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2020 Closer / Relief Pitcher Offseason Rankings - Fantasy Baseball Mixed Leagues


It's never too early to start looking ahead to the next baseball season, so here we deliver our 2020 rankings to those of you looking to scratch your fantasy itch. Whether you're searching for a reprieve from a long fantasy football season or you're getting a head start on next year's keeper selections, RotoBaller has got you covered. We've assembled a collection of stout minds, including the #1 ranked expert from 2018, Nick Mariano, to help you get a jump start on your competition for the upcoming season.

With the Winter Meetings over and free-agency underway, there will be plenty of movement with these rankings before the draft season gets into full swing. Be sure to check in frequently during the offseason as we'll have updated rankings as soon as big names begin to change places.

Today, we're making a call to the bullpen. It's easy to reduce this position to "saves or nothing," but we know better than that here. While the closer's role is important, some managers are moving their best arm into a flexible role while shuffling who gets the ninth. Maddening for us, but rewarding for those paying attention. With early ADP data coming in, let's see if we can score early for 2020.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off. Exclusive access to our Draft Kit, premium rankings, projections, player outlooks, top prospects, dynasty rankings, 15 in-season lineup tools, and over 200 days of expert DFS research. Sign Up Now!

 

Relief Pitcher Ranks - 5x5 Mixed Leagues (December)

In case you missed it, our very own "Big Pick Nick" Mariano was named the #1 overall most accurate industry expert ranker for the 2018 season.

Ranking Tier Player Pos Nick
Mariano
Nicklaus Gaut Riley
Mrack
1 1 Josh Hader RP 56 55 51
2 1 Kirby Yates RP 68 72 44
3 1 Aroldis Chapman RP 71 69 57
4 2 Liam Hendriks RP 77 102 74
5 2 Roberto Osuna RP 84 91 91
6 2 Kenley Jansen RP 89 106 95
7 2 Brad Hand RP 79 146 83
8 3 Ken Giles RP 119 142 113
9 3 Edwin Diaz RP 134 123 142
10 3 Taylor Rogers RP 135 118 147
11 3 Emilio Pagan RP 139 138 134
12 3 Craig Kimbrel RP 136 158 118
13 3 Raisel Iglesias RP 160 132 158
14 3 Hector Neris RP 147 151 210
15 4 Jose Leclerc RP 183 161 174
16 4 Julio Urias SP/RP 182 165 175
17 4 Carlos Martinez SP/RP 188 190 149
18 4 Brandon Workman RP 199 148 184
19 4 Hansel Robles RP 189 179 167
20 4 Sean Doolittle RP 158 237 164
21 4 Alex Colome RP 174 205 185
22 4 Kenta Maeda SP/RP 192 176 203
23 4 Will Smith RP 198 170 221
24 4 Archie Bradley RP 177 168 251
25 4 Ian Kennedy RP 176 193 242
26 5 Keone Kela RP 210 188 223
27 5 Joe Jimenez RP 209 211 213
28 5 Nick Anderson RP 211 177 272
29 5 Giovanny Gallegos RP 226 171 266
30 5 Mark Melancon RP 232 201 256
31 6 Scott Oberg RP 255 246 276
32 6 Seth Lugo SP/RP 249 241 295
33 6 Josh James RP 272 #N/A 259
34 6 Mychal Givens RP 274 270 294
35 6 Andres Munoz RP 279 291 #N/A
36 6 Adam Ottavino RP 292 #N/A 286
37 6 Ryan Pressly RP 308 282 300
38 7 Diego Castillo SP/RP 298 #N/A #N/A
39 7 Colin Poché RP 300 #N/A #N/A
40 7 Dellin Betances RP 305 #N/A 310
41 7 Matt Barnes RP 313 #N/A #N/A
42 7 Tommy Kahnle RP 318 #N/A #N/A
43 7 James Karinchak RP 355 298 #N/A
44 7 Chad Green SP/RP 319 #N/A 355
45 7 Zack Britton RP 331 #N/A 344
46 8 Ty Buttrey RP 341 #N/A #N/A
47 8 Daniel Hudson RP 476 #N/A 218
48 8 Ryne Stanek RP 443 262 #N/A
49 8 Nick Wittgren RP 354 #N/A #N/A
50 8 Blake Treinen RP 340 #N/A 371
51 8 Emmanuel Clase RP 356 #N/A #N/A
52 8 Matt Magill RP 359 #N/A #N/A
53 8 Jose Alvarado RP 360 #N/A #N/A
54 8 Shane Greene RP 545 #N/A 195
55 8 Luke Jackson RP 478 #N/A 282
56 8 Drew Pomeranz SP/RP 383 #N/A #N/A
57 8 Wade Davis RP 404 #N/A 364
58 8 Matt Strahm SP/RP 433 #N/A 345
59 9 Michael Lorenzen RP 452 #N/A 329
60 9 Freddy Peralta SP/RP 399 #N/A #N/A
61 9 Pedro Baez RP 401 #N/A #N/A
62 9 Trevor Richards SP/RP 440 #N/A 363
63 9 Andrew Miller RP 407 #N/A #N/A
64 9 Tony Watson RP 411 #N/A #N/A
65 9 John Gant RP 423 #N/A #N/A
66 9 Randy Dobnak SP/RP 427 #N/A #N/A
67 9 Amir Garrett RP 428 #N/A #N/A
68 9 Yusmeiro Petit RP 431 #N/A #N/A
69 9 Sergio Romo RP 432 #N/A #N/A
70 9 Alex Reyes SP/RP 547 #N/A 339
71 9 Joe Kelly RP 451 #N/A #N/A
72 9 Will Harris RP 455 #N/A #N/A
73 9 Jordan Hicks RP 456 #N/A #N/A
74 9 Jeremy Jeffress RP 458 #N/A #N/A
75 10 Brad Peacock SP/RP 461 #N/A #N/A
76 10 Anthony Bass RP 542 #N/A 382
77 10 Pedro Strop RP 580 #N/A 346
78 10 Jairo Diaz RP 471 #N/A #N/A
79 10 Seranthony Dominguez RP 480 #N/A #N/A
80 10 Oliver Drake RP 496 #N/A #N/A
81 10 Collin McHugh SP/RP 498 #N/A #N/A
82 10 Chris Martin RP 502 #N/A #N/A
83 10 Andrew Cashner RP/SP 504 #N/A #N/A
84 10 Shawn Armstrong RP 507 #N/A #N/A
85 10 Steve Cishek RP 515 #N/A #N/A
86 10 Trevor May RP 521 #N/A #N/A
87 10 Kyle Crick RP 524 #N/A #N/A
88 10 Andrew Kittredge RP 525 #N/A #N/A
89 10 Corbin Burnes SP/RP 534 #N/A #N/A
90 10 Adam Conley RP 546 #N/A #N/A
91 10 Chris Devenski RP 549 #N/A #N/A
92 10 Austin Adams RP 555 #N/A #N/A
93 10 Yoshihisa Hirano RP 560 #N/A #N/A
94 10 Roenis Elias RP 561 #N/A #N/A
95 10 Felix Pena RP/SP 577 #N/A #N/A
96 10 Craig Stammen RP 578 #N/A #N/A

