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2012 Position Rankings: Relievers

Time for our final set of rankings, the guys pitching the end of the game appropriately enough. Saves are what it's all about for relievers in 5x5 leagues, but they aren't the only stat that counts.

  1. John Axford, MIL - Strikeouts (10.5 K/9) and ground balls (49.7%) are the name of Axford's game, and his teammates should ensure him plenty of save chances. Every reliever is risky, but I feel there's less risk here than usual despite his unusual background.
  2. Mariano Rivera, NYY - Even at 42 years old, Rivera is a marvel. He's dominant in ERA and WHIP, and will pile up saves like few others. The Yankees have scaled back his workload in recent years, so don't expect to see him make too many back-to-back appearances. No one has more job security.
  3. Jonathan Papelbon, PHI - Papelbon has never really been at risk of losing his job in Boston, but his new contract guarantees him the ninth inning with the Phillies. Elite production in all categories except wins.
  4. Craig Kimbrel, ATL - Kimbrel's absurd strikeout rate (14.8 K/9) does not come without risk. He was second among all relievers in appearances (79) and ninth in innings (77) last season and seemed to tire down the stretch. Throwing over 30% sliders is usually cause for concern as well.
  5. Drew Storen, WAS - The Nationals' new rotation should mean more save chances for Storen, who was already sixth in the league last year (43). Doesn't get enough love as a top tier closer.
  6. Ryan Madson, CIN - A minor elbow injury has slowed Madson in camp, but otherwise the ninth inning job is undoubtedly his for the first time in his career.
  7. Joakim Soria, KC - A hamstring injury and some cutter issues gave Soria problems early last season, but he finished strong and figures to be his usual self in 2012.
  8. Rafael Betancourt, COL - The Huston Street trade opened up the ninth inning for Betancourt, who filled in briefly last season. His high strikeout, low WHIP ways just got a ton more valuable.
  9. Brian Wilson, SF - Wilson had oblique and elbow issues last season that delayed his start this year, but he'll have to show that the drastic declines in his strikeout and walk rates were a fluke if he wants to regain top closer status.
  10. Joel Hanrahan, PIT - Hanrahan is finally get the hang of throwing strikes, though he traded some strikeouts for ground balls last season. He could be midseason trade bait given the Mike Adams, Andrew Bailey, and Mark Melancon hauls.
  11. Heath Bell, MIA - The big drop-off in strikeouts in a concern (11.1 K/9 in 2010 to 7.3 K/9 in 2011), but Bell will still have a shot at 40+ saves even if the secondary numbers are less than impressive.
  12. Jose Valverde, DET - The 49-for-49 in save chances thing helped mask what is now a five-year trend of declining strikeout rates. You'll get lots of saves, but at some point the underlying performance will result in a 4.00+ ERA.
  13. Jason Motte, STL - Motte stepped up as closer at the perfect time for the Cardinals, and now he'll have the job right from the get-go. He's gotten his homer problem under control in recent years, and the strikeouts have always been there.
  14. J.J. Putz, ARI - Putz had a big return to the ninth inning last year, but as always the question remains health. He's good for a DL stint or two per season, plus some other day-to-day stuff.
  15. Sergio Santos, TOR - Santos took the closer job and ran with it last season, and now takes his high strikeout ways to Toronto. If he can cut down on the walks, he'll rocket up the rankings.
  16. Carlos Marmol, CHC - The strikeout rate dropped (to a still excellent 12.0 K/9) but the walk rate didn't in 2011, and he lost his job at times last season. Sean Marshall is no longer a threat, but it doesn't make him any less risky.
  17. Andrew Bailey, BOS - Injuries have limited Bailey to just 89 appearances over the last two seasons, which is the big concern. The Red Sox should give him more save chances than the A's did.
  18. Jordan Walden, LAA - Lots of strikeouts, a low ERA, and lots of blown saves (ten). That's what Walden gave the Angels last year, and I do wonder how long his leash will be given the increased expectations in Anaheim.
  19. Brandon League, SEA - The low strikeout rate hurts, but League is in the final year of his contract and is prime midseason trade bait. He could windup a setup man come July.
  20. Kyle Farnsworth, TB - Farnsworth has traded strikeouts for ground balls in recent years, which hurts his overall value. His elbow problem late in 2011 at age 35 is a concern.
  21. Tyler Clippard, WAS - The game's most fantasy dominant setup man, Clippard is workhorse who will provide elite strikeout, ERA, and WHIP production.
  22. Huston Street, SD - Moving from Coors Field to Petco Park will help his extreme homer problem, but not the injuries. There's still a ton of risk here.
  23. Joe Nathan, TEX - Nathan finished well after a slow start, but as a 37-year-old fly ball pitcher moving to a hitter's park (with a major injury in the recent past), he's a grenade with the pin pulled.
