MLB Cheat Sheets: RP Rankings
By Tim McLeod and RotoRob
Relief pitching is perhaps the most volatile position in all of Fantasy baseball. Today, your dude is closing games; tomorrow, he’s relegated to mop-up innings in 17-4 games. Nowhere else is a player’s value so contingent upon his use as it is in the bullpen. Already this year, we’ve seen tons of closers implode or get hurt, thereby thrusting others into instant Fantasy value.
1. Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins: Nathan gave up more homers last season, but who cares? He enjoyed perhaps his finest season yet, and has been flawless so far this year, justifying his likely fifth round selection.
2. Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox: Papelbon’s K/9 dropped and his ERA rose last season, yet thanks to his amazing command, he was able to set career highs in wins and saves. He’s dominating as usual this season, and Boston is wisely being judicious with his workload in the early going.
3. Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers: Broxton’s workload was reduced last season as he made the mid-season transition to closing. He had a few struggles, but it was more or less a seamless move that he’s been ready for now for a while. In the early going in 2009, Broxton has been absolutely dominating and it looks like we’re seeing his breakthrough year.
4. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees: The Yanks have slightly reduced Rivera’s workload in the past few years and that’s worked very well as in 2008 he enjoyed one of his best seasons ever. In fact, the paltry .165 that opponents his against Mo was his career best. It’s been more of the same so far this season as Rivera has justified his fifth round selection. This dude’s 39 now? Whatever!
5. Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets: Rodriguez had a season for the ages in 2008, breaking the saves record and parlaying that into a big money deal from the Mets, who so desperately needed a bullpen overhaul. He set the tone on Opening Day, and K-Rod has been untouchable since, although the back spasms are worrisome. The fact that he’s got an almost equally gifted reliever setting him up in J.J. Putz should make life even easier for K-Rod in the NL.
6. Bobby Jenks, Chicago White Sox: Jenks enjoyed a third straight season of at least 30 saves last year, but his K/9 has been dropping like a stone along with his velocity and he was easier to hit. The hit rates keep going up, and frankly this is a situation we’re a bit concerned about. In fact, we’ve already been touting Jenks’ possible replacement. Jenks hasn’t been employing his curve this season, and with his reduced velocity, that’s spelling trouble.
7. Heath Bell, San Diego Padres: Bell allowed more dingers last year, and his results suffered to an extent. Of course, duplicating his brilliant 2007 would have been nearly impossible. With Trevor Hoffman gone, Bell has taken over as the closer in San Diego, a promotion that earned him 11th round draft status. The transition couldn’t have gone better so far, as he’s been flawless, quickly establishing himself as one of the best looking closers in the game.
8. Brian Fuentes, Los Angeles Angels: Fuentes earned his third 30-save season with the Rox last year, enjoying probably his finest campaign yet. He’s become harder and harder to hit over the last few seasons, but he’s getting cuffed around in the early going for the Angels in 2009. In fact, Scot Shields has already jumped in to earn a save, however he has been unable to take advantage of Fuentes’ struggles, as he’s struggling himself. Shockingly, the normally superb Halo pen is the AL’s worst so far.
9. Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds: Cordero was a workhorse the Reds’ pen last year, but I have concerns about his slipping K rates, rising hit rates and command issues that continue to get worse. So far, none of this has affected his bottom line results this season, but I worry whether Cordero will deliver 11th round value. Still, he’s just the 11th pitcher to save 100 games in both leagues, an impressive feat worthy of recognition.
10. Frank Francisco, Texas Rangers: Francisco proved he was capable of closing down the stretch last season, and since he’s taken over the job full-time this year, he’s been absolutely unhittable, looking like a bargain as an 11th round pick. In fact, if this keeps up, you may see Francisco pitching in the All-Star Game in a few weeks.
11. Ryan Franklin, St. Louis Cardinals: Franklin was hurt by walks and homers last season – a truly deadly combination for any pitcher. But this season, he was in the mix of many as the potential Cardinal closer, and when Jason Motte was ineffective from the get-go, we called it right on Opening Day that Franklin would be a good pickup. And man, did we nail that one. He’s dramatically upped his K rate and has been unhittable, racking up the 1-2-3 innings.
