Fantasy Baseball 2014: Ranking the Top 45 Relief Pitchers

Jason CataniaMLB Lead WriterMarch 4, 2014

Fantasy Baseball 2014: Ranking the Top 45 Relief Pitchers

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    Would you want to tell Craig Kimbrel he's not the No. 1 fantasy closer? Didn't think so.
    Would you want to tell Craig Kimbrel he's not the No. 1 fantasy closer? Didn't think so.John Bazemore/Associated Press

    With the top-150 fantasy baseball players all re-ordered and re-ranked on the latest Big Board, it's time to wrap up the rolling out of individual position rankings.

    After providing some sequencing to the starting pitchers last time out, the final position on the docket is relief pitchers, which is one of the more top-heavy positions, capped by a quintet of absolute fantasy freaks, including Craig Kimbrel (pictured) and Aroldis Chapman.

    Following that top tier of talent, things start to quickly thin out, to the point where everyone outside of the top eight on this list starts to feel bunched together. Many from the second tier have some flaw or question mark, like advancing age (Jonathan Papelbon), injury issues (Jason Grilli) or even inexperience in the ninth inning (David Robertson).

    Draft strategy for relievers calls for either locking up one of the elites early on or waiting a while and trying to make up ground by snatching a couple in the middle rounds. Also, it always helps to take on a third, if you can, or at least aim for a top-notch setup man who could take over the role by midseason.

    Heck, take two; as you'll find out, this just might be the golden age of relievers.

    All of the above are covered—and then some—in this ranking of the top-45 fantasy relief pitchers.

     

    These rankings consider three factors:

    First, everything is based on 10- or 12-team mixed leagues with standard five-by-five rotisserie scoring (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB for hitters; W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV for pitchers).

    Second, lineup construction accounts for 22 active roster positions consisting of: one each for catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner infield, middle infield and utility; along with five outfielders and nine pitchers.

    And third, to be eligible at a particular position, players either must have played at least 20 games there in 2013 or be in line to start there in 2014. Additionally, players are listed in the rankings at the position where their fantasy utility would be most useful.

     

    Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

The Relief Pitcher "Watch List"

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Luke Hochevar, RHP, Royals

    Hochevar, the No. 1 overall pick in 2006, flunked out of class as a starter but looked right at home in Kansas City's deep and talented bullpen last season, posting a 1.92 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and a crazy 10.5 K/9. The 30-year-old is a very nice end-of-the-draft add because, as a former starter, he should throw more innings than a typical reliever.

     

    Brian Wilson, RHP, Dodgers (pictured)

    Now that he's playing second fiddle to Kenley Jansen, Wilson won't be picking up saves like he used to when he was a top-notch closer, but the soon-to-be 32-year-old looked good as new in his late-season return from a second Tommy John surgery (13.2 IP, 1 ER, 8 H, 13:4 K:BB) as well as in the playoffs.

     

    J.J. Hoover, RHP, Reds

    Following a stellar intro to the bigs in 2012 (2.05 ERA, 0.98 WHIP in 30.2 IP), Hoover proved he is, indeed, a legitimate setup man by posting a 2.86 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 over 66.0 frames. The 26-year-old won't get more than a handful of save opportunities as long as Aroldis Chapman is healthy, but Hoover is a worthy staff filler.

     

    Vic Black, RHP, Mets

    Acquired from the Pirates late in 2013 as part of the Marlon Byrd trade, this 25-year-old throws extremely hard (although not always accurately) and made a positive impression in his first 18 big-league games in 2013. He could get a shot for some saves if incumbent Bobby Parnell, who is still recovering from neck surgery, isn't quite right. 

     

    Heath Hembree, RHP, Giants

    Hembree is one of the better pure reliever prospects around, thanks to his mid-90s fastball and put-away slider. After racking up 31 saves in Triple-A, the 25-year-old didn't allow a run and struck out 12 over his first 7.2 innings in the majors last September. When Sergio Romo requires extra rest, Hembree should get the call.

