That's right: We've saved the worst for last -- emphasis, of course, on "saved."
Or is the emphasis on "worst?" Frankly, I'm surprised you even bothered to click on a relief pitcher tiers piece given that tiering relievers is stupid.
Because it's all about how many saves they get, right? Yeah, OK, some closers are just better than others and can have some modest impact on ERA, WHIP and strikeouts because of it, but is one of The Elite here really as valuable as one of The Elite elsewhere?
I think you already know the answer to that.
The Elite: Greg Holland, Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel
The Near-Elite: Dellin Betances, David Robertson
The Next-Best Things: Huston Street, Cody Allen, Mark Melancon, Zach Britton, Drew Storen, Kenley Jansen
The Fallback Options: Jonathan Papelbon, Koji Uehara, Steve Cishek, Trevor Rosenthal, Joaquin Benoit, Sean Doolittle, Fernando Rodney, Glen Perkins
The Last Resorts: Francisco Rodriguez, Neftali Feliz, Santiago Casilla, Hector Rondon, Jake McGee, Joe Nathan, Addison Reed, Luke Gregerson, Brett Cecil, LaTroy Hawkins, Jenrry Mejia
On the Horizon: Andrew Miller, Tyler Clippard, Pat Neshek, Aaron Sanchez, Kevin Jepsen, Ken Giles, Brad Boxberger, Grant Balfour, Jason Motte, Joakim Soria, Kevin Quackenbush, Sergio Romo, Bobby Parnell, Brandon League
Common sense tells you that the most fundamental component of a relief pitcher's Fantasy value, his saves total, is more a product of supporting cast, managerial inclination and, frankly, good timing than anything the reliever himself does. So while you can differentiate between relievers based on ability or job security, the line between tiers isn't as firm and the drop from one to the next isn't as steep as at any other position.
You can get bogged down in terminology if you're not careful. The Near-Elite may be depleted at every other position before any of The Elite goes off the board here, and that's OK. You don't want to be the first to take the plunge on Holland, Chapman or Kimbrel, thinking they're great value just because of some arbitrary term I've assigned them for continuity's sake. They're elite for relief pitchers, but relief pitchers are kind of the kickers of the Fantasy Baseball world. That's not the most perfect comparison since, unlike at kicker, you could get shut out at the relief pitcher if you ignore it for too long, but you get the idea: Both have a high level of elasticity, meaning the final rankings are especially difficult to predict, and neither is as influential as most every other position.
Understand I'm talking exclusively about closers here. Yes, I know some starting pitchers -- namely, Alex Wood, Carlos Carrasco and Drew Pomeranz -- are also eligible at relief pitcher and that, in certain formats, it gives them a ceiling higher than what any closer can do. But standard Rotisserie leagues don't even differentiate between starting pitcher and relief pitcher, so if you play in that format, the only reason you'd even bother to read about relief pitchers is to know where to find the saves. The starting pitcher tiers will give you an idea where to draft Wood, Carrasco and Pomeranz if you really want them. For the sake of tiering, it helps to keep the comparisons as apples-to-apples as possible.
Most likely, you'll have to pay more than you should for one of The Elite. Knowing how quickly the high-end infielders dwindle, I'm more focused on drafting them or picking up stragglers at outfield or starting pitcher than securing saves in the fifth or sixth round. Besides, The Near-Elite, with the strikeout potential they showed last year, are perhaps just as good.
Of course, that's not to say I'm enamored with that tier either. It's where the uncertainties begin at the position. Sure, after the way he performed in middle relief last year, striking out 135 batters with a 1.40 ERA and 0.78 WHIP, Betances would be a lights-out closer for the Yankees, but that's only if they make him the closer. They may go with Miller instead, or they may go with neither on a full-time basis. In either of those scenarios, you'll wish you had your seventh- or eight-round pick back.
Where I'm most likely to draft my closers -- or at least my top two closers in a format where I'm inclined to take three -- is The Next-Best Things and The Fallback Options. They offer the best combination of ability, job security and affordability. The Next-Best Things are of course a little better and safer than The Fallback Options, but too often, I see them go off the board right after Betances and Robertson are taken, when too many quality hitters and starting pitchers are still available.
It's not worth passing up those other positions. The Fallback Options are safe enough. Even someone like Papelbon, who the Phillies couldn't be more motivated to trade, still seems like a good bet for a high saves total. If they ever do find a taker for him, it'll be one that needs a closer.
I'm not even opposed to forming a closing tandem from The Last Resorts, though if you wait to take your first closer there, you can't expect to get three. Rodriguez, Feliz, Casilla, Rondon and Reed have their flaws, but they're all good enough to keep their jobs. Frankly, I'd bet on it. And if McGee, Gregerson and Cecil had exclusive claim to the role, they'd be at least a tier higher -- more than that for McGee.
But of course, not all 30 closer gigs are finalized yet, and because of that, I've dubbed the final tier at this position On the Horizon instead of The Leftovers. These relievers all have a more than decent chance of earning saves at some point this season, with some -- Clippard, League and one of the Rays' trio of Jepsen, Boxberger and Balfour -- expected to earn them from the get-go because of an injury to the top guy. My favorite sleepers for saves are Miller, Giles, Neshek and Soria, but all from this tier have sleeper potential.