2017 Outlook: A compelling case can be made for Britton as the No. 1 closer in fantasy, especially in light of his all-time record-setting 0.54 ERA last season, as well as his record streak of 43 appearances without allowing an earned run. He's as low-risk as they come, thanks to a filthy sinker he throws 90-plus percent of the time, one that generates weak, ground ball-oriented contact when hitters do catch up to it. This does put Britton's fate in the hands of his command of the pitch, and he typically doesn't generate the number of strikeouts to lead the position, but in his defense, his approach has been infallible for three years running. Britton should be one of the first three closers off your board in any format, and perhaps the first in a Rotisserie league, where his more ratio-driven value has slightly greater appeal.
2017 Outlook: He's perhaps the game's most risk/reward pitcher, having averaged 27 starts and 163 innings pitched the past three seasons, while joining Clayton Kershaw as the only pitchers with at least 20 starts of a sub-three FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching score) in each of those years. Strasburg possesses elite command, his 5.13:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that time span ranked 11th, and an arsenal of four heavily used, quality pitches, and a compelling case could be made that he has pitched better than his surface numbers during his seven-year big-league career. The problem, however, is the injuries: He ended 2016 prematurely with a partial tear of the pronator tear in his elbow, and while it's not supposed to delay his start to 2017, that Strasburg has suggested he'd ease off his slider to decrease the stress on his elbow raises further questions about his durability. With full health, he'd be one of the 10 most valuable pitchers in fantasy, and maybe more in a points league. The risk of missed time, however, makes him a dicey pick in the early rounds.
2017 Outlook: For four-plus months of 2016, deGrom continued to exceed every expectation. Through 21 starts, he had a 2.30 ERA, fifth-best among qualifiers, a 1.05 WHIP and 24.5 percent strikeout rate, affirming his status as a sneaky top-10 fantasy starter. Forearm troubles shortly thereafter set him back, ultimately costing him the season's final month, resulting in mid-September surgery to repair ulnar nerve damage. He resumed throwing in December and is expected to be ready for the season, though any such injury raises valid durability questions. If he looks good during the spring, another run at the top 10 starters is possible, though he's more wisely valued a top-20 Rotisserie starter, and perhaps top-25 in points-based scoring since he's not usually a contender for the strikeouts crown.
2017 Outlook: Chapman's remarkable skill can be summed up with one stat: In the past five seasons combined, he threw 1,583 of the 3,024 total pitches clocked 100 mph or faster, and he threw 98 of the 101 clocked at 103 or faster. "Flamethrower" is an apt description, as he has paced all relievers in strikeout rate (percentage of total batters faced) in each of the past four seasons and owns five of the 22 seasons in baseball history of at least 50 innings pitched and a 40 percent strikeout rate. Back with the Yankees after a brief detour in Chicago to pick up a World Series ring, Chapman should vie for the No. 1 spot among fantasy closers, his odds slightly greater in points-based formats.
2017 Outlook: The majors' defending ERA crown winner (2.13), Hendricks had a lot of things break in his favor last season, but he also made adjustments that lent legitimacy to his performance. He was a master of minimizing hard contact, especially against left-handed hitters; he led the league in well-hit average allowed (.089) and was second in the category amongst right-handers versus lefty hitters (.085), thanks in part to increased sinker usage as well as a high-spin curveball (higher spin being more difficult to hit). His 3.20 FIP, which was right in line with his 3.29 career number, hints at regression to the mean in his future, but this is a pitcher who might make a career of somewhat exceeding his peripherals. In a year where few starting pitchers are truly "safe" picks, Hendricks makes an easy top-20 case.
2017 Outlook: Only one thing separates Melancon from the very top tier of fantasy closers: Strikeouts, as he typically hovers in the 60-70 (total) and 23-25 percent (rate) ranges. That said, he's one of the safest choices at the position, not simply because he earned a $62 million investment with the Giants this winter, but rather because he's heavily reliant upon one of the game's best cutters, mastering the pitch much in the way Mariano Rivera did during his career. Melancon's statistical ceiling might not challenge Aroldis Chapman's or Kenley Jansen's, but his floor ranks among the position's highest, as he's about as sure a bet for 40 saves, 65 strikeouts and a 2.00-ish ERA as there is. If Chapman, Jansen and Zach Britton represent "Tier 1" among closers, Melancon is in "Tier 1A" by himself.
2017 Outlook: Nicknamed "The Final Boss" during his days in the KBO, Oh appropriately took over as Cardinals closer in June of his first year in the States. Thanks to an elite slider, his stuff was fittingly video game-esque, as from June 25 forward, he had the ninth-most saves (19), a 2.16 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 31.1 percent strikeout rate, numbers that gave him a legitimate claim to a top-five valuation among fantasy closers. Besides a slight fly-ball leaning, only his relatively little big-league experience as well as 34 years of age are legitimate criticisms, as Oh is expected to begin 2017 again as the team's finisher, with next-in-line Trevor Rosenthal perhaps testing his mettle as a starter. If you're paying for saves, Oh is one of the wiser investments in any format.
2017 Outlook: The fear of impending Tommy John surgery sometimes instills excessive fear within us, with Tanaka an excellent such example. Since it was revealed in late 2014 that he had a small tear in the UCL in his right elbow, he has finished among the top 25 starters using Rotisserie scoring in both 2015 and 2016; volume-wise, he finished 36th among starters in the former. Tanaka's elite control -- he's one of three pitchers to have made at least 20 starts with a walk rate beneath five percent of his total batters faced in each of the past three seasons (Bartolo Colon, Clayton Kershaw) -- and difficult-to-square-up splitter makes him an extremely reliable, high-floor starter when healthy. While there'll always be risk he succumbs to such a surgery someday, Tanaka's consistent success makes him well worth drafting as a top-25 starter in any format.
