Drafting closers is the ultimate guessing game in fantasy baseball. Sure, there are some (seemingly) dependable studs, like Aroldis Chapman, but every relief pitcher is just two or three bad appearances away from being on the hot seat. Throw in the injury factor and the unpredictable regression/improvement that can result from allowing just a few more or less homers than the previous year, and you have a position that’s difficult to rank, never mind separate into tiers or devise a draft strategy for.
Heading into 2020, the closer positions appears to be settled for the vast majority of teams. We know that won’t last, as roughly two-thirds of teams change their closer, at least temporarily, at some point every season, but there are just a few teams that have legit open competitions for the ninth-inning job. Again, that could change before opening day because of injuries or bad springs, but even if it doesn’t, it’s important to remember that even some of the “secure” closers are anything but.
2020 Fantasy Baseball Rankings:
Catcher | First | Second | Third | Short | Outfield | Starter | Reliever | Top 300
Unless you’re punting saves (not a recommended strategy), you’ll probably want to leave your draft with three closers. That’s not possible for everyone in a 12-team league (or even a 10-team league, if we’re being honest), but it’s ideal. That often leads to overdrafting RPs, which is a mistake, but that tends to be how things work out. If you have just two closers when your draft ends, you can live with that. Plenty more will pop up on the waiver wire once the season begins, so be vigilant. If you’re in a weekly league, all you need is two closers. If you want a “backup” in case one gets hurt or loses his job, just draft his handcuff.
If you’re going all-in on closers and want to get four to really give yourself an advantage, you’re going to have to sacrifice some offense or starting pitching. That’s fine, but at least three of your closers need to be high-K guys to make up for the strikeouts you’re potentially not getting from a starter. Most closers are solid in strikeouts, but obviously some are better than others, and you need to prioritize them.
The first closer in your draft will likely come off the board in the fifth or sixth round. There will be runs from that point on, so just be cognizant of when they start. You don’t necessarily need a Tier-1 closer, but you’ll want at least one who has a little bit of job security on opening day. That might mean you take closers in the ninth and 10th rounds, or maybe the eighth and 12th. You could also wait until the 12th and 13th. It really depends on how your draft is going. Some leagues see the closer runs start early, so read the room. And if everyone else is drastically overdrafting closers, clean up the hitter/starting pitcher values, grab some later-round RP sleepers, and work the wire once the season starts.
Who are the best fantasy baseball RPs?
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The pitchers in Tier 1, with the possible exception of Roberto Osuna, are all elite strikeout producers who should be firmly entrenched in their roles to open the season. A few of them have warts — Chapman walks too many batters, Hader gives up too many homers — but these are stud pitchers who will rack up saves and help your ERA and WHIP.
These guys will go anywhere from the fifth-eighth rounds. Jumping in early for one of them is risky (remember Blake Treinen and Edwin Diaz last year?), but it can pay off if you choose the right one.
Kirby Yates, Padres
Josh Hader, Brewers
Roberto Osuna, Astros
Brad Hand, Indians
Aroldis Chapman, Yankees
Liam Hendriks, A’s
2020 Fantasy Baseball Tiers: Tier-2 RPs
There isn’t much difference between most of the Tier-2 guys and the guys in Tier 1, but overall, they’re just a bit more volatile. That’s especially true for Diaz and Craig Kimbrel, which is why they’re in Tier 2B. They were downright bad last year. We’re giving both the benefit of the doubt that they can figure out their HR issues and regain their All-Star forms. At the very least, they’ll strike out a lot of batters. The same goes for Brandon Workman, who was dominant last year despite a 5.7 BB/9 ratio. His K-rate skyrocketed and his HR-rate plummeted, so we’re a little skeptical that he’s for real, but if he has a similar season, he could produce like a Tier-1 closer. It helps that Alex Cora is gone as manager, too, as the Red Sox will be less likely to play matchups with their relievers.
The pitchers in Tier 2A are a little more reliable, though Kenley Jansen has regressed the past two years, and Raisel Iglesias has a home run problem (and issues with his manager, which is never good for job security). The Twins had a tendency to play matchups in the late innings last year, which could hurt Rogers’ save totals, and Giles has been up and down the past four seasons, so he could be due for a bad one. There is a lot of upside with all four of these pitchers, but the worst versions of themselves could hurt your team.
If your first closer is from this tier, that’s fine, but if it’s a Tier 2B guy, you might want to get another “secure” closer shortly after (Alex Colome? Ian Kennedy? Archie Bradley?). If you took a Tier-1 closer, you also have more wiggle room to gamble on comeback years from Diaz or Kimbrel.
Taylor Rogers, Twins
Ken Giles, Blue Jays
Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
Raisel Iglesias, Reds
Edwin Diaz, Mets
Craig Kimbrel, Cubs
Brandon Workman, Red Sox
2020 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers:
Catcher | First | Second | Third | Short | Outfielder | Starter | Each team
2020 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Tier-3 RPs
Tier 3 is the most likely tier to feature a surprise breakout closer. Most of the pitchers in this tier have high K-rates, with Nick Anderson a threat to lead the league in K/9 ratio (15.2 last year). Jose Leclerc also had a K/9 over 13 last year, the second straight season he’s accomplished that feat.
The sub-tiers here represent job security. Those in Tier 3B have it (as much as any third-tier closer can have job security in March), while those in Tier 3A don’t. Both Giovanny Gallegos and Anderson are considered the favorites for saves in their respective bullpens, but the Rays never settled on a permanent closer last year — and it worked — so why would they this year? The Cardinals mixed and matched a bit, too, and there’s always the worry that Carlos Martinez won’t stick in the rotation and returns to the closer’s role.
