2011 Fantasy Ranks: Middle Relief

Athlon presents the first release of its consensus fantasy rankings.

Athlon presents the first release of its consensus fantasy rankings.

While we still have over a month until voluntary report dates (Feb. 14th can’t get here quickly enough), it is never too early for fantasy owners to start digesting mock drafts, big boards and keeper options.

With that, Athlon Sports has perused the World Wide Web for the latest and greatest positional rankings and brought them together for a one-stop shop. Big media names like ESPN, CBS, Athlon Sports and Yahoo! were incorporated as well as a variety of smaller, yet no less insightful, sites like FantasyPhenoms.com, DeepLeagues.com, RotoChamp.com, HardballTimes.com and RotoProfessor.com.

Each site’s rankings — including Athlon’s own rankings, which will be released early in February — were compiled and averaged into one “consensus” ranking. (Age on Opening Day 2011)

The middle reliever rankings come with a few disclaimers. For starters, a great closer is still dramatically more valuable than any set-up man with similar ratios. It’s a simple numbers game. The save is rarer and more difficult statistic to find than the hold, so therefore, players with a chance to slide into the closers role and be just as successful in the ninth inning as the eighth get the nod over pure holds guys – even if they did set records last year.

1. Rafael Soriano, NYY (31)
With his recent contract signing (finally), Soriano jumps right to the top of this list - and not just for holds. Mo Rivera's innings have dropped six straight seasons, and undoubtedly, Soriano will get his fair share of save opps. In the meantime, the Yankees have the most talented set-up man in the league - as long as he stays healthy.

2010 Stats: 62.1 IP, 3 W, 45 SV, 57 K, 0 HLD, 1.73 ERA, 0.80 WHIP

2. Craig Kimbrel, ATL (22)
The stirkeouts are astounding. The walks are too. However, Kimbrel is the leader in the clubhouse for the Braves closer role and figures to get the majority of the chances. That being said, manager Fredi Gonzalez has announced that Jonny Venters will get lots of opportunities (based on lefty-righty matchups) as well in the ninth. If Kimbrel, the righty, can eliminate the walks, it is tough to see him not locking down the closers role eventually.

2010 Stats: 20.2 IP, 4 W, 1 SV, 40 K, 0.44 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

3. Aroldis Chapman, CIN (23)
This will be the first full season for the flame-throwing, cult legend lefty. And its hard not to be a believer of the young set-up man. It is also difficult seeing him stay in a that role for too long - whether that means a move to the ninth inning or the rotation. The difficulty with drafting Chapman is that his high profile arrival - and fastball - has made his draft day value sky-rocket. You will have to pay a pretty penny to land this Cuban defector.

2010 Stats: 13.1 IP, 2 W, 0 SV, 19 K, 4 HLD, 2.02 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

4. Chris Sale, CHW (22)
This youngster is an intersting case for a variety of reasons. First, there just aren't too many 6'6" 175-pound southpaws. Second, not too many players spend a total of 60 days in the minors. Sale pitched 4.0 innings in A+ and 6.1 in AAA before making his MLB debut on Aug. 6. In his first full season, the lanky lefty could take over the closers role or become one of the leagues top set-up men. An eventual move to the rotation is very possible, but this season Sale should offer plenty of fantasy bullpen help.

2010 Stats: 23.1 IP, 2 W, 4 SV, 32K, 2 HLD, 1.93 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

5. Drew Storen, WAS (23)
Storen is another young reliever who spent very little (less than a year) in the minors. Less than a year after being drafted, Storen made his debut in May of 2010 and stuck with the club for the entire season. After a promising rookie year, Storen enters year two in a battle for the closers job with basically everyone else on the roster. It should be his job to lose, and with his experience as the closer at Stanford, leads me to believe he will stick in that role.

2010 Stats: 55.1 IP, 4 W, 5 SV, 52 K, 10 HLD, 3.58 ERA, 1.27 WHIP

6. Matt Thornton, CHW (34)
Three-year averages for Thornton: 67 IP, 6-4, 5 SV, 82 K, 2.70 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. Those numbers will play in any format in any fantasy league. But in a holds league, he is a proven commodity who will get plenty of save chances as well. A 15 SV-15 HLD season isn't out of the question.

