March 7, 2017
Fantasy Tiered Rankings
At long last, we have come to the end of our positional tier series, and as we always do this time of year, we’re ranking closers. In a good year, six closers will lose their jobs at some point during the regular season and you’ll get nothing or next-to-nothing for your investment. Thank you for reading.
Five-star players are the studs at their position. In general, they are the players who will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and will fetch mixed-league auction bids over $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be early-round selections, and are projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late-round sleepers and roster placeholders. The positional tiers aren't a regurgitation of last year's values but rather offer insight into what we expect will happen in 2017.
Once again, the PFM projects Jansen as the best reliever in fantasy. These pitchers are all fine choices to anchor your bullpen, but Jansen is chalk. One hundred or more strikeouts, a WHIP well under one, and a shot at 50 saves are all realistic outcomes for Jansen. While one might argue that the PFM’s valuation for Jansen’s 2016 numbers is somewhat aggressive, in terms of the pecking order in this year’s drafts he is an easy choice.
Chapman returns for a full season after being suspended for 30 games last season for a domestic violence incident by Major League Baseball. If there is a reliever who could supplant Jansen as #1 overall, Chapman is your best bet. Pitching in the AL and a tough AL East would be a detriment for lesser pitchers, but Chapman is so dominant that you could put him in Coors and he would likely still be a low-end five-star reliever. You don’t primarily draft relievers for strikeouts, but getting 100 or more from your closer is nice.
Five-Star Value Pick: Zach Britton, Baltimore
Most of Giles’ subpar ERA and WHIP were the product of a terrible April, although sitting behind Willie Harris for a good chunk of the season also didn’t help his fantasy value. A case could be made for putting Giles with the elite options, based on his ceiling.
For the most part, the four-star tier is differentiated primarily by its talent compared to the tiers below. Giles, Diaz, and Osuna are the young arms in the tier who arguably have higher ceilings than most of the grizzled vets, but as we saw last year with Giles the buzz these arms generate doesn’t automatically translate to success. Davis and Kimbrel both have varying injury/durability concerns, but given their track records and respective team’s investments they will have more rope than the younger arms in this bracket will.
If you want to ding Allen because Andrew Miller is waiting in the wings, fair enough, but based solely on performance Allen is fine and Cleveland sounds happy about the current job arrangement. Miller’s presence makes it more likely that Allen is a 30-40 save reliever instead of a 35-45 one, but that’s not enough of a reason to knock Allen down into the shakier three-star group.
For the second year in a row, the four-star tier is populated entirely by pitchers who play for above average teams or better. While a closer on a bad team can get 40 or more saves, closers on better teams generally do have an edge, even if it is slight. It also helps that contenders have stronger set-ups behind most of these arms, keeping more save opportunities intact.
Four-Star Value Pick: Cody Allen, Cleveland
There aren’t as many boring, older arms in the three-star tier as there have been in the past, but Rodriguez and Robertson do qualify. Robertson is a trade risk and while Rodriguez hasn’t been mentioned in rumors he could be moved if things go south for the Tigers. Some of the reason many of these relievers aren’t ranked higher is that there is less job safety for them entering the season, but as we all know this is guesswork, not science.
There were some members of the fantasy staff who wanted to be extremely aggressive with Miller and push him into the four-star tier. Miller was more valuable last year in mixed formats as a non-closer (he ranked seventh overall among relievers) than he was in AL-only (ninth in 2016). This makes sense. Plenty of free saves pop up in standard mixed leagues via free agency whereas in mono leagues there are at most a handful of opportunities to add a full-time stopper.
Three-Star Value Pick: Tony Watson, Pittsburgh
The two-star tier is where the uncertainty increases precipitously. Dyson is backed by one of 2016’s best set-ups in Matt Bush and while Dyson’s numbers were fine, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Texas flipped the two relievers at some point. Dyson does have a very strong ground ball rate working in his favor, and while it isn’t Brittonesque, it did induce hitters to hit grounders a whopping 65 percent of the time and kept Dyson’s home ERA at an even 1.00.
Iglesias has the stuff to close and could arguably be in the three-star tier but there is some talk that the Reds may go with Drew Storen to keep Iglesias’ cost lower in arbitration. I don’t buy it – and neither did the experts at NL LABR last weekend – but nevertheless there is some risk involved. Ramos has a different kind of risk, as the Marlins have a strong bullpen behind him and could easily trade their closer midseason. On ability alone, Ramos is at least a three-star arm.
Two-Star Value Pick: Shawn Kelley
There was significant pushback from the fantasy staff in favor of including more non-closers in this tier than we have in the past. Looking at some of the uninspiring closers in this tier, this desire is understandable. Some of this ties to job uncertainly for nearly every arm in this bracket, but most of it is the recognition of the fact that a high-end reliever can alter your team’s ratios/be a far more positive asset than someone like Jeanmar Gomez or Brandon Kintzler, who both didn’t even make the cut for the lowly one-star tier. Only one closer from 2016’s one-star and two-star tiers survived as a closer for the entire season, in case you were wondering.
One-Star Value Pick: Kyle Barraclough, Miami