     

    Josh Fields, RHP, Astros

    Despite being a first-round pick by the Mariners back in 2008, Fields didn't debut until last year at age 27. His ascent was slowed by arm issues and an inability to locate his big fastball (4.8 BB/9 in the minors). There's massive blowup potential, but Fields worked the ninth down the stretch last year and could push his way into the role again with little competition ahead of him.

Nos. 45-41

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    No. 45: Chad Qualls, RHP, Astros

    A 35-year-old 10-year veteran, Qualls is perhaps the least sexy option on this list. Howver, he's also the most proven closer in the Astros bullpen, which puts him in position to grab saves at some point. Manager Bo Porter more or less acknowledged as much, according to Brian McTaggart of MLB.com.

     

    No. 44: Jesse Crain, RHP, Astros

    Crain was outstanding last year (0.74 ERA, 11.3 K/9) but got hurt midseason and didn't pitch after June 29. The free agent landed in Houston, where he'll have to show he's healthy. If he does, he could push his way into some saves because—stop us if you've heard this before—the Astros ninth inning is wide open.  

     

    No. 43: Jordan Walden, RHP, Braves

    Walden rebounded last year following his trade out of L.A. The 26-year-old won't get too many save opportunities—you know, Craig Kimbrel pitches for the Braves, too—but he has a career 10.7 K/9 and got his walk rate down to a career-best 2.7 per nine innings in 2013. 

     

    No. 42: Kevin Siegrist, LHP, Cardinals (pictured) 

    Regression is a definite for this 25-year-old in his second season, but when last year's numbers were that good—0.45 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 11.3 K/9!—even more than a little regression would keep Siegrist a useful RP3/4. Just don't expect any saves, unless something happens to Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez.

     

    No. 41: Tanner Scheppers, RHP, Rangers

    Due to injuries, Texas' five-man looks more like two-men-and-three-question-marks, so Scheppers could be transitioning from the bullpen—where he posted a 1.88 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 76 games last year—to the rotation. Because of his big arm and past injury issues, though, the 27-year-old fits best in the late innings.

Nos. 40-36

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    No. 40: Junichi Tazawa, RHP, Red Sox

    Tazawa formed an impressive duo in the eighth and ninth for Boston last year with fellow Japanese reliever Koji Uehara. A little hittable and homer-prone, the former isn't on par with the latter, but Tazawa also had a fancy 72-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. If something happens with Uehara, closing responsibility could fall upon Tazawa. 

     

    No. 39: Joakim Soria, RHP, Rangers

    Now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, this former Royals closer is competing with Neftali Feliz, who's looking to regain his old job as the team's stopper. Even if Soria doesn't win out, he'll post strong stats and is likely to pick up at least a handful of saves just because Feliz is also a TJ surgery recoverer.

     

    No. 38: A.J. Ramos, RHP, Marlins

    Ramos' first full year in the majors was a little inconsistent but much more up (3.15 ERA, 9.7 K/9) than down (4.8 BB/9). He has closing experience in the minors—he saved 20-plus games in 2010, 2011 and 2012—and looks like the No. 2 man behind trade candidate Steve Cishek in Miami.

     

    No. 37: Joaquin Benoit, RHP, Padres

    Benoit, 36, has been one of the top setup men in the sport for several years now. Unfortunately for his fantasy value, though, after he actually (and finally) proved he could hold down the closer role with Detroit, he signed on with San Diego this offseason, where Huston Street will still be doing his saving-games-when-healthy thing. Given Street's injury history, however, it may not be impossible for Benoit to notch double digits in the save category.

     

    No. 36: Kelvin Herrera, RHP, Royals

    For a hot minute at the outset of 2013, it looked like Herrera was on the verge of taking over the last three outs in K.C. (Seriously, do you remember when that almost happened?) Instead, Herrera imploded, while Greg Holland—whom you'll come across a lot later on this list—exploded. Herrera, though, turned things around with a dynamite second half—2.64 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 12.0 K/9—and those ratios will play in any fantasy bullpen.

