2011 Player Rankings: Relievers

As we continue to march along in our positional rankings, today we’re going to look at the guys coming out of the bullpen. These rankings are based on standard 5×5 scoring, so it’s geared towards closers (and saves). I’ll be keeping track of closers and middle relievers separately during the season for everyone in holds leagues. The man who threw the last pitch of the 2010 season leads us off…

Tier One
Brian Wilson
Heath Bell
Joakim Soria

The two NL West closers are separated from the pack because they impact all categories with minimal risk. They rank 1-2 in saves over the last two years, and both are 10+ K/9 guys that should provide low-2.00’s ERA’s. Barring injury, neither Wilson or Bell is danger of losing his job, though Bell’s certainly a mid-summer trade candidate. Soria is every bit as good as that pair, if not better, but he might not have the same number of save opps throughout the season.

Tier Two
Neftali Feliz
Carlos Marmol
Mariano Rivera

These next three are just as locked into their jobs as Wilson, Bell, and Soria, but carry slightly more risk and/or have more drawbacks. Feliz could wind up in the rotation, and although Marmol’s strikeout numbers are insane, but he’s always in danger of a blown save because of the walks. Rivera is still a god amongst men, but he’s 41 years old and has battled nagging injuries over the last two years.

Tier Three
Andrew Bailey
Jonathan Broxton
Jonathan Papelbon
Francisco Rodriguez
John Axford

Bailey dealt with an oblique strain last year and had surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow in September. If healthy, he’s dynamite. Broxton probably would have topped this list if it wasn’t for his atrocious second half, though new manager Don Mattingly says he’s getting the keys to the ninth inning to start the year. Papelbon and K-Rod have gotten a little shakier in recent years but still rack up saves like few others. The Mets might hold take their foot off the gas with K-Rod just so his $17.5M option for 2012 doesn’t vest (he needs 55 games finished). I imagine the player’s union would flip out if so. Axford’s solid, but offers limited track record.

Tier Four
Jose Valverde
Joe Nathan
J.J. Putz
Matt Thornton
Craig Kimbrel
Chris Perez

We have our first non-closer, but it’s not hard to envision Thornton sliding into that role at some point. Nathan and Putz are risky because of injury concerns, Kimbrel’s rather unproven, and Perez can be wild. We know what Valverde is by now.

Tier Five
Drew Storen
Huston Street
Aroldis Chapman
Francisco Cordero
Brad Lidge
Ryan Franklin
Leo Nunez

Chapman’s the potential breakout star here; our own Zach Sanders likes him so much that he ranked him first among all relievers. His explanation: “Saves are only 25% of a reliever’s value. He’s dominant enough in the other categories that he’ll be worth it in the end, even if he only saves 5-10 games.”

Tier Six
Rafael Soriano
Joel Hanrahan
Hong-Chih Kuo
Brandon Lyon
Daniel Bard
Fernando Rodney
Kevin Gregg
Matt Capps
Evan Meek

Soriano might have topped the list if he had gone to a team that didn’t have the greatest reliever in the history of the universe already working the ninth inning. You might see him steal a few saves if the Yankees decide to limit the number of multi-inning appearances and/or stretches of three consecutive games Rivera works this year. Hanrahan will begin the year as the closer, but he’ll have to look over his shoulder with Meek waiting in the wings. Kuo could wind up closing games in LA if Broxton’s 2010 second half carries over.

Best of the Rest
David Aardsma
Chris Sale
Sergio Romo
Jonny Venters
Frank Francisco
Koji Uehara
Luke Gregerson
Ryan Madson
Kenley Jansen
Rafael Betancourt
Brandon League
Joaquin Benoit

Almost all setup men here, though Aardsma’s coming back from offseason hip surgery and probably won’t be ready for Opening Day, in which case League will fill-in. The other guys are next in line for saves should the closer stumble. Jansen might leapfrog Kuo in that role since he got some ninth inning work down the stretch last September.

* * *

The cardinal rule is to never overpay for saves, not when they’re so freely available on the waiver wire throughout the year, but there’s certainly something comforting about having an elite closer or two on your roster. As I said earlier, I’ll handle the closer and middle reliever reports throughout the season, so the rankings will be a bit more category specific going forward.




Print This Post

Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.