12. Trevor Hoffman, Milwaukee Brewers: Hoffman missed time last year, yet still managed a 13th 30-save season. He recently returned from another injury – a little of ahead of schedule, even – and took over the closer role, looking sharp in the process.
13. Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals: Soria gave up more homers last year, but his bottom line results were unbelievable, and in fact, probably unsustainable. Make no mistake, however. This kid’s for real, and I love the fact that despite getting touched up a bit this year, he was racking up the Ks in the early going before hitting the DL. Soria has truly arrived as a standout closer, and I expect him to be a big part of the Royal resurgence. Hopefully upon his return, his set-up men will do a better job of bridging the gap so he can get more saves.
14. Brad Lidge, Philadephia Phillies: Lidge was virtually unhittable last season, and while his rising walk total is worrisome, it never came back to haunt him as he was perfect in save opportunities, capping an incredible first year in Philly. However, his consecutive save streak has already been snapped this season, and he’s been getting roughed up in the early going, not what you were hoping for from a closer you likely used a seventh round pick on.
15. Jose Valverde, Houston Astros: Valverde was more prone to the long ball and was more hittable last season, but he remains among the best in the biz. The homers continue to be a problem in the early going in 2009, and now he’s dealing with injury issues that will keep him on the DL for another few weeks, but upon his return, I’d bank on another solid campaign from Valverde – especially considering he has the incentive of impending free agency looming.
16. Huston Street, Colorado Rockies: Street struggled out of the gate, losing his job. But when it appeared he had reclaimed the gig, we recommended him, and it was a great call as Street has been lights out since. Dramatically improved control and a much higher K rate have led to him being perfect in save chances so far.
17. Mike Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves: Gonzalez has dealt with injuries issues in recent seasons, returning from Tommy John surgery in June last year, so we’ll excuse whatever rust showed. He’s healthy now and looking better so far this season. Now if Gonzalez can just stay healthy…
18. Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants: Wilson took over as full-time closer last season and had his struggles from time to time, but he looked very sharp in the early going before hitting more struggles this month. His strikeout rate has dipped since the start of the season, and that makes me concerned whether he will be worth that 11th round pick you spent on him.
19. Matt Capps, Pittsburgh Pirates: Capps missed time with a shoulder injury last season, so he wasn’t as sharp despite massively improved control. He’s already missed some time this year, and he’s been downright awful this month after a superb start to the season. Despite Capps’s struggles, the Pirate bullpen looks better and the team has been more competitive in the early going, so his job security has to be called into question – could Sean Burnett get a chance to close if Capps keeps faltering?
20. George Sherrill, Baltimore Orioles: Sherrill earned the closer role last season almost by default and didn’t exactly wow anyone. This year, his K rate has dipped and he’s been hit harder – especially by righties. However, given that his bottom line results have been better and Chris Ray is sucking, Sherrill’s job is more secure lately than during Spring Training when we assumed he entered the season on borrowed time.
21. Chad Qualls, Arizona Diamondbacks: Qualls had a strong season as a set-up man, but the question of whether he could close or not was a valid one heading into this season. In fact, we weren’t sure he was going to last the season in this role. So far this season Qualls has been more hittable, so the jury remains out on his long-term future as a closer.
22. Kevin Gregg, Chicago Cubs: Gregg has been responsible for turning many a Cub fan prematurely grey this season. While his control was bad last year, it’s been even worse in 2009, only this year, it’s coming back to haunt him. The saving grace for Gregg has been that his Ks are way up. He got on a bit of a roll earlier this month, leading us to speculate that he had solidified his grasp on the closer job, but then he promptly got shelled in his very next outing. Gregg is definitely not a sure thing, but his job remains safe for the time being.
23. Fernando Rodney, Detroit Tigers: Everyone expects Joel Zumaya to take over the Tiger closer job sooner rather than later, but Rodney has been impressive, converting every save chance he’s had so far. The key to his turnaround has been massively improved control. Sure, Rodney’s K/9 has dropped significantly as well, but he’s never pitched with this good command. Still, the Tigers have options, so Rodney’s probably on a short leash, making him a fine sell-high candidate.
