Welcome to the FanRag Sports 2017 Fantasy Baseball Guide. Going until about a month before Opening Day, the FanRag fantasy baseball staff — comprised of Greg Jewett, Al Melchior, and Jim Finch — will be releasing it’s guide for the 2017 season. Every week will be devoted to a different position, and every day will be devoted to a different topic.
The schedule is below:
- Week of 1/16: Catcher
- Week of 1/23: First Base
- Week of 1/30: Second Base
- Week of 2/6: Third Base
- Week of 2/13: Shortstop
- Week of 2/20: Outfield
- Week of 2/27: Starting Pitcher
- Week of 3/6: Relief Pitcher
In addition, the day-to-day schedule will go as follows:
- Monday: Rankings
- Tuesday: Buyer Beware
- Wednesday: Sleeper Pick
- Thursday: Impact Rookies
- Friday: Biggest Gamble Pick
- Saturday: Top Draft Target
- Sunday: Closing thoughts
All of the previous positions were done slideshow-style, but for pitchers, we’ll switch it up with a new post for each topic; don’t worry though, they’ll all be linked to in this post for easy browsing.
Now, on to the relief pitcher rankings:
Top-45 Relief Pitchers
1. Kenley Jansen
The Dodgers’ closer does it all. He has exceeded a whiff rate of 16 percent in each of the last three seasons, pitches with control and induces popups at a high rate. He does allow a lot of flies, but last season, they travelled a mere 263 feet on average. The only reliever who rivals Jansen’s package of skills is Andrew Miller, and he doesn’t close. That puts Jansen in a class by himself.
2. Aroldis Chapman
Statcast still needs the Chapman Filter for its Fastest Pitches leaderboard, which speaks to the 29-year-old’s continued dominance. He is still an elite bat-misser, and he worked in the zone at a much higher rate last season. That helped Chapman to shave his walk rate down to 8.1 percent and shore up his lone weakness.
3. Zach Britton
Britton was perfect in converting all 47 save opportunities and he yielded just four earned runs all season. Over the last three seasons, he has compiled a 78 percent ground ball rate, a 12 percent line drive rate and a 16 percent whiff rate. Those are not typos. Britton doesn’t get many foul balls, and that prevents his strikeout rate from being elite. That’s all that prevents him from being fantasy’s top reliever.
4. Seung-hwan Oh
In his first big league season, Oh finished fifth among relievers in whiff rate (18.0 percent) and 13th in strikeout rate (32.9 percent). Oh is a bit prone to fly balls, but it didn’t hurt him last season, as the .079 Iso he allowed shows. His opponents had a hard time barreling the ball (4.8 percent per batted ball) or pulling it (33.2 percent), so that low Iso was no fluke. Oh appears primed to repeat last season’s success.
5. Mark Melancon
Much of Melancon’s success in recent years has hinged on his ability to get hitters to swing at his knuckle-curve when it was out of the zone. He got fewer chases in those situations in 2016 but made up for it by getting ground balls on the pitch at an 84 percent rate. Melancon is one of the few closers with a mediocre K-rate who gets his due from fantasy owners, and every bit of the respect is well-deserved. He simply finds a way to get outs.
T-6. Craig Kimbrel
Kimbrel’s production has tailed off in his two seasons since leaving the Braves, but he is still one of the most reliable strikeout pitchers among closers. He is something of a comeback candidate this year, as he struggled with control (59 percent strikes, 17.6 percent walk rate) after returning from a torn meniscus last season. With a rebound in his walk rate, Kimbrel could post his first sub-1.00 WHIP season since 2014.
T-6. Edwin Diaz
Diaz’s conversion from starting to relieving went as well as could be imagined. He was called up in early June, and less than two months later, he was closing out games for the Mariners. He struck out opponents at an astounding 40.6 percent rate, yet he could be even better in 2017. Somehow, he allowed a .327 batting average on grounders, but that mark, as well as his 1.16 WHIP, should shrink substantially.
8. Ken Giles
Giles may be best remembered by fantasy owners for the surprise and disappointment that came when Astros manager A.J. Hinch named Luke Gregerson, and not him, as the team’s closer to start last season. He endured a difficult start, but Giles eventually claimed the role. Between June 1 and Sept. 19, Giles nailed down 11 saves and nine holds, compiled a 2.03 ERA, and struck out 66 batters and walked eight over 40 innings. The best reason to avoid ranking Giles higher isn’t talent, but rather Hinch’s stated willingness to occasionally use him in other relief roles.