25 Responses to “2011 Player Rankings: Relievers”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Pete says:

    Isn’t Feliz starting?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike Axisa says:

      In Spring Training, but there’s no guarantee it continues on into the season. Either way, he’ll retain RP eligibility.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Mark says:

    Why Gregg over Uehara? Uehara’s first in line for saves and the better, if less durable pitcher.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Howard Bender says:

      Actually, no decision has been announced and apparently Showalter is leaning towards Gregg right now.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mark says:

        Do you have a link that suggests this? Everything recent I can find says Uehara is the favorite going into the spring, but that no final decision has been made.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mark says:

        No offense to Fangraphs, I usually hold your analysis higher than many other sources, but this jives much more with other things I’ve read over the last 2-3 weeks: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/625379-30-teams-in-30-days-2011-baltimore-orioles-fantasy-preview and this more credible source suggests similar: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=13116

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • GTW says:

        Since I’m a Baltimore fan and have been keeping up with the daily news I thought I would add my two cents. Over the past month I’ve seen reports saying Koji is the favorite and others saying Gregg is the favorite. The problem I have with this is that Buck hasn’t said anything regarding his closer preference. The only news I’ve heard which would point to who has an advantage, was that Uehara got a cortisone shot in his throwing elbow today. He’ll be shut down for about a week and this just reminds everyone how fragile he’s been since signing with the O’s.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. another know it all says:

    Why are we already assuming Thornton’s not the closer?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike Axisa says:

      Why assume he is? Sale was the one getting save opps a the end of the year. If Thornton’s really the closer, he’ll shoot up the rankings.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. geo says:

    I always laugh when people say “Soria doesn’t get enough save opps.” He gets at least as many if not more than other closers. Poor teams play more close games than good teams, and believe it or not, the Royals do win a game here or there. Usually when they do, you will also see an ‘S” next to Soria’s line in the box – 43 times last year, in fact.

    (That said, I still don’t pay for saves. But if you do, at least he’s a guy you can safely count on.)

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. gu03alum says:

    Aardsma is only supposed to miss a week or two of the season. Why should he be ranked that low for missing out on like 2 or 3 save opportunities? I could still see him saving over 30 games this year even with the missed time.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • pogotheostrich says:

      That is what he is supposed to miss but very often these are optomistic guess. Last I heard Aardsma was still on crutches.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. GTW says:

    I’m not knocking the ranking but I was curious why Street isn’t up another tier with some of the solid but not dominant options. Is it due to injury concerns, past performance, or the signing of Lindstrom? It seems to me that the others in the 5th tier have more question marks than he does.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike Axisa says:

      It’s definitely the injuries. Biceps issue in Sept. ’09, shoulder issue to start ’10, oblique issue in Sept. ’10. The performance is fine, but how often will he actually be out there?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Kyle says:

    I would love to see a preseason ranking of relievers regardless of saves. I’m in ottoneu classic league and don’t have anywhere to start off of for my rankings.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. kwaz says:

    Wouldn’t K-Rod’s $17.5M vesting option for 2012 provide some much needed impetus for a team to actually start using its best reliever in some higher leverage spots like we’ve been calling for?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason B says:

      His vesting option is $17.5M?!? Sweet Jesus almighty. And we wonder why the Mets are groveling to Citi for more loans to keep the lights on…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. DonChrysler says:

    Totally don’t agree with the statement from Zack that “Saves are only 25% of a reliever’s value.” That totally ignores the concept of replacement cost. If that were true, there would be a much bigger market for setup guys with great strikeout numbers who don’t have a real shot at getting saves.

    Not to nitpick, as I know this was obviously not a point you were making directly.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • C-dawg says:

      Definitely agree. Always played fantasy with RP’s in SP slots when that elusive SP/RP is available. In start limit and roto leagues, if you can get 2 of these guys, they provide as good production as some top tier SP’s. A quick look at what Sean Marshall + Johnny Venters shows 170+ K’s, Low 2’s ERA, 11 wins & a couple saves to boot. You get this from WW fodder while not sacrificing a starter.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Young Gung says:

      Yeah I agree, especially if your talking about a roto 5 x 5 league, that’s insinuating you can punt that category. If it was a 4 x 4 league that included saves that would make that rule even worse. Now if it was a saves and hlds league than I might actually agree with the 25% rule because those categories essentially cancel out the value of being a closer vs a middle reliever.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Scott Clarkson says:

    Jordan Walden? I realize he’s not the closest to saves; but he could have amazing K per inning #’s and come much cheaper than kimbrel, chapman etc.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. hawkinscm says:

    Jake McGee?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. House on a Hill says:

    I think Mariano Rivera should have to do more then just have a few nagging injuries to be deposed from the first tier of relievers. We should have learned this 5 years ago.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. R M says:

    Zach Sanders’ logic is about as faulty as a 1986 GMC Jimmy. Sure, saves are 1 out of 4 categories used for a reliever. Say your team pitches 1500 innings. Chapman pitches 70 IP, and strikes out 110 batters, which is very optimistic. The difference between his WHIP and ERA and another elite RP will be meaningless…he will get about 30 more K than your average elite RP who pitches 70 innings, which may be worth a point or 2, tops. Then you have the 30 or so fewer saves he will log….which could well be worth 4 or 5 points. If Zach Sanders actually adheres to his own logic, I’d like to play in a league with him.

    Vote -1 Vote +1