MLB.com Columnist

Fred Zinkie

Sweet relief: Jansen is best fantasy closer

Chapman, Britton also among top options at volatile position

Sweet relief: Jansen is best fantasy closer

With more volatility than any other group, relievers can be the most frustrating assets for fantasy owners to manage.

Over the course of the season, many relievers go from being valuable producers one day to waiver-wire fodder the next. Accordingly, wise owners will spread out their investment in the position -- drafting at least one elite closer and another from the middle tiers, before taking a risk on a late-round option.

Full fantasy relief pitcher rankings

Tier One: Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman

The top tier provides a pair of options for owners who are willing to pay the premium price.

With a lifetime 2.20 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 13.9 K/9 rate, Jansen is among baseball's most dominant bullpen arms and one of the only relievers with a realistic chance to provide 40-plus saves and 100-plus strikeouts in '17.

Outlook: Jansen, RP, LAD

While Chapman can match skills with Jansen at every turn -- as evidenced by his career 2.08 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 15.2 K/9 rate -- his supporting cast isn't as strong. As a result, the Yankees closer will likely have his name called after Jansen's in many '17 drafts.

Outlook: Chapman, RP, NYY

Tier Two: Zach Britton, Seung Hwan Oh, Mark Melancon, Roberto Osuna, Edwin Diaz, Ken Giles, Jeurys Familia, Craig Kimbrel, Wade Davis

Owners who wish to play it safe with their closers may want to pluck a pair of pitchers from the second tier, which encompasses the remaining rock-solid options. 

After recording a 0.54 ERA and converting all 47 of his save chances during a historically dominant '16 season, Britton may be the most reliable closer in baseball. But because the southpaw lags behind Jansen and Chapman in the strikeout department (10.4 K/9 rate from '15-16), he falls into tier two.

Outlook: Britton, RP, BAL

Oh took over as the Cardinals' closer just three months into his rookie season and didn't look back, finishing the campaign with a stellar 1.92 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. The right-hander should use his outstanding strikeout skills (11.6 K/9 rate) and excellent control (2.0 BB/9 rate) to produce a strong follow-up to his debut campaign.

Outlook: Oh, RP, STL

Melancon, Kimbrel and Davis all have a drawback -- a middling strikeout rate for Melancon (lifetime 8.2 K/9 rate), a high walk rate for Kimbrel (5.1 BB/9 rate in '16) and last year's arm injuries for Davis -- that limits their fantasy appeal to a degree. But each man also has the skills to rank among the top 5 fantasy relievers in '17.

The same goes for Familia and Osuna, who both have long leashes in the ninth inning after excelling over the past two seasons. Familia has produced 94 saves, a 2.20 ERA and a 9.8 K/9 rate since the outset of '15, while Osuna has delivered 56 saves, a 2.63 ERA and a 9.8 K/9 rate in that same span.

Outlook: Osuna, RP, TOR

Meanwhile, Diaz and Giles represent high-upside options as they both prepare to enter a season in the closer's role for the first time. Diaz may have the highest ceiling in the second tier, as he logged an eye-popping 15.3 K/9 rate in his '16 rookie season. And Giles rebounded from a slow start last year to post a 3.23 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and a 14.2 K/9 rate in his final 58 games.

Outlook: Giles, RP, HOU

Tier Three: Kelvin Herrera, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Alex Colome

A pair of Indians highlights the third tier. With a sub-3.00 ERA and at least 87 strikeouts in each of the past four years, Allen would rank in the second tier if not for the presence of Miller -- arguably the most skilled reliever in the game.

Expected to be used in a variety of high-leverage situations, Miller -- who has posted a 1.82 ERA during a stretch of three straight seasons with 100-plus K's -- could approach double-digits in both wins and saves.

Outlook: Miller, RP, CLE

In his first year as a full-time reliever, Colome produced outstanding ratios (1.91 ERA, 1.02 WHIP) with an 11.3 K/9 rate and 37 saves. Even with some regression -- he had a 2.92 FIP last season -- the right-hander should hold his ninth-inning gig for the entirety of the campaign.

Herrera could be this year's version of Colome -- going on to rank among the league leaders in saves after entering the campaign without extensive closing experience. The right-hander is set to inherit the Royals' ninth-inning role after Wade Davis was traded to the Cubs in the offseason.

Outlook: Herrera, RP, KC

Tier Four: A.J. Ramos, Tony Watson, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Sam Dyson, Francisco Rodriguez, Shawn Kelley

The fourth tier represents the last line of security before fantasy owners need to wade into the pool of relievers with marginal skills or uncertain roles. But owners should tread carefully, as recent trends show only a few of these men will hold the closer's role for the entire season.

Throughout his career, Ramos has used his swing-and-miss stuff (lifetime 10.4 K/9 rate) to overcome unimpressive control (lifetime 4.7 BB/9 rate). But the Marlins have plenty of options -- including Brad Ziegler and Kyle Barraclough -- if Ramos' wildness becomes too large of a problem.

Despite compiling 38 saves last year, Dyson could have a similarly short leash. The ground-ball specialist lacks the strikeout skills of a typical closer and anchors a bullpen replete with skilled hurlers such as Matt Bush and Jeremy Jeffress.

Outlook: Dyson, RP, TEX

Among the closers in the fourth tier, Robertson and Rodriguez have the longest track records as well as the firmest grips on their jobs. But both showed signs of decline last year, with Robertson notching his highest BB/9 rate (4.6) since '11 and Rodriguez posting a career-low 8.0 K/9 rate.

Outlook: Robertson, RP, CWS

Rounding out the closer options in this tier are Watson (lifetime 2.56 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) and Kelley (2.55 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 11.8 K/9 rate over '15-16), two pitchers who could offer great fantasy value if they're permitted to handle the stopper's role all season. Watson has a better chance of doing so, as he is set to enter '17 with the job after inheriting it last August. Kelley, meanwhile, will need to win a Spring Training competition with the Nationals.

For those who grow tired of the unpredictability that accompanies mid-level closers, Betances may be the preferred option. Likely to handle a heavy workload, the imposing right-hander could produce stellar ratios and more than 125 whiffs.

Outlook: Betances, RP, NYY

Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.