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.

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

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Isn’t Feliz starting?