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Stacking up the Relievers

Not all closers are created equal. Job security plays a prominent role in ranking closers. As you climb to the top rungs of the closer ladder, though, strikeouts often serve as the separating factor. Unlike most positions, exact rankings aren’t terribly important. Breaking the guys working late in games into tiers, however, is a useful exercise before drafts.

The Studs

Reds- Aroldis Chapman

Braves- Craig Kimbrel

Royals- Greg Holland

This trio of arms outclasses their peers by a wide margin. The lowest strikeout rate in the bunch from last year belonged to Greg Holland (37.5%) while Aroldis Chapman headed the group (52.5%). Chapman brought up the rear in ERA (2.00) and Holland and Craig Kimbrel tied for the worst WHIP (0.91). To recap, a composite of the worst stats from these three closers is a 2.00 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 37.5% K. Composite closer would run laps around everyone else highlighted in the article. If you’re going to target a closer from this group, my advice is to get the cheapest one. That distinction belongs to Holland (ADP 57.41), according to NFBC results.

A Cut Below the Best

White Sox- David Robertson

Pirates- Mark Melancon

Indians- Cody Allen

Cardinals- Trevor Rosenthal

Red Sox- Koji Uehara

Yankees- Dellin Betances

Here’s the sweet spot in the closer rankings. You’ll find gaudy strikeout rates, ratio stars and saves aplenty in this group of a half-dozen stoppers. Dellin Betances is the only member of this group who isn’t a lock to close — pesky Andrew Miller — but if he was his 39.6% K, 1.40 ERA and 0.78 WHIP from a season ago would have helped him crash the trio above and make it a quartet.

Safe and Solid

Padres- Joaquin Benoit

Twins- Glen Perkins

Marlins- Steve Cishek

Angels- Huston Street

Mariners- Fernando Rodney

All five of these closers have a viable case for inclusion in the group above, but all come up just a tick short. Joaquin Benoit is outstanding, but he’s saved only 48 games in his career and is a member of a loaded San Diego Padres bullpen. Glen Perkins sported a 3.65 ERA despite glowing peripheral stats. Steve Cishek’s increased slider usage bumped his strikeout rate up to a new career high, but he sacrificed ground balls and finished the year with an ERA above 3.00 for the first time in his career. Huston Street lacks an elite strikeout rate, which would be okay based on his great rate stats if he wasn’t constantly dogged by injuries (he hasn’t pitched more than 60 innings since 2009). And Fernando Rodney is only three years removed from being a wild middle-relief pitcher, which would be a lot easier to forget if he hadn’t walked 12.4% of the batters he faced in 2013 and totaled a 9.8% BB last season.

Flawed With a Long Leash

Phillies- Jonathan Papelbon

Nationals- Drew Storen

Brewers- Francisco Rodriguez

Orioles- Zach Britton

Rangers- Neftali Feliz

Diamondbacks- Addison Reed

This is my preferred group for grabbing an RP2 from if I pay for a second tier closer instead of double dipping in the third tier. Jonathan Papelbon has been pitching fine with diminishing velocity, but the threat of him being dealt hurts his value. If not for Francisco Rodriguez’s age (33) and sliding velocity, he’d be in the group above. Drew Storen probably belongs ranked ahead of this group, but it’s hard to forget his demotion to Triple-A in 2013. Zach Britton’s low strikeout rate — at least relative to closers — coupled with his reliance on the defense behind him creates more volatility than I care for from my RP1. Neftali Feliz had a 28.2% K in Triple-A last season before sporting a 17.2% K in the majors. He’s probably a cut below the four closers listed above him, but he should have a ton of job security. Addison Reed, conversely, misses bats at a high rate (27.4% K in 2014) but is an ill-timed run of homers away from being yanked out of the closer role.

In a Class of His Own

Cubs- Hector Rondon

Astute readers might realize I have Hector Rondon ranked ahead of some of the arms in the tier above. From a strictly statistical standpoint he might belong two tiers up, but he’s dealt with injuries in his career and shares a bullpen with very capable alternatives if he scuffles.

The Danger Zone and an Elite Handcuff

Astros- Luke Gregerson

Blue Jays- Brett Cecil

Phillies- Ken Giles

Tigers- Joe Nathan

Giants- Santiago Casilla

Rockies- Latroy Hawkins

This is a weird group. Luke Gregerson is competing with Chad Qualls and possibly Pat Neshek for ninth inning duties, but the former Padre and Athletic should be viewed as the favorite. Brett Cecil has just been anointed the closer for the Blue Jays,but Aaron Sanchez could provide him competition for saves if he ends up in the bullpen. The injury to Marcus Stroman, though, means it would behoove the Blue Jays to keep Sanchez stretched out even if he fails to sew up a rotation spot. Ken Giles is a top-five closer in the making as soon as Papelbon is dealt. Joe Nathan has Joakim Soria breathing down his neck, and Santiago Casilla has to look over his shoulder at Sergio Romo. Latroy Hawkins has announced he’ll retire at season’s end, and when the Colorado Rockies fall out of contention, he’ll make for a trade chip. Even if the Rockies fail to deal him, there is no incentive to allow him to close the entire season when they’re already aware they’ll need to find a new closer for 2016.

The Injured Arms

Dodgers- Kenley Jansen

Rays- Jake McGee

Athletics- Sean Doolittle

Mets- Bobby Parnell

Kenley Jansen is a stud, but he’s projected to be sidelined until early May. He’s a great draft and stash option since the injury he’s recovering from is to his foot and not his arm. Jake McGee would be a great stash option if he wasn’t coming back from an elbow operation to remove a loose body. Because he’s recovering from an elbow issue, he’s merely a really good stash selection and not a great one. Things are even scarier with Sean Doolittle. He received a platelet-rich plasma injection and has a rotator cuff tear. He’s not expected to need surgery, but any time the rotator cuff is involved it creates reason for pause. Bobby Parnell is coming back from Tommy John surgery and would have pitched Wednesday if not for a hamstring injury. He’s not nearly as talented a closer as the other three players in this group, but he’ll be healthy first.

The Primary Fill-ins

Athletics- Tyler Clippard

Mets- Jenrry Mejia

Rays- Brad Boxberger

Dodgers- Joel Peralta

Tyler Clippard is easily the class of this group. He has closing experience, great stats as a reliever and a shot at closing all year if Doolittle’s shoulder injury flares up. Jenrry Mejia was fine as a closer last season and he could conceivably hold the job when Parnell is healthy, but Parnell is a better reliever and has closing experience, too. Brad Boxberger was a stud in his first season with the Rays. He pitched in 63 games (64.2 innings) and spun a 2.37 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with a 42.1% K and 8.1% BB. Kevin Jepsen and Grant Balfour could scrounge some saves if new Rays manager Kevin Cash chooses to use Boxberger in high leverage situations before the ninth inning, but Boxberger is the leader in the clubhouse to tally the most saves while McGee is out. Joel Peralta will probably headline a committee that includes lefty J.P. Howell and Brandon League who look to fill in for Jansen.