2016 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher Rankings

Closers…You either hate them or you…hate them. There’s really no other alternative. The position is extremely volatile. Imagine two friends hanging out on a road trip together. We’ll call them Swaggy and D-Lo. Swaggy is confiding in D-Lo about his infidelities regarding betraying his special lady friend — we’ll call her Black Widow. And what Swaggy doesn’t know is that D-Lo is secretly filming what Swaggy is saying about cheating on Black Widow. Then somehow D-Lo’s video finds its way to the internet, but he swears he doesn’t know how it got there…and then some guy named Kobe secretly gives it a nice long chuckle. Well, closers in MLB are more volatile than even that situation! Need proof? Consider this…

There are 30 teams in MLB. Last year at some point or another — whether it was due to injury, trade, poor performance, getting caught going heavy on the PED’s, having an asinine post-game celebration, wearing a baseball cap too far to the side, or some combination of the above (I’m looking at you Mr. Rodney) — 15 players that were their team’s closer on Opening Day were not their team’s closer for at least a total of 2 months of the season (the majority of the 15 weren’t closer for at least 3 months). 15 of 30. And if I know my fractions, that reduces to 1/2. Half the teams in baseball last year had a change at closer. 50%!

The point is that while it’s nice to have a couple of those fortunate 15 for your fantasy squad, it’s really not the most important thing. There WILL be a carousel of closers that could be readily available to you if you miss out on the ones that you want. All you have to do is pay attention, hit the waiver wire, plug and play — and BOOM! You now have saves. 

This relief pitchers rankings list contains all of the pitchers who are either *expected* to be their team’s closer on Opening Day or who are *considered* to be their team’s closer but are going to start the season on the DL/suspended list. Other setup men might be mentioned within other players’ descriptions, but will not be ranked if they don’t meet the aforementioned criteria. But other setup men who I like to possibly ascend to closer status will be bullet pointed at the end of the rankings.

Below are THE BACKWARDS K 2016 FANTASY BASEBALL RELIEF PITCHER RANKINGS. Included for each player is “The Backwards K Quick Take” and a self-produced player projection for 2016.

***Please note the following:

  • The player’s names are color coded to signal different tiers at the position.
  • The rankings reflect standard 5×5 roto scoring settings (W/SV/ERA/WHIP/K) with position eligibility requirements as 10 total games played at a position in 2015, or 5 total games started at a position in 2015 (i.e. Yahoo! settings).
  • The numerical order is not necessarily a suggested order to draft them in, but it is the order that is calculated based on each player’s listed projections, unless noted otherwise.

Continue reading

BLOW-PEN Report: Cubs, A’s, Astros, and Rays

In previous BLOW-PEN Reports, I have talked about Steve Cishek needing to be replaced by A.J. RamosNeftali Feliz making way for Shawn Tolleson, Addison Reed not being the man for the D-Backs, and Fernando Rodney to eventually be replaced by Carson Smith.  So far, so good with those predictions.  Today I bring to you another edition of the BLOW-PEN Report to check in on four situations that require our attention.

CHICAGO CUBS

On Saturday, Hector Rondon, who began the season as the Cubs closer was inserted into a save opportunity to begin the 9th inning, but after walking the leadoff batter he was relieved by Pedro Strop who proceeded to close out the game cleanly for the save.  After the game, manager Joe Maddon told reporters that it wasn’t a case of changing who his closer was and that he just wanted to put his team in position to win the game.

So then on Sunday, Rondon appeared yet again to protect a lead, but this time it was to begin the 8th inning where he pitched a perfect inning but failed to strike anyone out.  But this time it was not Strop who pitched the 9th inning for the save opportunity.  Instead it was Jason Motte, former Cardinals closer.  Motte pitched a perfect inning with one strikeout for his first save of the season.  Maddon then went on to say that Strop was unavailable, but if he was unavailable then it was not because of a large recent workload since he only pitched twice in the last three days with a 9 pitch outing and a 14 pitch outing.

I am finding it hard to put much value into what Maddon has said, which makes it hard to know what to make of this situation, but I’ve said it so many times now — Maddon has done some interesting things with his bullpens in the past, so with this development, the closer situation can be very fluid the rest of the season.  Rondon didn’t exactly do a whole lot to merit any type of demotion from the closer’s role, but he also wasn’t pitching lights out either with a 3.09 ERA and 1.29 WHIP and 10 for 13 in save opportunities entering Sunday’s game.  But no one else in the Cubs bullpen was exactly performing significantly better than Rondon either.  Whatever the case, Rondon may have fallen out of Maddon’s favor, which would contradict what Maddon said after Saturday’s game.  If that is the case, then Strop and Motte are candidates for saves moving forward, and even lefty Travis Wood.