Nos. 35-31

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    No. 35: Carlos Martinez, RHP, Cardinals (pictured)

    Recently, Martinez's Twitter account has gotten more publicity (for the wrong kind of reasons) than the 22-year-old has himself. That's a mistake, because the power-armed right-hander's repertoire is really the stuff that's downright, uh, dirty. Following a coming-out party late last September and October, Martinez is an especially intriguing arm to pick, because he could win the fifth-starter's job or a pivotal bullpen spot. In either role, he'll have value.

     

    No. 34: Danny Farquhar, RHP, Mariners

    The real shame for Farquhar is that instead of the team addressing an area that actually needed to be addressed this offseason—like finding a righty bat—the M's brought in closer enigma extraordinaire Fernando Rodney. Farquhar, 27, was flat-out nasty upon earning the ninth-inning role for Seattle in 2013: 2.38 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 11.5 K/9 with 16 saves in two months. Regardless, own him and sit back and enjoy the numbers until Rodney makes things interesting, giving Farquhar another shot.

     

    No. 33: Tyler Clippard, RHP, Nationals

    Any discussion about the tippy-top setup men in baseball has to include Clippard. He's getting up there in age (29) and innings (323.0 IP over the last four years), but he's still extremely effective (2.73 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 10.4 K/9 over that same period).

     

    No. 32: Mark Melancon, RHP, Pirates

    Melancon bounced back in a big way last year, his first in Pittsburgh. In 71.0 frames, he had a 1.39 ERA, sub-1.00 WHIP and an impeccable 70-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also closed 16 games after Jason Grilli got hurt, and that exact scenario isn't unlikely to unfold again in 2014, so don't hesitate to snag Melancon.

     

    No. 31: Cody Allen, RHP, Indians

    Similar to Farquhar, Allen looked to be in line to become an under-the-radar second or third closer in fantasy—until Cleveland signed John Axford, an older (but not necessarily better) arm with more experience in the ninth inning. Often, though, it pays to draft on talent over opportunity when it comes to relievers, and the 25-year-old Allen has plenty of the former, as his 2.43 ERA and 11.3 K/9 as a rookie shows.

Nos. 30-26

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    No. 30 : LaTroy Hawkins, RHP, Rockies

    Hawkins, folks, is 41 years young and still he owns a 2.96 ERA while splitting time with three different clubs over the past three seasons. In fact, Hawkins even found himself closing games for the Mets last year after Bobby Parnell went down. The Rockies, then, will be his fourth team in four years, and it's already been announced he'll be starting the season as their closer, ahead of the younger, more fantasy-friendly Rex Brothers. Let's see if the old man can hang onto his latest opportunity.

     

    No. 29: Tommy Hunter, RHP, Orioles

    A failed starter, this 27-year-old's velocity has jumped in short stints, and he's currently expected to open the year as the O's closer. His numbers in his first full year in the bullpen were very good (2.85 ERA, 0.99 WHIP), but his gopheritis has turned chronic: in 86.1 innings, he allowed 11 homers, and Hunter's 1.5 HR/9 mark is the kind of problem that costs closers their job. Don't treat him as more than a third closer in mixed leagues.

     

    No. 28: John Axford, RHP, Indians (pictured)

    In all likelihood, Axford will spend the season fighting off Allen, but it's not impossible to envision a scenario where the 30-year-old hangs onto the spot either. The whiffs are always there (career 10.8 K/9) for the 30-year-old, but in recent years so are the hits, homers and walks.

     

    No. 27: Jose Veras, RHP, Cubs

    Would you be surprised at all if Veras' 2014 season goes an awful lot like 2013 did? The 33-year-old could once again spend a half-season closing for a terrible team before being traded to a contender in need of relief help, at which point he'll be used as a setup man. That, of course, would limit most of his value to the first few months.

