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2019 Relief Pitchers - Early Fantasy Baseball Tiered Rankings


A tough position to evaluate is that of relief pitchers, as a lot of success for closers comes from success from teams. There are also a lot of bullpens by committee these days, further stifling the value of closers.

That being said, only four of the pitchers that ranked in the top-10 in saves in 2017 followed up in 2018. One of those pitchers had a huge jump in saves, but Wade Davis, Craig Kimbrel, and Kenley Jansen were all relatively in similar positions for saves in each of the last two seasons.

While saves are a key aspect for relief pitchers, it is not everything, as some setup men are more valuable than lower-tier closers. Considering bullpens by committee, it is also tough to evaluate who will even close games for teams. Here are the rankings for relief pitchers heading into 2019. You can also see our other 2019 fantasy baseball rankings for mixed leagues, points leagues, prospects and much more.

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2019 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Relief Pitcher (January)

Ranking Tier Player Position Nick Pierre JB Chris
1 1 Edwin Diaz RP 49 64 50 56
2 1 Blake Treinen RP 59 76 61 71
3 1 Craig Kimbrel RP 51 79 82 66
4 2 Aroldis Chapman RP 96 70 85 61
5 2 Kenley Jansen RP 91 80 73 78
6 2 Roberto Osuna RP 93 62 111 82
7 3 Raisel Iglesias RP 119 81 114 97
8 3 Felipe Vázquez RP 118 112 116 81
9 3 Brad Hand RP 107 95 106 120
10 3 Josh Hader RP 109 116 129 107
11 3 Sean Doolittle RP 94 125 131 118
12 3 Kenneth Giles RP 139 103 144 128
13 3 Wade Davis RP 157 124 133 134
14 3 Corey Knebel RP 149 141 124 144
15 4 Jose Leclerc RP 158 120 167 220
16 4 Kirby Yates RP 120 215 127 217
17 4 Alexander Colome RP 170 199 190 160
18 4 David Robertson RP 217 233 201 122
19 4 Dellin Betances RP 195 194 234 201
20 4 Alexander Reyes SP/RP 208 227 236 172
21 4 A.J. Minter RP 206 187 260 200
22 5 Mychal Givens RP 252 185 186 237
23 5 Will Smith RP 277 246 165 188
24 5 Andrew Miller RP 197 164 287 271
25 5 Jordan Hicks RP/SP 248 198 227 249
26 5 Seranthony Dominguez RP 235 311 192 190
27 5 Brandon Morrow RP 232 319 210 185
28 5 Cody Allen RP 204 170 243 348
29 5 Adam Ottavino RP 216 235 256 286
30 5 Zach Britton RP 219 163 285 363
31 5 Archie Bradley RP 334 204 233 273
32 5 Jose Alvarado RP 351 377 183 196
33 6 Jeurys Familia RP 335 252 261 274
34 6 Drew Steckenrider RP 311 307 187 327
35 6 Arodys Vizcaino RP 344 195 231 375
36 6 Shane Greene RP 329 289 252 298
37 6 Jeremy Jeffress RP 257 284 382 301
38 6 Chad Green RP 323 305 259 357
39 6 Joe Jimenez RP 320 226 370 350
40 6 Ty Buttrey RP 287 382 342 397
41 6 Trevor May RP 382 410 356 279
42 6 Pedro Strop RP 350 345 310 516
43 6 Seth Lugo SP/RP 307 426 317 483
44 6 Brad Peacock RP 399 379 283 485