2010 Stats: 60.2 IP, 5 W, 8 SV, 81 K, 21 HLD, 2.67 ERA, 1.01 WHIP

7. Hong-Chih Kuo, LAD (29)
Over the last three year, few players have been as valuable out of the bullpen as Kuo. His numbers over that span: 170 IP, 10-5, 13 SV, 201 K, 47 HLD, 1.96 ERA, 0.95 WHIP. That is the stuff fantasy stars are made of. Most expect closer Jon Broxton to bounce back to form, but Kuo will still be second in line and will get some chances. The term 'lefty specialist' just doesn't do Kuo justice - he finished 2010 with a .095 BAA against lefties in 31.0 innings against his counterparts.

2010 Stats: 60.0 IP, 3 W, 12 SV, 73 K, 21 HLD, 1.20 ERA, 0.78 WHIP

8. Johnny Venters, ATL (26)
As it stands, Venters looks to be the closer for Atlanta - against lefties. It looks like he and Kimbrel will share ninth inning duties, with Kimbrel the favorite to take over the job fulltime at some point. Venters' 93 punchouts are the highest returning total by a member of Braves bullpen. He followed his stellar rookie year up with 5.1 scoreless postseason innings in which he struck out eight and walked none.        

2010 Stats: 83.0 IP, 4 W, 1 SV, 93 K, 24 HLD, 1.95 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

9. Luke Gregerson, SD (26)
In only his second full season in the majors, Gregerson set an MLB record with 40 holds last year. Other than a oddly out of place 3.22 ERA, the ratios are down right nasty: 10.2 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 5.4 H/9 and 4.94 K/BB. All of which points to an unlucky ERA and a potential sub-3.00 season in 2011. He is as solid a pure holds option as there is in the game, but could easily find himself closing games should the Padres deal Heath Bell during the summer.

2010 Stats: 78.1 IP, 4 W, 2 SV, 89 K, 40 HLD, 3.22 ERA, 0.83 WHIP

10. Daniel Bard, BOS (25)
Along with Gregerson, Bard is likely his league's top pure holds man heading into the spring. Both he and Gregerson have clearly defined set-up roles behind stud closers. Bard's team is likely to be leading after the fifth inning quite often this year and his numbers were stellar across the board. His awesome fastball and bulldog mentality should provide a small handful of save opps too. His BB/9 rate did dip from 4.0 to 3.6, but is still something to keep an eye on. 

2010 Stats: 74.2 IP, 1 W, 3 SV, 76 K, 32 HLD, 1.93 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

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<p> Athlon scours the web to compile its first consensus fantasy MLB rankings for 2011. Today, we focus on Middle Relief.</p>

11. Evan Meek, PIT (27)
To quote the greatest baseball broadcaster of all time, "...and the Meek shall inherit the mound." Vin Scully nailed it. Meek walked to the bump 70 times last season and was downright nasty. If he could trim the top off of his BB rate (3.5 BB/9), he would easily be in the top ten. Also, we will see if he can handle the closers role as he should battle Joel Hanrahan for the job in spring. Either way, this All-Star reliever will be a big contributor to any fantasy pen.

2010 Stats: 80.0 IP, 5 W, 4 SV, 70 K, 15 HLD, 2.14 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

12. Ryan Madson, PHI (30)
When healthy, few in the majors have been as effective in the set-up role as Madson. His numbers when filling in for Brad Lidge in the ninth leave a bit to be desired. Entering his ninth, and possibly final, season with the Phils, Madson has been in the pen for the last four. Since the move, the 6'6" righty has a 162-game averages of 74 IP, 5 W, 5 SV, 70 K, a 3.01 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. Even with missing some time, Madson has totalled 58 holds over the last three seasons.