     

    No. 26: Rex Brothers, LHP, Rockies

    Despite being the popular choice of fantasy owners everywhere who witnessed him register a 1.74 ERA and 10.2 K/9 in 2013, Brothers won't be closing—for now. Hawkins will have that role instead and actually has been good enough to hold it for some time, which undercuts Brothers' value. Owners, though, should take the 26-year-old hard-throwing lefty ahead of the 41-year-old who is on yet another new club. Remember, Brothers proved he can close while filling in for Rafael Betancourt last year.

     

Nos. 25-21

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    Winslow Townson/Getty Images

    No. 25: Nate Jones, RHP, White Sox (pictured)

    A strained glut in early camp set Jones back about a week, but the 28-year-old is set to make his first spring appearance this week, per Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago. For those who see last year's 4.15 ERA and cringe, realize that his FIP was a much sparklier 2.64. If he beats out veteran Matt Lindstrom, who has some limited closing experience, Jones—who doesn't have any—could be a candidate for 30 saves and 100 strikeouts.

     

    No. 24: Fernando Rodney, RHP, Mariners

    The Rodney that shocked fantasy owners everywhere with his career revival in Tampa Bay in 2012 (0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP) was gone by 2013 (3.38 ERA, 1.34 WHIP). It's not like he was horrendous, though—heck, his 11.1 K/9 last season was his best mark ever. Alas, his walk rate went from Mr. Clean (1.8 BB/9 out of nowhere) in 2012 back to its usual down and dirty (4.9 per nine) last year. Is Rodney better than Farquhar, whom he'll be replacing in Seattle? Probably not, but for now the One with the Off-center Cap is the one with the job. 

     

    No. 23: Huston Street, RHP, Padres

    It's not a baseball season without an injury to Street. In 2013, it was a strained calf that took down the 30-year-old nine-year vet, costing him two weeks from May into June. The rub with Street is that he always pitches well—when he pitches. In two years with the Padres, he has a 2.35 ERA with a 0.90 WHIP and 8.7 K/9. Of course, in part because of the numerous ailments and in part because he's getting up there in age, Street hasn't topped 60 innings in a season since 2009.

     

    No. 22: Bobby Parnell, RHP, Mets

    Unfortunately, a neck injury forced Parnell, 29, to cut his breakout 2013 campaign short at the end of July and eventually required surgery. While healthy, he was a strong RP2 with 22 saves, a 2.16 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Keep an eye on how he looks in spring games, because he could vault into the top 15 closers.

     

    No. 21: Ernesto Frieri, RHP, Angels

    Frieri, 28, dis everything big in 2013: saves (37); strikeouts (98); ERA (3.80); WHIP (1.24). His stuff, at times, is too good, which makes him a tough one to own—especially if you're the kind of person who likes to check in on your roster every 15 minutes once games begin and might be a little too reactive to jettison Frieri after one of his meltdowns. If you can stomach the ride, though, he should provide more than enough saves and whiffs to keep you happy—as long as you don't watch.

Nos. 20-16

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    Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images

    No. 20: Jim Henderson, RHP, Brewers

    A journeyman, Henderson made his MLB debut in 2012 at age 29, and he then found himself closing for Milwaukee after Axford crapped out early last year. A hamstring injury interrupted what was otherwise a fantastic season for Henderson (2.70 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 11.3 K/9), who doesn't have much competition for the ninth-inning role.

     

    No. 19: Steve Cishek, RHP, Marlins (pictured)

    This might be a tad high for Cishek, 27, but not because his performance in his first full season as a stopper—2.33 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 9.6 K/9 and 33 saves—didn't merit this ranking. Rather, it's because as a successful member of the Marlins who's about to get pricey, he's a surefire trade candidate. That could turn him into a setup man, which would slash his fantasy value.