 

Tier One

If you had to guess, how many relievers were top-100 players in 2019 5x5 leagues? The answer is 14, with another 16 appearing between 100-150. This expands to roughly 25% of the top-200 being RP-eligible arms.

Josh Hader was electric in 2018, and many metrics improved in 2019 but were overshadowed by an issue with homers. His swinging-strike rate soared, from 19% to 22.7%, which yielded a 47.8% strikeout rate -- over six percentage points higher than the next-best qualified RP, Nick Anderson. He did this while trimming his walk rate to 6.9% from 9.8% and his .232 BABIP was close to the career .228 mark, but homers don’t factor into that. His 21.4% HR/FB rate and 1.78 HR/9 did all it could to inflate his 2.62 ERA. Strikeouts and homers, the 2019 way. Still, his 1.78 SIERA made him the only qualified RP with a mark south of 2.00 and I’m here for his being the first off the board.

Riley has Kirby Yates above Hader, which I’m not going to argue with. Yates’ 2.05 SIERA was second to Hader’s rate, while his 41.6% strikeout rate was third-best, just behind Nick Anderson. While Milwaukee had to turn to Matt Albers or Jeremy Jeffress in years past to ease Hader’s workload, Yates owned the closer role.

Then there’s Chapman, who will be 32 next year as he tries to rebound from a “down year” in which his 36.2% strikeout rate wasn’t among the league leaders. He somehow failed to capitalize on the strikeout surge of ‘19, yet his 0.47 HR/9 mark was also unharmed by the longball trend. He continues to lose bite on his fastball, averaging 98.4 MPH on his heater (down from 98.9 MPH in ‘18 and 100.1 MPH in ‘17,) which led to a reliance on the slidepiece. He threw it a career-high 31.1% in ‘19, up from 25.4% in ‘18 and 19.7% in ‘17. You can see how the scales stay balanced -- he’s navigating the aging curve well.

