2015 Outlook: Between the regular season and the postseason, Holland saved a whopping 53 games for Kansas City in 2014, with a mere two blown opportunities. The right-hander didn't allow a hit in his final eight appearances of the regular season, and allowed just one run in 11 innings during the Royals' improbable October run to the World Series. He surrendered multiple earned runs just once in 76 combined appearances, and issued multiple walks just three times. With three home runs allowed, Holland has now given up all of 14 long balls in 275 innings for his career, and he improved against opposing lefties for a third straight year. There's always a chance the workload could catch up to Holland, but he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down (95.8 mph average fastball velocity last season) and thus is still among the most appealing closers in fantasy entering 2015.
2015 Outlook: The immediate success of recent prospects has made it difficult to realize that many don't follow that linear path. Carrasco is the perfect illustration of a prospect who took a long time to find his way. After being acquired from the Indians in the Cliff Lee trade in 2009, he remained on target for a midseason call-up in 2010, then scuffled in 2011. As it turns out, he was battling elbow problems all season and needed Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss all of 2012. When he returned, Carrasco had the control problems that often accompany a pitcher coming back from that surgery. He finally got it all together last season after getting over some early hiccups and ended up being one of the most dominant pitchers in the final two months. Carrasco is one of the hardest-throwing starting pitchers in baseball, and now he has good enough secondary offerings to accompany that fastball. There are those who might discount Carrasco because of the sample size of his breakout, but his pedigree and velocity should be your controlling factors. Get him, and hope he can put it all together for a full season.
2015 Outlook: The pressure of trying to fill Mariano Rivera's shoes in the country's biggest media market could have easily gotten to Robertson, but the right-hander proved poised and plenty capable in the ninth-inning role in his first season as a closer. A groin injury forced him onto the DL just a week into the season, but Robertson returned after the minimum 15 days and remained healthy the rest of the year, converting 36 of his first 39 save opportunities and improving his strikeout rate from 2013 by three per nine innings. Thanks to an anomalous 15.6 percent HR/FB rate (career 9.4 percent) and a pair of disastrous outings, Robertson finished with an ERA more than a full run above his 2013 mark, but his xFIP actually dropped from 2.60 to 2.13, giving him the confidence to turn down the Yankees' $15.3 million qualifying offer at the end of the season. The White Sox ponied up more than $40 million to acquire Robertson's services, cementing him into the closer role on a rising team for several years to come.
2015 Outlook: Rather than turn to Allen to serve as the primary closer after releasing Chris Perez, the Indians brought in the more experienced John Axford to fill the ninth-inning role at the start of last season. It was less than two months before performance dictated a change, with Allen picking up saves in the final two days of May to secure his hold on the job. Although Allen's FIP (2.99) was more than 90 points higher than his ERA (2.07) last season, he improved his swinging-strike rate to a career-high 14.1 percent and his opponents' line-drive rate fell by more than nine percent (from 24.6 percent to 15.3 percent). Using just two pitches -- a mid-90s fastball and a curveball -- Allen struck batters out at a 32.6 percent clip, and he also fared far better against lefties than he had before. Entering 2015, Allen is locked in as Cleveland's endgame option, and there's currently nobody in the bullpen who presents a legitimate threat to his role.
2015 Outlook: In terms of pure stuff, Betances is easily among the most impressive pitchers in the game. After a failed run as a starter in the minors, Betances began his transition to the bullpen in 2013. It seems safe to say he's found his niche. The right-hander posted an ERA under 2.00 in all but one month in his first full season in the Yankees' bullpen, and in the one month he did not (April), he had a mark of 2.03. Having scrapped the curveball and rarely used changeup from his arsenal, Betances instead relied on a devastating slider to complement his mid- to high-90s fastball and strike batters out at a 39.6 percent clip, only behind new teammate Andrew Miller and Brad Boxberger in the AL. With David Robertson departing in the offseason, the door is open for Betances to step in as the Yankees' closer, though Miller's signing has clouded things a bit. If is he formally named the closer, Betances' stock will skyrocket, and even if he doesn't get the job and remains in a multi-inning role, he will still be more valuable than a lot of starting pitchers.
