Relief pitcher tiers for Draft Day 2013
I don't like tiering relievers. I don't think it serves much purpose.
Tiering is a method of doctoring positional rankings so that players
of similar value are bundled into groups. A new group begins
whenever the next player down in the rankings has a vastly different
projected outcome from the player preceding him. Reducing a position
to five or six tiers instead of 30 or more individuals gives you a
blueprint to follow as your league's draft unfolds. Naturally, the
position to target is the one whose active tier is closest to
completion. -- Scott White
Contrasting the distribution of talent at other positions makes sense because they're relatively alike. The second tier at first base is close enough to the second tier at second base that, as a general rule, you'll want to target the one closer to depletion. That's the whole approach.
But what if a position is so different from the others that tiering its players the same way is potentially misleading?
That's how I feel about relief pitcher. Compared to the other positions, it's a crapshoot. Yeah, I still have varying levels of comfort within the position, but nobody at the position makes me as comfortable as the players I might consider starting in the infield and outfield.
A reliever's value is almost entirely dependent on his role, and a role can change on a whim. For the most part, only the closers matter in Fantasy, and only 30 of those can exist at any one time. When one loses the role, his value changes even though his skill set remains the same.
Even among the closers who retain the role all season, production can widely vary based on saves -- a stat that has more to do with luck than ability. If the best closer in the game goes on to get only 32 saves while a mediocre one gets 41, the mediocre one would be the more valuable of the two, regardless of where they fit into the tiers.
So while I want a certain number of closers on Draft Day just so I have a chance of competing in saves, I don't especially care which ones I get.
The Elite: Craig Kimbrel
The Near Elite: Jonathan Papelbon , Jason Motte , Fernando Rodney , Mariano Rivera , Joe Nathan , Rafael Soriano
The Next Best Things: Sergio Romo , Jim Johnson , Tom Wilhelmsen , J.J. Putz
The Fallback Options: Joel Hanrahan , Huston Street , Greg Holland , Chris Perez , Glen Perkins , John Axford , Casey Janssen
The Last Resorts: Grant Balfour , Ryan Madson , Jonathan Broxton , Addison Reed , Bruce Rondon , Brandon League , Rafael Betancourt , Jason Grilli , Steve Cishek , Kenley Jansen , Carlos Marmol , Ernesto Frieri
On the Horizon: Drew Storen , Dylan Bundy , Brian Wilson , Trevor Rosenthal , David Robertson , Jose Veras , Bobby Parnell , Frank Francisco
Lookie there. I pretty much reduced the position to just the closers, eliminating Aroldis Chapman , Kris Medlen , Alexi Ogando , Shelby Miller , Wade Davis and any other "relief pitcher" who will actually serve as a starting pitcher this year. Why? Closers and starters fill completely different needs in Fantasy and, therefore, require completely different approaches. If a relief pitcher is expected to produce the numbers of a starting pitcher during the regular season, tiering him with the starting pitchers will give a better representation of his value even if he's not yet eligible at the position.
But closers aren't the only relievers represented here. The last tier in particular -- which, given the fickle nature of the position, I've rebranded On the Horizon -- contains other pitchers of note. Most are prospective closers who, for one reason or another, have a better-than-usual chance of unseating the team's projected leader in saves. The Mets' and Astros' projected leaders in saves are actually featured here. For the Mets, Francisco's elbow injury gives both him and Parnell about equal claim to the role. For the Astros ... well, let's just say you probably don't want their closer, be it Veras or someone else.
The two most interesting names On the Horizon, though, are Rosenthal and Bundy -- two pitchers who, in the long run, project as starters. But because they don't have rotation spots just yet, they could wind up back in relief, where they pitched exclusively in the majors last season. You want them on your radar, but you wouldn't want to tier them with the starting pitchers just yet.
As for the actual closers, again, it's a crapshoot. The one who might give you a distinct advantage over the rest is Kimbrel, but only because his contributions are unprecedented. His 16.7 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.9 hits per nine innings last year both set major-league records.
I sorted the next 17 relievers into three tiers using two main criteria: longevity in the role and potential for dominance (in terms of strikeout rate and WHIP). Truthfully, though, any of The Next Best Things or The Fallback Options could rate alongside The Near Elite at season's end. Is Soriano safer than Janssen? Yeah, he has more of a track record. But is he better? The strikeout rates and WHIPs suggest it's closer than you think. For that reason, my top two closers might both come out of The Fallback Options. Why pay for "safe" at a position that's inherently risky?
Drafting two closers from The Last Resorts is pushing it, though recent injuries to Balfour (knee) and Madson (elbow) make it a little more feasible. Before then, those two rated among The Fallback Options, leaving Broxton and Reed to head up a group of untested youngsters (Rondon, Cishek) and journeyman veterans (League, Grilli) who have about a coin flip's chance of keeping the role.
A couple of middle relievers also slot with The Last Resorts: Jansen, who everyone outside of the Dodgers organization expects to claim the role from League at some point, and Frieri, who will earn saves for the Angels until Madson is ready.
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