2016 Outlook: Jansen's 2015 debut was delayed by a foot injury, but he did not miss a beat upon returning from the disabled list in mid-May. The absence limited him to just 54 appearances -- his lowest total since 2011 -- while he still managed to pile up 36 saves in 38 opportunities. Skills wise, Jansen improved his walk rate for the fifth consecutive seasons to a career-low 4.0 BB%, while he continues to miss bats at an elite clip (40.0 K% in 2015, career 39.4 percent). With a hard cutter that hitters rarely square up, Jansen only occasionally leans on his slider as a second offering. In an era where extremely dominant relievers are seemingly more common, Jansen is among the best in the league, and he should be one of the safest closers to invest in on draft day given his outstanding peripherals and a stranglehold on the ninth-inning role for the Dodgers.
2016 Outlook: Davis has been one of the most effective relievers in the game since transitioning to the bullpen, but up until late last season, he was limited mostly to setup duty for Kansas City. All-Star Greg Holland was all that was blocking his path to mixed-league superstardom, and with Holland out of the way entirely entering 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Davis is now locked in as one of the top closer options on the board. Using a cutter and a curveball to complement his mid-90s fastball, Davis struck out more than 31 percent of the batters he faced, though his strikeout rate was down significantly from the 39.1 percent mark he posted in 2014. The right-hander improved his control, but his walk rate remained only average at eight percent. Some may point to these numbers and his 92.2 percent strand rate from last year and scream "regression!" But opponents made hard contact less than 18 percent of the time against Davis, and the home park and team context are about as favorable as it gets for a closer.
2016 Outlook: At first glance, it may appear as though Kimbrel's one-year stop in San Diego marks the beginning of a gradual decline. After all, his 2.58 ERA was the highest mark he's posted over six big league seasons. Upon further review, he doesn't seem to be in decline at all, as he finished the season on a high note by delivering a 39:8 K:BB and 1.73 ERA over 26 innings after the All-Star break. With two years and a team option for 2018 left on his contract, the Padres decided that Kimbrel was a luxury they did not need. Traded to Boston for Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra in November, Kimbrel will close for the Red Sox in 2016 as he continues to build the foundation of a resume that should garner consideration for Cooperstown someday. Since arriving in the big leagues in 2010, Kimbrel has struck out 41.2 percent of the batters he's faced. He's also managed to increase the average velocity on his fastball every year he's been in the big leagues, topping out at 97.3 MPH last season.
2016 Outlook: In his first full season as closer, Allen continued to show why Cleveland saw him as its closer of the future from the very beginning. Allen set a career high with 34 saves and finished with a solid 2.99 ERA and a brilliant 1.82 FIP. His 12.8 K/9 was a career best, and with 99 strikeouts, Allen can compete with most elite closers. He still has some control issues -- he posted a walk rate above 3.0 BB/9 for the fourth consecutive season -- but he also allowed a 41.1-percent flyball rate, the lowest he has allowed since his rookie year. That is critical in keeping his walks from coming back to haunt him, as Allen served up just two home runs in 2015. At 27 years old, there's still some room for Allen to improve.
2016 Outlook: Rosenthal recorded his second career 40-save season in 2015, increasing his grip on the ninth-inning job in St. Louis in the process. After struggling with walks in 2014 (13.6 BB%), he showed significant improvement in that department a year ago (8.7 percent) while continuing to miss bats at a high clip (28.9 K%). Additionally, Rosenthal induced more outs on the ground, finishing the year with a 45.8 percent GB% -- his highest total since 2012. The biggest flaw here is a tendency to allow hard contact when he misses his spot, as his fastball has premium velocity but lacks movement. A starter in the Cards' minor league system as a prospect, Rosenthal could keep hitters off-balance more frequently if he relied on his breaking pitches more often, but he throws a fastball or changeup more than 90 percent of the time. With a fair amount of job security and 80-plus strikeouts in three consecutive seasons, Rosenthal only needs to reduce his hit rate in order to become a top-tier closer.