Strop has very little experience closing out games, but he does have powerful stuff and the ability to miss a lot of bats as his strikeout rate on the season currently is 10.04 K/9.  Motte does have the closer experience having saved 42 games for the Cardinals in 2012, but he has not been the same pitcher since returning last season from Tommy John surgery.  Motte’s velocity has been nowhere near his pre-Tommy John levels, which has adversely affected his ability to strike batters out.  Motte’s strikeout rate this season is a measly 5.91 K/9 and he’s also having a little trouble limiting the walks with a walk rate of 3.38 BB/9.  Wood is just a wildcard who couldn’t hack it in the rotation, so he was moved to the bullpen in mid-May.  Since the move to the pen, Wood has had a 2.84 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, and 9 K/3 BB in 6.1 IP, and he would probably only be an option for saves in a situation where the opposition has a lot of lefties coming up in the 9th inning.

If I have learned anything about Maddon over the years from his time as a bench coach with the Angels to managing the Rays, it is that he has an incredible baseball mind and will do unconventional (but smart) things to help his team to win ball games, and he does not really care for labeling a single pitcher as his closer.  For fantasy baseball team owners, Maddon is a big headache in this regard and it’s going to be difficult to predict what his next move will be the next time his team has a 3-run or less lead in the 9th inning.  Then to complicate matters even further, the Cubs are one of a few teams who are considering signing current free agent Rafael Soriano.

If I had to guess at this point, I would say that Motte would be the leading candidate for saves as Rondon appears to be in the doghouse, and Maddon probably is putting some value in the fact that Motte was one of the game’s best closers for a year and has the closer mentality.  But I would not trust Motte at all to do well if given an extended look since he’s just not striking many batters out.  But Strop is also a good speculative add and would probably have a greater chance of success than Motte.  But ultimately, unless the Cubs bring in someone via trade or signing Soriano, then I think that this will be a closer by committee situation the rest of the way. Continue reading

BLOW-PEN REPORT: Fernando Rodney and His Broken Arrow

SEATTLE MARINERS

For me personally, as an Angels fan, I grew to hate current Mariners closer Fernando Rodney because of his erratic control and inability to close out games cleanly as he converted just 17 of 28 save opportunities with a 4.32 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, and 79 K/63 BB in 100 IP with the Angels from 2010-11.  So naturally, when he went on to have one of the greatest seasons ever by a closer with the Rays the year after leaving the Angels (0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 76 K/15 BB in 74.2 IP, 48 for 50 in save opportunities), I despised him even more.

Rodney also seems to be the type of player that has surely made many enemies throughout the league, whether it is his thug-like appearance by wearing his hat intentionally crooked to the side, or his arrogant signature post-save routine that he does by pretending to grab an arrow and shooting it into the sky.  I know that he has at least ruffled the feathers on the Angel wings of Albert Pujols and Mike Trout as evidenced by each of them performing the same “shoot the arrow” action toward Rodney when getting a big hit and run in the 9th inning off of him in a game last year, after Rodney did a premature arrow celebration at the end of the 8th inning.  What a great moment in sports.

So after Rodney’s historic 2012 season, he went on to still be a quality closer with the Rays again in 2013 and then with the Mariners in 2014.  But one had to wonder just how long this would last given his 2002-11 track record of being a below average relief pitcher and as his age got into the upper 30’s.  Judging by the looks of things so far this season, his time as a quality Major League closer might be up.  Rodney may not be on the hot seat quite yet, but I’m sure he is feeling a little bit of a burning sensation on those glutes of his.

Even though Rodney has converted 12 of 13 save opportunities this year, he has hardly been sharp in doing so, especially as of late as he has been scored upon in 4 out of his last 5 save chances to close out a game, but he luckily escaped without a blown save in any of those games.  Overall, Rodney owns a 6.23 ERA and 1.62 WHIP, and both of his strikeout and walk rates are trending in the opposite directions of the past few years. Continue reading

BLOW-PEN REPORT: Neftali No Es Feliz

TEXAS RANGERS

After being mostly a starting pitcher in the Minors, Feliz was converted to a relief pitcher upon his Major League arrival in 2009, but the transition appeared smooth for him as he developed into one of the better closers in the game in 2010 and 2011.  But for the 2012 season, the Rangers went out and signed Joe Nathan to be their closer as they shifted Feliz back into a starting pitching role.  This transition back to a starting pitcher didn’t end well as not only were the results not spectacular but Feliz also suffered a serious arm injury that required Tommy John surgery.  When Feliz rejoined the Rangers in late 2013, they changed his role yet again and put him back in the bullpen.  But ever since coming back from the procedure, Feliz’ velocity has been down significantly from where it was pre-Tommy John when he worked as a relief pitcher.  In his hey day, Feliz averaged 96.3 MPH with his fastball.  But since his return up through this season, he has been clocking in around 93.5 MPH with his heater and just not seeing the same results that he had back in 2010-11.

