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Showdowns: Relievers

by NBC Sports EDGE Staff
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Often 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 2016 season projections and have writers take a side and debate who should be selected first. Whose side will you be on?



Craig Kimbrel vs. Wade Davis




One can make a case that, over the last two seasons, Davis has been baseball’s best reliever. He wasn’t a closer for most of that time, but the dominance is impressive nonetheless. But in fantasy leagues, I would take Kimbrel over Davis if I had to pick between the two. Kimbrel posted a career-worst 2.58 ERA last season with the Padres, but he has racked up 39-plus saves five seasons running and posted an ERA in the 1.00’s from 2012-14. Only a handful of relievers are in his stratosphere when it comes to missing bats as well. Furthermore, in fantasy leagues, the quality of a closer’s team can be a big factor on his potential value. For instance, Jonathan Papelbon had a great 2015 season, but he played for the Phillies – MLB’s worst team – before being traded to the sputtering Nationals at the end of July. As such, he had only 26 total save opportunities. Though the Royals won the World Series last season, FanGraphs is projecting them to win 77 games, while the Red Sox are pegged at 88. If you buy the projections, that could mean five or so more save opportunities for Kimbrel than Davis. Davis has the edge in recent success over Kimbrel, but Kimbrel has a better long-term track record, much more experience at the position, a slightly better ability to miss bats, and is on the better team. – Bill Baer (@Baer_Bill)




Kimbrel’s ERA has increased in three straight seasons and now he’s headed to the hitter-friendly ballparks of the AL East after a trade from the Padres to the Red Sox. This is the script I should be following with my critique in this matchup, but I’m really not worried about Kimbrel at all. He still misses a ridiculous number of bats and his velocity was as high as ever last season. Ultimately, this isn’t as much about Kimbrel as it is about how amazing Davis has been since he moved back to the bullpen. The 30-year-old has been on another planet over the past two seasons, posting a stingy 0.97 ERA over 140 appearances. Admittedly, he wasn’t as good last year as he was in 2014, as he surrendered three home runs and saw his strikeout rate fall by eight percent. But those are minor critiques. He was still great. Only two pitchers (min. 50 IP) had a lower hard contact rate. Davis didn’t miss a beat filling in for Greg Holland last season and while I’m certainly not projecting another ERA around 1.00 — that would be foolish — the prospect of a full season in the closer role vaults him to my No.1 choice in the American League. Only the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen ranks higher on my board overall. - D.J. Short (@djshort)


Mark Melancon vs. Ken Giles




Melancon overcame last year’s velocity scare to remain one of the game’s very best relievers, even if his ERA crept over 2.00 for the first time since 2012. He’s adept at getting quick outs with his grounder-inducing cutter, and, aided by playing in PNC Park, he almost never gives up homers. His velocity was back to normal in the second half of last year and has been better this spring than last, so there are no obvious red flags here. The Pirates are still well set up to generate as many save chances as any team in baseball, so even if he can’t match the Kimbrels and Chapmans strikeout for strikeout, Melancon is about as a good of a bet as anyone to finish up as a top-five closer. –Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot)




Giles finally got his chance to work in the ninth inning last year after a mid-season trade sent Jonathan Papelbon to the Nationals. He was brilliant in his limited chances, successfully converting 15 of his 17 save opportunities while compiling a miniscule 1.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 87/25 K/BB ratio across 70 innings. The 25-year-old now finds himself closing out games for the Houston Astros, a major step up in quality of team from the Phillies. While he saw an elevated walk rate during 2015, Giles brings unbelievable strikeout potential to the table. The right-hander owns a career 11.75 K/9 at the big league level and should be able to replicate that success in Houston. Where Giles is expected to climb into the elite closer ranks in 2016, Melancon already accomplished that feat in 2015. The Pirates' southpaw lead all of baseball with 51 saves while registering a terrific 2.23 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 76 2/3 innings. While the ratios are great, and should be better than Giles in 2016, Melancon also posted a career-low 7.28 K/9 last season. If those strikeout rates remain intact, Giles could whiff 30-40 more hitters than Melancon in 2016 given similar workloads. That difference in strikeouts is the reason that Giles makes for the more appealing fantasy option. – David Shovein (@DaveShovein)


Trevor Rosenthal vs. David Robertson




The first year of Robertson's four-year, $46 million free agent agreement with the White Sox went pretty smoothly. Some bad luck left him with a 3.41 final ERA -- his highest mark since 2010 -- but the peripheral numbers (0.93 WHIP, 86/13 K/BB ratio in 63 1/3 innings) were excellent and he was able to tally 34 saves for a team that wildly underperformed its preseason expectations. That said, I'm fully on the side of Rosenthal in this debate. The hard-throwing 25-year-old right-hander solved most of his control issues in 2015 and registered a 2.10 ERA with 83 strikeouts over 68 2/3 innings. He set a new Cardinals franchise record with 48 saves and became the third-youngest pitcher in MLB history to post back-to-back 40-save seasons (Rosenthal finished with 45 saves in 2014). I'll take the younger, harder-throwing option here. And you might think Cracklin' Rosey is all fastball, but his changeup can be absolutely devastating. – Drew Silva (@drewsilv)




In the discussion of elite closers, Robertson isn't among the usual suspects. That's probably fair -- he's not Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman or even Craig Kimbrel -- but he's not as far off as many would expect. In his first year with the White Sox, the right-hander struck out 34.4 percent of batters faced, per Fangraphs, placing him eighth among qualified relievers. He walked just 5.2 percent of batters faced, 19th-best among relievers. So it's not surprising that his 29.2 strikeout-minus-walk percentage ranked fourth behind only the aforementioned Jansen, the equally dominant Andrew Miller and the best reliever in the game, Chapman. What has precluded him from being part of the elite in recent years, then, has been an earned run average above 3.00. ERA counts in our game, so it can't be cast aside as unimportant, but it should be noted that his fielding-independent pitching (FIP) has regularly come in below that line -- he owns a 2.71 FIP for his career. Some bad luck and a propensity to allow home runs has contributed to his slightly bloated ERA, but he has all the underlying skills to correct those issues. And while U.S. Cellular Field remains a hitters' park, the Sox made moves to improve their defense by adding Todd Frazier and Austin Jackson this offseason. If you miss out on the elites, Robertson represents the next best thing. – Nathan Grimm (@Nate_Grimm)




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