If you've followed me for some time, you should know how much I value elite relievers and closers. While some draft closers only for saves, I argue that the possibility of elite K/9 rate, ERA and WHIP for 65-80 innings can be immensely valuable... especially if you have 2 - 3 of these types of pitchers on your roster. That said, the closer is a unique player in fantasy baseball. There are only a finite number of them, essentially one per MLB team, and they are the only player than can acquire saves. Also, each year, we see a reasonable amount of turnover at the position for a number of factors: performance, injury, manager decision, etc...
Because of these unique factors, every preseason there is additional emphasis on the role when projecting players and specifically ranking closers. I would say closers are most often ranked based on recent history's success in the role as well as overall peripheral skills. Looking at 2016 consensuses ADP data for example, here is a snapshot of what the top 5 closers are projected to be today:
Feel free to change the order, however most would agree that this group would be considered the 'elite' closers heading into 2016. While this is a true statement to some extent, it should not be the end of the discussion. I feel there are a number of other factors that one must think about when evaluating closers. Just because these 5 may be the most skilled and have the most success recently, I would argue many other factors must first be analyzed before a final ranking is determined:
Once I look at all of the above data, I crunch numbers and come up with my closer rankings. I performed this exercise for 2016 and my top five looks like this:
You'll see my rankings have some similar names to the ADP top 5, but ADP data has Robertson outside of the top 10 and Papelbon outside of the top 15. For me, they get big bumps based on salary, track record, competition, and save opportunities.
You'll also see Chapman is not in my top 5, blasphemy for most. You can argue he has the greatest skill-set of any reliever in the game, however he has a number of question marks that move him down my board (all the way to number 9):
When you look at all of these question marks, it's just too much risk for me to invest in such an early pick. Might he be elite, absolutely. But I'm comfortable with my thought process for why I wouldn't take him as a top tier closer this season.
I understand this isn't quite a science and others may disagree with my top 5, however most should agree that job security is critical when selecting closers. My additional factors aren't exactly sabermetrics, but taking them into consideration when ranking your closers should at minimum help you move some of the riskier picks (while possibly more talented) down your draft board.