Top 15 Relief Pitchers (2019): Could It Be Worth Reaching For One Of The Elite?

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We all know that relief pitchers are generally volatile, partly due to the short sample sizes helping to skew the numbers. Being able to find someone who can produce year in and year out is never easy, and they generally come at a cost (and given the risk involved, there are many who don’t like paying the “closer premium”.

Before we get to the options, here are a few things to remember as you review the rankings (and if you want to see even deeper rankings, make sure to order our 2019 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide that includes a Top 50, by clicking here):

  • A player being 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 that he holds.
  • These rankings are based on our projections and expected production for 2019.

Who are the names we should trust?  Who should be ignored? Let’s dive in and take a look:

  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. Kirby Yates – San Diego Padres
  10. Wade Davis – Colorado Rockies
  11. Sean Doolittle – Washington Nationals
  12. Raisel Iglesias – Cincinnati Reds
  13. Corey Knebel – Milwaukee Brewers
  14. Will Smith – San Francisco Giants
  15. Jose Leclerc – Texas Rangers

Thoughts:

  • Will Blake Treinen replicate his 2018 success?  Of course not, but that also doesn’t mean that he’s going to crumble either.  He showed all three skills we look for with an 11.20 K/9, 2.35 BB/9 and 51.9% groundball rate, an elite skillset that should continue to bring elite results.
  • Roberto Osuna missed time with a suspension and saw his strikeout rate plummet (7.58 K/9 in ’18 compared to a 9.96 career mark).  He still showed the skills to produce an elite mark, with a 14.7% SwStr% and 42.5% O-Swing%, and should be able to rebound strong.
  • Both Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman have been among the elite closers for a long time, but are they still the same pitchers they once were?  They are finally starting to show cracks, and while they are going to be among the better options they can’t be viewed among the truly elite entering 2019.
  • What will Corey Knebel’s role be in 2019?  After losing the closer’s role last season he returned in September to throw 16.1 shutout innings with 33 K vs. 3 BB.  Obviously he may not stand alone in the role, with Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress joining him.  We all know the team likes to use Hader in a versatile role and you can argue the same thing about Jeffress, who has proven he can be utilized in a similar way.  Knebel has the highest upside in terms of saves, and with his strikeout stuff he can’t be ignored.
  • Playing off of that thought, there have been rumors of Raisel Iglesias being utilized in a Hader-esque way in recent days.  That’s not a given, and for now we are going to keep him ranked like he’s going to be “the man”.  That said it’s also a risk that can’t go ignored and if more information comes out his ranking could slip.
  • Could the Giants and Rangers move Will Smith and Jose Leclerc?  It can’t be overlooked, and especially Smith has been the centerpiece of numerous rumors.  Of course if they are flirting with Bryce Harper are they really going to then flip their proven closer?  That’s a strategy that just doesn’t make sense but time will tell.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

3 COMMENTS

  1. RP;

    Thanks for the great content!

    Just wondering what you think of Trevor May, should he be officially given the closing job before the end of Spring Training?

    • personally I think May is going to be a top-15 option if he’s given the closer role outright. I think, though, that they Twins may want to give Blake Parker the role in hopes of trading him for pitching at the deadline. I hope I’m wrong, though, as I’ve invested in May everywhere.

      • C:

        I suspect you’ve made a smart move…. he’s got 3+ pitches …he’s going for the price of a quality MR, but could be a closer or SP.

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