9. Alex Colome
In his first season as the Rays’ closer, Colome went to his cutter more often, and his whiff rate shot up from 10.7 percent in 2015 to 15.1 percent. If Colome can make that improvement stick, he could elevate himself to the ranks of elite closers. He just may not post a sub-2.00 ERA again this season, as he was likely fortunate to have stranded 98 percent of his runners on the road in 2016.
T-10. Wade Davis
If not for the forearm injuries that landed him on the disabled list twice during the latter half of last season, Davis would be far higher on this list. Though he exhibited slight dips in velocity after each DL trip, it’s worthwhile for fantasy owners to take a gamble on the ex-Royal, just as the Cubs did this offseason. It was encouraging that Davis got six saves in his final seven chances with the Royals, striking out 15 batters and walking one in the 9.2 innings he pitched after his second DL stint.
T-10. Roberto Osuna
Between an average velocity of 96.6 mph and an average spin rate of 2458 rpm, Osuna made it difficult for opponents to connect with his fastball, inducing whiffs at a 13.9 percent rate. In combination with a lethal slider, Osuna has some serious strikeout potential. Surprisingly, he allowed only two home runs in 33.1 innings at Rogers Centre last season. One has to wonder if he will have the same sort of success again in 2017.
12. Kelvin Herrera
Herrera has the skills to continue the Royals’ recent run of top-notch closers. He is coming off a season in which he had career-best strikeout (30.4 percent) and walk (4.2 percent) rates for a full season, both of which were helped by him pitching more frequently in the zone.
13. Cody Allen
Like most of the closers in the upper portion of these rankings, Allen has proven he can get batters to swing and miss frequently. When it comes to good control, he has been far less reliable. Allen had two separate months last season in which he had walk rates in excess of 17 percent. Even if he doesn’t go into an extended funk, there is always the chance Indians manager Terry Francona could rethink Allen’s role, given that he has Andrew Miller as an alternative.
14. David Robertson
Like Allen, Robertson is a proven bat-misser who goes through periods where he walks too many hitters. He has amassed 110 saves over the last three seasons, but he is not as trustworthy as a saves source this season. He is one of the more attractive trade chips that the rebuilding White Sox have, and it’s not a given that he would continue to close if he were to be traded.
15. Andrew Miller
There may be no better reliever in the majors than Miller. He led all qualifiers in strikeout rate (44.7 percent), K-BB rate differential (41.5 percentage points) and xFIP (1.18), and the margins of victory weren’t especially close. Miller doesn’t close, yet his strikeout total, ERA and WHIP provide him with value. Even though he earned only 12 saves last season, he ranked fourth among relievers in Roto value. Miller currently ranks 13th in composite ADP (per FantasyPros), so even with a minimal number of saves, he could be a value pick.
16. Jeurys Familia
All three rankers considered a pending suspension which should sideline Familia for 30 days this year. Familia did lead baseball with 51 saves last year with a 2.55 ERA and 2.39 FIP. His WHIP rose to 1.21 last year due in part to a 9.7 walk percentage. Still a solid skill set with an assured ninth-inning role upon his return. If no suspension occurs, he will come at quite a discount in drafts.
17. Francisco Rodriguez
As the closer formerly known as “K-Rod” ages, Francisco Rodriguez still remains relevant for fantasy. Chinks in the armor started to show last season with five blown saves, a rise in walks, decline in strikeouts and a 3.83 FIP shining as a harbinger for the risk of his ERA for this year. Rodriguez needs to maintain the gains in ground ball tilt from 2016, but Steamer warns with a 4.07 projected ERA while ZiPS remains optimistic at 3.10. Pay for somewhere in between.
18. Adam Ottavino
Due to Colorado signing Greg Holland, the price on Adam Ottavino remains low. This provides a unique buying opportunity for a closer with a 61.9 ground ball percentage last year along with a WHIP below one. Small sample size suggests time could fray the WHIP, but Ottavino pitched well in his return from TJS. Seven saves in 27 innings with a 35:7 K:BB makes him a worthy target as a second closer for fantasy at a reduced price.
19. Tony Watson
Many remain split on how to value Tony Watson for 2017. Those who support the closer in Pittsburgh point to the 15 saves last year and starting the season with the job. But his 3.06 ERA in 2016 carried a FIP of 4.37 and a home run-to-fly ball spike to 14.1 percent. Due to the amount of arms available in the Pirates bullpen, this could be a tenuous hold on the role all season long.
20. Dellin Betances
Although the Yankees front office does not seem to value Dellin Betances, fantasy owners prove to be more savvy. Over the last three seasons, Betances finished with at least 125 strikeouts. He led the American League with 28 holds in 2016 despite his ERA climbing to 3.06. Focus on the 1.78 FIP along with an inflated BABIP of .353 compared to the league average BABIP of .296. Simple migration to the mean along with another 125+ strikeouts ensure Betances’ value without being the closer.