2010 Stats: 53.0 IP, 6 W, 5 SV, 64 K, 15 HLD, 2.55 ERA, 1.04 WHIP

13. Joaquin Benoit, DET (33)
Nope, you are not reading that wrong. Benoit allowed a total of 42 base runners in his 60.1 innings leading to an astronomical 0.68 WHIP. However, owners cannot expect a repeat. Over his nine-year career (651.2 IP), Benoit has a 4.47 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. His ERA has topped 5.00 four times before and once finished at 4.86. Only three seasons has he been below 4.50. While he does strike out plenty of hitters, his 11.2 K/9 last fall was by far a career best and a return to his career average of 8.5 K/9 is more likely. 

2010 Stats: 60.1 IP, 1 W, 1 SV, 75 K, 25 HLD, 1.34 ERA, 0.68 WHIP

14. Jake McGee, TB (24)
If there is one thing we can guarantee about Mr. McGee is that he will have an important job of some kind. Benoit, Soriano and Grant Balfour have all moved on, and with the Matt Garza trade movng Jeremy Hellickson firmly into the rotation, there should be loads of innings for McGee to eat up. Despite starting 129 of his 140 games in his seven-year minor league career, McGee could very well end up closing games for the Rays. Me and Jake-y McGee would take anything close to his career 10.4 K/9 rate (over 620.2 career minor league innings).

2010 Stats: 5.0 IP, 0 W, 0 SV, 6 K, 0 HLD, 1.80 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

15. Mike Adams, SD (32)
His bullpen partner Gregerson has the major league holds record, but techincally Adams broke topped the old record too (36). The Sammy Sosa of holds, if you will. He is much older than Gregerson and has dealt with some injury issues which limited his innings. The 1.06 WHIP mirrors his career mark, so it will stay put. The ERA, however, could creep north of 2.00. More than a K per inning for his career indicates the punchouts should stick around as well.

2010 Stats: 66.2 IP, 4 W, 0 SV, 73 K, 38 HLD, 1.75 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

16. Sean Marshall, CHC (28)
2010 Stats: 74.2 IP, 7 W, 1 SV, 90 K, 22 HLD, 2.65 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

17. Rafael Betancourt, COL (35)
2010 Stats: 62.1 IP, 5 W, 1 SV, 89 K, 23 HLD, 3.61 ERA, 0.96 WHIP

18. Tyler Clippard, WAS (26)
2010 Stats: 91.0 IP, 11 W, 1 SV, 112 K, 23 HLD, 3.07 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

19. Grant Balfour, OAK (33)
2010 Stats: 55.1 IP, 2 W, 0 SV, 56 K, 16 HLD, 2.28 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

20. Koji Uehara, BAL (36*)
2010 Stats: 44.0 IP, 1 W, 13 SV, 55 K, 6 HLD, 2.86 ERA, 0.95 WHIP

* - turns 36 on April 3.

21. Kevin Jepsen, LAA (26)
2010 Stats: 59.0 IP, 2 W, 0 SV, 61 K, 27 HLD, 3.97 ERA, 1.41 WHIP

22. Jason Frasor, TOR (33)
2010 Stats: 63.2 IP, 3 W, 4 SV, 65 K, 14 HLD, 3.68 ERA, 1.38 WHIP

23. Hisanori Takahashi, LAA (36)
2010 Stats: 122.0 IP, 10 W (12 GS), 8 SV, 114 K, 3 HLD, 3.61 ERA, 1.30 WHIP 

* - turns 36 on April 2.

24. Bobby Jenks, BOS (30)
2010 Stats: 52.2 IP, 1 W, 27 SV, 61 K, 0 HLD, 4.44 ERA, 1.37 WHIP

25. Nick Masset, CIN (28)
2010 Staas: 76.2 IP, 4 W, 2 SV, 85 K, 20 HLD, 3.40 ERA, 1.27 WHIP

26. Clay Hensley, FLA
27. Darren O’Day, TEX
28. Michael Wuertz, OAK
29. Brandon League, SEA
30. Brian Duensing, MIN
31. Wilton Lopez, HOU
32. Carlos Zambrano, CHC
33. Ramon Ramirez, BOS
34. Matt Guerrier, MIN
35. Kris Medlen, ATL

Athlon's positional fantasy baseball rankings:

Consensus Top 125
First Base

Starting Pitchers


Middle Relievers


Third Base


Second Base


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