2016 Outlook: Ho-hum is the last term most would use to describe Chapman, but his dominance on the mound has almost become ho-hum at this point. He once again struck out more than 40 percent of the batters he faced, using otherworldly velocity to dominate hitters on both sides of the plate. Control will always be a relative flaw with a pitcher like Chapman, but the stuff is so good that it truly does not matter, as hitters cannot capitalize with runners on base. Chapman has converted 69-of-74 save opportunities over the last two seasons and did not blow more than five saves in any of his four seasons as the Reds' closer. After an offseason trade to the Bronx, Chapman is primed to serve as closer for the 27-time world champions, but only after serving a 30-game suspension for violating MLB’s new Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Child Abuse policy. Andrew Miller will take back over in the meantime, but Chapman should take over the ninth-inning role soon after returning to the team when he becomes eligible to do so May 9.
2016 Outlook: After an early-season drop in velocity on his cutter, Melancon found his footing in May and gradually regained most of the zip on his arsenal as the season progressed. In his first two seasons with the Pirates, Melancon carried a strikeout rate of at least 25.0 percent, but that mark fell to 21.2 percent in 2015. Fortunately, he avoided beating himself with walks (4.8 BB%) while continuing to do a good job keeping the ball in the park thanks to his ability to induce grounders at an excellent clip. With that combination of skills and the benefit of pitching half of his games at PNC Park, Melancon offers a steady floor, but he does not possess the dominant shutdown potential of a top-tier closer. Among the 19 relievers with at least 30 saves last season (Melancon led the league with 51), only Brad Ziegler had a lower strikeout rate than Melancon. While he will likely be priced as a top-10 closer on draft day, he may fall just shy of returning ample value at that price point even if he retains the job all year.
2016 Outlook: Weird things can happen in small samples for relievers. A great example is Robertson and how his ERA is apparently trending in the wrong direction even as his ERA indicators suggest he's been the same guy for the past three seasons. The real interesting trend is how he's flipped from being an extreme groundballer to a flyball pitcher. Flyball pitchers can be effective if they carry a high strikeout rate with low walk rates. Robertson's control is inconsistent but, combined with a stellar strikeout rate, is good enough to get away with a few extra lofted batted balls despite working in U.S. Cellular Field half the time. Robertson will be a strong contributor in saves, WHIP and punch outs. His ERA, on the other hand, is up to fate -- even more so than most pitchers.
2016 Outlook: Britton had his fair share of doubters entering last season despite his having turned in a 1.65 ERA and 37 saves in his first season as the Orioles' closer in 2014. Concerns stemmed mostly from his relatively modest strikeout and walk rates and extreme reliance on the fastball, but Britton quieted the noise, finishing third in the American League in saves with sparkling ratios to boot. Those ratios were fully supported by the peripheral numbers, as Britton improved his strikeout rate by nearly 10 percentage points to 31.2 percent. That jump in strikeouts did not come at the expense of his groundball or walk rates. The groundball rate, which was already among the game's elite, jumped to almost 80 percent last season, allowing Britton to keep the ball in the park with incredible consistency. He gave up three home runs and has allowed just seven homers over the last two years combined. By shaving his walk rate by close to three percentage points to 5.5 percent, Britton finished with one of the best walk rates among closers. The job is all his and another season with an ERA under 2.00 is entirely possible.
2016 Outlook: Jenrry Mejia, last year's incumbent closer, experienced elbow soreness while warming up on Opening Day and was later suspended, affording Familia a chance to step into the ninth-inning role. Familia never looked back, converting each of his first 13 save opportunities and 43-of-48 total chances during the regular season. He allowed a total of five earned runs over the first three months of the season and finished with 86 strikeouts, only fewer than Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, and A.J. Ramos among NL closers. Familia's 19 walks were the fewest among that bunch. The season ended on a bit of a sour note, as Familia became the first player ever to blow three saves in the World Series, though Familia only gave up one earned run on three hits in his four appearances against Kansas City (5 innings). With Chapman and Kimbrel both jumping to the American League in the offseason, Familia is arguably behind only Kenley Jansen in terms of NL-only appeal and certainly a top-10 closer target in all mixed-league formats.
