Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season is less than a month away, which means fantasy baseball is just around the corner. For some leagues, drafts have already begun or will soon begin and Athlon Sports is here to help.
Besides providing our comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Big Board, we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman. These are pulled straight from this year’s 2015 MLB Preview magazine, which is available at newsstands everywhere and for purchase online.
A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.
B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.
C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.
D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.
E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2014.
F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.
G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.
Pitching stats are expressed W-ERA-SO-WHIP.
2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Relief Pitchers
1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves (A)
Kimbrel meets the rare standard of dominance + durability + consistency better than any other closer. He’s the first pitcher to begin his career with four 40-save seasons, and he set an all-time record by fanning 42.4% of the batters he’s faced.
2. Greg Holland, Royals (A)
Holland’s stats are a virtual mirror image of Kimbrel’s the past two years, right down to the identical WHIP (0.89) and number of strikeouts (193). In AL-only leagues, there’s a vast gap between him and the next reliever, so open the wallet.
3. Aroldis Chapman, Reds (A)
Chapman has yet to log a 40-save season and he’ll have the occasional implosion, but he’s the most unhittable pitcher in the game. Last year he K’d 5.17 batters for every hit allowed; no one else (min. 50 IP) had a higher ratio than 3.17.
4. Dellin Betances, Yankees
Tier 2 begins the faith-based segment of the relievers’ list — headed by Betances, who’s saved one game in his career. Last year, though, he gave up 43% fewer hits than anyone else at his innings level and — get this — fanned more men than 54 pitchers who started at least 20 games.
5. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
Jansen measures up to those above him in saves and strikeouts, but there are times when his one pitch (a Mariano-like cutter) catches too much of the plate, making him susceptible to the barrel (so-so 2.76 ERA, 7.6 hits per nine in 2014). Jansen also will miss the first month or so after underdoing foot surgery in February.
6. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
Pap’s velo is not what it once was, but he returned to his fastball as his bread-and-butter last year to chart his lowest WHIP since 2007. Whereas no other pitcher’s current streak is longer than four, he’s saved at least 29 games in nine straight campaigns.
7. David Robertson, White Sox
Robertson surrendered an ER in only 11 of 63 outings, but home runs trashed his ERA (3.08). Only pitcher in history with at least 10 Ks/9 IP in each of his first seven seasons.
8. Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
Forty-five saves are 45 saves, but Rosenthal’s SOs/9 sank by nearly two and his BBs/9 rose by three to an unsightly 5.4. One theory is that he was overworked. His stuff is too electric not to be successful.
9. Zach Britton, Orioles
Subbing out ground balls for missed bats makes Britton just as effective as the top-shelf closers, sans strikeouts. He saved 37 games with a 1.65 ERA, although his 62 whiffs ranked just 63rd among relievers.
10. Cody Allen, Indians
Devoured the closer’s job when it fell to him in late May. Still a novice, he doesn’t yet have the command of some of his fellow flamethrowers, but if and when he develops it, he could look a lot like Holland.
11. Huston Street, Angels
He’s oft-downgraded for his sub-90s velocity, but Street’s bottom line is that he was the third-youngest closer to save 250 games. He simply has “it” — as well as the longest active streak (10) of 15-save seasons.
12. Steve Cishek, Marlins
Rocketed to 11.6 SOs/9 IP despite charting career-low velocities while throwing 94% sinkers and sliders. Kimbrel and Holland are the only other active closers (min. 50 chances) to convert nine of 10 career opportunities.
13. Mark Melancon, Pirates
He’s not a lights-out guy, but Melancon has allowed only three homers and 19 walks in 142 innings as a Pirate. The flip side: He was the lone full-time closer to serve up three walk-off hits in 2014.
14. Sean Doolittle, Athletics
Doolittle was the sole reliever to put fewer than one-of-five batters faced on base. He allowed 13 of his 19 ERs in three outings, plumping his ERA from 0.87 to 2.73. Looked bad in the playoffs, so he’s not yet totally battle-hardened, and he could miss some time at the beginning of the season because of a shoulder issue.
15. Koji Uehara, Red Sox
Uehara returned to the realm of mere mortals last season, allowing eight homers in 29.2 innings during a two-and-a-half-month stretch. He turns 40 soon after Opening Day, so his leash might be deceptively short.
16. Drew Storen, Nationals
17. Addison Reed, Diamondbacks
18. Fernando Rodney, Mariners (E)
19. Glen Perkins, Twins (F)
20. Brett Cecil, Blue Jays (B,C)
21. Joe Nathan, Tigers
22. Santiago Casilla, Giants
23. Jenrry Mejia, Mets
24. Neftali Feliz, Rangers
25. Joaquin Benoit, Padres (F)
26. Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
27. LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies
28. Luke Gregerson, Astros (B)
29. Hector Rondon, Cubs
30. Brad Boxberger, Rays (C)
31. Wade Davis, Royals (D)
32. Ken Giles, Phillies (C,D,G)
33. Andrew Miller, Yankees
34. Jeurys Familia, Mets (C)
35. Jake McGee, Rays (E,F)
36. Chad Qualls, Astros (E)
37. Sergio Romo, Giants (E)
38. Bruce Rondon, Tigers (C,F,G)
39. Joel Peralta, Dodgers
40. Jonathan Broxton, Brewers