How do you draft relievers? Do you want one bullpen anchor? Do you take two top closers and punt the rest? Do you wait until the very end and take a couple scrub closers and a couple guys in line to steal saves from a shaky/injured closer?
Me, I’ve employed all of the options above at one time or another. The method that has crafted my strongest teams: Take one mid-level closer (think 20-30 saves), then fill in at the end with underrated closers and setup guys with opportunity.
Personally, I’d rather own a couple pitchers like Rafael Soriano, who has little chance of getting saves this year behind Mariano Rivera, than Kevin Gregg. If I was setting odds on the closers who would not be closers by the end of the year, Gregg would be second from the top. Baltimore has two options, Mike Gonzalez and Koji Uehara (who needs to get healthy), to take over when Gregg falters.
Guys like Uehara, who had mad good numbers last season, help your ratios and Ks even if they’re not getting saves.
ADP Top 30 relief pitcher rankings
(Recent ADP in parentheses)
1. Mariano Rivera, NYY (60.12): Every year we have a Papelbon or a Broxton at the top and Rivera is down the list a bit, making him a value. Nobody should be picking a closer at around 60th overall. Not Broxton or Papelbon, but especially not one that’s 41 years old like Rivera.
2. Joakim Soria, KC (70.05): 70th overall still feels high, but Soria is a better option than Rivera. If he gets traded to a better team, there will be even more saves for one of the most consistent closers in the game.
3. Brian Wilson, SF (76.14): Wilson has been putting up good save totals since 2008. His skills are off the chart and he’s only 29. Batters had much to fear before the beard.
4. Heath Bell, SD (80.53): I was not a Bell believer last year. I thought he was going to lose the closer job. He proved me dead wrong. He had consistent numbers and improved his ERA from 2009.
5. Carlos Marmol, CHC (95.21): This is the first closer that should be picked. He’s got massive strikeout totals and, more importantly, is going in the 10th round. By this point you should have 4-6 infielders, 2-4 outfielders and 1-3 starting pitchers.
6. Neftali Feliz, TEX (113.51): Feliz has closer stuff, but the Rangers are letting him start this spring. However, unless one of their scrubeenies in the ‘pen developed skill in the offseason, Feliz will be closing by midsummer. A risky pick if you are targeting saves, but he’s an interesting wild card. I doubt he goes 200 innings this season, but maybe he makes 10 starts and saves 20 games in 90-100 innings.
7. Jonathan Papelbon, BOS (126.92): Last season, he struck out batters at a higher rate in the second half, but that mentality didn’t help his ERA. Instead of a rebound, the earned runs kept piling up. He should get back under 3.50/1.20 and save 35 this year.
8. Jose Valverde, DET (143.44): Valverde’s K/9 has declined every season since 2006, but taking a little off has also allowed him to control the ERA and WHIP (5.87/1.47 in ’06). A second-half elbow injury slowed the 33-year-old last year. Don’t overpay.
9. Francisco Rodriguez, NYM (144.40): K-Rod could be back on top of the world in 2011. He could have been there in 2010, but he chose to, allegedly, attack his girlfriend’s father instead. I will never understand why professional athletes put themselves in these situations? Next, Rodriguez will shoot himself in the leg at a nightclub.
10. J.J. Putz, ARI (148.01): His BB/9 is a little mangier now, but this is the same Putz who saved 91 games and struck out 142 for the Mariners from 2006-2008.
11. Andrew Bailey, OAK (148.09): I don’t even know where he is being drafted in ESPN mocks. I never look directly at his name. It’s that elbow injury and surgery last season. They scare me. If he’s healthy, people like me will make him a discount.
12. Huston Street, COL (152.51): Another player who can’t stay healthy. Street has skills to be a top-5 closer. He’s averaged a 9.52 K/9 and 25 saves a season over the last five years.
13. Chris Perez, CLE (164.59): Perez’s 2009 performance provides a perfect example of the closer-in-waiting approach to drafting. Last year, I drafted Perez at the end of several drafts. It took Cleveland a while to dump Kerry Wood, but Perez was a stud once he became the full-time 9th-inning guy.
14. John Axford, MIL (169.30): Beware the closers that come out of nowhere. Typically, a closer is a highly skilled starter who couldn’t figure out the endurance/control thing. Don’t be surprised if Axford gets usurped by the end of the season. However, he has the K juice to hold the job for a while and he’s one of the closers I’m targeting, especially if I punt saves until this point in drafts.
