The second of our two tiers, these five relievers offer tons of strikeouts while keeping their ERAs and WHIPs down around the level typically associated with most elite closers. These guys are also an injury or two away from save chances, and it’s always good to know the bullpen pecking orders heading into the season.
Zach Sanders’ end of season values have been included for reference, but that’s all they’re here for. The rankings were not based on then exclusively.
Third on the setup man depth chart when the season opened, elbow injuries to Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain had Robertson pitching the eighth inning ahead of Mariano Rivera by mid-June. He struck out exactly 100 batters in 66.2 IP (13.50 K/9 and 36.8 K%) and got a healthy amount of ground balls (46.3%), though Robertson has never really been shy of issuing ball four (4.73 BB/9 and 12.9 BB%). Luckily he’s tough enough to hit that he keeps his WHIP at acceptable levels. Soriano was reduced to seventh inning work once he got healthy and Joba will be out until midseason, so Robertson figures to again serve as the bridge to Mo and rack up oodles of holds.
Rafael Betancourt – $1
The veteran of our short but sweet rankings, Betancourt has been manhandling batters in the late innings for half-a-decade now. His strikeout rate is through the roof (10.54 K/9 and 30.8 K%), his walk rate miniscule (1.16 BB/9 and 3.4 BB%), and only once in the last five years has been on the DL (groin strain in 2009). Betancourt isn’t exactly a spring chicken, he’ll turn 37 in April, but he continues to dominate and there’s no reason to expect anything other than that going forward. The Rockies are reportedly trading Huston Street, which puts Betancourt in line for save chances next year. He went 8-for-9 in save opportunities while filling in for the injured Street late in the season.
Sergio Romo – $1
Only one reliever (min. 40 IP) this century has topped the 0.96 FIP that Romo put up this year: Eric Gagne in 2003, who won the Cy Young Award with a 0.89 FIP. The big difference between the two? Gagne made it to the mound for 82.1 IP while Bruce Bochy used Romo for just 48 IP across 65 appearances. The slider-specialist unintentionally walked just four of the 175 batters he faced this past year (0.94 BB/9 and 2.4 BB%) while striking out 70 (13.13 K/9 and 40 K%). It would be tough for anyone to repeat a season like the one Romo had in 2011, but even a regression to his 2010 form (10.16 K/9 and 2.03 BB/9) means you’re still getting a quality late-inning arm. San Francisco plays a ton of close games, so the hold chances will be there for Romo. It’s just up to Bochy to use for him.
Greg Holland – $3
The sneaky good holds candidate of the year, Holland broke out with dominant strikeout (11.10 K/9 and 31.8 K%) and walk (2.85 BB/9 and 8.2 BB%) rates in 60 IP. The Jonathan Broxton signing figures to push Holland back to the seventh inning, but that probably isn’t a bad thing. For whatever reason, managers are more willing to use their middle relievers more liberally than their eighth and ninth inning guys. Holland might see some fireman duty and multiple inning outings, which makes him that much more valuable to your fantasy team in a holds league. If Broxton is unable to rebound or Joakim Soria again battles shoulder issues, he’ll be right there to step in.
Kenley Jansen – -$1 (yeah, negative)
Among pitchers that threw at least 40 IP in 2011, none had a higher strikeout rate than Jansen (16.10 K/9 and 44 K%). Craig Kimbrel was next in line at 14.84 K/9. During one stretch, the Dodgers right-hander struck out 25 of 38 batters faced. Jansen — who was a catcher as recently as 2009 — still has some control issues to work out (4.36 BB/9 and 11.9 BB%), but it’s electric power stuff well suited for late-inning dominance. Javy Guerra did a fine job this past season, but it feels like it’s only a matter of time before he hands the closer’s job off to Jansen.