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2016 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Projections

I will be the first to admit that grading out relievers is not my forte. Unfortunately, there is a huge disconnect between traditional baseball value and fantasy value. Fantasy value is dependent upon saves (and holds to a lesser extent). Saves and holds are essentially opportunity statistics. They have something to do with quality, but it involves the quality of the team more than the quality of the individual pitcher.

We’ll continue to use runs above replacement as our guide for this series, but we will need to include some adjustments because of the importance of saves. Pitchers that are projected to become closers according to rosterresource.com will see a multiplier applied to their final tally. The multiplier will hopefully approximate where they should be ranked in your draft, but I’m not going to swear by it. Unfortunately, teams rarely use a total meritocracy to set up their pen.

  1. Wade Davis— Kansas City Royals (37.9)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 6.1 21.4 14.4 15.4
BR -18.0 30.0 28.0 21.0
FG 13.2 27.1 18.5 20.5

People laughed at Dayton Moore when he made the Wil Myers trade. They got two very good seasons out of James Shields, but it has been Davis that has been the key to the deal. He’s was the best setup man in baseball before Greg Holland went down with an injury. Now, he’s the best closer in the game. Verdict: Over

  1. Aroldis Chapman— New York Yankees (37.7)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 11.8 15.0 20.6 17.2
BR 14.0 13.0 21.0 17.2
FG 15.6 24.3 22.8 22.1

Chapman could be radioactive on draft day. He will not be officially charged with any crime due to the incident that occurred in the offseason at his home, but baseball hasn’t suspended any significant player involved in a domestic violence scenario yet. There is no telling whether he will be suspended at all or for how long. Assuming no suspension you could argue he should be on top of the list. Verdict: Under

  1. Ken Giles— Houston Astros (33.1)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 10.8 18.2 15.2
BR 16.0 17.0 16.6
FG 15.2 18.5 17.8

No player represents the controversial nature of grading out relievers more than Giles. According to same methodology we’ve been using, he is one of the best relievers out there, but he has only been doing it for two years and it costs the Astros five prospects (they did get one back). It’s certainly stunning to see a statistical forward organization putting that much stock into a relief pitcher. Verdict: Under

  1. Cody Allen— Cleveland Indians (31.0)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 11.7 9.0 20.0 15.0
BR 15.0 17.0 12.0 14.2
FG 9.7 10.7 24.2 17.3

Allen is certainly not one of the bigger names in baseball or fantasy baseball, but he has had a few very under the radar campaigns. These rankings are based on real pitching performance and not necessarily who will get the most saves. That is a fool’s errand anyway.

  1. Craig Kimbrel— Boston Red Sox (29.3)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 17.2 13.8 10.9 12.9
BR 23.0 16.0 10.0 14.2
FG 20.2 20.0 13.8 16.9

Kimbrel is moving in the wrong direction. He demonstrates one of the secondary problems with most closers. They tend to have a shorter shelf life than players at other positions. Two different organizations have traded him after he signed his long-term contract. It gives me an opportunity to pause. Verdict: Under

  1. Kenley Jansen— Los Angeles Dodgers (29.0)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 17.2 13.9 10.6 12.8
BR 20.0 10.0 12.0 12.7
FG 21.6 19.5 15.7 18.0

The Dodgers had a deal for Aroldis Chapman in the works, but it fell through when his legal troubles first surfaced. That actually might have been fortunate for the Dodgers. The Yankees have a backloaded pen and I’m not sure that it is getting bang for your buck. Jansen is about as safe a pick as possible. Verdict: Over

  1. Trevor Rosenthal— St. Louis Cardinals (28.9)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 21.6 5.5 15.8 13.3
BR 12.0 7.0 19.0 13.8
FG 20.8 10.3 18.5 16.2

The fluctuation between the three seasons is part of the nature of the basis. Since relievers usually pitch one inning at a time, you get abnormally stark differences in batted ball luck. Rosenthal is a bankable asset though who will at least be solid as a closer. When you get much past the top ten you really don’t get that. Verdict: Over

  1. Mark Melancon— Pittsburgh Pirates (28.5)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 13.7 9.6 9.4 10.2
BR 15.0 17.0 15.0 15.7
FG 22.7 18.1 14.0 16.8

Mark Melancon has been consistently good except for his one season in Boston. There’s something to be said for that. His 51 saves last year was probably a mirage, but it goes to show that you never know who is going to explode in any particular season. He is a pretty safe bet. Verdict: Under

  1. Roberto Osuna— Toronto Blue Jays (27.5)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 12.6 12.6
BR 16.0 16.0
FG 12.7 12.7

Osuna was very effective last season under a lot of pressure. Rookies can either shine or wilt in the heat of a pennant race and he didn’t wilt. The Jays acquired Drew Storen and he has closing experience as well. He isn’t as good as Osuna, but we’ve only seen one season of Osuna. If they get the least bit impatient he could get yanked. Verdict: Under