2016 Outlook: In his second year as closer, Rondon dealt with the pressure of a playoff race with aplomb. He dropped his ERA from 2.42 to 1.67 and set a career high with 30 saves in his second season in the closer role. Rondon's control remains impeccable, as he walked under two batters per nine innings. He isn't a strikeout machine like baseball's elite closers -- he struck out less than a batter per inning for the second consecutive year -- but his ability to keep batters off the basepaths and keep the ball on the ground allows him to succeed despite the modest strikeout numbers. Rondon induced a career high 1.92 ground balls per fly ball and he has allowed just six home runs in the past two seasons. His repertoire doesn't have the blow-it-by-them stuff that most closers feature, but the heaviness of Rondon's pitches makes it work.
2016 Outlook: Ramos once again mowed down hitters at a blistering clip in 2015, fanning 87 over 70.1 innings while operating as the Marlins' closer. The 11.1 K/9 rate marked Ramos'second-highest figure in that category and best since his 2012 rookie campaign when he pitched only 9.1 frames. The 29-year-old’s control improved, as Ramos produced a career-best 3.3 BB/9 rate that nevertheless still has substantial room for improvement. While he nailed down 32 saves in 38 opportunities, Ramos was expected to face competition for the closer’s job from Carter Capps during spring training, but Capps is sidelined indefinitely with another elbow injury. Even with a clearer path to the job to begin the season, Ramos'control issues may ultimately serve as the deciding factor in whether he can hold onto it for the duration of the season.
2016 Outlook: K-Rod has seemingly been around forever, ranking as the active leader in saves (386) and games finished (602), but the 14-year veteran is entering just his age-34 season. He was called in to save the beleaguered Detroit bullpen, adding a dose of stability to a cast that otherwise features a carousel of sketchy options. Rodriguez is coming off the best season of his career in terms of limiting the free passes (5.1 percent walk rate), posting his third consecutive season under 7.5 percent after exceeding 8.0 percent in each of the first 10 seasons of his career. The lack of walks has led to back-to-back seasons with af sub-1.00 WHIP, his first such campaigns since he was a rookie in 2003. The strikeout rate has remained intact, and K-Rod's 28.7 percent K rate in 2015 was his highest in seven years despite velocity that is creeping toward 90 mph.
2016 Outlook: Placing too much fantasy stock in a 36-year-old closer can be a shaky proposition, but Ziegler does figure to slot into that capacity with the D-Backs to open the 2016 campaign. He's earned the job for the moment on the strength of his career-high 30 saves in 2015, which he amassed after being designated for the role in May. Ziegler gets it done with veteran groundball savvy as opposed to power, as he managed a 1.85 ERA that ranked as the second best of his career with the help of an outstanding 6.29 GB/FB rate. He also turned it completely around against right-handed hitters, bringing down the average he surrendered to them a full 100 points below the .279 mark he'd yielded the season prior. While he could be a prolific source of saves once again, just don't look to Ziegler for many strikeouts, as the 7.3 K/9 rate he managed in 2014 proved to be the outlier it was largely suspected to be.
2016 Outlook: With the Rangers' bullpen in disarray in April, Tolleson stepped up to fill the closer's role in late May and never relinquished it. He was brilliant, as he saved 35 games in 37 appearances, struck out 52 batters and recorded a 2.78 ERA. The big question for Tolleson going forward will be if he can keep the ball in the ballpark. He has served up 19 combined home runs in the past two seasons, a total eclipsed only by Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Hoover, with 20 each. Six of the nine home runs he allowed in 2015 were of the solo variety, and he'll need to keep the base paths clean if he's going to survive that kind of onslaught again.