     

    No. 18: Neftali Feliz, RHP, Rangers

    It took Feliz quite a while to return after TJ surgery in 2012; he only made it into six games at the tail end of 2013. With the conversion-to-starter idea abandoned, Feliz is free to air it out in relief, and he did just that while pitching winter ball. He'll have to show all is right this spring and win out over Soria, but the guy is still 25 and has handled the ninth before—and he should do it again.

      

    No. 17: Rafael Soriano, RHP, Nationals

    You might think Soriano should slot in a bit north of this, what with going 3-for-3 in notching 40-plus saves in the past three years that he's been a closer. And yet, this is a 34-year-old who has become more hittable in recent years (8.8 H/9 in 2013). Not to mention, his strikeouts slipped all the way to 6.9 per nine last year, too. He's solid and stable but probably not as good as you thought he was until you read this.

     

    No. 16: Grant Balfour, RHP, Rays

    A "failed physical" blew up Balfour's deal with the O's this offseason, so the excitable Aussie wound up returning to the Rays after three years in Oakland. Age is more than a little concern (36 and counting), as is whatever Baltimore's docs saw regarding his health, but Balfour's ERA has sat between 2.28 and 2.59 over the past four years. Plus, you try telling him he's not a borderline top-15 RP.

No. 15: Jim Johnson, RHP, Athletics

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 3 W, 2.94 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 56 K, 50 SV (74 G)

     

    Despite leading the AL in saves in each of the last two seasons—and topping 50 both times along the way—Jim Johnson was more or less cast aside by Baltimore when he was swapped for Jemile Weeks this winter because his salary was rising too rapidly for the cost-conscious O's.

    Saving games is, well, the name of the game in fantasy for relievers, but the high saves total and solid ERA (2.72 in 2011-12) are the only parts of Johnson's stats that one might call elite. His WHIP fluctuates, because as a ground-baller who pitches to contact, he gives up his share of hits. That also means he doesn't get a lot of whiffs, either.

    Johnson would seem to be in a good situation in Oakland, but he benefitted from Baltimore's boffo infield defense and won't have as long of a leash in his new digs. Plus, the A's are loaded with power arms in the pen. If you look solely at the saves and take Johnson as anything more than an RP2, you're doing it wrong.

No. 14: Casey Janssen, RHP, Blue Jays

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 4 W, 2.56 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 50 K, 34 SV (56 G)

     

    For a guy who's only been closing for about a season-and-a-half, Casey Janssen has it down. The 32-year-old does a good job of limiting baserunners, having allowed only 83 hits and 24 walks in 116.1 innings since the start of 2012.

    Add to that a healthy 9.1 strikeouts-per-nine rate, and it's really just a matter of the Blue Jays giving Janssen some more save opportunities; he had 36 opportunities last year—only the sixth-most in baseball—and converted 34 of them.

No. 13: Addison Reed, RHP, Diamondbacks

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 5 W, 3.79 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 72 K, 40 SV (68 G)

     

    In his second season as a closer—and really only the second season of his career after a taste in 2011—Addison Reed took a nice step forward in 2013, improving in all five fantasy categories.

    He gets a little bump in the rankings for being one of the younger arms (only 25) on this list, which means he should be able to handle more appearances and back-to-backs, thus not skipping out on too many save opportunities. Plus, he'll compile more strikeouts.

    There's some competition in the desert, where veteran J.J. Putz still lurks, but logic—and perfomance—dictates that the D-backs didn't trade for Reed not to unleash him in the ninth.

No. 12: Jason Grilli, RHP, Pirates

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 0 W, 2.70 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 74 K, 33 SV (53 G)

     

    The only thing that slowed Jason Grilli down in his first go-round as a closer—at age 36, no less—was a forearm strain that cost him six weeks right after the All-Star break. Prior to that, he had been throwing as well as any other reliever out there.

    Upon his return, in early September, the Pirates phased him back into the role, and then he looked good in the playoffs—the club's first October appearance since 1992.

    Provided he's back to full strength by now, Grilli is more than just a guy who looks like an outlandish villain from a cheesy '80s flick starring Sylvester Stallone—not to mention, that quirky grill-cheese nickname he enjoys—he's plain good.