45 6 Matt Strahm RP 297 477 #N/A #N/A
46 6 Hunter Strickland RP #N/A 375 404 #N/A
47 6 Ryan Brasier RP 407 #N/A 374 #N/A
48 6 Mark Melancon RP 340 310 459 470
49 6 Diego Castillo RP/SP 395 #N/A #N/A #N/A
50 7 Wily Peralta SP/RP 429 498 338 319
51 7 Dakota Hudson RP 477 262 #N/A 460
52 7 Kelvin Herrera RP 455 221 486 444
53 7 Sam Dyson RP #N/A #N/A #N/A 406
54 7 Keone Kela RP 553 282 355 439
55 7 Brad Keller SP/RP 360 485 320 467
56 7 Blake Parker RP 472 287 425 458
57 7 Cameron Bedrosian RP #N/A 380 418 436
58 7 Joe Kelly RP 447 466 468 272
59 7 Yoshihisa Hirano RP 322 429 421 489
60 7 Wade LeBlanc RP/SP 442 #N/A 408 #N/A
61 7 Ryan Pressly RP 427 #N/A #N/A #N/A
62 7 Matt Barnes RP #N/A #N/A 428 #N/A
63 7 Hector Neris RP 611 347 432 326
64 7 Chris Devenski SP/RP 448 467 335 477
65 7 C.J. Edwards RP 462 406 372 488
66 7 Corbin Burnes SP/RP 380 #N/A 399 549
67 7 Nate Jones RP 533 528 352 367
68 7 Fernando Rodney RP 589 277 488 456
69 7 Alex Claudio RP #N/A 418 420 537
70 7 Jared Hughes RP 398 490 #N/A 496
71 7 Trevor Rosenthal RP 523 523 357 469
72 7 Addison Reed RP 571 373 #N/A 464
73 7 Taylor Rogers RP 440 487 #N/A 487
74 7 Craig Stammen RP 474 #N/A #N/A #N/A
75 7 Yusmeiro Petit RP 482 503 447 #N/A
76 7 Brad Boxberger RP 609 456 453 407
77 7 Pat Neshek RP 528 482 426 494
78 7 Robert Gsellman SP/RP 509 443 458 523
79 7 Felix Pena RP/SP 441 #N/A 492 521
80 7 Brad Brach RP 520 555 391 478
81 8 Richard Rodriguez RP 487 #N/A #N/A #N/A
82 8 Steve Cishek RP 480 #N/A 498 #N/A
83 8 Justin Miller RP 491 #N/A #N/A #N/A
84 8 Justin Anderson RP 500 #N/A #N/A #N/A
85 8 Kyle Crick RP 498 511 #N/A #N/A
86 8 David Hernandez RP 505 #N/A #N/A #N/A
87 8 Seung Hwan Oh RP 497 #N/A 493 535
88 8 Adam Conley SP/RP 483 569 #N/A 475
89 8 Will Harris RP 492 508 497 545
90 8 Lou Trivino RP 501 526 #N/A #N/A
91 8 Luke Gregerson RP 628 415 490 539
92 8 Dylan Floro SP/RP 518 #N/A #N/A #N/A
93 8 Mike Montgomery SP/RP 531 525 #N/A 505
94 8 Hector Rondon RP 576 551 494 484
95 8 Reyes Moronta RP 527 #N/A #N/A #N/A
96 8 Jace Fry RP 623 462 #N/A 507
97 8 Greg Holland RP 605 544 489 486
98 8 Jeff Hoffman RP 626 579 479 474
99 8 Kyle Barraclough RP 631 564 #N/A 437
100 8 Clayton Richard RP 552 538 #N/A #N/A
101 8 Bud Norris RP 556 #N/A #N/A #N/A
102 8 Caleb Ferguson RP 559 #N/A #N/A #N/A
103 8 Andrew Cashner RP 583 542 #N/A #N/A
104 8 Adam Cimber RP 564 #N/A #N/A #N/A
105 8 Nick Goody RP 567 #N/A #N/A #N/A
107 8 Joakim Soria RP 603 547 #N/A #N/A
108 8 Joe Biagini SP/RP 596 576 #N/A #N/A
109 8 Ty Blach RP 592 #N/A #N/A #N/A
110 8 Jose Castillo RP 594 #N/A #N/A #N/A
111 8 Tony Watson RP 598 #N/A #N/A #N/A
112 8 Matt Bush RP 610 #N/A #N/A #N/A
113 8 Jacob Barnes RP 622 #N/A #N/A #N/A
114 8 Taylor Cole RP 629 #N/A #N/A #N/A
115 8 Josh Fields RP 630 #N/A #N/A #N/A
116 8 Tyler Clippard RP 632 #N/A #N/A #N/A
117 8 Shawn Kelley RP 633 #N/A #N/A #N/A