 

Tier Two

Here, we start to really disagree about the order. Riley and I have Liam Hendriks first, but then Riley and I have Brad Hand second while Nick G would put Hand in the midst of Tier Three. I'll have to chase him down and ask what that's about! Nick G has Roberto Osuna as his top RP in this tier, with the low WHIP likelihood probably fueling that fire. We each have Osuna over Kenley Jansen.

Osuna locked down 38 saves in 65 innings with a hearty 2.63 ERA/0.88 WHIP and 73 strikeouts. The age-24 closer has yet to log a WHIP above 1.00 after five big-league seasons. He worked around a career-high 12.3% HR/FB rate with a career-best 16.9% swinging-strike rate and yet another year with a sub-5% walk rate (that’s four straight now.) The scandals are there on a personal and team level, but Osuna’s effective on the bump and Houston enters the ninth with leads quite often.

Meanwhile, Jansen had to miss a few games at altitude due to a heart condition, but his overall 3.71 ERA/1.06 WHIP and 80 K’s in 63 frames remained strong. He’s always been a fly-ball pitcher and as such, 2018’s and 2019’s “higher” (for him) ERAs with a low WHIP add up with homers and fly outs. The last two seasons have also seen him post mortal 6% walk rates after that incredible 2.7% clip in ‘17 -- just small things worth noting. He remains a top-10 option, but he’s no longer in the upper echelon.

Hendriks’ stock gets more comfortable with Treinen going to LAD. His average fastball velocity went from 94-95 MPH to 96.5 MPH, his curveball rose from 82 MPH to 84 MPH and the rate at which he threw it soared, from 1.8% in ‘18 to 7.8%. The added heat helped, as hitters pulled a career-low 26.5% of batted balls off of him, which eased the damage done by the 49.5% fly-ball rate.

 

Tier Three

Minnesota allowed a budding star in Taylor Rogers to take the ninth after he posted a 2.63 ERA/0.95 WHIP in 2018, which he followed up with an eerily similar 2.61 ERA/1.00 WHIP in ‘19. But 30 saves last season compared to two in ‘18 makes for quite the fantasy jump, let alone going from a 28.9% strikeout rate to 32.4% while posting a 50.6% groundball rate and 4% walk rate. Seriously, it’s a sabermetric dream come true.

I want to believe in Edwin Diaz enjoying better luck, but my philosophy on “luck” when it comes to 2019’s stats has to be different. The bar has to be moved and expectations reset, because hitters’ approaches differed and the ball was altered. After posting an elite 1.96 ERA/0.79 WHIP with an absurd 1.49 SIERA, reasonable .281 BABIP, and solid 0.61 HR/9 in 2018, Diaz cratered in ‘19.

The 2.63 SIERA would have you think, “it can’t be that bad,” but it was. The 5.59 ERA/1.38 WHIP rose with a ballooned .377 BABIP and 2.33 HR/9.  A high BABIP won’t necessarily come back down just like that. Still, I would be happy to get Diaz near the 11th or 12th round of 12-team drafts as a discount RP1/2. The Dellin Betances signing does shorten the leash a bit, but Betances has his own game-action rust to deal with first.

Following the rebound theme, Craig Kimbrel faltered after joining the Cubs in the middle of the season. A lack of preseason prep and normal routine didn’t pan out, but he may have been tipping pitches. There’s a lot to unpack, but he’s a top-five closer when on. I wouldn’t draft both Diaz AND Kimbrel, but they both offer discounted pricing for a high ceiling.

When viewing the K-BB% leaderboard, you’ll see Hader, Yates, Anderson, Felipe Vazquez (who can be erased,) Hendriks, and then Ken Giles. The 1.87 ERA was his best mark since 2015, as he was another who allowed fewer homers while enjoying the strikeout spike. Interestingly enough, the 42.1% fly-ball rate was a career-high, but he survived. I wouldn't blink if he finished as a top-three closer.

Originally, I was the highest on Raisel Iglesias, but I recently dropped him. The 12 losses cut deep, but the 3.22 SIERA is consistent with his 3.31 career mark and the 31.9% strikeout rate was a career-best alongside a slight drop in walks (8.6% to 7.5%.) His HR/9 has been 1.50 and 1.61 in the past two seasons, but he couldn’t dance around it again. After surrendering an average 35.2% fly-ball rate in ‘18, he was crushed by a 43.9% mark in ‘19. Soft contact went up, but so did hard contact. The all-or-nothing swings smacked him around, and I felt I needed to drop him a bit until he proves otherwise.

