Clearing The Bases
Closers can be a tricky position when it comes to fantasy as it is the one spot with the highest turnover as a couple of blown saves can cost someone his job. When do we select them? How many do we want? These are all questions we ask ourselves. Now in a 10 team league, simple math tell you that you’re more than likely to get at least two closers assuming you don’t wait until you’re last two rounds to draft one. That third closer however can be tricky. In some drafts I do go for one, in some I don’t. Two factors come into play here for me. First, do I have locks for my first two closers? In other words, do I have a pair of strong players who have a track record and aren’t in any danger of losing their job after a bad outing or two. If I do, then I am less likely to draft a third closer unless he is the best player on the board when it is my turn to pick. Second would be the opposite. If there was a closer run and I missed it, then I might have to take a third closer just to cover my bases. I would also be watching the waiver wire for when another closer may lose his job, want to claim that replacement before anyone else does. As for when I select my first closer. Usually around round 10 assuming there hasn’t been a run yet. I like to have one solid closer, one I’m not going to have to worry about, the second one I may wait on. One strategy I don’t agree with, punting saves. I don’t like giving up in a category especially in a H2H league, no thanks. That being said, if you drafted two closers but they both were injured in April and you weren’t able to get the backups, well then you may have no choice but to load up on starters.
As always this list is designed for 10 team 5×5 leagues. In deeper leagues I may pick a closer a round or two earlier, especially if I’m at the beginning or end of the round. Don’t want to be left out if there is a run coming.
- Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta: Just about everyone’s first choice at closer and I can’t argue. This young flame thrower had 127 strikeouts in 77 IP. Are you kidding me? 46 saves, 2.10 ERA and a 1.039 WHIP are pretty good to. Paired with Jonny Venters, this duo may be the best 1-2 tandem in baseball.
- Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia: Papelbon brings his act to the city of brotherly love after signing a huge free agent deal with the Phils. One would think this should be a good move for Pap. He goes to the National League, playing still for a very good team but not one that will blow out to many teams therefore leading to more save chances. One has to wonder if manager Charlie Manuel will go to the closer a little more often now rather than let Roy Halladay and Cliff pitch all those complete games, might be a good idea to save their arms for postseason anyway.
- Mariano Rivera, Yankees: As great as Mariano is, and he is a first ballot Hall of Famer in my book, he has only led the American League in saves three times. The Yankees tend to blow many teams out therefore eliminating the need for a closer. Not to mention that with Mariano being 42 years of age and the Yankees possessing one of the best bullpens in baseball (David Robertson, Rafael Soriano) there is almost no chance that Mariano will be asked to close three games in a row or in four out of five games, and if he’s feeling tired, sore, or has a tweak, they will almost certainly give him the day off. If this is Rivera’s last year, he’s had a marvelous career and deserves all the accolades that will come his way.
- Jose Valverde, Detroit: Not sure why there doesn’t seem to be much love for Valverde. Is it because he sometimes makes things interesting in the 9th inning? Possibly, but his ERA was 2.24 and even if you believe he was just good at pitching out of trouble, his WHIP was 1.189. Statistics don’t seem to support that conclusion. The man had 49 saves last year and almost a strikeout per inning. I want him.
- Drew Storen, Washington: Remember at this time last year when we weren’t sure Storen would be the full-time closer? Those days are over as the job is Storen’s and what a job it could be. The Nationals are a young up and coming team that will win their share of games. Pitching staff has Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, they are going to win some games. Storen saved 43 games last season and I’m wondering if he may top that number this season.
- John Axford, Milwaukee: Some might shy away from Axford thinking that without Prince Fielder the Brewers may not win as many games, and while that may be true, I’ll take the optimistic view and point out that they still have a very good starting staff (Zach Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum) and without Fielder may play closer games. Axford is another hard thrower whose fastball averaged 95.59 MPH last season, accounting for his k/9 ratio being over 1.
- Ryan Madson, Cincinnati: The knock on Madson had always been, good 8th inning guy but may not have the mentality to close out games. Well, 32 saves, 2.37 ERA, and a 1.154 WHIP later, he seems to be just fine, and that was in a part-time role, he didn’t start the season as the closer, something he will do this season in Cincinnati.
- Andrew Bailey, Boston: Another player who I have ranked higher than most. Sure his numbers with Oakland last season were nothing to write home about but that’s not surprising playing for a team that is desperate to move. Now he plays before a sellout crowd every night, juices will be flowing. Perhaps I’m not as worried about his peripherals as I should be, but I know the saves will be there.
- Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh: Like Storen, another closer who at the onset of last season was expected to share the job, so much for that. Hanrahan announced his presence with 40 saves, 1.83 ERA, and a 1.049 WHIP. The most surprising number about Hanrahan however is that despite his fastball averaging over 97 MPH, he only struck out 61 batters. Seems his FB must be straight, batters maybe can’t get the sweet spot on it, but they can hit it.