 

Reliever Rankings - Upper Tiers

Tier One

Volatility is key with relief pitchers, as only four relievers were in the top 10 of saves in each of the last two seasons. Speaking to the uncertainty of the position, two of the top three relievers headed into 2019 are likely not going to be pitching for the same team from 2018. Edwin Diaz has already brought his sub-2.00 ERA, and 57 saves from 2018 to Queens to be the Mets closer, and Craig Kimbrel is still a free agent, unlikely to return to the World Series champion Red Sox. There is still a chance that Kimbrel returns to the Red Sox (which would obviously be optimal for his 2019 stock), but a reunion with the Braves would also put Kimbrel in a place to save 40 or more games.

The lone tier one reliever to remain with their 2018 team was 2018 breakout star Blake Treinen. While Treinen's 2018 season seemingly came out of the blue, he did have a 2.28 ERA in 67 innings in 2016, albeit those were less high leverage innings and his FIP was 3.62. In 2018, Treinen pitched to an 0.78 ERA and 1.82 FIP, striking out 11.2 batters per innings and posting a 0.83 WHIP. His nine wins were a cherry on top of the huge season that included 38 saves and he allowed just 46 hits in 80 1/3 innings. The 97-win Athletics were a surprise of the 2018 season and, if the team is able to continue to be successful, Treinen will put himself in a good position for saves.

Tier Two

As we move into the second tier of relief pitchers, there are three pitchers that are in great positions for saves, but also have their own warts. New York Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman saved 32 games for New York in 2018, posting a 2.45 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. For the second straight season, though, Chapman dealt with injuries and saw his performance tail off at the end of the season. Still, Chapman saw his ERA drop from 3.22 in 2017 and struck out 16.3 batters per nine last season, allowing just 24 hits in 51 1/3 innings.

Kenley Jansen shows up next on the list, followed by Roberto Osuna, and each has the potential to be boom or bust players for reasons that have nothing to do with their performance on the field. Jansen could be the top reliever in baseball, but also has to deal with heart conditions that have hampered his performance over the last few seasons. It is tough to really predict how Jansen will recover from heart surgery, and if he will be able to make it through a full season with his health issues, but a healthy Jansen will likely approach 40 saves while striking out 100 batters. Osuna, on the other hand, is still dealing with the backlash of his domestic dispute charges and will have to get used to a full season with a new team in Houston. The opportunity is there for Osuna to be a top-five closer, as he has been in the past, but his legal issues will continue to hang over his head.

Tier Three

Continuing through the top tiers of relievers, we reach the place where a non-traditional late-inning reliever is a very good option. Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader whiffed 143 batters in 81 1/3 innings in 2018, posting a 2.43 ERA and 0.81 WHIP. His 12 saves were basically a cherry on top of those gaudy statistics, proving that Hader is a top reliever, even without being the primary closer. Also in this tier, not so ironically, is the man that was the closer for the Brewers to open the 2018 season (Corey Knebel). Knebel, who had a 3.58 ERA in 55 1/3 innings, saved 16 games last season and could approach 20 or so saves this season. Obviously, the Brewers need to clean up the roles in their bullpen to assess the real value of each of their relievers, but Hader and Knebel are the top fantasy assets and could still both be valuable.

Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Brad Hand is also found in this tier and his 2018 season illustrates the ups and downs for closers. Hand was one of the most lockdown relievers of the 2017 season (posting a 2.16 ERA in 79 1/3 innings) but only saved 21 games with the Padres. He then saved 24 of his 29 opportunities with the Friars in 2018 before he was traded to the Indians. With his trade to Cleveland, Hand was put in a better position to win, but only received 10 save opportunities, saving eight games and earning seven holds. He also saw his ERA drop (from 3.05 in 44 1/3 innings with San Diego to 2.28 in 27 2/3 innings with the Indians) while seeing his strikeout rate drop and WHIP rise. He still struck out 100 batters, for the third consecutive season, and saw his save tally jump double digits to 32 in 2018. With Andrew Miller and (most likely) Cody Allen gone from Cleveland, look for Hand to top 30 saves once again.

Also found in this tier are three relievers that may not play for the best teams, but will still put up strong enough numbers to garner fantasy attention. Raisel Iglesias, Felipe Vazquez, and Kenneth Giles each play for teams that will likely win 70-80 games in 2019 and will rely heavily on their closers to do so. Vazquez (37) and Iglesias (30) were each over 30 saves for their teams in 2018, while Giles (now with the Blue Jays) has 60 saves over the last two seasons. While Giles had a rough 2018 season (4.65 ERA), he did have a 2.30 ERA with the Astros in 2017 and had a career-best 7.57 K:BB ratio last season. As for Vazquez and Iglesias, they are very similar: both are hard-throwing lefties for middling NL Central teams who are likely to post an ERA in the mid-to-high 2's and strike out 85-95 batters.

Wade Davis went from the starting rotation to the bullpen in 2014 and put up three of the most dominant seasons you will ever see with the Royals from 2014-2016. He posted a 1.18 ERA and 0.89 WHIP over those 182 2/3 innings, striking out 234 batters and only allowing 104 hits. Davis was the closer for the Royals at the end of 2015 and 2016 (saving 44 games) before he went to the Cubs in 2017 and saved 32 games while posting a 2.30 ERA. After signing with the Rockies in 2018, David led the National League with 43 saves, but saw his ERA balloon to 4.13 as he allowed eight home runs. His ERA has actually risen in each of the last four seasons (from a career-low 0.94 ERA in 2015) and his strikeout rate dropped from 12 per nine in 2017 to 10.7 last season, but there are still reasons to see Davis as a strong option. First of all, the Rockies will put him in a place to win games on the heels of back-to-back playoff seasons. Secondly, Davis limited damaged in 2018 by allowing 43 hits in 65 1/3 innings and cut his walk rate from 4.3 to 3.6 per nine YoY. He is a perfectly suitable mid-tier option at closer.