If we knew Gallegos and Anderson had some job security, they’d definitely be in Tier 2, so obviously there’s a lot of potential value here. The same goes for Leclerc, Keone Kela, and even Hector Neris, who all have great stuff but also worries in the form of walks or homers. Sean Doolittle is coming off a down year, but he’s another guy with big upside if he can regain his form.
You’re not going to be excited about drafting someone like Colome or Kennedy, but they are pretty reliable bets for saves. That has value.
Ideally, you’d get one closer from this tier in the middle or late-middle rounds. They provide a lot of bang for your buck if they pay off, and if they flop, the opportunity cost isn’t nearly as high as for the guys in Tier 1 or Tier 2.
Giovanny Gallegos, Cardinals
Nick Anderson, Rays
Archie Bradley, D-backs
Jose LeClerc, Rangers
Hector Neris, Phillies
Keone Kela, Pirates
Alex Colome, White Sox
Sean Doolittle, Nationals
Ian Kennedy, Royals
2020 Fantasy Baseball Tiers, Draft Strategy:
Catcher | First | Second | Third | Short | Outfield | Starter
Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Tier-4 RPs
Tier-4 features closers who should have the ninth-inning role to themselves on opening day, but they could hurt more than help even as they’re picking up saves. To be fair, we thought that about Shane Greene last year, and he was dynamite most of the season, especially in the first half, so anything is possible, but none of these pitchers inspire much confidence.
Mark Melancon is the “safest” of the group and should arguably be in the tier above. The reason we put him down here is because the Braves have a bunch of capable, if not better, pitchers who can handle the ninth inning, including Will Smith, Luke Jackson, and the aforementioned Greene. We just have a tough time imagining Melancon sticking in the closer’s role, and with mediocre peripherals, we’re not sure how much long-term value he really has. Still, if you can get him in the late rounds, you won’t be sacrificing much, and if you back him up with Smith, you can get as much value as possible from this situation.
In fact, if you draft any of these pitchers, it’s not a bad idea to grab their handcuffs, which would probably be Smith (Braves), Drew Steckenrider (Marlins), Buck Farmer (Tigers), Scott Oberg (Rockies), and Hunter Harvey (Orioles).
Mark Melancon, Braves
Brandon Kintzler, Marlins
Joe Jimenez, Tigers
Wade Davis, Rockies
Mychal Givens, Orioles
Fantasy Baseball Tiers: Tier-5 RPs
Ideally, you wouldn’t mess with the pitchers in Tier 5, but somebody will take them, at least the guys in Tier 5A. Matt Magill and Tony Watson are slight favorites to open the season as their team’s respective closers, and while neither inspires much confidence, there’s a chance they could take the jobs and run with them. Magill ended last year as Seattle closer, and Watson has some closing experience from his time in Pittsburgh.
The pitchers in Tier 5B are the handcuffs/primary competition for saves we mentioned earlier. You don’t need to draft these guys outside of the deepest leagues, but a few of them can have standalone value, namely Smith and Sam Tuivailala. Harvey is also an intriguing flier after he converted to a reliever last year in the minors and struck out 33 batters in 23 innings between Triple-A and the majors.
Matt Magill, Mariners
Tony Watson, Giants
Will Smith, Braves
Scott Oberg, Rockies
Hunter Harvey, Orioles
Trevor Gott, Giants
Sam Tuivailala, Mariners
Yoshihisa Hirano, Mariners
Tyler Rogers, Giants
Buck Farmer, Tigers
Drew Steckenrider, Marlins
Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers: Tier-6 RPs
Our Tier-6 pitchers are middle relievers who generally provide a lot of Ks and good peripherals. These guys can have bigger overall impacts than lower-tier closers, especially if they can luck into some wins, but it’s tough to roster them in shallow leagues, especially weekly leagues (and even tougher to roster them in Quality Start leagues). It wouldn’t be a shock to see some of them getting closing opportunities, especially if there are injuries, but it’s tough to predict that in the spring. Still, drafting one in the last couple rounds can help balance out your pitching staff, especially if it’s a primary setup man who’s one injury away from racking up saves.
If you’re really looking to maximize Ks, then Matt Barnes (15.4 K/9 ratio last year), Josh James (14.8), Tanner Rainey (13.9), Luke Jackson (13.1), Tommy Kahnle (12.9), Tyler Duffey (12.8), Freddy Peralta (12.6), Emilio Pagan (12.3), and Chad Green (12.0) are your guys. Darwinzon Hernandez (16.5 in 30.1 innings) and Drew Pomeranz (15.7 in 28.2 innings) also impressed last year.
Emilio Pagan, Padres
Drew Pomeranz, Padres
Ryan Pressly, Astros
Seth Lugo, Mets
Matt Barnes, Red Sox
Tyler Duffey, Twins
Luke Jackson, Braves
James Karinchak, Indians
Josh James, Astros
Chad Green, Yankees
Shane Greene, Braves
Ryan Helsley, Cardinals
Diego Castillo, Rays
Tommy Kahnle, Yankees
Blake Treinen, Dodgers
Freddy Peralta, Brewers
Ty Buttrey, Angels
Will Harris, Nationals
Jose Alvarado, Rays
Andres Munoz, Padres
Darwinzon Hernandez, Red Sox
Tanner Rainey, Nationals
Adam Ottavino, Yankees
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