Top 10 Relief Pitchers for 2018

Top 10 Relief Pitchers for 2018

This is the last entry in my eight part position preview for the 2018 fantasy baseball season.

Relief pitcher is the most difficult position to forecast, because (in my opinion) it is subject to the most volatility throughout the course of a 162 game season. There are only a handful of relief pitchers we can confidently project will have save opportunities throughout the entire season (barring injury). As a result, those players often go much earlier than others at the position.

I think you need at least two, but maybe three reliable sources of saves for your RP eligible slots to succeed. Otherwise, you’ll need some RP slot eligible starting pitchers who will help you run away with some of the pitching categories this year. Both are extremely difficult to find.

Despite all that, here are who I see as the top ten relief pitchers for the upcoming year in standard roto and points leagues:

Rank Rotisserie Points
10 Raisel Iglesias (Reds) Cody Allen (Indians)
9 Felipe Rivero (Pirates) Felipe Rivero (Pirates)
8 Corey Knebel (Brewers) Corey Knebel (Brewers)
7 Roberto Osuna (Blue Jays) Sean Doolittle (Nationals)
6 Sean Doolittle (Nationals) Edwin Diaz (Mariners)
5 Kenley Jansen (Dodgers) Roberto Osuna (Blue Jays)
4 Edwin Diaz (Mariners) Kenley Jansen (Dodgers)
3 Craig Kimbrel (Red Sox) Craig Kimbrel (Red Sox)
2 Ken Giles (Astros) Ken Giles (Astros)
1 Aroldis Chapman (Yankees) Aroldis Chapman (Yankees)

 

Raisel Iglesias notched 28 saves in his first full season as the Reds closer in 2017. He also struck out batters at an elite pace with 10.89 strikeouts per nine innings (or K/9), and posted a 2.49 ERA. Fangraphs’ Depth Charts projections see Iglesias posting similar numbers in 2018. He should be a really solid pick in standard 5×5 rotisserie leagues at his 9th round ADP.

Cody Allen finished 2017 with a 2.94 ERA, a 12.3 K/9, and 30 saves for the two time AL Central defending champions. He’s notched 30+ saves for the last three seasons. I think you can pencil him in for a fourth year in a row if he stays healthy. Allen’s ERA should pull back a bit (the model sees him at a 3.69 ERA for the year), but his 30+ save total and elite strikeout ability puts him at a great value at his 9th round ADP. Allen and Iglesias are interchangeably number 10 and number 11 at the position in both standard 5×5 roto and points leagues, both are worth considering.

The Pittsburgh Pirates should be thanking the Miami Marlins, because their fire sale flew somewhat under the radar thanks to all the transactions Derek Jeter’s ownership group completed in south Florida. Felipe Rivero is expected to close out games for what may be a significantly worse team without Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole on the roster. Rivero finished 2017 with a 1.67 ERA in 75 innings, but only earned 21 saves. His ceiling for saves will be limited by the quality of his team, but he still should be considered for 30+ save upside. Rivero’s late 8th-round ADP might be too high for his wide range of outcomes, however.

The Milwaukee Brewers were the most active team during an exhaustingly boring offseason, adding Lorenzo Cain to their outfield via free agency and Christian Yelich via trade. They should be staunch competition for the Chicago Cubs for the NL Central crown if their offense holds up. On the back end of games, they are counting on Corey Knebel to be the same elite closer he was in 2017, where he had a 1.78 ERA, 39 saves and an astonishing 14.92 K/9. I don’t expect him to hit that ceiling, but even at a modest 3.13 ERA (which the model sees him finishing with), he still projects for 30 saves and elite strikeout ability. Adding Knebel comes at somewhat of a premium right now, as he has a 6th round ADP. While he may be a solid addition, there are better bargains to be had in the top ten I’m personally targeting.

Even though the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays only won 76 games, Roberto Osuna still managed to earn 39 saves. The 23 year old reliever has a strong grip on his role and has demonstrated an ability to get the job done despite less opportunity to earn saves than his counterparts on better teams. At his mid 7th round ADP, Osuna should be a strong closer to own in 2018 that you can grab without as much of an opportunity cost as the higher end guys.

Sean Doolittle’s role should be considered extremely fragile with the likes of Koda Glover, Brandon Kintzler, and Ryan Madson all behind him in an elite bullpen unit for the Washington Nationals. Spring Training is going to tell us a lot about what the Nationals plan to do with their closer role. Doolittle owns the role for now, and he had an elite 2017 in Washington, where he posted a 2.40 ERA, 21 saves and a 9.3 K/9 after being traded there from Oakland. His 12th round ADP feels appropriate given both his ceiling and the floor surrounding the uncertainty of his role.

Edwin Diaz had a strong year in his first full season as the Mariners closer, earning 34 saves in 2017. The 24 year old closer is one of the better strikeout pitchers available with his elite 13.54 career K/9. The models expect the 2018 version of Diaz to be very close to his 2017 version, which is enough to justify his top tier ranking. He’s my favorite closer available outside of the big four, and he comes at a significant discount with just a mid 8th round ADP right now.

Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel, Ken Giles and Aroldis Chapman are my elite top four closers available for the 2018 season. Giles comes at the biggest discount, as he enters the 2018 mock draft season with a 9th round ADP because he lost his role in the 2017 postseason. Giles might be worth building around though for a.) his 35+ save upside and b.) his membership on the defending World Series champions, who are expected to be a force once again this year.

Jansen and Kimbrel are currently being drafted at a premium, both with 4th round ADP’s. The Dodgers and the Red Sox should compete once again for division titles in 2018, and I can’t really argue against anyone who wants to add two of the most consistent closers in the game. Be mindful of your format, however, because at that high of a round, a player at another position might be more valuable to you.

Aroldis Chapman absolutely abuses his opponents with his consistent 100+ MPH velocity, and he’s abusing mock draft boards at his 6th round ADP. The best closer in baseball (at the time of publication) has a lower ADP than the 8th best closer in both formats. Insane! The concern with Chapman is merely whether or not he can avoid an extended stay on the disabled list, which hurt fantasy players who selected him last summer. Chapman’s age 30 season should offer 35+ save upside now that the Yankees are considered a real threat for 95+ wins.

Be aware: this is the position that will probably offer the most waiver wire opportunity throughout the year, as the closer role often churns more often than any other on MLB teams. Not landing a top ten player isn’t a death knell for your squad, but it does mean you need to consume news and pay attention to the waiver wire much more than your opponents who do grab these players.