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: Storen had a superb 2014 that saw him ultimately wrest the closer's job from Rafael Soriano at the end of the season, a role that he'll have to begin 2015. But Storen is hardly a stable commodity, as both his performance and his role have fluctuated wildly as a major leaguer. In a way, his experience with the Nats is a microcosm of max-effort relievers as a whole. He burst onto the scene after being a blue-chip prospect, held his own but didn't quite dominate as a rookie, took over the closer's job in his second year in the majors, suffered his first elbow injury, lost his job to a veteran alternative, then finally had the redemption story to get his role back. Storen has changed his approach on the mound, using his changeup more often in the hope of inducing weak groundballs rather than turning to a slider to strike batters out. However, he had a whopping 90.6 percent strand rate and a .271 BABIP against last year, suggesting that some regression might be in order for 2015. Washington signed a former closer, Casey Janssen, this offseason to provide insurance for Storen, but he still figures to have the ninth-inning role to himself to start the season.
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: K-Rod got off to an unbelievable start last season, turning in a whopping 19 straight scoreless appearances to begin the year, with just eight hits allowed over that span. Regression was inevitable, and the right-hander indeed struggled to a 3.97 ERA after the All-Star break, but Rodriguez still finished with 44 saves, good enough for third in the NL, including very useful numbers in the ratio categories. Although he was relatively lucky with a .216 BABIP, that was offset to a large extent by a bloated 23.3 percent HR/FB rate, and his 6.7 percent walk rate was a career best. After re-signing with Milwaukee on a two-year deal in late February, Rodriguez is set to once again open the season as the team's closer, and his success with the club last season and lack of options behind him should afford the right-hander a fairly long leash in the role. Rodriguez should warrant consideration as a high-end second closer.
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: Rondon illustrates how hard it is to project the ultimate closer for any ball club without an established ninth-inning man. Once a starting pitching prospect in the Indians' organization, Rondon had to go under the knife and missed the entire 2012 season. The Cubs snagged him in the Rule 5 draft prior to the 2013 season and put him in the bullpen, where his initial season was pretty choppy -- though not surprising, given that Rondon had never pitched in the majors or out of the bullpen -- but Chicago had to keep him on the roster because of his Rule 5 status. But in 2014, when everyone above him fell apart, Rondon was given his chance to close and ran with the job. He struck out more than 24 percent of the hitters he faced while walking just 5.9 percent. Rondon's a ground-ball pitcher too, which allows him to keep the ball in the park, even at the Friendly Confines. For all the improvements the Cubs made, they didn't bring in too much competition for the job -- just Jason Motte, who didn't look like a closer candidate upon his return from injury last year. More save opportunities for the improving Cubs should come in 2015, which makes Rondon a bit of a sleeper.
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.
2015 Outlook: After spending his first six professional seasons masquerading as a back-end starter, Cecil has now logged two straight seasons as a dominant relief pitcher, and as a result, he is more interesting than ever from a fantasy perspective. The Jays were initially expected to use Aaron Sanchez in the closer's role, but with a season-ending knee injury to Marcus Stroman moving Sanchez into the starting rotation, Cecil was named the team's closer during spring training. The lefty had extreme platoon splits in 2013, followed by somewhat less extreme reverse-platoon splits in 2014. While the splits are worth keeping an eye on, Cecil's overall body of work has been excellent against batters from both sides since he made a full-time move to the bullpen in 2013. He does struggle with control at times, but his 12.8 K/9 more than made up for it last season, and the Blue Jays don't have strong alternatives for the ninth inning.
2015 Outlook: A free-agent signing by Houston in December, Gregerson is a veteran presence who is expected to bring stability to the back end of baseball's worst bullpen (4.80 ERA in 2014). The 30-year-old went 5-5 with a 2.12 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, three saves and 22 holds for Oakland last season, and he posted a respectable 59-to-15 K-to-BB rate over 72.1 innings. Gregerson has been very durable through six seasons in the bigs, and he led MLB with 435 relief appearances over that span while averaging more than 72 appearances per season. He'll enter spring training as one of the top candidates for the Astros' closer role to open 2015, but keep in mind he's never held that role over a full season.
2015 Outlook: Mejia began the 2014 season as a starter but ended the year as the Mets' closer, converting 28 of 31 save chances along the way. Some warning signs loom, however. Mejia gave up nine homers on the year, and he walked 9.8 percent of the batters he faced. Moreover, he has legitimate competition for the role in Jeurys Familia and the returning Bobby Parnell. But at least the Mets seem to have finally, permanently settled on Mejia as a reliever rather than a starter. He underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia as soon as the season was over and should be ready for the start of spring training. That said, it remains to be seen what his role will be.
2015 Outlook: The biggest impact Clippard made in the 2014 season was when he wasn't used in a critical situation, with Nats manager Matt Williams opting to go with Aaron Barrett instead of Clippard with the game tied and the season on the line. Barrett gave up the go-ahead run and Clippard never had a lead to protect. Otherwise, he had another brilliant season, posting great ratios and a good strikeout rate, and even lowering his home run rate. But the Nats shipped him to the A's for Yunel Escobar, and so Clippard will return to the American League for the first time since his six-start rookie showing with the Yankees in 2007. With Sean Doolittle (shoulder) expected to miss the start of the season, Clippard will likely be the first choice to replace him in the ninth inning, ahead of Ryan Cook and Eric O'Flaherty.