Fantasy Baseball 2014 Relief Pitcher Preview

by Joe Bond
Position Previews C 1B 2B 3B SS OF SP RP

craig_kimbrelRelief pitchers in standard leagues, you are worried about one category, saves. A few added strikeouts to your total and a low ERA and WHIP are a bonus, but if that player is not getting you consistent saves, you generally don't want him. Craig Kimbrel has been the top of the class for a few years now, thanks to saving 40+ games three years straight, but gets a nice boost from having a good K/9 and low ERA and WHIP. Yes having Kimbrel is a nice security blanket for closers, but I urge you to wait to find your closer in the draft. There is no guarantee that because you took the 3rd closer off the board that he is a lock to have a good season. To prove this let me give you a list of the first few closers drafted last year: Craig Kimbrel, Ardolis Chapman, Sergio Romo, Jason Motte, Jonathan Papelbon and Fernando Rodney. Yes, Kimbrel and Chapman, even Papelbon had good seasons. However, Romo started out great, but fizzled down the stretch. Motte never pitched and Rodney was a mess all season despite saving 37 games. Now that might not be the best way to prove that you should wait, but let me give you a list of the last closers drafted last season. Bobby Parnell, Steve Cishek, Glen Perkins, Jason Grilli, Casey Janssen and Ernesto Frieri. This doesn't even include the players you could have picked up throughout the season like Koji Uehara, Edward Mujica or Joaquin Benoit who replaced injured or ineffective closers on their teams. Point is, you can take closers late in the draft and do just fine in that category and if you play your cards right still win the saves category. I'd much rather take a bat or starting pitcher I can rely on a bit more, than a closer who might lose his job if he blows two saves.

1. What do we expect from Neftali Feliz this year coming off of Tommy John surgery?
In 2010 and 2011, Feliz was one of the more dominant closers in the game. However in 2012 the Rangers wanted him to be a starter and signed Joe Nathan to close. That same year he wound up having Tommy John in August ending his season and just about ruined 2013 for him as well, he made a few appearances at the end of the season. Now he is back and pitching very well in the Dominican Winter League according to sources. The 9th inning should be his, as long as he can get through spring training. If is indeed 100% healthy, I see no reason why we can't expect the dominant closer we saw in 2010-2011 where he had 72 saves, a 2.73 ERA, a .94 WHIP and a K/9 rate around 8.5.

2. Can we safely assume that David Robertson is going to be the closer for the Yankees in 2014?
I would say yes we can assume he is the closer, at least to start the year. This seems so strange to even be talking about a new closer for the Yankees. Mariano Rivera has held that job down for so long it almost doesn't feel right discussing anybody else having that job. But, we all have to move on and right now Robertson seems to be the guy. He has the stuff to get the job done, but we've all seen guys with 'the stuff' not be able to hack it. What I like about him is he has progressively walked less guys each year and has become a better ground ball pitcher throughout his career. That will do him a lot of good in Yankee Stadium, where balls can fly out of the park.

3. Jim Johnson had an up and down season in 2013, but still saved over 50 games. What will he do in Oakland this season?
I had my doubts about Johnson going into last season, and I think I was half right. His low strikeout rate, which he actually improved from 2012, I think ultimately hurt him to the tune of nine blown saves. Despite leading the majors in blown saves, and driving Oriole fans crazy (I'm one of them), he still saved 50 games. That now makes two straight years of 50+ saves, which is a remarkable number. Now he moves to Oakland, and I'm even more down on him, than I was last year. Two reasons: One, Oakland does not have nearly as good of a defense as Baltimore does, which got Johnson out of quite a few jams. Two, because he won't get saved by his defense quite as much he will struggle to close out games, and he won't have as long of a leash as he did in Baltimore where Mr. Loyal Buck Showalter would keep handing the ball to Johnson despite his many struggles.

Player(s) on the Rise
Trevor Rosenthal (STL) - Rosenthal took over the closer role during the last week of the 2013 season from Edward Mujica, and never looked back. He closed during the playoffs, and pitched almost flawlessly, finishing with a 0.00 ERA and a 0.60 WHIP. Last year Mujica came out of nowhere to be one of the better closers in fantasy baseball with 37 saves. Rosenthal is a better pitcher, so there is no reason to doubt that he could be a top 5 closer this season.

David Robertson (NYY) - See question above.

Player(s) on the Decline
Koji Uehara (BOS) - Uehara entered last year as the 10th closer option for the Red Sox. OK, not really the 10th, but they did go through Joel Hanrahan, Junichi Tazawa and two stints of Andrew Bailey before finally landing on Uehara. He had a great season, a career best actually, but it was almost too good. I think he will have a good season, but you have to expect some regression from a 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and 12.23 K/9.

Greg Holland
 (KC) - Finishing as the #2 closer according to ESPN last year was a huge increase from his ADP last season. A huge reason he did so well last year was the Royals played in the most 1-run games and won 31 of them last year. That is a hard thing to expect to have happen again, so I think his total of 47 saves will decrease to somewhere around 35. Still good, but not nearly as good as last season.

Player(s) on the Horizon
Brad Ziegler (ARI) - I'm not 100% sold that Addison Reed is the solution for the closer role. He posted a 3.79 ERA and 1.11 WHIP for the White Sox last season. Yes, he saved 40 games but blew 8 more. Second only to Jim Johnson who I also think could lose his job this season. Sense a trend?

Player(s) to Avoid
LaTroy Hawkins  (COL) - Hawkins enters the season as the Rockies closer, after finishing last season strong as the Mets closer. However a career 4.37 ERA combined with him playing in Colorado makes me believe that he won't be able to keep the job all season.

Fernando Rodney (SEA) - An amazing 2012 as the Rays closer where he saved 48 games with a 0.60 ERA and 0.78 WHIP, made him one of the first closers drafted last season. However last year he had a fairly miserable year, still closing 37 games but finished with a 3.38 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. This year he gets to close for Seattle, but I don't think he'll get as big of a leash this year with Danny Farquhar sitting behind him, and eventually Farquhar takes over.

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