  24. Jonny Venters, ATL - Overworked like Kimbrel, Venters will grab some save chances throughout the season since the Braves seem destined to play a lot of close games.
  25. Matt Thornton, CHW - A terrible April was followed by five pretty good months, and Santos' departure means Thornton is the man at the end of the game on Chicago's south side. For now.
  26. Jim Johnson, BAL - He won't miss many bats, but Johnson took the closer's job from Kevin Gregg last year and will run away with it thanks to his turbo-sinker.
  27. Brett Myers, HOU - The newly minted closer in Houston, hopefully the move back to the bullpen boosts Myers' strikeout rate and allows him to avoid the long ball. SP eligibility will provide some extra flexibility.
  28. Frank Francisco, NYM - Prone to the occasional meltdown, Francisco is good for strong strikeout numbers and a DL stint (at least one in each of the last three seasons).
  29. Javy Guerra, LAD - Guerra stepped in nicely last season, seemingly getting his career-long walk issues under control. He'll be the closer from day one.
  30. Chris Perez, CLE - Perez flirted with a 1.0 K/BB ratio for much of 2011, but he finished well. An oblique problem could delay the start to his season.
  31. Vinnie Pestano, CLE - Few setup men were better than Pestano last season, who's going to get the call in the ninth if Perez starts the season on the shelf.
  32. Mike Adams, TEX - The setup man extraordinaire is first in line for saves if Nathan slips up or gets hurt.
  33. Kenley Jansen, LAD - No one struck out a greater percentage of batters faced last season (min. 40 IP), and Jansen is right there waiting for Guerra to slip up.
  34. Brian Fuentes, OAK - The Athletics have yet to decide on a closer, but Fuentes held the job while Bailey was hurt last season. It could give him a leg up.
  35. Grant Balfour, OAK - If not Fuentes, then Balfour is likely to be The Guy in Oakland. He offers better strikeout and WHIP numbers as well.
  36. Sean Marshall, CIN - Arguably the best left-hander reliever in the game, Madson means it'll be tougher for Marshall to steal saves than it was with Marmol in Chicago. Good thing he's valuable in other categories.
  37. Joaquin Benoit, DET - A rough start to his Tigers career was long forgotten by the time the playoffs rolled around. Benoit showed that 2010 was no fluke.
  38. Matt Capps, MIN - If you don't like strikeouts, low ERAs, and low WHIPs, here's your fantasy closer. Without saves, Capps is unrosterable.
  39. Glen Perkins, MIN - Perkins was off-the-charts good in 2011, and Capps' perpetual shakiness means he could see his fair share of save chances in 2012.
  40. Sergio Romo, SF - Romo was so good last season (70 K and 5 BB) that Bruce Bochy made sure he didn't break him by only using him for 48 IP. We need more than that, Boch.
  41. David Hernandez, ARI - When Putz makes his annual DL trip, Hernandez is the guy that will fill in. The walks are a little high, but the strikeouts make up for it.
  42. Francisco Rodriguez, MIL - It's easy to take K-Rod for granted - 9+ K/9 in each of last nine years plus a sub-3.00 ERA in seven of last eight years - but Axford is standing in the way of saves. Too bad.
  43. Scott Downs, LAA - If Walden slips up at all, the save chances will likely go to Downs. The strikeout rate isn't great, but it's tough to ignore everything else.
  44. David Robertson, NYY - Roberton broke out in a big way last season, but his walk rate is scary high and could result in a 5.00+ ERA with some bad luck.
  45. Greg Holland, KC - Holland was very quietly one of the best relievers in baseball last season, but he's only third in line for saves for the Royals right now.
  46. Kerry Wood, CHC - With Marshall out of the fold, Wood is next in line for ninth inning work whenever Marmol has one of those glorious meltdowns.
  47. Mark Melancon, BOS - From closing for the Astros to setting up for the Red Sox. Bailey's sketchy medical record means a few save chances should come his way.
  48. Addison Reed, CHW - A hard-throwing reliever prospect, Reed struck out a dozen and walked one in his six game cameo last season. He's right behind Thornton on the depth chart.
  49. Francisco Cordero, TOR - The self-proclaimed closer of the eighth inning, Cordero gives the Jays a veteran fallback option of Santos slips up at any point.
  50. Rafael Soriano, NYY - Rivera never slips up, but if an injury were to sideline him for an extended period of time, the Proven Closer could get the nod over Robertson. Soriano isn't exactly Mr. Durable himself, remember.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Broxton, KC; Aroldis Chapman, CIN; Andrew Cashner & Luke Gregerson, SD; Joel Peralta, TB; Fernando Salas, STL; Jon Rauch, NYM; Jesse Crain, CHW; Brad Lidge, WAS; Kevin Gregg, BAL; Brandon Lyon & David Carpenter; HOU; Hong-Chih Kuo, SEA

Pitchers with both SP and RP eligibility

  1. Cory Luebke, SD
  2. Brett Myers, HOU
  3. Neftali Feliz, TEX
  4. Daniel Bard, BOS
  5. Chris Sale, CHW
  6. Alexi Ogando, TEX
  7. Josh Collmenter, ARI

Other Positions: Catcher, First Base, Second Base, Shortstop, Third Base, Outfield, Starting Pitchers

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