Neris had a tumultuous 2018 that saw him sent to the minors, but 2019 saw him unfurl that premier splitter all season long. The 2.93 ERA/1.02 WHIP with 89 K’s in 67 ⅔ IP had him ranked 100th overall, as he cut his fly-ball rate by nearly 10 percentage points while simultaneously enjoying a 114-point drop in BABIP. Those don’t particularly jive, so I’m anticipating some give in the WHIP category for 2020.

 

Tier Four

You’ll notice I have Sean Doolittle up at 158 alongside Riley's 164 and an ice-cold 237 for Nick G. I buy his talent when not overused and I believe Davey Martinez learned his lesson in ‘19. Doolittle had a 2.72 ERA with a 51/11 K/BB ratio over 43 winnings through July 24, when he notched the save in each game of a doubleheader. That speaks to his heavy usage, and 10 appearances later he’d be placed on the 10-day Injured List with diminished velocity. He worked low-leverage spots in September and was strong throughout the playoffs, allowing two runs over 10 ⅓ IP while only walking one.

Did you know that Brandon Workman was one of eight relievers with at least 100 strikeouts, and just one of three to meet that mark while posting an ERA below 2.00? The other two are Hendriks and Yates, so I’m all for buying Workman here until other competition enters the fray.

 

Tier Five

I want to believe in Joe Jimenez over the long term, but the 3.14 SIERA in 2018 was tied to a 4.31 ERA and his 3.41 SIERA last season hid behind a 4.37 ERA. At some point, the results have to be there. After a rough July 17 outing, Jimenez posted a 2.55 ERA with 31 strikeouts to seven walks over 24 ⅔ IP. Of the seven runs allowed, five of them came on solo homers. He didn’t issue a walk over his final eight appearances of the season, so there are hints of greatness, but we must keep our heads on straight.

I already alluded to Nick Anderson’s greatness, but it’s worth highlighting. Even without a set closer’s role, he’s a stud worth starting in any format. 2019 was his first MLB season, and Anderson was inconsistent in Miami, throwing more breaking balls instead of ripping into hitters with his elite heat. Then he was traded to Tampa Bay at the deadline and proceeded to log a whopping 41/2 K/BB rate and 2.11 ERA (1.03 SIERA!) across 21 ⅓ IP.

I’m hard-pressed to see Mark Melancon holding off Will Smith for any extended period of time for closing duties, but I can’t pay up to bet against it either. We each have Smith about 30 spots ahead of where we listed Melancon. I respect taking on Melancon as your RP3 if you feel comfortable otherwise, but I wouldn't project him for 30 saves this year. I prefer Giovanny Gallegos to have more days as closer in '20 than Melancon, and certainly put up better numbers in the end. Still, until concrete word comes down then we must bake in the chance Melancon holds down the ninth all year, sigh.

 

Tier Six

Seth Lugo made the leap to fantasy-relevant elite middle reliever in 2019. Despite pitching 21 fewer innings, he struck out one more hitter compared to 2018. His 28% K-BB rate was nearly 10 percentage points above his ‘18 clip, and he largely avoided the homer boom. We can thank Citi Field for some of that friendliness. The Mets bringing on Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha bode well for Lugo’s staying in the bullpen, where he shines. Ryan Pressly is another relief arm without the closer’s job who is worth our attention.

Mychal Givens remains the Orioles' most intriguing bullpen arm -- his 86 strikeouts, 11 saves and 1.19 WHIP over 63 innings offered promise, but the 4.57 ERA and four other pitchers siphoning multiple saves left Givens outside the top-300 in 5x5 scoring. I’d prefer aiming for upside SP flyers or position players in tenuous playing-time scenarios than go with low-ceiling closers, but Givens may fill a need for those who punted saves while they await waiver-wire finds.

I don’t hold as much hope for Adam Ottavino, whose 1.31 WHIP was more indicative of his season than the 1.90 ERA. The 24.6% K-BB rate that made him so special in '18 fell to 17% in '19, with more walks leading to quicker hooks from Aaron Boone. I much prefer speculating on Andres Munoz and his 80-grade fastball as a hedge to Yates, and Scott Oberg, who may straight up edge Wade Davis before April. Munoz does need to get that 11.3% walk rate in check, though his minor league marks orbited the 15% mark so I’m not holding my breath. If Yates goes down, Munoz’s powerful 15.6% swinging-strike rate would offer top-12 RP stuff.

