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. Kenley Jansen Los Angeles Dodgers
Well who knew Jansen would be a better closer than Brandon League last year? Okay, put your collective hands down. Jansen was spectacular, posting a 1.88 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and an eye-popping 111:18 K:BB in 76.2 innings. Jansen has cut his BB/9 rate from 4.4 to 3.1 to 2.1 over the last three years while maintaining a 13.0 K/9 rate. He should be a top-five closer again in 2014 and should not have a problem topping the 2013 save total (28) with a full season handling the Dodgers' ninth-inning role.
3. Greg Holland Kansas City Royals
While Holland looked impressive during the latter half of the 2012 season after finally being handed the closer's job, his 2013 campaign looked even better. The season opened a bit on the rocky side, but after the first few weeks, he settled down and proceeded to dominate hitters in outstanding fashion. His 47 saves ranked second in the majors and his 13.8 K/9 and 103 strikeouts over 70.1 innings each ranked second among qualified relievers. Add in a 5.72 K/BB and you certainly have all the ammunition needed to claim that Holland was indeed the best closer in baseball last year. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a high-80s slider, Holland will continue to close for the Royals in 2014 and should be one of the first relievers off the board in most drafts.
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