2015 Outlook: Street went from pitching in relative obscurity with San Diego to pitching for the American League's winningest team following a July trade, and while his numbers with the Angels weren't quite as good, he still finished with a 1.71 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 26⅓ innings with the Halos. He didn't blow a save until July 5, having converted his first 23 opportunities, and finished with a career-high 41 saves for the season, giving him 275 for his career (fifth among active players). Some will point to Street's otherworldly strand rates the past two years (99.5 percent in 2013 and 93.3 percent last season) and low BABIPs as reasons to be wary of the 31-year-old, but as long as he's striking batters out at close to a 25 percent clip and converting saves, he'll continue to make for an enticing fantasy option. Joe Smith is the only real threat to his job right now, and manager Mike Scioscia has been reluctant to give Smith an extended audition in the role.
2015 Outlook: The 2014 season was a tale of two halves for Uehara. After the right-hander posted a 1.65 ERA and .174 BAA in 43⅔ innings prior to the All-Star break, fatigue set in and he finished with a 4.35 ERA and .282 BAA in the second half, with all 10 of his earned runs allowed coming in a span of four innings (six appearances). His struggles forced manager John Farrell to make a change at closer -- Edward Mujica finished the year as the Red Sox's ninth-inning man -- but Boston re-signed Uehara to two-year, $18 million deal in the offseason, meaning the soon-to-be 40-year-old will return to the ninth-inning role to open 2015. It seems likely the team will take measures to limit Uehara's workload early on this season, potentially affording Mujica some save opportunities, but Uehara is still able to miss bats at a great clip (32.1 percent strikeout rate last season) and should have no trouble holding onto the job so long as his historically troublesome shoulder holds up.
2015 Outlook: Before succumbing to a left forearm strain in September, Perkins once again enjoyed a great deal of success in the closer role for Minnesota. On Aug. 21, Perkins was sitting on a 2.48 ERA and 32 saves in 36 chances. He wouldn't hit the DL until several weeks later, but the forearm issue began presenting issues before the end of the season's fifth month, and a 13.50 ERA in six September appearances marred his overall numbers. The lefty's biggest improvement last season was his control, as he trimmed his BB/9 to just 1.6 while maintaining a strikeout rate above 25 percent. He was prescribed only rest and rehabilitation after the season, but injuries of that nature need monitoring, as any sort of issue during spring training would warrant discounting Perkins a bit on draft day. When healthy, Perkins is a borderline top-five closer in the AL.
2015 Outlook: Rarely was it completely smooth sailing for Rodney -- he allowed a baserunner in 34 of his 51 save opportunities -- but the right-hander was able to shut the door on 48 occasions last season, more than any other pitcher in baseball. Rodney cut just one little tick off his FIP from 2013, but his ERA fell by more than half a run to 2.85, the second-best mark of his career. He trimmed his BB/9 by more than a full walk in his first season with Seattle, but Rodney's strikeout rate decreased slightly and he finished the year by giving up four earned runs in his final five appearances. Despite the shakiness at times, Rodney still has plenty of juice on his fastball, and his success in the role last season should afford him a relatively long leash to begin 2015.
2015 Outlook: Tommy Hunter's struggles at the start of last season created an opening for Britton, and the lefty didn't look back, converting 37 of his 41 save opportunities from May 15 onward. He gave up just six more hits than he allowed in 2013 despite pitching 36⅓ more innings, though Britton did benefit greatly from a tiny .215 BABIP, well below his .293 career mark. Sure, Britton doesn't miss as many bats as your prototypical ninth-inning pitcher (7.3 K/9 last season), but his improvement against right-handers last season, his team context and the lack of an immediate threat to his job make him an interesting second- or third-tier closer option heading into drafts. Darren O'Day has posted outstanding numbers in recent years but has had struggles against lefties, and it seems the Orioles prefer to keep him in a setup role.
