2019 Preseason Rankings: Top 10 Relief Pitchers: Have The Mighty Fallen & More


by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

As we’ve said with our other early rankings, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • We are still extremely early in the process so player movement, among other factors, will have an impact on these rankings as we get closer to the start of the season
  • Just because a player his ranked #3 doesn’t mean you should draft him in that spot. In most cases you shouldn’t have to, it just shows the potential value they hold
  • These rankings are based on our projections and expected production for 2019

We all know how frustrating it can be to invest in a closer, because they tend to be “fickle” from year-to-year.  Obviously there are some who have emerged as elite, but can they sustain it?  Is last year’s success story a lock to replicate it in 2019?  Let’s try to answer those questions as we take our first look at the best options for the coming year:

1. Edwin Diaz – New York Mets
2. Craig Kimbrel – Free Agent
3. Blake Treinen – Oakland A’s
4. Felipe Vazquez – Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Kenley Jansen – Los Angeles Dodgers
6. Roberto Osuna – Houston Astros
7. Brad Hand – Cleveland Indians
8. Aroldis Chapman – New York Yankees
9. Wade Davis – Colorado Rockies
10. Sean Doolittle – Washington Nationals


  • Being an elite closer for a long time is never easy, and we saw signs of both Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman taking a step back last season.  Is that to say that they aren’t among the better options of the league?  Of course not, but we also have to start looking at them a little bit differently.  We’ll take a closer look at each of them as the offseason progresses and explain why both appear to have fallen outside of the top tier.
  • Obviously it was a rough season for Roberto Osuna, and it wasn’t just the ugly suspension as his strikeout rate was also down (7.58 K/9).  That said it’s easy to see a rebound in that regard (14.7% SwStr%, 42.5% O-Swing%) and when coupled with elite control it should return him to being among the better options when on the field.
  • The question facing Sean Doolittle isn’t his talent, it’s his ability to actually stay on the field.  He hasn’t thrown more than 51.1 innings since 2014 and that obviously is going to significantly drag down his ranking.  If he could throw 65 innings or more, he’d be a Top 5 option.
  • Don’t make the mistake of paying for the elite season Blake Treinen posted last season, but that also doesn’t mean that he hasn’t emerged as one of the better relievers in the game today.  The key may have been the incorporation of a cut-fastball, which allowed him to thrive in all three skills we look for (11.20 K/9, 2.35 BB/9, 51.9% groundball rate).  While he’s not going to pitch to a 0.78 ERA again, the skills scream of a successful closer regardless.
  • Both Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Leclerc have the potential to emerge as options for the bottom of this list, but there are questions (for Dominguez it’s whether or not he’ll actually close and for Leclerc it’s if his control will be there).  Both have the potential to truly emerge, though, and should be on all radars.

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    • May has potential and the Twins’ bullpen is definitely wide open at the moment. For now, though, I’d like to take a wait and see approach as it wouldn’t be shocking to see them add an experienced bullpen arm at some point during the offseason.

    • He was right there for the final spot, but his luck metrics (.233 BABIP, 91.6% strand rate) and the risk of regression there kept him from getting the spot. He’s a borderline CL1, but he could have a few bumps along the way


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