Liam Hendriks, coming off his best season, signed a deal to join a burgeoning White Sox team with World Series aspirations.

John Antonoff/Chicag Sun-Times

As the game of baseball has evolved, a new level of respect has been put on relievers' names.

Since the early to mid-2010s, managers started eschewing traditional workhorse starters for situational pitching and fresh arms that toss high-powered gas at will. A sturdy, trustworthy closer has always been important, but with the advent of β€œHolds" as a statistic and fantasy category even middle relievers have obtained a place of prominence.

More so than any other position, relief pitchers are dependent on situational value. How can a strong closer notch saves without playing on a team that consistently puts them in save situations? Over the course of a full season, there are usually enough wins to go around and allow a reliever to make their bones, but it's the little things that separate you from a championship or missing the playoffs. That attention to detail is reflected below.


THE SUMMIT

Cream rises to the top β€” whether we are talking about dairy products or relief pitchers, the idiom remains the same. There is a clear and defined group at the summit of these rankings with a steep drop off to base camp. The top three on this list are, on average, drafted within about 12 slots of each other (Hendriks At 58, Hader at 59, and Chapman at 70). This is no accident.

Liam Hendriks - CWS

Here's a guy who might benefit the most from a change in circumstances. For the past two seasons, he's been a lights-out closer on an Oakland team that routinely competes for the AL West crown with a bargain basement payroll. After hitting the free agent market, he was signed by the team that he absolutely smothered in the Wild Card round last season, the Chicago White Sox.

Most experts had the young upstarts poised for a long playoff run, but that all ended after the A's offense did just enough and Hendriks' Herculean effort. Now, firmly cemented as the closer on a legit World Series contender, Hendricks vaults to the top of this list with his potent arsenal and two straight years of a sub-1.00 WHIP and sub-2.00 ERA. It's hard to make an argument against the Australian not claiming the #1 spot.

Josh Hader - MIL

Up until recently, Hader held a death grip on the title of the MLB's undisputed best closer; and from a pure talent argument, he may still have a rightful claim to the throne. There's not much to say here that hasn't already been said about the long-haired flamethrower, and he represents a sure bet whenever you draft him.

However, the Brewers are on the verge of a make-or-break season after going from divisional winners to wild card round losers to finishing under .500 in a span of three years. As the team record declined, the likelihood of a Hader trade has increased, especially with the emergence of Devin Williams. If Hader were to be dealt to a prospect-rich contender, his fantasy value would Increase. This, also, would open the door to Williams, and his signature pitch, becoming a fantasy force of their own, forcing a re-configuring of any rankings.

Aroldis Chapman - NYY

Chapman never really got going in 2020 after missing the start of the season due to a positive COVID test and hitting the DL for about a month in the middle, leading to only three saves but more than respectable numbers for WHIP, strikeouts, and other periphery stats. His manager, Aaron Boone, pointed out during this Spring Training that Yankee fans and media have been able to avoid the annual tradition of worrying about Chapman's velo.

Usually, as he builds up to regular season strength, everyone goes all Chicken Little and screams that the sky is falling on the Cuban Missile's most important asset. Eventually, it ramps back up, and he returns to his usual best reliever in the AL form. As a Yankee fan, I've definitely been left with a bad taste in my mouth, having the season ended two years in a row by walk offs that Chapman let up, but EVEN that wouldn't stop me from drafting him, especially if he's adding a new pitch to his arsenal: the Splitter.

BASE CAMP

Edwin Diaz - NYM

James Karinchak - CLE

The path has been cleared for Karinchak to take sole possession of Cleveland's closer role with Brad Hand joining the anemic Nationals' pen. The 25-year-old moved up the organization quickly and established a reputation as a strike out force, punching out nearly two thirds of all batters he retired. There's no one else on the team that has as effective combo as his lively fastball and knee-buckling curve, so it seems to be a safe bet that he wins the job and becomes a productive addition to any fantasy team.

Kirby Yates - TOR

Ryan Pressly - HOU

Pressly assumed the closer role in lieu of Roberto Osuna, who went down with an elbow injury in 2020. The former Twin was one of the 'Stros original diamonds in the rough that they polished by emphasizing his four seamer and curveball. Since the trade from Minnesota, he's been one of the most effective relief pitchers in baseball and should prove to be equally effective as a closer with ample opportunities for saves.

Raisel Iglesias - LAA

Brad Hand - WSH

Kenley Jansen - LAD

Trevor Rosenthal - OAK

Will Smith - ATL

ON THE GROUND

Nick Anderson - TB

Rafael Montero - SEA

Craig Kimbrel - CHC

How the mighty have fallen. The once powerhouse All-Star has become as shaky as they come since his move to Chicago. The first year and half were not confidence-inspiring, and this Spring has done nothing to change this narrative. He's on the wrong side of 30, and while his velocity may have seen an uptick, there's no accounting for his command.

Matt Barnes - BOS

Richard Rodriguez - PIT

Joakim Soria - ARI

Drew Pomeranz - SD

A trade deadline pickup for the Brewers from the Giants in 2019, Pomeranz transitioned easily to the pen and went on to find new life as a reliever. He signed with the Padres and continued to effectively eat up innings for them, cutting out a nice role for himself. While San Diego brought in Mark Melancon to compete for the ninth inning job, but Pomeranz should be able to still rack up holds, and you can't rule out him taking hold of it and not letting go.

Jordan Hicks - STL

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