24. Scott Downs, Toronto Blue Jays: When B.J. Ryan went down with an injury, Downs took over the closer job in Toronto, and he’s taken the gig and run with it, already matching his save total from all of last season. Ryan’s back now, but Downs, with his ridiculously good 11-to-1 K/BB ratio is still holding down the fort, and he really hasn’t given the Jays any reason to make a change.
25. Kerry Wood, Cleveland Indians: Wood finally stayed healthy and enjoyed a fine first season as a closer. Now in Cleveland, he got off to a strong start, but has been touched up quite a but lately, and his control has been awful, leaving in question not only his job, but how much value he’ll deliver as a ninth round pick.
26. Brad Ziegler, Oakland Athletics: Ziegler burst onto the scene last year, setting a new record for consecutive scoreless innings to start a career. This season, however, has been another story, despite the fact that Joey Devine’s injury seemed to hand Ziegler the keys to the kingdom. He’s striking out more batters, but is getting hit far too easily. In fact, his anything but overpowering fastball is among the easiest to hit among all major league pitchers. Ziegler is on the verge of losing his closer job – if he hasn’t already.
27. Matt Lindstrom, Florida Marlins: Lindstrom, who came to the Marlins in a 2006 trade with the Mets, got touched up a bit more last year, but showed he could save games, so he earned the closer role this year. He’s upped his strikeout rate and was superb in the early going, looking like he was well worth a 14th round pick. However, his control has been atrocious lately, so I’d be very worried that he’ll soon be hitting the DL, or just losing his job outright.
28. David Aardsma, Seattle Mariners: Thanks to one of the most untouchable fastballs in the game and improved control this season, Aardsma has finally broken through and is at last delivering on his promise. When Brandon Morrow went down, Aardsma got his chance to close, and he’s still playing the part since Morrow has returned. In fact, with a run of 11 straight scoreless outings (11 1/3 IP, 6 H, 6 BB, 15 K), Aardsma looks like he’s locking down the gig.
29. Juan Cruz, Kansas City Royals: We recommended Cruz as the man once Soria got hurt for the Royals, but he hasn’t exactly been a sure thing – struggling especially in May, and taking a serious pounding Thursday. Cruz is getting plenty of action this year, but what happened to his usually prodigious strikeout rate? Without the Ks, his results have slipped this season. With Soria out another couple of weeks, Cruz remains a source of saves; not necessarily a good source, but a source nonetheless.
30. LaTroy Hawkins, Houston Astros: We recommended picking up Hawkins once Valverde went down, and for the most part, he’s been very effective this year, already earning the most saves he’s had since 2005. But earlier this week, the cracks started to show, he’s dealing with a hip woe and Hawkins only has the gig temporarily, as Valverde could be back as soon as next week.
Others to Consider
31. Joel Hanrahan, Washington Nationals: Hanrahan took over as the closer late last season and enjoyed a fine year. However, thanks to some trouble with lefties, he got cuffed around pretty good in the early going. Hanrahan’s command has been sharp, though, and he’s turned the corner and has look much more effective this month.
32. Jason Isringhausen, Tampa Bay Rays
33. Dan Wheeler, Tampa Bay Rays
34. Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics
35. B.J. Ryan, Toronto Blue Jays: Ryan returned from Tommy John surgery to enjoy a fine season last year, striking out a batter per inning. However, he experienced some serious control problems early this year, making us wonder if he was hurt. Sure enough, he was and landed on the DL less than two weeks later. He’s been back for a couple of weeks and has been better, but hardly effective. Ryan clearly is not ready to regain the closer job right now.
36. Brandon Morrow, Seattle Mariners
37. Rafael Soriano, Atlanta Braves
38. J.J. Putz, New York Mets
39. Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs: Marmol was next to unhittable last year, although he did give up more homers than usual. Still, he was one of the top set-up men in the majors and was expected to take over as the Cub closer with Wood leaving town, something that had him being picked in the ninth round. Unfortunately, Gregg is getting most of the save chances in Chicago, and the fact that Marmol has already blown a couple of chances doesn’t bode well. His overall results will continue to be restricted until he addresses that awful control.