21. A.J. Ramos
As the list gets deeper, the risk increases. A.J. Ramos will start the year with the closer role in Miami, but be prepared for a wild ride. Ramos recorded 40 saves for the first time in his career last year but his WHIP ballooned to 1.36. His value will be determined by his ability to cut down his walk rate, but the underlying statistics suggest more struggles may ensue.
22. Sam Dyson
Despite finishing with 38 saves last year, many worry about Sam Dyson holding the ninth inning all year. He throws hard, generates ground balls (65.2 percent rate) and most importantly, owns the job. But, his strikeout percentage dropped last year, his walks rose and he benefited from an 85 percent strand rate. Another closer who will need his ERA to outperform his FIP to hold the role.
23. Raisel Iglesias
Trepidation about Raisel Iglesias as a top closer does not lie in his skills, but rather the pending bullpen-by-committee his manager could deploy. Iglesias shined as a reliever last year with a 1.98 ERA in 50 innings for the Reds after converting to the bullpen. He finished with six saves and a 0.96 WHIP as a relief pitcher. Bryan Price does like Iglesias’ ability to pitch multiple innings, which could decrease his save totals for 2017 pending usage. Since up to four pitchers could accrue saves in the Reds bullpen, Iglesias makes for a risky investment unless his role solidifies prior to the regular season.
24. Shawn Kelley
Another pitcher presently without the role officially, but Shawn Kelley should be the frontrunner to start the season as closer for Washington. Kelley posted an impressive 80:11 K:BB rate in 58 innings pitched last year. His swinging-strike percentage reached a career-high 15.7 percent. Durability remains an issue since 58 innings last year represents another career-best mark. Kelley could do well in the role but his hold on the job depends on a strong start.
25. Ryan Madson
Oakland seems to be adding many arms to the bullpen with Ryan Madson in line to start the year as the closer. His season started strong last year with a collapse after the All-Star break. Madson finished with 30 saves but his FIP of 4.06 needs to be noted. His WHIP also rose to 1.28 with a declining swinging-strike percentage and more contact allowed. Traffic on the bases will not bode well for the veteran and this seems like another team in which turnover could occur.
26. Hector Neris
Once again, a reliever without the closer title enters the top-30 with Hector Neris. One of the eight relievers to amass at least 100 strikeouts last year, Neris rode his split-fingered fastball to 28 holds with two saves for the Phillies. Jeanmar Gomez will start the year as the closer but tailed off in the second half last year. It should only be a matter of time until Neris tests the water in the ninth inning for Philadelphia.
27. Neftali Feliz
Due to his change of address, Neftali Feliz moves back into fantasy relevance. He should start the year as Milwaukee’s closer and his turnaround in Pittsburgh should be accounted for. First, here’s his velocity chart courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net:
Feliz finished 2016 with a 3.52 ERA but a 4.53 FIP. Milwaukee’s ballpark effects could also depress his value as a closer if the WHIP grows past the 1.14 from last year. Invest in the 18.3 K-BB percent with contact down and a career-best swinging-strike percentage of 14.2 with the Pirates, hoping it carries over to the Brewers.
28. Cam Bedrosian
With Huston Street already hurt, Cam Bedrosian could see his ADP stock rise. Of course, his manager prefers veterans, but Bedrosian finished last year with a 2.13 FIP and 1.09 WHIP. Bedrosian only pitched 40.1 innings with the Angels in 2016 but finished with one save and a 51:14 K:BB. He also recorded a ground ball percentage just below 50 percent. Monitor the news from his team, but Bedrosian represents a potential growth stock at closer this year.
T-29. Jim Johnson
Flying well below the radar, Jim Johnson racked up 20 saves without the job to start the year. Once he took over, he maintained a 1.76 ERA from June until the end of the season. Another pitcher who relies on ground balls, Johnson needs to keep his walk rate down due to the lack of swing-and-miss stuff. But if he opens the season as the closer, Johnson will have fantasy value this year.
T-29. Brandon Maurer
As with many closers at this point of the rankings, Brandon Maurer should open the year as the Padres ninth-inning option. Bad teams still get saves, so ignoring him does not seem prudent. Maurer recorded 13 saves last year with 72 strikeouts but with a 3.46 FIP and 1.26 WHIP. He needs to keep the strikeout gain of five percent from last year, but many pitchers lurk in this bullpen if Maurer falters.