 

Reliever Rankings - Middle Tiers

Tier Four

In the last tier of "relatively safe" relievers, tier four has a reliever that has saved 40 games (Alexander Colome), a closer for a team that could compete for the playoffs (David Robertson), and a potential star with relief eligibility (Alexander Reyes). There are also a reliever that could be in a position for 30 or more saves (Kirby Yates), but opportunities could be scarce. We will leave Reyes for deeper analysis in our SP ranking article, but the fantasy fates of Colome and Robertson need to be analyzed further.

Alexander Colome has moved from the Rays to Mariners to White Sox since the beginning of 2018, but the 2017 saves leader can still be an impact player.  In 2017, Colome was the closer for the Rays and led baseball with 47 saves. He had a worse season than 2016 in most statistical categories (mainly his ERA going from 1.91 to 3.24 and his strikeouts going from 11.3 to 7.8 per nine), but his saves were up from 37 to 47 year over year. The only reason that any fantasy owners would have been down on Colome to start the season was that he only had two years of closer's experience. Colome started the season with 11 saves in Tampa Bay and then was part of a trade with Denard Span to the Mariners. Colome was good for the Mariners, going 5-0 with a 2.53 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, but he lost the closer's role once he moved to the Pacific Northwest. He did end up saving one game with the M's, to finish with 12 saves for the season, but that is nowhere near what was expected of him. It is likely that he will see some pressure from Nate Jones to close games in Chicago, but should be able to hold him off.

In the world of "why do MLB managers hate fantasy baseball so much", Gabe Kapler is the next man up. The Phillies signed David Robertson to a two-year deal, and he appears to be the safest option to save games in Philly. Keyword there is "seems", as the Phillies also have Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris to make the bell ring at the end of games at Citizens Bank Park. Robertson had a massive 2017 season (with 98 strikeouts, a 1.84 ERA, and 0.85 WHIP in 68 1/3 innings) before registering a ho-hum 91 strikeouts, 3.23 ERA, and 1.03 WHIP in 69 2/3 innings last season. This is also a reliever that averaged 37 saves per season from 2014-2016 while closing games for the Yankees and White Sox and who has a career 2.88 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 12 strikeouts per nine in 657 innings. We here at RotoBaller do not make managerial decisions (nor would most of us want to), but Robertson should be the closer for the Phillies, and it is only a matter of time for Kapler to realize that. If he takes over the job, it is robbery to be able to get him at the end of drafts.

A.J. Minter is the closer for the Braves right now but is currently playing the waiting game for Craig Kimbrel (who obviously would take over the job for the Bravos).  Minter had a 3.23 ERA, 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.2 BB/9 in 65 outings last year. The lefty also converted 15 of his 17 save chances when Arodys Vizcaino was hurt. However, with both Vizcaino and Chad Sobotka capable of closing out games, too, Minter's leash will be rather short if he struggles. Considering the uncertainty with the closer's role in Atlanta, Minter is not much more than a boom or bust player.

Finally, Mychal Givens could be a sleeper. Givens had a 3.99 ERA with 79 strikeouts and 30 walks in 76 2/3 innings pitched last season, saving nine games. He could be valuable if he can maintain the closer's role in Baltimore and return to his solid form of the previous few seasons, especially his 2017 season where he had a 3.08 ERA and 1.04 WHIP.

Tier Five

This is where you can start making bold calls about how you want to construct your bullpen; would you rather elite set up men that may not get saves or subpar closers that may hurt your ratios? In a head-to-head league, there are plenty of players in this tier that can help you on a weekly basis by limiting damage while putting up gaudy strikeout totals. This is where you find firemen like Archie Bradley and Dellin Betances. In this group, you will also find question marks at closers in players like Will Smith and Cody Allen. Most importantly in this tier, though, you find some of the more frustrating relievers of the 2019 season.

Jose Alvarado is the first player we want to take a look at, as his space in the Rays bullpen by committee is likely to take years off of fantasy owners. Who is the closer for the Rays and why is it not Alvarado? Will Alvarado be an opener for the Rays at all this year? Will the Rays use an opener if their young starters are healthy? Does Kevin Cash hate the concept of fantasy baseball and just wants to mess with all of us? All of these questions need to be considered as you look at either Alvarado, as he could be a top-150 player if they are given the keys to the closing job in Tampa. Alvarado could just be a lefty fireman for the Rays, as he whiffed 80 in 64 innings last season, posting a 2.39 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. He only saved eight games, though, so do not commit too many fantasy assets behind Alvarado until a firm hierarchy is stated in Tampa (and also be aware that Cash could change it immediately).