- Jordan Walden, Angels: Anyone seeing a pattern here yet? Walden also didn’t start last season as the closer, but once he got the job, he didn’t let go. What we like about Walden, besides the fact that he plays for a good team that could win 90+ games this season, is that he is another hard thrower who Ks more than one per inning, but what we don’t like and why he falls a bit on this list is that he also puts runners on base, constantly having to pitch out of jams. Perhaps another year of experience will allow Walden to take that next step.
- Brian Wilson, San Francisco: Wilson was probably number one or two on this list last year but injury concerns are seeing him drop further and further, they are also making Sergio Romo a must have if you do draft Wilson. Wilson was shutdown last September with an elbow injury and while he hasn’t reported any problems so far this Spring, there are lingering doubts as to whether or not he can make it through the entire season without a DL stint.
- Rafael Betancourt, Colorado: Betancourt passed his audition for the Rockies closer job late last season as he converted eight of nine save chances with a 39-1 K/BB ratio in 27 innings. Yeah, that will get you noticed.
- JJ Putz, Arizona: Putz re-emerged back on the closing scene with 45 saves, 2.17 ERA and a WHIP under one. Pretty good numbers for a player who had been having trouble staying healthy since he saved 76 games for Seattle in 2006/07. Arizona monitored Putz closely as he only pitched 58 innings and rarely went more than one inning in a game.
- Heath Bell, Miami: Bell goes from the ultimate pitchers park in San Diego to a park where we’re not sure how it will play. Don’t think this really makes a difference though. He will also play for a better team and that certainly can’t hurt. Once again, more wins means more save chances. That would be a good thing.
- Sergio Santos, Toronto: I’m not sure I will ever understand why the White Sox gave Santos away to Toronto. The Chicago bullpen went through its ups and downs last season and so did Santos, but he was never expected to be the closer, that job was supposed to go Matt Thornton and/or Chris Sale, and when they failed Santos took over and performed well. Now this year there is no doubt what his role will be. Yes his ERA was 3.55 last season but I would expect that number to go down considerably. I don’t think 40+ saves are out of the question.
- Jason Motte, St. Louis: Like the White Sox, the Cardinals seemed to give everyone a shot at the closer job last season before finally settling on Motte, although some will tell you that Motte was never told that he was the closer but he always seemed to be pitching in the last inning of the game when his team was ahead and it was a save situation. New manager Mike Matheny has already stated that Motte is the closer this year, that should put all of your fantasy fears to rest.
- Joakim Soria, Kansas City: Why is Soria so low on this list, especially when you consider how much better the Royals are getting? All of his numbers seemed to take a noticeable dip last season. His WHIP of 1.276 was the highest of his career, so was his 4.03 ERA, his k/9 and fastball velocity were the lowest in four years. Could just be a good player who had a bad year or it could be a players whose skills are leaving him. Have to wonder if the Royals should have traded him at his high point.
- Kyle Farnsworth, Tampa Bay: I’d like to tie manager Joe Maddon down, give him some truth serum and force him to tell me where Farnsworth ranked on the save depth chart before last season started. Hard to believe he ended up being the closer and did a solid job. That being said I wouldn’t be surprised if he loses the job in April, nor would I be surprised if he saved 35+ games. Certainly worth a flier in drafts, but not someone I would reach for.
- Joe Nathan, Texas: Nathan to me is a closer who has boom or bust written all over him. He’s closing for Texas, if he’s healthy, he could easily save 40 games, Texas may be the best team in the AL. If he struggles however the Rangers may not hesitate to go in a different direction, they have a strong pitching staff with plenty of options including Neftali Feliz who is trying to make the transition to the starting rotation.
- Cory Luebke, San Diego: Luebke started last season in the bullpen but ended up in the starting rotation where the Padres hope he remains for the foreseeable future. Now if you’re looking for saves from your relievers, then don’t take Luebke but if you’re looking for a reliever that’s going to get you some wins and Ks, than Luebke could be your man.
- Neftali Feliz, Texas: As mentioned above Feliz is trying to join the rotation this spring. Can he make the transition? Yeah, most likely, but his value is now as a reliever who will get you wins, and maybe a few strikeouts. Keep in mind however that Feliz could be on a pitch count and innings limit this season.
- Chris Sale, White Sox: Sale is somewhat of a gamble as he is also trying to make the transition to starter. Hard for anyone to really say what they expect. What’s more, we have no idea where he goes if he fails. Set-up man, closer, long man. High risk high reward here.
- Matt Capps, Minnesota: What happened to the Twins? This is shaping up like an ugly season in Minnesota. That being said, someone has to save the games they do win, and Capps is that man. He’s done the job before, he’s not sexy, doesn’t have a big arm, but did save 20+ games for three straight seasons starting in 2008.
- Huston Street, San Diego: If Street can stay healthy he is more than capable of saving 25 games or so, but that is a big if. Street would most likely be a low budget closer for your team, a nice 3rd closer but not someone you really want to rely on.
- Brandon League, Seattle: League may get overlooked in some drafts, not really a household name, plays for the Mariners, but he did save 37 games last season.