  1. David Robertson— Chicago White Sox (25.9)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 9.1 11.7 13.8 12.3
BR 21.0 11.0 7.0 10.7
FG 14.7 14.4 17.2 15.9

Robertson graduated to become the man in Chicago. His first season as the man had some bumps, but he still came out as productive overall. We could bet on a better season, but closers don’t age particularly well. For the White Sox sake, I hope he holds on for another season or two. Verdict: Under

  1. Zach Britton— Baltimore Orioles (25.1)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 0.3 -1.5 15.3 7.2
BR 1.0 20.0 21.0 17.3
FG 0.6 9.4 19.8 13.1

By now, you have probably noticed the preponderance of relievers represented from the American League. In particular, this marks the fourth reliever from the AL East alone. Usually you don’t see this kind of separation between the leagues anymore, but this represents a stark difference in strategy. Verdict: Over

  1. Jake McGee— Colorado Rockies (25.0)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 5.1 18.7 7.1 10.6
BR 5.0 22.0 9.0 12.7
FG 5.7 23.6 10.5 14.1

The Corey Dickerson/Jake McGee trade was certainly a controversial one and most observers felt the Rockies got too little for Dickerson. I certainly respect that opinion, but given his struggles away from Coors Field, I just don’t think they were going to do much better. McGee appears to have the goods to be an upper echelon closer. Verdict: Over

  1. Dellin Betances— New York Yankees (22.1)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP -0.1 23.3 25.1 20.3
BR -3.0 32.0 30.0 25.2
FG 0.5 28.0 22.7 20.8

Yup, I’ve officially gone clear to the looney bin. I realize he’s not closer and it is sacrilegious to put a setup guy above decent closers, but more and more leagues are adding holds and a truly dominant reliever can be invaluable on those days where your starter blows his bit. I wouldn’t necessarily draft him this high, but he should definitely be drafted. Verdict: Over

  1. Hector Rondon— Chicago Cubs (21.6)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP -1.4 9.2 11.1 8.4
BR -1.0 13.0 16.0 12.2
FG -2.4 14.0 15.1 11.8

Considering that first season was so brutal, Rondon effectively represents the last of the quality closers on the board. When you add in the fact that the Cubs are also a probable 100 win team then you immediately see his value. He might be right up there with Rosenthal and Melancon in actual fantasy value. Verdict: Over

  1. Jonathan Papelbon— Washington Nationals (21.3)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 7.4 11.2 6.5 8.2
BR 12.0 19.0 13.0 14.8
FG 10.0 16.9 3.3 9.0

As I’ve told my daughter many times, when you are difficult to deal with, people will tolerate you when you are one of the best at what you do. The moment when you become even merely good, they will drop you like a hot potato. Papelbon is becoming dangerously close to getting dropped. Verdict: Under

  1. A.J. Ramos— Miami Marlins (19.3)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 5.1 6.6 6.7 6.4
BR 9.0 16.0 16.0 14.8
FG 5.4 4.4 10.6 7.7

Ramos has come on the last couple of seasons, so he is on a better arc than Papelbon. The Marlins will probably be closer to the middle of the pack this season because the Braves and Phillies are rebuilding, so they may sneak a few more victories than they otherwise would. He’s a good bet for another solid season. Verdict: Over

  1. Glen Perkins— Minnesota Twins (18.9)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 11.2 8.3 9.4 9.3
BR 18.0 7.0 11.0 10.8
FG 15.4 9.4 5.0 8.2

Perkins missed the last part of last season. Presuming he is completely healthy we can assume that he will turn in another solid campaign. Much like many of the others, his shelf life as a closer may be coming to an end. He should be able to squeeze one more season out though. Verdict: Under

  1. Sean Doolittle— Oakland Athletics (17.3)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 14.2 14.5 1.9 8.2
BR 13.0 12.0 1.0 6.7
FG 15.1 21.5 2.6 11.0

It’s funny how Doolittle’s value suddenly took a nosedive when he became the team’s closer. There is something to the concept that some relievers are just destined to be middle relievers or setup men. This is one area where the prevailing wisdom is going back to what it used to be when bullpens started specializing. Verdict: Under

  1. Jeurys Familia— New York Mets (16.9)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP -1.6 4.8 1.9 2.3
BR 0.0 9.0 21.0 13.5
FG -2.6 7.5 14.9 9.5

Obviously, Baseball Prospectus has a very different opinion of Familia than the other two sources. This is part of the problem. The eye test says that Familia became a good closer when the role was thrust upon him. The Mets added a former closer in Addison Reed to their pen. He can’t afford to slip up. Verdict: Over

  1. Shawn Tolleson— Texas Rangers (16.6)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP -1.7 2.8 11.0 6.2
BR 0.0 17.0 16.0 13.7
FG 0.0 -0.7 10.4 5.0

Tolleson went the other direction. He blossomed last season when given the closer’s role. A part of the value a player gets is based on the relative importance of the outs he earned. This is still an area of development amongst advanced metrics. It makes grading relief pitchers difficult at best. Verdict: Over

