Ranking relief pitchers here at the start of the offseason is especially hard. Their value is tied mostly to their role, and their role is tied mostly to moves that have yet to be made. Between the teams that find themselves with an opening at closer and the ones hoping to upgrade from last year's incumbent, we don't know a whole lot yet.
But when will we? It's not just the time of year that makes ranking relievers tricky. It's the way that roles have evolved. Rare is it these days that a manager officially designates a closer, and while his tendencies do become apparent over time, the draft is just a moment in time.
Point being that, for the foreseeable future, we're forced to play hunches at this position right up until opening day and even beyond. So yes, while these rankings are sure to change in the months ahead, it may not be by as much as you think.
One consequence is that the dozen are so relievers who do appear to have a firm grasp on the closer role are sure to fetch a premium on Draft Day. They're among those featured here.
Note that these rankings are intended for 5x5 scoring (such as Rotisserie leagues), but I point out distinctions for points leagues where applicable.
Josh Hader Milwaukee Brewers RP
|Just when you think the gold standard at the position may be slipping, he goes and puts together a career-best 1.23 ERA. He also topped all relievers in FIP and K/9.
Liam Hendriks Chicago White Sox RP
|He's gotten more work than Josh Hader the past couple years and produced lower WHIPs as well, but he's also five years his senior, which brings with it some risk. They're 1 and 1A.
Emmanuel Clase Cleveland Indians RP
|Maybe not the consensus choice at No. 3 given his minimal track record and modest strikeout rate, but is 1.29 ERA makes sense when you catch a glimpse of how wicked his stuff is. Everything in play is on the ground, basically. Plus, James Karinchak isn't much of a threat anymore.
Raisel Iglesias Los Angeles Angels RP
|He reached 100 strikeouts for the first time as a full-time reliever and firmly positioned himself among the elite closers. The one concern is if he signs with a team that doesn't subscribe to conventional bullpen roles.
Kenley Jansen Los Angeles Dodgers RP
|The 34-year-old regained some lost velocity and delivered his lowest ERA in four yeas, so he enters free agency with renewed shine. The Dodgers can sign basically whomever they want, which is why I think he'll be back, but I trust that he'll close no matter where he goes.
Ryan Pressly Houston Astros RP
|It's curious that Pressly got only 26 saves for such a good team, but Dusty Baker handled him as conventionally as you'd expect for an old school manager. He's proven himself in the role and should be among the saves leaders next year.
Edwin Diaz New York Mets RP
|He hasn't been what the peripherals suggest he should be since joining the Mets, but there's always that chance he gets back to being a relief monster. If nothing else, he's good for a bunch of strikeouts and is locked into the role for a team that probably won't finish in the cellar.
Jordan Romano Toronto Blue Jays RP
|Once manager Charlie Montoyo finally committed to him in the closer role, the results for Romano were as spectacular as hoped, and his best-case scenario probably puts him in the top five relievers. There are some durability concerns, though.
Craig Kimbrel Chicago White Sox RP
|The overall numbers suggest a complete bounce-back for what was once the best closer in the game, but things went sideways after he joined the White Sox. This ranking presumes the reports of him being traded this offseason (back to somewhere he can close) are indeed true.
Aroldis Chapman New York Yankees RP
|The longtime fireballer was wise to introduce a splitter to his arsenal to combat his eroding skills, but he issued too many free passes and struggled to adapt to the foreign substance ban. He enters free agency with some questions but a high ceiling still.
Ranger Suarez Philadelphia Phillies RP
|The first of the starting pitchers with relief pitcher eligibility will go even higher in points leagues, where the demand for saves isn't as great. He's my 33rd-ranked starting pitcher, to give you an idea where the top 10 relievers fit.
Giovanny Gallegos St. Louis Cardinals RP
|He stabilized the closer role late in the year (to no one's surprise), but the Cardinals have always preferred him as a high-volume leverage guy. Some clarity would be nice heading into the new season, particularly with the change at manager, but I'm not confident we're getting it.
Camilo Doval San Francisco Giants RP
|A late-season trial at closer carried over to the postseason, which leads me to believe the young righty with the overpowering slider is now Gabe Kapler's preferred option for the ninth. But Kapler is famously flighty about these things and still has Jake McGee available to him.
Will Smith Atlanta Braves RP
|His vulnerability to the long ball makes him a bit combustible, but he measures up as a closer in most other regards. He also has job security with the Braves, an organization that still holds to traditional bullpen roles.
Scott Barlow Kansas City Royals RP
|Mike Matheny finally gave his best reliever a chance to close in mid-August, and Barlow piled up a bunch of saves down the stretch. He's the clear favorite for the role next year and certainly has the numbers to stick, but you have to think he'll be on a short leash.
Mark Melancon San Diego Padres RP
|The 2021 saves leader enters free agency with plenty of closing experience, so it stands to reason he'll get to fill that role somewhere. His pitch-to-contact approach sets him back in strikeouts and WHIP, though, and you can't count on another massive saves total.
Luis Severino New York Yankees RP
|A long recovery from Tommy John surgery ended with him making a few relief appearances late in the year. This ranking presumes he'll be back in the starting role that once made him a Cy Young contender, but he'll be handled carefully and could have difficulty reacclimating.
Cal Quantrill Cleveland Indians SP
|He's about 30 spots behind Ranger Suarez in my starting pitcher rankings, so you can see how this position begins to spiral amid the uncertainties. Quantrill may have been the most perplexing 2021 breakout, going on a brilliant run in the second half that isn't at all supported by the data.
Drew Steckenrider Seattle Mariners RP
|After mixing it up at closer all year, Scott Servais basically stuck with Steckenrider down the stretch, and it made sense given his 2.00 ERA. But Paul Sewald is much better peripherally, and the Mariners will also have Ken Giles back from Tommy John surgery. The leash will be short.
Dylan Floro Miami Marlins RP
|It's unlikely the bottom-feeding Marlins will look to update their closer in the offseason, and Floro had a fine audition for the role with 13 saves over the final two months. The flashier Anthony Bender looms, but manager Don Mattingly seems to prefer a veteran presence in the ninth.