2017 Outlook: A starter-turned-reliever, Osuna is expected to remain in the Blue Jays' closer role in 2017, giving him an excellent chance at a second consecutive season as a top-10 fantasy closer, whether in Rotisserie or points-based scoring. His appeal in the latter, however, could take a small hit due to subtle changes to his arsenal late in 2016: He leaned more heavily upon his sinker in the final month and during the playoffs, seeming to sacrifice some swings and misses for weak contact. As it was a small sample, Osuna can be considered a rock-solid choice, one of the first eight closers off your board, but it'd probably be better for his fantasy value if he returned to his previous fastball/slider form, giving him a legitimate chance at 40-plus saves and 90-plus strikeouts.
2017 Outlook: He's one of the most consistent and underappreciated starters in the game: Quintana is one of only five pitchers in baseball with at least 200 innings pitched of a sub-3.75 ERA in each of the past four seasons (Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer). Quintana's success is largely due to his aggressiveness coupled with good command, as he has ranked among the game's top 15 in getting first-pitch strikes in each of those four years. During that time, however, he hasn't exhibited much room for growth, which is a problem in Rotisserie leagues for a pitcher on a rebuilding team as the White Sox. As is, Quintana's 40 non-win quality starts the past three seasons combined are the major league's most. He's an excellent third or fourth starter for your squad, but at this point it'd be better for his fantasy value if the White Sox trade him, something that has been rumored for a while and might yet happen in-season.
2017 Outlook: There's so much talent hidden beneath in Cole's arm, but injuries and an unwillingness to trust his breaking pitches seem to be holding him back. In the past three seasons, he has made five trips to the DL, for shoulder, lat, triceps and elbow (twice) issues, and his 19.4 percent strikeout rate last season represented his worst yet at the big-league level. These traits threaten to push Cole several tiers down the rankings, as they exhibit the tendencies of a matchups-oriented fantasy starter, though his pedigree -- No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft, Keith Law's No. 8 overall prospect entering his 2013 big-league debut season -- and brief glimpses of greatness at this level suggest potentially something more. Unfortunately, until Cole shows us evidence of a burgeoning breakthrough, he's more of a "leap of faith" pick if treated as close to a top-20 fantasy starter or top-100 overall player, and in points-based scoring, the loss of strikeouts is troubling and might make him worth waiting a round or two longer.
2017 Outlook: The American League's defending Cy Young Award and Comeback Player of the Year Award winners, as well as the No. 14 finisher on the Player Rater and No. 6 using standard-scoring points, Porcello finally broke through last season thanks to increased reliance and spin upon his four-seam fastball. It was his go-to with two strikes to left-handed hitters, eradicating his previous righty/lefty split, and generated 74 of his 189 total strikeouts. In short, there were skills adjustments that drove Porcello's breakthrough, and ease fear of significant regression to the mean. Some regression to the mean, however, is inevitable, as almost everything went right for him, and a decent chunk of his value came from his 22 wins. Porcello has established himself as a firm member of the top 25 fantasy starters, but his true appeal might be that of a high-floor, low-ceiling pitcher, rather than the ace he appeared to be last year.
2017 Outlook: In the past three seasons combined, Davis' 1.18 ERA led all relievers with at least 150 innings pitched, his 0.89 WHIP was third-best and 33.1 percent strikeout rate was eighth-best, and now that he's the closer for the defending World Champion Cubs, his perceived value is sure to be sky-high. A pair of DL stints late last season due to forearm injuries provide reason for caution, however, as he lost some velocity and spin on his fastball as well as location of his slider/cutter during the second half, resulting in fewer swings and misses. Davis could enter spring training fully healthy, and by all rights he might be as valuable a fantasy closer as any during his peak-health periods, which is why he makes an easy top-10 pick at the position. Just understand that those forearm issues cast a bit of a shadow, making him a shakier pick than the top-five, known commodities.
2017 Outlook: Diaz's ascension to the upper tiers of fantasy closers was a quick one; he was converted from starter to reliever while with Double-A Jackson in May, made 10 relief appearances there, joined the Mariners in June, took over as closer in August and led the majors in saves (18) with the ninth-most strikeouts among relievers (39) in the final two months. He did it thanks to one of the filthiest sliders in the game, one that gives him excellent odds of a top-10 fantasy closer season again in 2017. Diaz's own admission that he tired in September is slightly alarming, though he also deserves credit for being so quick to adjust to those many changes he experienced last season. Few closers make genuine cases to reach the 40-save and 100-strikeout thresholds, but Diaz belongs in that group.
2017 Outlook: In retrospect, it's difficult to fathom how Duffy failed to crack the Royals' 2016 Opening Day rotation. Thanks to greater reliance upon his sinker, as well as elite fastball velocity that remarkably carried over into his return to the rotation, Duffy put forth a beneath-the-radar run at the American League's Cy Young award, finishing as the No. 24 starting pitcher on the Player Rater and 19th at the position in standard-league points. That delay in his ascension to the Royals' rotation might have been a boon; it assured a gradual, year-over-year ramping up of his annual workload, easing worry that he'll be prepared for a full-time starter's role in 2017. Duffy is due for some regression, especially if he can't replicate his 94.7 mph average fastball velocity, but a potential increase in volume (starts, innings) gives him great odds at similar fantasy value (or perhaps more).