

6

5

3

2

16

If the A's hand Doolittle the job once he returns from injury, he could have a Jansen-like effect on fantasy teams. I'm more worried about McGee, who may find that Boxberger has planted his flag on the closer position in Tampa Bay when he's ready to return, which could still earn him some saves in the right situations but not nearly as many as would come from a typical closer. Clippard could do the same in Oakland, which puts him squarely in Tier 4, but rostering both potential Oakland closers would be a wise move. Proceed cautiously with Mejia, who could hand the closing gig to Bobby Parnell once the latter is ready to return.

Tier 5

Team

Name


Talent

Opp

Health

Win

Total

NYY

Andrew Miller

8

2

3

2

15

SF

Santiago Casilla

6

5

2

2

15

SF

Sergio Romo

7

2

3

2

14

PHI

Ken Giles

7

1

5

1

14

COL

Adam Ottavino

6

2

5

1

14

DET

Joakim Soria

8

2

1

2

13

LAD

Joel Peralta

7

1

2

3

13

HOU

Chad Qualls

6

2

3

2

13

NYM

Bobby Parnell

7

2

1

2

12

COL

LaTroy Hawkins

4

5

2

1

12

DET

Joe Nathan

3

5

2

2

12


Consider this a mixture of upside plays worth consideration at the end of the draft due to their situations as well as current closers I would tend to avoid in standard leagues, like Nathan and Hawkins. Miller could earn enough saves to be relevant even if Betances shines, but it's also possible the Yankees use the pair in a committee on a night-by-night basis based upon the game situation. I wouldn't be shocked to see Romo take over for Casilla at some point. A Papelbon trade would boost Giles to at least Tier 3. I could see Soria and Ottavino leading their teams in saves by the end of the year. Qualls is on the list with the Houston closing situation still in flux. Peralta may eke out slight fantasy value in Jansen's absence.