31. Addison Reed
Jeurys Familia is sure to face some type of disciplinary action from major league baseball, leaving Reed to hold down the closer duties. Last year, Reed posted a 1.97 ERA with a 10.55 K/9. The ratios and strikeout rate give Reed value even when Familia returns and he could vulture additional saves throughout the year.
32. Carter Capps
Brandon Maurer should get first crack at closing duties in San Diego, but his hold on the job is tentative at best. Capps is slated to make his debut in mid-March and could possibly be ready to start the regular season. Once he works out the rust and shows he is healthy, the closer role is basically his for the taking.
33. Nate Jones
The White Sox discussed trading closer David Robertson this offseason, but nothing came up it. Until then, Nate Jones and his 97 MPH fastball will wait patiently in the wings. Jones does have a fly ball tilt to his game, but the low walks and superior contact skills keep things in check. Like Reed above, Jones is an asset even without saves.
34. Drew Storen
It is an open competition in Cincinnati for the closer role. Storen does have experience in the role, closing out 29 games for the Nationals in 2014. His numbers the past three years have not been stellar, particularly 2016, and he doesn’t possess overpowering strikeout stuff. If this turns into a full committee and Iglesias runs away with the job, Storen loses all value.
35. Huston Street
Street was diagnosed with a grade-one lat strain and will be shut down for the next three to four weeks. It now appears Cam Bedrosian (or Andrew Bailey) will start the year as closer. When Street does return, expect him and his $9 million contract to see some closing duties – if only to bump up his trade value before the deadline.
T-36. Greg Holland
Everyone assumes Adam Ottavino will close things out in Colorado. Don’t forget that prior to Tommy John surgery, Holland was a top-five fantasy closing option, and the Rockies didn’t give him a $15 million dollar vesting option for 2018 if they didn’t think he was up to the task. If you own one potential Colorado closer make sure you handcuff him to the other.
T-36. Kyle Barraclough
Barraclough may or may not be next in line for saves, but he sure made a Dellin Betances-type impression last year with his 14.00 K/9 over 72.2 innings. He does have some walk issues to work out and a number of veterans to contend with should Ramos get traded. Still, 100+ strikeouts from a relief pitcher is a nice thing to invest in.
38. Arodys Vizcaino
There is big-time strikeout potential here and a strong ground ball tilt to his game. Both these things will come in handy once Vizcaino lowers his contact rate and walk percentage. Until that day, he will play second fiddle to Jim Johnson – until Johnson blows up or gets traded.
39. Brandon Kintzler
Kintzler is a placeholder until Glen Perkins returns. He will open the season with the closer role, but the lack of strikeouts limits his value, and he doesn’t have the most stellar track record. You might be better off with one of those non-save guys above.
40. Tyler Thornburg
Short of an injury, Craig Kimbrel isn’t stepping down any time soon. Thornburg is basically a high-strikeout handcuff that can supply solid ratios and innings — provided he can repeat last season’s performance.
T-41. David Phelps
Just like Thornburg above, Phelps needs to prove last season was no fluke. Provided it wasn’t, he a multi-inning high-strikeout reliever that will get the occasional spot start and could vulture some wins in long relief. An SP-eligible relief pitcher like this is a sneaky own for roto leagues.
T-41. Chris Devenski
It was an impressive debut for the rookie — lots of innings and tons of strikeouts. Provided Devenski gets 80-100 innings again, there is value here as an SP-eligible relief pitcher. He’s got a line in front of him, though, should Ken Giles falter again.
T-43. Matt Bush
Bush has limited value provided Sam Dyson doesn’t do anything to put his closer role in jeopardy. He will get you a strikeout an inning, but there are a number of guys that will do that over 60 innings. That makes Bush good, but nothing special right now.
T-43. Fernando Rodney
The soon-to-be-40-year-old made a deal with the devil to still be throwing 94+ MPH and racking up double-digit K/9 numbers. Too bad he didn’t ask the devil for a walk rate that wouldn’t sink your WHIP or an ERA better than a replacement-level pitcher. Chase field will not be kind to Rodney — just walk away.
45. Jeanmar Gomez
The Phillies have indicated that Gomez will start the year as their closer. He did manage 37 saves last year, along with an unsightly 4.85 ERA. Low strikeouts, poor contact and a bad WHIP will eventually open the door for Hector Neris or Joaquin Benoit.
Also receiving votes: Brad Hand, C.J. Edwards, Juan Nicasio, Hector Rondon, Will Harris, Ryan Dull, Santiago Casilla, Brad Brach, Joe Jimenez, Koda Glover, Joaquin Benoit, Zach Burdi
Write-ups: 1-15 — Al Melchior; 16-30 – Greg Jewett; 31-45 – Jim Finch