The relief pitcher position in most Fantasy Baseball leagues is all about one category, the save. Yes, you would like some strikeouts and a guy who does not allow three batters to reach base before he gets the final out, but you will take it as long as he gets you the all important save. You realize that since he only pitches one inning a game, his other stats won't affect you too much.
However, ideally you want a pitcher who gives you good stats across the board. A lot of saves, a good K/9 rate and a low BB/9 rate. They are hard to find, but they are out there. This position can also be used to help boost your strike-outs and lower your whip, especially in H2H leagues. What this means is you own pitchers who are middle relief or set-up guys, that might not get the save, but will help pad your other stats. In some cases, and I will get into those, they will wind up being the closer, and that is just an extra bonus for you.
1. What eighth inning guys should you target?
This is an important question. In most leagues, the eighth innings guys will not get drafted, but should be guys that you keep an eye on. I would even roster one or two of these guys if you are hurting for saves, especially from those teams with not lock-down closers, because at any moment they could be come the guy.
These are the perfect pitchers to target if you want to go with the strategy of boosting your strikeouts while lowering your WHIP, as mentioned in the opening. They are also great targets for holds, for those of you in holds or even saves+holds leagues. So who are some of the players to target? I'll list my top five.
Kevin Quackenbush (SD) - A career 2.48 ERA pitcher with a 9.28 K/9 rate and 1.10 WHIP. The holds might not be there because the Padres don't win a lot of games, but he is a great pitcher to have to boost your Ks and WHIP. He also has Joaquin Benoit in front of him, who had a great 2014, but holds a career 3.95 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP.
Pat Neshek (HOU) - Neshek has one of the more strange deliveries I have ever seen, but it is very effective. Last season he dominated with a 1.87 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 9.09 K/9 and 1.20 BB/9. He even recorded six saves behind Trevor Roshenthal, so you know he can get the job done if and when the Astros closing situation implodes with Luke Gregerson and Chad Qualls.
Danny Farquhar (SEA) - Fernando Rodney, who at first glance with 48 saves, had a great season. When you dig deeper though he has really been playing with fire the last two seasons, with a 1.34 WHIP. Actually if you remove his 2012 season when he had a 0.78 WHIP, he has a career 1.43 WHIP. Farquhar was thought to have this job last year, but a rather surprising signing by Seattle to get Rodney derailed that. Seattle is making more and more moves to win now, so if Rodney hits a rough patch Farquhar could move in.
Wade Davis (KC) - It would take an injury to Greg Holland for Davis to move into the closer role, but Davis is one of the elite set-up men in the league. For those of you in leagues that count holds, he is a must own player with 33 holds last year, a 1.00 ERA, 13.63 K/9 and a 0.85 WHIP.
Casey Janssen (WAS) - Janssen struggled last season, but he still had 25 saves and in the three years before that had a below 3.00 ERA. Not an elite strikout guy, only 6.72 career K/9, but he is legit and will be on a Nationals team that should give him plenty of hold opportunities. The other reason I like him, is that that Nationals are going with Drew Storen as their closer. He had a fantastic 2014, eventually taking the role from Rafael Soriano, but he has very limited experience in the role and the Nats are thinking World Series this year. If Storen falters at all, Janssen could very well be the guy since he has the most closer experience in that bullpen.
2. How do you handle the closers who start the season injured?
There are a few closers that will start the season on the injury list; Sean Doolittle, Bobby Parnell, Jake McGee and possibly Glen Perkins are the guys on the list now, and sadly we will likely see more throughout spring training.
I'm in the camp that unless you have an IR spot, you do not draft any of these guys, no matter how good they are, and honestly none of these guys are super-elite closers. Simply said, the closer position is so volatile that you will find somebody to replace what these guys could have given you if they were healthy. In some cases if the closer who fills in for them while they are injured is on a roll, the team will not remove them from the role. Instead when the injured pitcher returns they are put in a setup role. I honestly could see that situation happening for all three of these teams, since they have capable pitchers behind them on the depth chart.
3. What bullpens/closer situations do you want to avoid, all together, if you can?
I realize it is next to impossible to avoid all the bad situations during your draft. Unless you take Craig Kimbrel, Ardolis Chapman and Greg Holland, you will likely have to draft some of these more risky closers late in the draft. What this question is focusing on more is just teams to avoid, meaning I don't particularly like the opening day closer or the guy behind him.
Detroit Tigers - Joe Nathan struggled mightily last season, and Joakim Soria has not done all that great either. Nathan will likely get drafted relatively high, based on name alone, but let him go and pick up much better closers later.
Chicago Cubs - The Cubs closer situation has been a disaster the last two seasons. Hector Rondon did wind up having a pretty good season last year, but he was a complete mess his rookie season and honestly wasn't elite in the minors either. His immediate backup, Pedro Strop, has shown at times in his career he can be dominant, but he lacks the control, career 4.53 BB/9, needed to be a good closer.
Arizona Diamondbacks - I guess this is Addison Reeds job, considering he got 32 saves last year. However, I just don't like a closer who has a 4.25 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. I don't really like his backups either with Brad Ziegler and Oliver Perez as the main options. Ziegler has been plain bad the last two seasons and Perez has no experience closing.
Toronto Blue Jays - Its a three-headed monster in my opinion right now for the closer spot in Toronto. Right now it looks like Brett Cecil is the guy, but Aaron Sanchez and Aaron Loup could easily take it over if Cecil struggles. This is one of those situations where nobody has a long leash and it could swap multiple times.
Player(s) on the Rise
Delin Betances (NYY) - The new Yankees guy, with the departure of David Robertson, and as we saw last year he is dominant. His first full season in the majors was great posting a 1.40 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and a ridiculous 13.50 K/9. I know he doesn't have really any experience closing, just one career save, but those are stats that look like he could be an elite guy.
Player(s) on the Decline
Koji Uehara (BOS) - Uehara had a great 2013 and first-half of 2014, but then things started to unravel for him in the second-half of 2014 with a 4.35 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. His FIP says he was a little unlucky as that sat a 3.86 in the second-half of 2014, but I'm worried that his age, 39, is finally catching up to him and the switch to Junichi Tazawa, 28 years old, could happen this season.
Player(s) on the Horizon
Bruce Rendon (DET) - I know I just said I didn't like the Tigers bullpen, but I wasn't including Rondon in the conversation because he is unlikely to be ready for opening day. He had Tommy John surgery before last season and missed all of 2014. The fact that both Nathan and Soria have struggled, Rendon could be a mid-season add that makes a big difference for a team.
Before 2013 Rondon was a highly touted prospect. A mediocre rookie campaign, cut short due to the injury that lead to TJ surgery, and the year missed has made him a forgotten man. Just remember this is the same guy who has a career 2.39 ERA and 253 strikeouts in 225.2 in the minors. If/When Nathan and Soria struggle, Rondon is one to keep a serious eye on.
Player(s) to Avoid
LaTroy Hawkins (COL) - I took Hawkins as the last closer off the board in one of my drafts last year, thinking he'd get me a few saves for a month and then I'd have to switch him out, when he eventually lost the job to Rex Brothers. This never happened as Hawkins, 42 years old, beat all the odds and was a capable closer last year. Yes he only saved 23 games, but that was not his fault, the Rockies were awful.
Fact of the matter is he is 42, and his ERA, WHIP are not even close to elite or really that good, and his K/9 rate is not very helpful either 5.98. His HR/FB rate was a surprising low, 5.4%, since he pitches in Colorado. I expect that go to up to more of his norm, over 10% and that will make him lose the job pretty early in favor of Adam Ottavino or Rex Brothers.