March 15, 2014
Our top 15 middle relievers are listed below. These players are ranked on the likelihood that they will get saves this season, not necessarily on their efficacy. To cite an extreme example, Craig Breslow is a great reliever who is extremely unlikely to get any save chances since he’s stuck behind Koji Uehara and Edward Mujica. So even though Breslow is objectively a much better pitcher than someone like Matt Lindstrom, Lindstrom is on our rankings, whereas Breslow is not.
(Holds are not a consideration. If you would benefit from a post that covers holds, please contact us.)
1. Joakim Soria, Texas Rangers – Now seemingly fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery that cost him the 2012 season, Joakim Soria is making a run at the Texas closer gig. Neftali Feliz continues to struggle to find his velocity, and Soria could wind up as the closer on a Rangers team that could threaten 90 wins if everything falls into place.
2. Rex Brothers, Colorado Rockies – Even if LaTroy Hawkins has a great year, Rex Brothers could still wind up with five to eight saves, as Hawkins will have trouble going three in a row and Walt Weiss has said he might use Brothers in any lefty-heavy ninth inning. And we don’t think Hawkins will have a great year.
3. Matt Lindstrom, Chicago White Sox – While sabermetricians are gaga for Nate Jones, there’s no word out of White Sox camp about the closer role, and Matt Lindstrom, whose rehab is going well, keeps saying that he wants the job. Things Lindstrom has going for him include the fact that he has the most closer experience of anyone on the team, and Robin Ventura’s always-unorthodox treatment of the 9th inning.
4. Danny Farquhar, Seattle Mariners – He’s quite good and Fernando Rodney is not.
5. Sergio Santos, Toronto Blue Jays – As previously mentioned, Casey Janssen isn’t 100 percent, and Sergio Santos had a lights-out end of 2013, posting a 1.75 ERA and 0.58 WHIP after returning from injury.
6. Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians – If John Axford struggles with the long ball (Axford had the 6th-highest HR/FB ratio in 2012 and 11th-highest in 2013), Cody Allen could take over as closer and run away with it. Allen is only 24 and his K/9 of 11.3 ranked 13th among relievers last year.
7. J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks – Addison Reed is pitching much better this spring than veteran J.J. Putz. This competition isn’t over yet, but Putz will need to rally to give himself a chance for saves in Arizona.
8. Jesse Crain, Houston Astros – Jesse Crain has been hurt his whole career, and 2014 is already no different. The righty would be the odds-on favorite to win the closer gig in Houston, but his health is once again holding him back.
9. Joaquin Benoit, San Diego Padres – Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Huston Street is a little bit nicked up. While Street should be fine for the start of the season, it was 2009 when he last topped 60 innings in a season.
10. Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals – Unlike several other relievers on this list, Tyler Clippard’s inclusion isn’t a knock on the guy ahead of him, as Rafael Soriano has strung together several perfectly decent seasons. Clippard is on here because he’s been one of the steadiest middle relievers in baseball the last three years, stepping in to the closer role in 2012 and picking up 32 saves. If Soriano gets hurt, Clippard will do it again.
11. Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs – The Cubs signed Jose Veras to a one year deal to be their closer, which looks like the classic “sign a veteran stop gap closer and deal him at the deadline when the team is not contending” move. Those in deep leagues might want to stash Strop, who would likely take over the job if Veras is moved — or ineffective.
12. Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates – Jason Grilli is great, but he’s 37 and coming off Tommy John surgery.
13. Joel Peralta, Tampa Bay Rays – Grant Balfour is going through a dead arm period and has struggled so far this spring, and he already had a deal with the Orioles that fell through due to injury concerns. If Balfour misses time, Joel Peralta would be a solid fill in.
14. Josh Fields, Houston Astros – Probably the best healthy non-Qualls option in the Houston bullpen right now, Fields has said that he wants the closer job. He’s allowed 1 run in 4 innings this spring so far.
15. Darren O’Day, Baltimore Orioles – Tommy Hunter hasn’t actually been named closer yet, and though he throws hard, he’s never had the highest strikeout rate, which can be a problem for a stopper. Darren O’Day struggles against lefties, but has added a change-up as a potential equalizer this year.