This past Saturday, Neftali Feliz blew the save and took the loss for the Rangers against the Indians and I had this to say about him:

“Rough go for Feliz who is not pitching very well this season and now has a 5.51 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, and is 6 for 9 in save opportunities.  It’s probably not quite time for a change in the Rangers bullpen yet, but one more game like this could do the trick.”

The following day, the Rangers had another late inning lead hosting the Indians as they were up 4-1 in the bottom of the 8th inning.  With a save situation still standing, Feliz got up in the Rangers bullpen to warm up.  But then oddly, while the game was still a 3-run differential with the save opportunity still on its way, Feliz sat down in the bullpen and Shawn Tolleson began to get loose.  The Rangers went on to tack on an insurance run in the inning to take away any potential save opportunity to begin the 9th inning and Tolleson came on to work a clean frame, allowing one hit and striking out two.  Though Tolleson technically didn’t take a save away from Feliz, it was certainly an interesting sequence of events and has to have some meaning behind it.

Here is what else I said this past Saturday after Feliz blew the save and took the loss:

“The candidates to take over would be Shawn Tolleson and Keone Kela.  Tolleson has been working the 8th inning in front of Feliz, and although his 3.86 ERA isn’t great, his 22 K/3 BB in 16.1 IP is dazzling.  The 22-year old rookie Kela owns a 2.55 ERA and has been working the 7th inning and is considered the closer of the future, but he had a fart of a game himself.  I would put Tolleson ahead of Kela for next in line due to Tolleson’s superb K/BB ratio and because of Kela’s lack of experience in the Majors.  I give permission to stash Tolleson right meow.”

At the very least, Feliz could be looking at some sort of possible injury that he dealt with while getting loose on Sunday.  Or in the most extreme of situations, one that would impact the fantasy baseball community immensely, Feliz could be out as the team’s closer due to his poor performance up to this point.  And Rangers manager Jeff Bannister went on to say there are no defined roles in the bullpen at the moment to possibly shut down any suspicion of a Feliz injury, but to confirm that there could be an imminent changing of the guard.

Well, hopefully on Saturday evening you were able to get that waiver claim in for Tolleson like I suggested, especially if you are a Feliz owner.  You really should listen to me!  Although it is entirely possible that Kela gets a chance, so he would not be a terrible grab either for those speculating on saves.

Mr. Holland’s Opus is Not Music to My Ears

Greg Holland of the Kansas City Royals has been one of the most dominant closers in the game in the last two and a half seasons, and with another scoreless outing and converted save on Thursday, Holland now has a 0.90 ERA and 1.00 WHIP while converting 7 of 8 saves opportunities on the year.  He’s on his way to another incredible season, right?  Well, maybe not.

Despite that 0.90 ERA, Holland has a SIERA that is an incredible 4 runs higher at 4.90.  In case you don’t know what I am referring to, SIERA stands for “Skill Interactive ERA” and it is a modern analytic statistic that is designed to measure how a pitcher has done as an individual in regards to the things that he can control (strikeouts, walks, home runs allowed), as opposed to ERA measuring what actually happened which is inclusive of balls in play and defense (things out of a pitcher’s control).  SIERA is a better statistical measurement of a pitcher’s future performance.  Read more about it here.

So what is going on with Holland that we need to worry about?  The most important thing to know about is his decline in fastball velocity.  For the last three seasons, Holland has been one of the hardest throwers in the game averaging around 96 MPH with his heater, but this year it’s all the way down to 93.5 MPH on the young season according to PITCHf/x data.  That’s a pretty big decline that is surely the primary factor in his strikeout rate sitting at a paltry 5.40 K/9 on the season — nowhere close to the 13.02 K/9 he had from 2012-14.  Holland is also fortunate to have just a .154 BABIP, despite hitters not making hard contact off him this year.  That’s a number that is surely to rise a lot, and if he still isn’t striking out batters when it does, then his ERA is going to be looking more like what his current SIERA is.

However, there is some hope for a turnaround soon.  Holland missed about 3 weeks earlier this season due to a pectoral injury.  So it is possible that injury is still hampering him and could be the reason for his diminished velocity.  But conversely, if that’s the case, then it could be an injury that lingers even further into the season and he will be getting hit hard because of it.

We’ll have to wait and see what developments (or non-developments) occur over the next couple of weeks, but for now Royals setup man Wade Davis needs to be owned in most fantasy leagues.  Davis has yet to allow a run this year and he was a perfect 6 for 6 in save opportunities during Holland’s absence on the DL.