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Player Showdowns: Relievers

by NBC Sports EDGE Staff
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

Often times in the midst of your draft, you’ll find yourself deciding between a couple players at the same position. With Player Showdowns, we take two players who are closely ranked by Average Draft Position (ADP) and/or Rotoworld’s 2014 season projections and have writers take a side and debate who should be selected first. Whose side will you be on?



Kenley Jansen vs. Craig Kimbrel




Kimbrel is coming off another one of the greatest relief seasons in history, but last year's dominance didn't match his 2012 showing. He went from striking out 16.7 batters per nine innings in 2012 to 13.2 last year. He got almost one-third fewer swings and misses, a good sign that the league doesn't find him quite as overpowering as it once did. Jansen actually had a higher swinging-strike percentage, even if his strikeout rate was still a bit lower (he finished at 13.0). His K rate, like Kimbrel's, has diminished since he first entered the league, but his walk rate has declined more sharply. Last year, he walked just 18 in 76 2/3 innings, allowing him to post an even better WHIP than Kimbrel (0.86 to 0.88). Most likely, no one who drafts either of these guys is going to come away disappointed. Jansen just projects to be a little better now. For one thing, he's probably on the better team in Los Angeles, which could result in an extra couple of save chances. More importantly, he'll probably pitch a few more innings -- he topped Kimbrel by 9 2/3 last year -- giving him more opportunity to help his fantasy teams in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. – Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot)




So my task here is to make an argument for a guy that has been unquestionably the most dominant closer in baseball over the last three seasons? Alright, I’ll give it a shot. Yes, Kimbrel’s strikeouts dropped a little bit last season, but he still struck out an absurd 98 over 67 innings. The 25-year-old has piled up a whopping 341 whiffs across 206 2/3 frames the last three seasons, and over that time he’s registered a microscopic 1.48 ERA and 0.87 WHIP while averaging 46 saves. There’s no doubt that Jansen is fantastic, and it’s possible that he’ll inch past Kimbrel as the top fantasy closer this season. However, there are his past heart problems to consider, a health issue that is hopefully behind him but we can never be certain. Both of these guys will almost surely be elite, but I’ll go with the one who has done it more and who has shown no real signs of slowing down. – Ryan Boyer (@RyanPBoyer)


Jonathan Papelbon vs. Addison Reed




It's easy to be down on Papelbon right now. His fastball/slider velocity have diminished and the strikeouts are going down along with it. His days as a top-tier relief pitcher are likely to be over, but all things considered, I'd rather have him than Reed going into this season. While Reed has survived in a hitter-friendly stadium before, you still have to worry about that fly ball rate in the desert. The 25-year-old right-hander even lost two MPH off his fastball last year. A string of bad outings could have Kirk Gibson looking toward J.J. Putz (if he's healthy) or possibly even Brad Ziegler, who succeeded in the role for brief time last year despite a low strikeout rate. Papelbon isn't missing bats like he used to, but his swinging strikeout rate was still around the league average for relievers last year and he doesn't give up many free passes. The Phillies would surely love to get out under his massive contract if they could, but that's not likely to happen and there's no obvious alternative for the closer role if he has a bad stretch. My answer might be different next spring, but for now, I'm going with Papelbon.  - D.J. Short (@djshort)




On the surface, Papelbon's 2013 was more of the same for the right-hander. Papelbon posted a 2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and notched 29 saves for a bad Phillies team. But the underlying numbers from last year tell a different, more worrisome story. Papelbon's 8.32 K/9 was over two points lower than his career average. He also saw a drop in swinging strikes, and his velocity has dropped more than two mph across the board since 2011. He offset his skills decline by throwing more strikes, walking just 4.3 percent of batters faced. He was also able to trade some swinging strikes in exchange for weaker contact, posting his lowest line drive percentage since 2007. That worked for him last year, but eventually closers pay the price for inferior stuff. Reed also saw a velocity dip last season, but all his peripherals went the other way -- he posted a better ERA, K/9, BB/9 and swinging strike percentage last year than he did in his rookie season. And as a result of an offseason trade to the Diamondbacks, Reed now finds himself in a better park for his fly-ball tendencies -- relatively better, as he goes from the fire of U.S. Cellular Field to the frying pan that is Chase Field -- and on a better team capable of affording him more save opportunities. Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson recently confirmed Reed will be the team's closer this season, so there's no concern about the presence of J.J. Putz and David Hernandez. While Papelbon's star seems to be fading, Reed's looks to be rising, and he should be the choice as such. – Nathan Grimm (@Nate_Grimm)


Casey Janssen vs. Rafael Soriano




We've gotten used to considering Soriano as one of the league's better relievers, but he's at real risk of losing that billing. His fastball velocity has been on a steady decline dating back to 2007 and he missed fewer bats than ever before last season. While his control improved, he averaged just 6.89 K/9. And that's not ideal for a closer. It appears that a big reason for the drop in swinging strikes was a change in his pitch mix, mainly a significant decrease in sliders thrown. Perhaps he'll find the right balance this year, but maybe we should consider this as his new normal as he goes into his age-34 season. Janssen wasn't Plan A for the Blue Jays, but he has blossomed as the team's closer over the past two seasons, putting up a 2.55 ERA while going 56-for-61 in save opportunities. He's missing more bats than Soriano these days, throws plenty of strikes, and also keeps the ball on the ground more often. Sergio Santos still lingers as a possible alternative if Janssen struggles, but the Nationals have two pretty talented options of their own with Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. Don't go the extra dollar on Soriano because of past performance. Janssen is simply the better pitcher right now. - D.J. Short (@djshort)




Janssen and Soriano have both pitched about 173 innings since the start of the 2011 season and Janssen has both a better ERA (2.46 compared to 3.01) and strikeout rate (8.9 K/9 vs. 8.1 K/9) than Soriano over that span. But I like Soriano more than Janssen for the 2014 fantasy baseball season for a number of reasons. First, the Nationals are a far better team than the Blue Jays. Washington is expected to compete for the 2014 World Series title and Toronto is looking at a .500 finish. Second, the Nationals play in a far easier division than the Blue Jays. Washington is a heavy favorite to win the National League East and Toronto would do well to place third in the American League East. This means more wins for Soriano’s team, and more wins usually means more opportunities for saves. The final tiebreaker for me is an injury concern I have with Janssen. He didn’t make his Grapefruit League debut until March 24 this spring due to shoulder soreness. I want the healthier closer on the team more suited to get him save chances. – Drew Silva (@drewsilv)







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