No. 11: David Robertson, RHP, Yankees

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 5 W, 2.04 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 77 K, 3 SV (70 G)

     

    The spotlight—and the pressure—is on David Robertson, who only has to fill the vacancy left behind by the greatest closer of all time for a team with renewed playoff hopes and a rebuilt roster amid the largest media market in sports.

    The 28-year-old has been among the very best eighth-inning arms three years running, and while he's never received a real shot to close for any extended period—the Yankees pretty much passed him over for Rafael Soriano when Mariano Rivera got hurt in 2012—Robertson does have the stuff and moxie to do the job.

    Besides, even if he's not Rivera-good, it's not like New York has anyone else to turn to in a bullpen that lacks depth. It's Robertson or bust, and it won't be the latter.

No. 10: Sergio Romo, RHP, Giants

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 5 W, 2.54 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 58 K, 38 SV (65 G)

     

    Sergio Romo adapted rather well to being a full-time closer last year. Sure, his rate stats all dipped a tad, but no owner was complaining about the numbers he put up. Plus, he reached the 60-inning mark for the second time in his career (2010).

    The reason Romo, now 31, isn't higher on this list is because he requires more rest than most elite stoppers. He's a fringe RP1 in most mixed leagues, although he fits in better as a high-end RP2, if you can build your bullpen as such.

No. 9: Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Phillies

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 5 W, 2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 57 K, 29 SV (61 G)

     

    Other than an outlier-ish 2010, when he posted a 3.90 ERA and 1.27 ERA, 2013 was Jonathan Papelbon's worst year. The 33-year-old's ERA (2.92) was solid and his WHIP (1.14) was fine enough, but he failed to reach 30 saves for the first time in his career, struck out fewer than a batter per inning for the first time ever (8.3 K/9) and dealt with a near two-mile-per-hour drop in velocity.

    The good news, then? Papelbon's fastball was hitting 93 in his very first spring-training game this year, per Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News.

    Look, there's a chance this ranking proves to be way off, because Papelbon has finally reached just about the end of his rope, but he was his usual dominant self in his first year in Philly, and he's about all there is in the Phillies bullpen.

No. 8: Koji Uehara, RHP, Red Sox

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 4 W, 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 101 K, 21 SV (73 G)

     

    If you find it astounding that Koji Uehara, the current Red Sox closer, can be ranked only one spot ahead of the last guy to do the job in Boston on a regular basis, well, that's understandable, especially when you really look—just look!—at the stats up top. (It is even more remarkable when you compare them to Papelbon's numbers from last year.)

    And yet, that's what regression to the mean is all about. Papelbon, long a force in the ninth inning, is a candidate to regain some of his former glory, while Uehara—a 38-year-old who has always sported great stats but has never thrown more than the 66.2 innings he managed back in his rookie year of 2009—is a candidate to fall back some.

    Hey, the guy is still ranked firmly as a top-10 closer, so don't go hating too much. Also? Don't go overdrafting him based on what was undoubtedly a career season.

No. 7: Glen Perkins, LHP, Twins

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 2 W, 2.30 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 77 K, 36 SV (61 G)

     

    What's great about Glen Perkins is that he went from being a pretty awful starting pitcher to a pretty dynamite relief pitcher in short order a few years ago. Since taking over the final three outs in 2012—more or less from the next guy on this list—the 31-year-old has compiled a 2.44 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 10.5 strikeouts per nine.

    The only downside to Perkins is that the Twins are going to be bad, yet again, which means his save opportunities could be slightly fewer and slighty farther between than the elite batch of closers that follow.

    In some ways, that helps him get overlooked in drafts on occasion—except by you, dear reader.

No. 6: Joe Nathan, RHP, Tigers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 6 W, 1.39 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 73 K, 43 SV (67 G)

     

    At 38 and pitching his home games in Texas' hitter-frinedly park, Joe Nathan put together one of his best seasons ever in 2013—and this is a guy with a lot of best seasons.

