2015 Outlook: It would have been understandable had Chapman dialed back his fastball after being drilled in the head by a comebacker during spring training, a gruesome incident that resulted in multiple facial fractures, but the left-hander hit triple digits in his very first rehab outing. That fearlessness carried over to the majors following his May activation from the DL, as Chapman blew by hitters with an otherworldly average fastball velocity of 100.3 mph. Major league hitters could hardly touch him. Chapman finished the season with a 52.5 percent strikeout rate -- an all-time record -- as well as a minuscule 0.89 FIP and 36 saves in 38 chances. He gave up just one home run in 54 innings and held opponents to a .107 average after the All-Star break. While the Reds project to be one of the worst teams in the NL Central this season, the team context is largely moot with regard to Chapman's value, as he's simply one of the most dominant relief pitchers the game has ever seen.
2015 Outlook: There are little indicators here and there that Kimbrel might be taking a small step back from his position as the best closer in baseball, but once you realize how great the starting point was to begin with, those factors diminish in importance. Most max-effort relievers tend to have a velocity decline, but that hasn't happened yet for him --d in fact, his average fastball was a tick higher than in 2013, resulting in a 38.9 percent strikeout rate. Kimbrel's biggest weakness is his walk rate, which jumped from 7.8 percent to 10.7 percent in 2014, a level he hadn't reached since 2011. Perhaps the biggest worry is one that Kimbrel can't control -- the quality of his team. The Braves were sellers over the offseason, getting rid of Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and Kimbrel's top two setup men in Jordan Walden and David Carpenter. As a result, Kimbrel might see fewer save chances than he has in the past. But with three years left on his contract, he's unlikely to be shipped out as part of Atlanta's rebuild.
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: When an oblique injury forced Jason Grilli to the DL in May, Melancon was afforded another opportunity in the ninth-inning role for Pittsburgh. It wasn't smooth sailing from the get-go, as Melancon blew two of his first seven save chances, leading manager Clint Hurdle to reinsert Grilli into the role upon his activation later in the month. It was just a matter of weeks, however, before the switch back to Melancon was made, and the right-hander went on to convert 23 of his final 24 save opportunities. Melancon finished with brilliant numbers (1.90 ERA, 0.87 WHIP), and though he did benefit from a .258 BABIP and 80.4 percent strand rate, he improved his swinging-strike rate to a career-high 13.7 percent while lowering his line-drive rate by more than 4 percent. He also maintained a ground ball rate above 57 percent, seemingly locking him in as the team's closer to open 2015. There's always a chance the Pirates could look to move him back to the setup role eventually, but he's easily the best option they have in the ninth inning at the moment.
2015 Outlook: Although Rosenthal's walk rate more than doubled last season, going from 2.4 BB/9 in 2013 to 5.4 BB/9, he was able to hold onto the Cardinals' closer job the entire year. The right-hander blew six opportunities, but still finished with 45 saves, second in the NL behind Craig Kimbrel. While his swinging-strike rate fell by close to two percent and his opponents' line-drive rate jumped by nearly six percent, Rosenthal allowed just two home runs in 70.1 regular-season innings and finished the year with just three earned runs allowed in his final 15 appearances (including the postseason). Jordan Walden, whom the Cardinals acquired from the Braves in the offseason, has closing experience and will be waiting in the wings in case Rosenthal falters, and Carlos Martinez could be a ninth-inning option as well if he fails to maintain a rotation spot, but as long as Rosenthal has manager Mike Matheny's trust, he will see plenty of chances and thus warrant consideration as a first closer
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: On the surface, it appears as though Jansen took a significant step back last season, with his ERA and WHIP jumping by .88 and .27, respectively, but he actually shaved .08 off his FIP. The right-hander improved his K/9 rate by nearly a full strikeout (from 13.0 to 13.9) and his swinging-strike rate by more than 2 percent, to a career-best 16.6 percent. Jansen finished with a 1.69 ERA and .186 BAA after the All-Star break, but his overall numbers were marred by an anomalous .350 BABIP. It should be noted that lefties did have far more success against Jansen, batting .284/.331/.379 against him, well up from .204/.256/.274, but his fastball velocity ticked back up and he finished third in the NL in saves with 44. Unfortunately, Jansen's 2015 debut will be delayed after he was forced to undergo foot surgery in mid-February, a procedure which carries with it a 8-to-12 week estimated recovery timetable. J.P. Howell, Chris Hatcher and Joel Peralta seem like the top in-house candidates to start the year in the closer role, though the Dodgers may very well look outside the organization for a short-term replacement.
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: The swingman with the funky delivery became a full-time starter and added a breaking ball to become one of the bigger surprises in 2014. Wood understood he needed a third pitch to effectively move from the pen to the rotation, and the curveball did the trick for him, as he generated an above-average strikeout rate and did not hurt himself with walks or get hurt badly by home runs. Thus far in his career, he's been able to strand runners at a very high rate for starting pitchers, but it's very unlikely he repeats his 2014 level of 80 percent, as only a handful of pitchers have ever done so. Wood will help in ratios and strikeouts, but the Atlanta offense might hold down his win total.
2015 Outlook: By any measure, 2014 was successful for the Phillies' closer and certainly an improvement on his 2013, as Papelbon posted his highest save total since 2008 and his lowest WHIP since 2007. His strikeout rate ticked back up to 24.3 percent and his opponents' line-drive rate of 15.3 percent matched a career best. However, there were some signs that suggest Papelbon is due for a significant regression in his age-34 season. He finished with a .247 BABIP and 2.7 percent HR/FB rate, numbers that helped mask another dip in fastball velocity. Indeed, since 2011, Papelbon has lost nearly four miles per hour off his fastball. Further, his 3.50 xFIP was just one tick lower than his 2013 mark. When it comes to relief pitchers, role is of utmost importance in fantasy, and the uncertainty regarding Papelbon's future in Philadelphia presents another wrinkle for prospective owners, though Papelbon would likely push for the closer role no matter where he ends up.
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: It's easy to look at Cishek's nearly 90-point increase in ERA last season and assume his performance fell off dramatically from 2013, but he actually improved in several crucial categories. The right-hander's FIP was a full run lower than his ERA, and he improved his strikeout rate by more than four percent (26.3 to 30.6) while trimming his walk rate slightly as well. Cishek's numbers were bloated by an unusually high .331 BABIP (career .297), so there's reason to believe his ratios will return to more useful levels in 2015. His opponents' line-drive rate did see an alarming spike last season, but the 28-year-old fared far better against lefties, and A.J. Ramos and Carter Capps likely won't present any threat to his job in the early going.
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.