Chasing saves: Putting every team's ninth inning plan into tiers for fantasy baseball 2020

Yahoo Sports

When legendary baseball writer Jerome Holtzman created the save statistic way back in the day, he couldn't have imagined that a generation of managers would someday use the peculiar requirements of the stat itself to dictate bullpen usage, without regard to game situations.

Saves are weird.

The true hinge points in a game can obviously occur well before the ninth inning; the most difficult outs are not always the final three. 

And yet saves are the stat we celebrate. It's hardly fair to the lights-out relievers who rule the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. 

Holtzman is certainly not to blame for the fact that saves dominate our fantasy lives throughout the MLB season. His work pre-dates the birth of roto. But here we are. Another year of chasing saves. Woo. 

[Prep for MLB's return: Create or join a Yahoo Fantasy Baseball League]

Today, our purpose is simple: We're here to rank and tier every team's closing situation. This is intended as a quick-and-dirty review of the basics, a reference guide to closers and best-guess next-in-lines relievers. Let's begin with the luxury buys:

Tier One

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers (Corey Knebel)

Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres (Emilio Pagan)

No surprises here. Knebel is returning from TJ surgery and would not have opened a normal season with Milwaukee, in all likelihood. But the extended pause could allow him to be in the mix whenever baseball is officially back. 

Kirby Yates was nearly un-hittable in 2019 while leading MLB in saves. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Kirby Yates was nearly un-hittable in 2019 while leading MLB in saves. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Tier Two

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees (Zack Britton)

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets (Dellin Betances)

Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros (Ryan Pressly)

Again, there should be nothing unexpected here. Solid names, all. Diaz is just a year removed from an all-time relief season and he only just turned 26. It's worth mentioning that the three set-up relievers mentioned parenthetically above are all worth rostering simply for their ratios, without regard to roles. 

Tier Three

Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians (Emmanuel Clase)

Liam Hendriks, Oakland A’s (Joakim Soria)

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers (Blake Treinen)

Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies (Jose Alvarez)

Jansen was far from a sure thing by the end of 2019, posting a second-half ERA of 4.44 and WHIP of 1.25. But he gets the benefit of the doubt here, based on his elite history and an excellent spring in which his velocity was up a tick or two. Any of these names could vault into the top tier, Jansen included. He's obviously been there before. 

Seranthony Dominguez would have been the obvious understudy for Neris, but he seems like a likely candidate for elbow surgery. David Robertson isn't expected back until mid-season at the earliest, so the Phillies could be in the market for bullpen help. 

Hector Neris has the sort of K-rate we expect in an upper-tier fantasy reliever. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Hector Neris has the sort of K-rate we expect in an upper-tier fantasy reliever. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Tier Four

Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox (Aaron Bummer)

Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins (Sergio Romo)

Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks (Kevin Ginkel)

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds (Michael Lorenzen)

Brandon Workman, Boston Red Sox (Matt Barnes)

Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays (Anthony Bass)

Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs (Jeremy Jeffress)

Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels (Ty Buttrey)

This is pretty much where I stop caring about the name attached to the saves. I'll take whatever a draft gives me when the upper-tier closers are off the board. If you want to fret over the difference between, say, Kimbrel and Mark Melancon, cool. I'm just looking for 20-30 saves with minimal damage to my team's ratios. 

Cincinnati's setup situation is a bit tricky to map out, as the team added Pedro Strop to a group that already included Lorenzen and Amir Garrett. If Iglesias stumbles, the Reds clearly have solid replacement options. 

Tier Five

Brandon Kintzler, Miami Marlins (Ryne Stanek)

Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays (Diego Castillo)

Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals (Ryan Helsley)

Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers (Rafael Montero)

Joe Jimenez, Detroit Tigers (Buck Farmer)

Mark Melancon, Atlanta Braves (Will Smith)

Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals (Tim Hill)

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals (Daniel Hudson)

Yeah, this tier is a complete minefield. All varieties of red flags here. Any of these pitchers could either open the season in a surprise role, or they could pitch themselves out of the ninth in a hurry. 

[Yahoo Rankings: Overall | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

Gallegos was utterly dominant last season (0.81 WHIP, 11.3 K/9) and he earned a pair of saves this spring, for whatever that's worth. Andrew Miller dealt with an arm/hand issue of unknown severity throughout the spring, so he appeared to be out of the saves mix. Jordan Hicks is only nine months removed from TJ surgery as of this writing, so we can't reasonably expect to see him until late summer. 

Doolittle is ranked higher almost everywhere else, and his best years have of course been stellar. He clearly has the potential to finish as a top-10-ish fantasy reliever. But it's hard for me to look past the fact that Hudson got the call last October for a bunch of the biggest outs in franchise history. In reality, Washington's bullpen situation seems quite good, with Doolittle, Hudson and Will Harris all in the mix. For fantasy purposes, it's a little murky. 

Buyer Beware Tier

Tony Watson, San Francisco Giants (Trevor Gott)

Keone Kela, Pittsburgh Pirates (Kyle Crick)

Mychal Givens and Hunter Harvey, Baltimore Orioles

Matt Magill, Seattle Mariners (Yoshi Hirano)

Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies (Scott Oberg)

When you reach this circle of rotisserie hell, you probably gotta think about punting saves. None of the relievers listed in this tier are officially endorsed by the Yahoo fantasy team, just for the record. If you're shopping in this bargain bin ... well, good luck. We accept no responsibility for whatever harm these gentlemen may cause your squad.

Listen to the Yahoo Fantasy Baseball Podcast

What to Read Next