    Having moved on to Detroit this offseason to help plug a problematic ninth inning, Nathan—the active leader in career saves since Rivera hung 'em up—continues to prove that owners should simply trust that he's going to be a definite top-10 closer and, more than likely, a near top-five one.

    Draft Nathan with confidence, as if you didn't already know that.

No. 5: Trevor Rosenthal, RHP, Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 2 W, 2.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 108 K, 3 SV (74 G)

     

    That's right: a pitcher entering just his second full season in the majors and with all but three saves to his name has cracked the top-five RPs. Trevor Rosenthal deserves it.

    Think about this: in the long, long history of Major League Baseball, a reliever has whiffed at least 100 batters while walking no more than 20 in the same season on 10 occasions. This 23-year-old flamethrower is one of them. (Uehara is also on that list, and there are still more to come. Seriously, was 2013 the Year of the Reliever or what?)

    Although Rosenthal came up through the minors as a starter, the Cardinals essentially have decided his future lies in the bullpen (at least in the short-term) by announcing he would be their closer at the outset of the offseason. Adding 30-plus saves to the above digits will make Rosenthal an undeniable fantasy stud and RP1.

No. 4: Greg Holland, RHP, Royals

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 2 W, 1.21 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 103 K, 47 SV (68 G)

     

    Speaking of that whole 100-strikeout, sub-20-walk feat, Greg Holland joined the club last year, too. The 28-year-old made the leap from closer curiosity to superstar RP1 by getting his control, well, under control. He cut his walk rate from 4.6 per nine in 2012 to 2.4 in 2013, the best of his career.

    Also career bests? The four numbers in the ERA, WHIP, K and SV categories above. Holland's stuff is wicked, and his owners love that about him.

No. 3: Kenley Jansen, RHP, Dodgers

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 4 W, 1.88 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 111 K, 28 SV (75 G)

     

    At this point, we're simply splitting hairs, as Kenley Jansen did the 100-K/sub-20-BB bit, too. Despite not even opening last season in the closer role, the 26-year-old took over the job from the miscast Brandon League in mid-June and still scored 28 saves.

    Expect more of the same from the man who possesses the best cutter this side of Mariano Rivera. In fact, expect more, especially since he'll have a clear path and a good shot at 40 saves while polishing off the final three outs for a Dodgers team that is the heavy favorite in the NL West.

No. 2: Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Reds

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 4 W, 2.54 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 112 K, 38 SV (68 G)

     

    After admiring those stats, you might be surprised to learn that Aroldis Chapman actually was a bit worse last year than he was in 2012, his first year as closer. The 26-year-old southpaw still throws smoke, but he had more trouble putting it where he wanted, as his walk rate jumped from 2.9 per nine to 4.1.

    As long as Chapman can prevent that from continuing in the wrong direction, he's a sure-fire RP1. If he can improve that one flaw, it's certainly possible that he could be the RP1—even ahead of the current top dog.

No. 1: Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Braves

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 4 W, 1.21 ERA, 0. 88WHIP, 98 K, 50 SV (68 G)

     

    What, you were expecting someone else? Craig Kimbrel caps off this run of 20-something fireballers who make up the top-five fantasy closers in baseball.

    The 25-year-old led the NL in saves for a third straight season, and he did so by setting a career best with the big 5-0. Even more insane was the fact that he missed repeating the 100-K, sub-20-BB feat...by two strikeouts.

    The No. 1 closer typically gets picked somewhere around Round 4 or 5, so that's when you'll have to look to pluck Kimbrel if you want him. Of course, if you don't get him, it's not like there aren't other top-tier options.

    But this guy is still the one to beat.

     

     

    Here are the fantasy rankings at all other positions:

    Catchers

    First Basemen

    Second Basemen

    Third Baseman

    Shortstops

    Outfielders

    Starting Pitchers

     

    To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11