  1. Francisco Rodriguez— Detroit Tigers (15.5)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 6.1 1.1 9.2 6.0
BR 10.0 12.0 15.0 13.2
FG 3.5 -4.2 9.6 4.0

KRod represents the old school of thinking about closers. Old school baseball people think you could pluck anyone out of thin air and make them a closer. That isn’t exactly true. When KRod came up he had electric stuff. That stuff isn’t so electric anymore but he continues to get saves. The truth is somewhere in between. He gets outs because he’s learned to compensate. He isn’t brilliant anymore, but he doesn’t have to be. Verdict: Over

  1. Andrew Miller— New York Yankees (15.5)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 1.6 15.1 16.6 13.6
BR 5.0 16.0 19.0 15.7
FG 3.0 19.6 19.2 16.6

To represent how unfair the reliever world is, if the Aroldis Chapman trade hadn’t occurred, Miller would have tied for fourth after our closer multiplier. If the league comes down on Chapman he will still earn some saves. Dropping Miller here goes against everything I believe as a baseball guy, but you are here for fantasy advice. Verdict: Over

  1. Darren O’Day— Baltimore Orioles (15.0)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 5.0 5.2 16.9 11.0
BR 19.0 20.0 24.0 21.8
FG 6.5 8.3 16.9 12.3

I might be overstaying my welcome on this soapbox, but O’Day is clearly better than most closers out there. In fact, he’s technically better than the closer on his own team. He’s being paid like one now, so he really shouldn’t care when they give him the ball. It just goes to show the amount of inefficiency that still exists in the game. Verdict: Over

  1. Jason Grilli— Atlanta Braves (14.1)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 11.5 7.3 7.9 8.3
BR 7.0 0.0 5.0 3.7
FG 14.1 3.1 11.4 9.1

When you get to the end of the draft you are faced with the age old question: do I draft the blah closer or the good setup guy. By now, you’ve figured out my answer. The question you have to ask yourself is whether Grilli will last the season as the Braves closer. Verdict: Under

  1. Huston Street— Los Angeles Angels (13.8)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP -3.8 7.0 5.9 4.7
BR 9.0 19.0 9.0 12.3
FG -6.9 10.3 2.8 3.7

Huston Street has 315 career saves. It boggles the mind what some people are capable of in spite of mediocre numbers. Street has gone through the abyss and come out the other side. Like KRod, he has the reputation of the guy that gets things done in spite of mediocre stuff. The Angels could probably do better than Street, but why bother now. Verdict: Under

  1. Tony Watson— Pittsburgh Pirates (13.6)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 5.1 13.6 10.7 10.7
BR 12.0 19.0 20.0 18.3
FG 5.6 13.1 13.1 11.9

Watson is a hair less valuable than Melancon, so the Pirates are getting about as good production out of the 8th and 9th inning as possible. If your league utilizes holds then you are in about as good of shape as you can be by taking Watson. Otherwise, he might be good for the waiver wire. Verdict: Over

  1. Koji Uehara— Boston Red Sox (13.4)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 19.0 7.6 10.1 10.8
BR 30.0 15.0 10.0 15.0
FG 28.4 9.9 13.0 14.5

If you remove the closer multiplier, Craig Kimbrel has a three year adjusted score of 14.65. In other words, one run separates Kimbrel and Uehara. I’m just not buying the new fervent focus on relief pitching. Uehara wasn’t the reason why the Red Sox were underperforming last seaso. To each his own I guess: Verdict: Under

  1. Keone Kela— Texas Rangers (13.3)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 10.2 10.2
BR 16.0 16.0
FG 13.8 13.8

Kela was the best reliever the Rangers had a season ago. Will he be the closer? Of course not. That’s not how these things work. That’s probably the main reason why I don’t like gambling on relief pitchers in terms of fantasy value. It’s not based on a pure meritocracy. Verdict: Over

  1. Steve Cishek— Seattle Mariners (12.3)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP 9.9 12.0 -2.1 4.6
BR 17.0 7.0 1.0 5.7
FG 12.4 17.9 0.4 8.2

Was 2015 a bump in the road or the beginning of the end? Spending a late round pick to find out is not the worst thing you can do. The Mariners have Joaquin Benoit (a narrow cut from the top 30) who is ready to take average in case he isn’t up for the job. Verdict: Over

  1. Brad Boxberger— Tampa Bay Rays (10.9)
2013 2014 2015 ADJ
BP -0.9 6.3 1.4 5.3
BR 1.0 17.0 5.0 8.3
FG -1.1 8.5 0.0 2.7

Boxberger is almost a replacement level performer that has lucked into a closer’s role. Furthermore, the Jake McGee trade removes his main competition for the closer’s spot. I’d hold off as long as possible before picking him, but if you have room for a third or fourth closer on your team he’d fit well. Verdict: Over

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