2015 Outlook: McGee was dominant from start to finish in 2014, maintaining an ERA below 2.00 for all but one week of the season. Although he blew three saves in his final seven appearances, McGee finished with just four blown saves for the year, along with a 1.89 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, a 90:16 K:BB ratio, 14 holds and 19 saves. Opposing lefties hit .236/.267/.306 against him, and he was even tougher on right-handed hitters (.170/.232/.220). The 28-year-old was able to miss bats more frequently while trimming his walk rate by more than one per nine innings (from 3.1 BB/9 to 2.0 BB/9), so while his low 2.9 percent HR/FB rate was fluky, nothing else about his season was (1.73 FIP). Unfortunately, McGee will miss the start of the 2015 campaign following arthroscopic elbow surgery in December, but a late-April or early-May return seems to be in play, and he figures to at least force a closer committee upon his return, if he doesn't take the job back outright.
2015 Outlook: Once the Red Sox did away with the notion that Miller could be a starter, a whole new world opened up to him as a max-effort reliever. He went from striking out roughly seven batters per nine innings to well over 11 in 2012, and then more than 14 per nine innings the last two years. But 2014 was the real breakout for Miller, as he cut his walk rate in half from 4.99 walks per nine innings down to 2.45. he'd previously never even come close to 4.0, so it's worth wondering whether that improvement is sustainable, but it's believable that the former top prospect has developed his command. The Yankees are buying the breakout, as they inked him to a four-year, $36 million deal in December to be the chief setup man for Dellin Betances.
2015 Outlook: One of the Blue Jaysí top starting-pitching prospects, Sanchez spent the final 10 weeks of the 2014 campaign pitching out of the major league bullpen. Having begun the year as a 21-year-old starter with Double-A New Hampshire, Sanchez actually had a mediocre season in the minors, only to shine with the Jays. He posted a 1.09 ERA, 2.80 FIP and 0.70 WHIP over 33 innings (24 appearances), on the strength of a 7.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.3 HR/9 and whopping 65.9 percent groundball rate. With Marcus Stroman out for the season with a torn ACL, it now seems likely that Sanchez will be a member of Toronto's rotation if he can prove up to the task this spring. He won't turn 23 until July, and should eventually develop into more of strikeout pitcher, but command as a starter will be the primary thing to watch as it is something he struggled with in the minors. Sanchez could stick in the rotation long-term if he wins a job this spring, but the Jays will likely cap his innings in the 150-160 range in 2014.
2015 Outlook: Feliz spent half the season in the minors while working his way back from Tommy John surgery in 2014, but took over as the closer for the final two months after Joakim Soria was traded to the Tigers. However, he was no longer the pitcher that he was prior to his ill-fated experiment as a starter and the subsequent injury. Feliz didn't throw as hard (93.1 mph fastball, well down from the one that was around 96 mph before the injury), nor did he strikeout as many hitters (just 17.2 percent with the Rangers last year). He was exceptionally lucky in a half-sample last year, getting batters to hit .180 on balls in play and stranding 92.3 percent of those that reached. Both of those metrics are almost guaranteed to look worse in 2015. That isn't to say that he'll be terrible, but that 1.99 ERA from 2014 is a mirage.
2015 Outlook: Doolittle didn't immediately take over as the A's exclusive endgame option after Jim Johnson lost the job a week into the season, as manager Bob Melvin instead decided to play the splits with Doolittle and right-hander Luke Gregerson. It wasn't long, however, before the lefty separated from Gregerson and established himself as one of the American League's premier closers. While Doolittle blew two of his final three save chances (including one in the AL Wild Card game), he was nearly unhittable for stretches, turning in ERAs under 1.00 in three separate months and a .169 BAA for the season. Always known for his control, Doolittle was able to locate his pitches with unparalleled precision last year, issuing just eight free passes in 62 2/3 innings while fanning 89. He even shaved a full run off his FIP from 2013, so there's reason to think he can improve from an ERA standpoint while also supplying his typically excellent WHIP and strikeouts, though the uncertainty surrounding his health will complicate things at the start of the year. The A's will be forced to turn elsewhere in the ninth inning to begin the season -- presumably to Tyler Clippard -- after Doolittle was diagnosed with a slight rotator cuff tear in his left shoulder in January.