Well, here we are well into February and spring training is about to start. There are still some big free agents that haven’t signed and many teams have not made their decisions on their closers. That’s the reason I held off on these rankings but a man can only wait so long. Drafting and owning closers and relievers can be absolutely frustrating as all get out. I for one, try to grab one solid closer followed by a few of the best setup options with elite ratios and swing and miss skills. With the volatility of closers, this method seems to work fairly well. Between scouring the waiver wire and one of those setup men grabbing the closer’s role at some point, I end up with three closers. Awesome! Let’s get to the rankings!
Rankings Updated 3/13/19.
Relief Pitcher Rankings 2019
|27||Mychal Antonio Givens||BAL||RP||4|
Tier 1: Shut down, lock down closers with elite level skills. These closers have the ability to strikeout 100+ batters in just 65-70 innings with elite ratios. All of these pitchers had a swinging strike rate over 16% last season and thus strikeout rates north of 31%. For reference, the league-average strikeout rate is just under 21% and the league-average SwStr% is 10.6%. Of course, as relievers, these numbers tend to be elevated. That being said, the final piece to this puzzle is the saves total. Kimbrel is yet to sign but Boston needs a closer. I could see each of these guys getting 40+ saves (no, I’m not projecting 40) but 35+ seems like a lock.
Tier 2: Closers and relievers are too damn volatile and that’s why I won’t be reaching for one. I’m waiting for a closer run and grabbing one of these guys in tier 2. Likely one near the end of the run, either Brad Hand, Sean Doolittle, or Kirby Yates. I understand Josh Hader isn’t a closer but his stuff is arguably the best in the business. Corey Knebel may struggle a bit and Hader could see 6-10 saves along with several multi-inning outings where he earns the win. I’ll take 5-8 wins and 6-10 saves with 130 strikeouts from Hader. Hell, that’s more strikeouts than Mike Leake will get with the ratios of Chris Sale (probably better actually). Given those numbers and my values, that’s a top 100 player. NOTE: I move Iglesias down a tier with the news that the Reds may be playing matchups and potentially use Iglesias in multi-inning roles if the situation warrants. He’s still the most highly skilled reliever the Reds have, so I’d still expect him to get more than 50% of the save opportunities. He may end up with more innings and strikeouts but his value takes a small hit.
Tier 3: OK, these guys are fine, they are solid but how confident are you they will keep their job all year? I think Kirby Yates and Jose Leclerc have the best skills of the bunch but also are hurt by the quality of their ball clubs. Corey Knebel seems like his job is safe because of how the Brewers deploy Josh Hader. He will lose some saves to Hader but because of the high number of opportunities, he should still reach the 30 save plateau. Ken Giles is the guy in Toronto, but he’s very risky. His projections are all over the map because he does have electric stuff. You just never know when he’s going to have multiple blow-ups and beat himself up about it. Wade Davis pitching in Colorado will really hurt his ratios as we saw last year. Despite the 4.13 ERA last year, Davis compiled 43 saves. I’ll bet the under on that save total this year and a push on a 4.00 ERA.
Tier 4: Now I’m mixing in starters and middle relievers, what’s going on? Of this tier, only five of these guys are currently named the closer of their team. All of the pitchers below this tier are in some kind of twisted committee or limbo. Hopefully, in the next couple weeks, some of this gets cleared up. Hicks is a guy I’m very interested in grabbing. He’s essentially a unicorn in terms of his velocity and movement. He certainly has a shot at finishing inside the top 10 for closers in 2019. Outside of Hicks, if you’re looking for closers on terrible teams, this is your tier. Smith, Greene, Strickland, and Givens should at minimum be given most of the save opportunities from their respective teams (however few there might be). My favorite of this group in the lefty, Will Smith. I believe he has the best stuff and the most upside of this group. Keep an eye on Colin McHugh, he could be anything from a starter to a middle reliever, to an occasional closer and have sneaky value.
Tier 5: Well friends, I just hope you have at least two solid options at closer by the time you reach this tier if that’s the route you want to go. Pedro Strop should take over the closer’s role in Chicago until Morrow returns. The nice thing about drafting Strop is Morrow is about as reliable as a politician. Strop could be a dark horse to reach 25+ saves this year. Steckenrider, Hildenberger, and Boxberger (is this the berger tier or the long AF last name tier?) should see the majority of the save opportunities for their clubs. Note: The Marlins signed Sergio Romo who likely has the best shot to receive save opportunities over Steckenrider. Then again, outside of Minnesota, their teams are bad and there’s risk of a committee brewing with all of them. A.J. Minter is super talented and has a shot to overtake Vizcaino, so make sure you handcuff him with Minter if you go that route. I’m really hoping Strahm gets a shot to start for the Padres, he’s an interesting option late in drafts.
Tier 6: This tier is essentially the handcuff tier with some starters who have RP eligibility. I have a feeling the Red Sox will have to re-sign Kimbrel, so Barnes ends up in the setup role. This is a huge group but my favorites of this tier for potential saves include Peralta, Romo, Dominguez, Conely, Melancon, Parker and Garrett. I think the Marlins are going to turn to Romo for early save opportunities due to his past experience and the fact that they would like to flip him to a contender for prospect mid-season (aka raise his trade value). That being said, I like Adam Conely as the darkhorse for saves in Miami, but we are talking about a low quantity of opportunities. Dominguez is talented but when the Phillies signed Robertson, it told me that Dominguez isn’t quite ready. As far as German and Cahill, we may only see 100 innings from each of these pitchers but I think there will be some value here. I threw Amir Garrett in the mix because of the Reds shake-up. I don’t believe Hernandez or Hughes are as talented as Garett. I could see Garrett end up with a valuable multi-inning role that fills in at closer a few times.
AP Photo: LM Otero