March 5, 2018
Below are our Top 15 middle relievers for 2018. Please note that these rankings are calibrated for traditional (Saves only) leagues and are thus weighted towards players with the best chances of winning the closer role at some point this year. If you missed them last week, check out our 2018 tiered closer rankings, and stay tuned for our holds rankings later this week.
1. Kyle Barraclough – It’s ironic that the best middle reliever on the team that has the league’s worst closer by our rankings, would be at the top of this list. Wait, no, “ironic” isn’t the right word. We meant “totally expected.” Grab yourself a BearClaw in the mid to late rounds of your draft and wait for Ziegler to lose the job by May.
2. Addison Reed – Fernando Rodney is old and volatile. Reed doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he’s totally decent (exactly 1 strikeout per inning last year, and a 5/1 K/BB ratio) and has closed before. Not a whole lot more to say on this one.
3. Alex Claudio – As a lefty side-armer, Claudio has probably got the least traditional “closer stuff” of anyone on this list. But a lot of people are predicting that Claudio actually wins the job right out of the gate this year. We like for Keone Kela for the Opening Day closer in Texas, but this could easily change based on spring performance — as well as the arrival of a certain Freak. Regardless, if your draft is tomorrow, these guys should all be drafted once the pickings get slim.
4. Andrew Miller – The man now synonymous with the progressive approach to best-reliever-usage, Miller actually did spend a couple weeks as closer last year. This stretch came when Cody Allen volunteered to be the fireman for a couple weeks so Miller could rest his arm and have a more reliable role, and while Miller only nabbed two saves on the season, he’s obviously talented enough to get 50 saves if things break right.
5. Dellin Betances – Likewise for Dellin Betances, who would step into the closer role if anything happened to Aroldis Chapman, at which point the sky is the limit on a potentially great Yankees team. Unlike Miller, though, Betances may have competition from behind him, with David Robertson and Chad Green also around to pitch in should anything happen to Chapman.
6. AJ Minter – Minter had 26 Ks and 2 BBs in 15 IP last year. Whoa. If he stays healthy all season, count on him closing at some point.
7. Cam Bedrosian – Once Blake Parker finally assumed closing duties late in the year, Bedrosian entered the Andrew Miller role, facing off against the toughest part of the opposing lineup before the 9th inning came around. Parker is likely to start off as the stopper, but Mike Scioscia has been fluid with this role in the past, and Bedrosian is the best positioned to capitalize on any weirdness.
8. Brad Boxberger – Despite a little arm soreness after his first spring outing, Boxberger remains in a “wide open” race for the Arizona closer gig, along with Archie Bradley and Yoshihisa Hirano. As mentioned in our last post, we like Bradley to win the job out of the gate, but in 2017, Boxberger looked to be returning to the form that made him a dominant reliever in 2014 and 2015. We’ll keep a close eye on this battle throughout the spring.
9. AJ Ramos – Two things could work in Ramos’s favor this year. Jeurys Familia, who was highly erratic in limited action late in 2017, could fail to recapture his dominance from 2015 and 2016. Or Familia could return to form but be used in the Andrew Miller role, which Mickey Callaway has been discussing this spring already. Either way, Ramos could be worth a stash. (What is that, four Miller references now? Told you he was synonymous with it.)
10. Daniel Hudson – On here because Alex Colome’s name is bandied about in trades a lot, Hudson has solid stuff and could potentially close for the Rays if they decide to tear their team apart midseason or sooner.
11. Bud Norris – Ostensibly, he’s competing with Luke Gregerson for the closer role this spring, but most people (including us) think he’s going to start off as a setup man. But Gregerson isn’t the most inspiring 9th inning option, and Norris had 19 saves last year. We could see him closing by May, or sooner.
12. Juan Minaya – A hard thrower on a team without a ton of great options, Minaya could move in to the closer role if Joakim Soria struggles. Keep an eye on how Nate Jones does this spring as well — so far, early returns are good.
13. Tommy Hunter – With Hector Neris already agreeing to potentially being used in the Andrew Miller role (five now!) for the Phillies, Tommy Hunter is the most likely candidate to get the 9th inning. As with all of these arrangements, we’ll believe it when we see it, but if it happens, we like Hunter a bit better than Luis Garcia to be the beneficiary in terms of saves.
14. Chris Devenski – We feel pretty strongly that Ken Giles’s postseason was a fluke and that he’ll return to dominance this year, but if he falters, Devenski will inherit the closer role on a team that could win 100 games again.
15. Jake Diekman – The Rangers are the only team with two middle relievers on this list — a strong indication that we think this closer role is passed around early and often throughout the year. Diekman has always been a hard thrower, and benefits from Alex Claudio’s presence in the pen, in that the Rangers will have another lefty to go to early in games if Diekman ends up being the best option in the 9th.