15. Jonathan Broxton, LAD (174.87): Posted a 6.77 ERA and a 2.03 WHIP in the second half last season. That was disastrous for fantasy owners. However, for you ninjas who went with our advice and didn’t pick the first closer off the board, that shaky performance makes Broxton a huge value in 2011. He will bounce back. Draft with confidence.
16. Drew Storen, WAS (199.01): Storen should be the closer, but the team isn’t sure. His spring performance has done nothing to change the Nationals’ opinion. If you pay a discounted price, do it. If not, leave the questions for somebody else.
17. Brad Lidge, PHI (209.91): “Lights Out?” More like “Box O’Chocolates.”
18. Francisco Cordero, CIN (214.57): Remember in the intro (so long ago, I know) when I said Kevin Gregg was the second-most likely to lose the closer gig. Cordero is at the top. Cordero’s been living on the edge since 2008 and his K/9 has declined every year since 2007. Meanwhile, prototypical closer (fireballing starter that’s gone wild) Aroldis Chapman looms.
19. Ryan Franklin, STL (232.48): Has kept the haters at bay by lowering his WHIP every season since that questionable 1.47 in 2008. Franklin’s second-half ERA was scary, but he was a more dominant pitcher and only gained .08 on the WHIP. ERA is not always the fault of a pitcher. That said, closer-of-the-future Jason Motte is still in the Cardinals’ bullpen.
20. Matt Thornton, CHW (236.41): His first year as full-time closer at age 34? Let’s see how he reacts….
21. David Aardsma, SEA (242.12): Three numbers from 2010: BABIP of .230, BB/9 of 4.5, 1st-half ERA of 5.34. I don’t know if the countdown has started, but there is a nuclear meltdown coming. I don’t want any part of that on my fantasy team.
22. Joe Nathan, MIN (244.0): If he’s healthy, he’s the ninth inning guy. MLB.com lists Matt Capps as the (CL) on their depth chart. There’s a lot of uncertainty here and also the potential for 30+ saves in the 25th round.
23. Fernando Rodney, ANA (254.83): Stand up and back away from this pick very slowly. Seriously, if you want to make a mess out of your fantasy pitching numbers, draft Rodney.
24. Craig Kimbrel, ATL (266.09): Exciting K/9 and at age 22 is already in the running for the Braves closer role. Even if he splits the role, he could get 15-20 saves and 100 Ks.
25. Kevin Gregg, BAL (274.84): Gregg’s WHIP has climbed every season since 2008 and he has averaged 1.5 walks per inning over that same stretch. Orioles could surprise this year with a young pitching staff and a much-improved offense. How many games will they let Gregg lose?
26. Joel Hanrahan, PIT (276.54): Improved his walk rate AND, surprisingly, his K rate in 2010. Usually, a pitcher has to lower his K rate to lower his walks. He’ll get his first shot as a full-time closer. He’ll take your ratios on a roller coaster ride, but he could save 30 for the Pirates.
27. Frank Francisco, TOR (295.81): He has closer stuff, but he needs to avoid another poor start. There is no Neftali Feliz waiting in Toronto, but there is an Octavio Dotel. Is that supposed to scare you away from picking Francisco? No, no it’s not.
28. Matt Capps, MIN (296.34): Currently listed as the closer for a team that will likely be saved more than 40 times. Like we said a couple player’s ago, the health of Joe Nathan will determine this situation.
29. Brandon Lyon, HOU (305.57): Got lucky in the second-half last season. His HR/FB, BABIP and ERA should all regress. Still, this late in the draft, a closer with 30-save potential is a good pick.
30. Octavio Dotel, TOR (342.84): This is a throwaway pick. He gave up more fly balls than line drives and grounders combined last season. That’s not good, especially in a new park that saw the Blue Jays set a record for most home runs in a season last year. If Dotel, 37, gets the closer job, his reign will be brief.
There are several other usable relievers. A couple of the more noteworthy ones: Rafael Soriano, NYY; Dan Bard, BOS; Hong-Chih Kuo, LAD; Evan Meek, PIT; Aroldis Chapman, CIN; Jonny Venters, ATL; Leo Nunez, FLA; Chris Sale, CHW.