A list of the top relief pitchers to draft for 2014 fantasy baseball.
1. Craig Kimbrel Atlanta Braves
For the third consecutive year, Kimbrel led the National League in saves, becoming the 11th pitcher in major league history to reach the 50-save mark in a single season, while also becoming the first pitcher in the history of the game to record 40-plus saves in each of his first three full seasons. He set a Braves franchise record in 2013 by converting 37 consecutive save chances, and ended the season by converting 40 of his final 41 opportunities. After the calender turned to June, Kimbrel allowed just four earned runs over 46.2 regular-season innings (0.77 ERA), and he held opposing batters to a .161 average for the year. His strikeout rate did, however, drop by more than three per nine innings, to a career-low 13.2 K/9, and his swinging-strike rate was well below where it was in 2012 (13.6% from 19.2%). Lefties hit .211/.265/.309 against him, up from .116/.189/.143, and his walk rate was up slightly as well. All that aside, Kimbrel didn't lose any juice on his fastball, and is unquestionably one of most dominant end-gamers in all of baseball. He's still the easy choice for first reliever off the board in 2014.
2. Aroldis Chapman Cincinnati Reds
For the second offseason in a row, Chapman's role hasn't yet been determined. Former manager Dusty Baker was the primary impediment to the plan to move Chapman to the starting rotation (though Chapman himself didn't seem to be sold on the idea -- whether he was always uncertain or whether Baker pushed him in that direction is up for debate), and now that Bryan Price has taken over as the manager, that door remains open. One thing seems likely -- even if Chapman closes, his usage won't be as rigid as it was last season, when often it was "save situation or bust" -- the Reds lost six extra-innings games where Chapman never got into the game. When he got on the mound, Chapman had a few hiccups but was typically dominant again, carrying a 15.8 K/9. His walk rate and home-run rate both trickled upward, and on occasion he struggled with his secondary offerings.
3. Koji Uehara Boston Red Sox
Uehara was Boston's regular-season MVP after stabilizing the closer job in June. He saved 21 games, was dominant against both righties and lefties and struck out a ridiculous 12.2 batters per nine innings. The plan in spring training was to avoid using him on back-to-back days because of a 2012 shoulder injury, which delayed the decision to give him a shot at closing, but he countered that by being an efficient strike-thrower and generally avoiding big pitch counts in his appearances. Uehara threw more innings last season than he has in any big league campaign, and it remains to be seen if that workload affects him at all in 2014, which is in part the reason Boston signed former Cardinals closer Edward Mujica. However, coming off his dominant 2013 campaign, Uehara will open this season as Boston's closer.
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