40. C.J. Wilson, Texas Rangers
41. Troy Percival, Tampa Bay Rays: Percival stayed somewhat healthy (for him, anyways) last year, and enjoyed a nice comeback season. This year, he was healthy for the first few weeks, but his continuingly weakened command was really affecting his results. Now, shoulder tendonitis has cropped up, and there’s talk that the 39-year-old may pack it in. I’d say at this point, the 14th round pick you used on him is in peril of becoming a waste.
42. Leo Nunez, Florida Marlins
43. Chris Perez, St. Louis Cardinals
44. Manny Corpas, Colorado Rockies: Corpas’ strikeout rate dropped significantly last year, and he struggled accordingly. Somehow, he got the closer job back from an awful Huston Street, but pitched so pathetically that he handed it right back. Corpas’ command has actually been quite good this season, but maybe he needs to be a bit wilder, because all his strikes are getting hammered. In fact, it’s so bad that the Rox were talking about sending him down, although he has pitched marginally better this month.
45. John Grabow, Pittsburgh Pirates
46. Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
47. Ryan Madson, Philadelphia Phillies
48. Joel Zumaya, Detroit Tigers
49. Jensen Lewis, Cleveland Indians
50. Jose Arredondo, Los Angles Angels
51. Chris Ray, Baltimore Orioles
52. Scot Shields, Los Angeles Angels
53. Carlos Villanueva, Milwaukee Brewers
54. Octavio Dotel, Chicago White Sox
55. Takashi Saito, Boston Red Sox
56. Grant Balfour, Tampa Bay Rays
57. Tony Pena, Arizona Diamondbacks
58. Santiago Casilla, Oakland Athletics
59. Hideki Okajima, Boston Red Sox
60. Scott Linebrink, Chicago White Sox
61. Justin Masterson, Boston Red Sox
62. Jeremy Affeldt, San Francisco Giants
63. Brian Bruney, New York Yankees
64. Manny Delcarmen, Boston Red Sox
65. Joe Nelson, Tampa Bay Rays
66. Todd Coffey, Milwaukee Brewers
67. Jose Mijares, Minnesota Twins
68. Ramon Troncoso, Los Angeles Dodgers
69. Edward Mujica, San Diego Padres
70. Ryan Perry, Detroit Tigers
71. Jason Frasor, Toronto Blue Jays
72. Miguel Batista, Seattle Mariners: Batista spent most of 2008 in the rotation, but was better as a reliever. However, he was far too hittable last season. This year, he’s pitching exclusively out of the pen, and he’s cut his hit rates, is keeping the ball in the park, and doing a very good job. When Brandon Morrow went on the DL, Batista took over as the top set-up man, but he does have closing experience. In fact, he saved a game early last season, and a rumoured trade to the Nats and their bullpen of disarray could see Batista installed as a closer again.
73. Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
74. Brandon Lyon, Detroit Tigers: Lyon was way too hittable last season, and his results suffered accordingly. He’s doing better in that department this year, but his truly awful command has resulted in even worse bottom line numbers. Last month, I thought Lyon might have a chance to emerge with some value, but he’s been even worse since then, and currently only has value in AL-only leagues.
75. Jon Rauch, Arizona Diamondbacks
76. Ronald Belisario, Los Angeles Dodgers
77. David Weathers, Cincinnati Reds
78. Cory Wade, Los Angeles Dodgers
79. Matt Guerrier, Minnesota Twins
80. Merkin Valdez, San Francisco Giants
81. Kiko Calero, Florida Marlins
82. Matt Thornton, Chicago White Sox
83. Dan Meyer, Florida Marlins
84. Joe Beimel, Washington Nationals
85. Jason Bermann, Washington Nationals
86. Cla Meredith, San Diego Padres
87. Clay Condrey, Philadelphia Phillies
88. Chad Cordero, Seattle Mariners
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