Meanwhile, Oberg carried an unsettling 13/11 K/BB ratio into the middle of May, but a .196 BABIP masked the 5.12 xFIP with a 1.77 ERA. This left me cold on his prospects as closer when Wade Davis hit the injured list on May 22, only for Oberg to post a 41/10 K/BB mark with a 2.95 xFIP, 2.37 FIP and 1.47 ERA between May 24 and July 31. August saw him placed on the injured list himself with blood clots in his right arm, ending his season. Davis needs to rebound from an awful 8.65 ERA/1.88 WHIP over 42 ⅔ IP in ‘19, far from a given. Our ranks jive with early NFBC ADP of 283.

 

Tier Seven

When you continue to dig down the ranks, you’ll find 100 RP-eligible arms within the top 315 players. Early NFBC ADP data has 150 total pitchers within the top-400, and I understand the latter being more useful for draft purposes. That shouldn’t dictate exactly how we play our game or construct our teams, but it’s worth noting and led me to try to make my relief ranks more robust at the back-end. Unfortunately, it opens the door for lots of volatility as the offseason plays out, opinions about bullpen usage changes, and so on. 

Folks like Chad Green, Matt Barnes, Colin Poché and Tommy Kahnle offer strikeout upside, all ranking in the top 30 of strikeout rate (and K-BB%) from relievers with at least 20 frames under their belt. This is particularly helpful if you have someone like Kyle Hendricks or Miles Mikolas.

Cleveland may be hiding 2020’s Nick Anderson in James Karinchak, who was straight up masterful across the minors in 2019. Between Rookie Ball, Double-A and Triple-A, Karinchak struck out 74 in just 30 ⅓ IP. Read that again, let it sink in. He had a cup of coffee with five MLB appearances in September, striking out eight while walking one over 5 ⅓ IP. The tools are there.

 

Tier Eight

At this point, you’re targeting talent and letting the chips fall, especially in the early offseason. We originally put these out before Blake Treinen signed with the Dodgers, but I like that landing spot for him behind Jansen. Of course, this hurts the chances of Joe Kelly or Pedro Baez being a consistent option should something happen to Jansen.

We should note that Emmanuel Clase wasn't in the first run of ranks, but he's in there now and should be considered towards the last rounds of your draft if you want to hedge Brad Hand or simply require unheralded ratio relief.

I believe Matt Magill is Seattle’s best option with Austin Adams out, though other resources like Roster Resource show Sam Tuivailala as Seattle’s closer. While Tuivailala’s 30.2% strikeout rate edges Magill by one percentage point, Magill’s 5.2% walk rate is half of Tuivailala's 10.5% rate. I'd prefer a more complete package for the ninth inning, though Seattle may see it differently. Still, I'll target the better K-BB% rates if I can help it.

 

Tiers Nine and Lower

Here’s where the fun begins, with lottery tickets abound! The bulk of the upside is wrapped into talented arms who may capitalize on a starting gig, such as Matt Strahm, Freddy Peralta, Randy Dobnak, Collin McHugh, Corbin Burnes and Elieser Hernandez. If you want a boring handful of saves, consider Steve Cishek, who always seems to find the occasional ninth inning thanks to his “Proven Closer” tag.

Jordan Hicks is recovering from Tommy John surgery that he underwent in late June 2019, and may be a factor in the second half with his flamethrower of an arm. I prefer my late-round picks going to guys who are either going to pan out or bust in the early going so that I can have that spot for waiver-wire speculating should they fail, but I understand the allure of Hicks' cannon.

One who may experience a significant rise is Pittsburgh’s Kyle Crick, who could emerge should the rebuilding Pirates deal Keone Kela. Crick has reported no setbacks in recovery from tendon repair surgery on his right index finger, an injury suffered during a fight with Felipe Vazquez. Shocking that someone would fight Vazquez, I know. Crick’s command left him in ‘19, with an awful 15.5% walk rate and 1.84 HR/9 mark, but he’d posted a 2.39 ERA/1.13 WHIP in ‘18. Just keep an eye out on his spring command.

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With the season over and real-life free agency and April's NFL draft ahead of us, it's time to look at how each team split their targets and carries (both of them combined in what is called opportunities; sometimes it's receptions instead of targets, but I wanted to look at the overall volume and total chances instead)... Read More


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Pierre Camus and Chris Mangano discuss the dynasty value of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.. Will he bounce back in 2020 to return WR1 fantasy football value or is he no longer an elite receiver? Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us... Read More