Brandon Morrow was signed by the Cubs to fill the closer's gap left by Wade Davis and was very solid for the Cubbies. He posted a 1.47 ERA and 1.08 WHIP while striking out a batter per inning. The issue is that Morrow only pitched in 35 games (30 2/3 innings) last season, saving just 22 games. He also walked nine batters in relatively limited work last season and has not pitched more than 55 innings in a season since transitioning to the bullpen after the 2012 season.  That being said, Morrow does have a 2.04 ERA in 123 1/3 innings since 2015, posting a 1.06 WHIP in that same time period, showing that he can be an impact player if he stays on the field.

Andrew Miller and Jordan Hicks have the final (and maybe most confusing) bullpen situation in this tier. The fact that both Cardinals are found in the fifth tier does not speak to their talent, but rather the fact that no one can clearly know who will be closing games in St. Louis. Andrew Miller is the big money free agent with the resume (1.45 ERA in 2016 and 1.43 ERA in 2017), but also only pitched 34 innings last season with a 4.23 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. Hicks, on the other hand, was a fireballing rookie last season that dazzled with 70 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings; he also only had a 3.59 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. Considering that Hicks' 105 mph fastball did not lead to as good of results as some may think, Miller may be tipped to close in St. Louis. However, Miller has been more of a jack-of-all-trades than a closer in his career (although he did save 36 games with the Yankees in 2015) and the lefty/righty split of Miller and Hicks could lead to Mike Shildt splitting closer's duties for the Cards.

 

Reliever Rankings - Lower Tiers

Tier Six

Tier six does have a few players that could have 20 or more saves (Shane Greene, Jeremy Jeffries, Hector Neris, Wily Peralta), but this is a group that is more made of solid setup men and some pitchers with SP/RP eligibility. Greene and Peralta each have relatively clear opportunities to close, but none of the three are attractive options at the position, to say the least. Peralta became the Royals closer down the stretch and finished with 14 saves, a 3.67 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, and 35 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings. His career-high 6.0 BB/9 is concerning, though, as well as the fact that he's unlikely to see many save chances for a rebuilding club.

Greene is the best option of this group, but that is not saying very much at all. Greene did see his save tally jump from nine at the end of 2017 to 32 for the 2018 season, but he regressed in most other ways. He did his walk rate drop from 4.5 in 2017 to 2.7 in 2018, but he also saw his strikeout rate drop from 9.7 to 9.2 and his HR rate more than double from 0.8 to 1.7. While his 4.61 FIP shows that his 5.12 ERA was a bit unlucky, Greene was really just useful for the saves.

Tier Seven

It is not very pretty once we get to the seventh tier, but there are still some relievers that could be in line for saves this season. Sam Dyson could close for the Giants, Nate Jones for the White Sox, Alexander Claudio for the Rangers, Cameron Bedrosian for the Angels, or Bradley Boxberger for the Diamondbacks. While Archie Bradley may be the future for the Snakes, Boxberger was the present in 2018 and saved 32 games while striking out 71 batters in 53 1/3 innings. Sadly, that ends the good things that we can say about the Box, as he walked 32 batters, allowed 44 hits, and continued his trend of allowing at least one home run per nine. His 4.39 ERA was even a bit lucky (he had a 4.55 FIP) and his 1.42 WHIP fully shows how questionable he was as a closer.

Richard Rodriguez and Robert Gsellman also had solid 2018 seasons for the Pirates and Mets respectively and Joe Kelly and C.J. Edwards are an injury away from closer's roles with the Dodgers and Cubs. With Kelly and Edwards as set-up men for Kenley Jansen and Brandon Morrow (who have leery injury histories), each are worth a punt in extremely deep leagues.

Tier Eight

Sufficing to say, if you are looking at a reliever in tier eight, you are either in an extremely deep league or are in extremely hot water with your relief corps. Without expanding too far on the list, there are some pitchers with closing experience in this tier (Luke Gregerson, Seung-Hwan Oh, Greg Holland, Bud Norris, Hector Rondon, and Joakim Soria), so there is some chance that one of them could get some saves this season if injuries arise. Of the other notable players in this tier, Joe Biagini, Andrew Cashner, Ty Blach, Mike Montgomery, and Jeff Hoffman will likely start 10+ games and Lou Trivino did have an impressive rookie season as a setup man.

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