The relief pitcher pool is the broadest of all, but of course in Fantasy, we're more or less limiting it to closers.
Only 30 relievers can fill that role at any one time, but you can bet more than 30 will matter over the course of an entire season. The turnover rate among closers is off the charts. To put it in perspective, only 15 of the 23 shown here began 2015 in the role, so you can expect a proportionate number to be wasted picks next year.
The trouble is predicting which ones -- and then predicting an exact order beyond that is largely guesswork since a reliever's save total depends not just on role but also supporting cast and, frankly, good timing.
I try not to get hung up on that last part, instead emphasizing job security, ability and supporting cast, in that order, to determine my rankings.
Top 12 relief pitchers for 2016:
2. Andrew Miller, RP, Yankees
3. Craig Kimbrel, RP, Padres
4. Aroldis Chapman, RP, Reds
5. Wade Davis, RP, Royals
6. Jeurys Familia, RP, Mets
7. Zach Britton, RP, Orioles
8. David Robertson, RP, White Sox
9. Trevor Rosenthal, RP, Cardinals
10. Mark Melancon, RP, Pirates
11. Huston Street, RP, Angels
12. Roberto Osuna, RP, Blue Jays
Three of the top four names you know well because they've been among the top four names each of the last few years, demonstrating remarkable consistency at a position known for its turnover. The only one who flinched at all was Kimbrel, who held the No. 1 spot for several years, and even now I'm wondering if he still belongs there. From mid-May on, he was basically as good as ever, compiling a 1.44 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 44 appearances.
The one newcomer, Miller, just completed his first season as a closer, but since he was just as dominant in a setup role, you can trust it wasn't a fluke. But you know who he replaced in that top four, don't you? Yes, Greg Holland will spend 2016 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Of course, it's not like the position will really feel his absence because his replacement is arguably just as good. Davis followed up a 1.00 ERA in 2014 with a 0.94 ERA this year, and already proved he's capable of handling the role with 17 saves. Even downgrading him some for his newness to the role, I can't justify ranking him lower than fifth, and with the way the Royals have piled up save opportunities the last few years, I wouldn't be surprised if he's the very best in 2016.
After those five, I'm looking to supporting cast to differentiate several alike hurlers. The Mets' overpowering starting rotation should give them an edge in low-scoring affairs, which should mean an easy 40- or perhaps 45-save season for Familia, provided he stays healthy. The Orioles had been providing their closers with more save opportunities than any team prior to this year, and they have the nucleus to bounce back in 2016.
Rosenthal and Melancon, while obviously in favorable situations, are flawed by comparison, with Rosenthal struggling with command from time to time and Melancon becoming less of a bat-misser, so I slot Robertson in between them even with my doubts about the White Sox. His strikeout rate gives him a chance of making that top five a top six if his opportunities are more plentiful than I think.
With a 0.92 WHIP and 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings as a 20-year-old, Osuna would appear to have a bright future as a closer, and yeah, and I have him as a No. 1 for 2016. The Blue Jays are such an offensive-minded team, though, that you have to wonder if they'll play enough low-scoring games to deliver him a high saves total, particularly if they lose Price this offseason. Plus, it wouldn't hurt to see a little more before going head over heels for him.
Next 12 relief pitchers for 2016:
14. Hector Rondon, RP, Cubs
15. A.J. Ramos, RP, Marlins
16. Ken Giles, RP, Phillies
17. Luke Gregerson, RP, Astros
18. Glen Perkins, RP, Twins
19. Francisco Rodriguez, RP, Brewers
20. Shawn Tolleson, RP, Rangers
21. Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Nationals
22. Brad Boxberger, RP, Rays
23. Doug Fister, SP/RP, Nationals
24. Carson Smith, RP, Mariners
I feel really good about the top four on this list -- or at least in Giles' case, I feel as good as I can about a Phillies closer. They're probably going to be a last-place team again in 2015, so the opportunities may be hard to come by. A year or two from now, though, we may be talking about him as an elite closer. He struggled some with control in a setup role, but once the Phillies traded Papelbon in July and installed Giles as the closer, he was lights out, compiling a 1.71 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 24 appearances.
Allen and Ramos were similarly dominant, recording 12.9 and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings. They're a little Rosenthal-like with their walk rates, but it's nothing too alarming. Allen gets the edge because he plays for the better team, obviously. With Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar atop their rotation, the Indians will win their share of close games.
In between, I slot Rondon, who after an even better followup to his surprising 2014, would probably make the first panel of relievers if he didn't have Joe Maddon as his manager. The guy has commitment issues when it comes to the ninth inning. Rondon may have finished with 30 saves, but he didn't really lock down the role until the end of July.
I have different concerns for each of Gregerson, Perkins, Rodriguez and Tolleson. I like Perkins' situation and pure ability, but he hasn't stayed healthy the last couple years. This latest issue with his back has the potential to linger. Rodriguez obviously has the track record and is coming off a surprisingly dominant season, but he closes for a bad team and is getting up there in age. He'll be 34 next season.
Gregerson and Tolleson I'm not sure really profile as closers. They got the job done in 2015, and I don't doubt they're effective pitchers in a general sense. They just seem a little hittable for the role. Gregerson did hold it from start to finish while Tolleson inherited it midseason, which is part of the reason I slot Perkins and Rodriguez between them. But the way the Rangers used Tolleson in the playoffs almost suggests they're not completely sold on him either. It'll be interesting to see if they seek an upgrade this offseason.
Tolleson rounds out the 20 relievers who I feel most confident will still be closers to begin 2016. Papelbon cast doubt about his future the moment he wrapped five fingers around Bryce Harper's neck. If he's closing for the Nationals, OK, he's probably top 20, but who knows where he'll be or what he'll be doing? Boxberger has good stuff, but it's amazing he kept the job all year with the kind of numbers he was putting up in the second half.
Finally, a SPARP! That's "starting pitcher as a relief pitcher," for the uninitiated, and it's an especially big deal in Head-to-Head points leagues, where starting pitchers typically outscore closers. Heading into 2015, two SPARPs, Carrasco and Alex Wood, topped the position, and another, Drew Pomeranz, ranked fairly high as well. As things stand now, there really isn't a SPARP as promising as those three were, and only two of them panned out anyway.
Fister himself was terrible in 2015, even getting banished to the bullpen in August, but it doesn't erase his favorable track record. Yeah, his velocity was down a bit, but he's more of a finesse guy anyway. His pinpoint control at least gives him something to work with, and I'm pretty confident whatever team signs him this offseason will want to make him a starter. Now, if I was confident they'd have rotation spots entering 2016, I'd prefer the potential of Vincent Velasquezand Frankie Montas, and Trevor May, Brandon Finnegan and Tanner Roark are intriguing as well. For now, though, Fister is the SPARP to target.
What will potentially push all the SPARPs out of the top 24, though, is some clarity with the remaining closer openings. Will the Diamondbacks stick with the soft-tossing Brad Ziegler? What about the Giants with the relatively unsteady Santiago Casilla? Will the Braves give the job back to a presumably healthy Jason Grilli or stick with the up-and-coming Arodys Vizcaino?
Smith is the prospective closer I chose to highlight at No. 24 because I think he's the best options any of the remaining teams have to offer. He had the fifth-most strikeouts of all relievers in 2015 while compiling a 2.31 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, and he proved capable as a closer with 12 saves. It's just that now-fired manager Lloyd McClendon was curiously fixated on Smith's lack of "man muscles," whatever that means, and wouldn't stick with him. Tom Wilhelmsen would be another possibility in the Mariners bullpen.