Do you hear it? All of the under-the-breath swearing and collective moans coming from stadiums across major league baseball. What is odd is that these sounds are coming from the fans of teams that are winning through 8 innings. Closers have been coming in, and wins have been flying out. This alarming trend has been not only been raising havoc in the ballparks, but also causing pain for fantasy owners.
The truth is the closer spot is always a fluid position. It has a large turnover from year to year. It even has a large turnover within a year. About a third of teams will end the season with a different closer than they started with. For fantasy owners this is a cause of agita, but it also can be looked upon as an opportunity. If you need saves, you can almost always find some floating on the wire.
The other complication that comes with closers is that saves are, in many ways a product of luck. Don’t believe me? Brian Fuentes lead the world in saves in 2009. David Aardsma was tied for 4th in the AL. Speaking of 4th in the AL, last season that would’ve been the great closer Kevin Greg. Four saves behind him a guy you may have heard of, Mariano Rivera.
So what is a fantasy owner to do, other than prey to the fantasy Gods? Well first thing to do is access the closers you have now. Your next move is dictated by your analysis. If you have a solid closer that struggles for a game or two or just hasn’t been getting save opportunities, I’d say the best bet is to just keep the faith. Sometimes saves come in bunches. If you’re stuck with a mediocre or below closer you should scour your waiver wire for an upgrade. And no matter where you stand, always look to steal a top closer who has hit a rough patch from a fellow owner. Remember fantasy baseball is war, so there is no pity for the opposition!
Now let’s break down the closers:
Coming into the season you had 6 elite.
Mo Rivera: Still elite.
Nefi Perez: Still elite.
Heath Bell: Still elite, although I am a little worried he may be dealt near the trade deadline.
Carlos Marmol: He will have his bad moments, but still elite.
Brian Wilson: The beard is back, still elite.
Joakim Soria: Soria came into the season as my favorite of the elites considering that you could draft him rounds later than the others. He has been getting his saves, but has been shaky. I still consider him elite, but you probably need to keep an eye on him.
The ones you can trust…for the most part
Chris Perez: He was good last season when he took over as closer, and has been great this season. The only thing that stops him from being elite is the lack of track record.
Jose Valverde: Some years he’s the bad Valverde, this year he has been the good one. Ride him while he’s hot.
Craig Kimbrel: He has probably been the best closer in baseball so far this season. We just need to see how he responds after he finally blows a save, assuming he ever does.
JJ Putz: He seems to be back in 07’ form so far. But don’t forget he has been injury prone since his last dominate season as closer four years ago.
Francisco Rodriquez: The Mets are bad, but K-rod has looked good. (Keep in mind he just isn’t the same elite pitcher he used to be).The big question is how many save opportunities will he get.
Jon Papelbon: To me he is the mirror image of K-Rod. Solid, but has slipped from elite status. He is also on a team that hasn’t given him much chance to collect saves. There is good news and bad news about the rest of his season. The BoSox will soon be winning again, but closing in the AL East isn’t easy.
Guys you can trust…for now at least
Leo Nunez: He has been solid and seems like he may be coming into his own.
Francisco Cordero: He has pitched ridiculously well so far this season and has had a great career. Still it’s hard to see how he can keep it up. He had been trending downward, is getting older and his home stadium is one of the toughest on pitchers.
Jonathan Broxton: He is still the closer and has been getting his saves. Still he looks closer to the pitcher the evil Broxton that ended the season then the guy who was amongst the elites in the game. If I had him I would be afraid.
Jordan Walden: He has been absolutely dominant since taking over as closer. The issue here is what exactly happens if he blows a couple of games? Does Fernando Rodney get a chance to regain his spot? Hopefully Walden makes these questions moot.
Houston Street: Whenever he’s healthy, he’s good. So far, so good. If you choose to believe in him for a season you have a stronger stomach then I do.
Guys you can’t trust……Yet
Joel Hanranhan: He started the season dominant for the Pirates, but has been getting hit a bit as of late. Bottom line is he is a mediocre closer on a team that is mediocre at best.
John Axford: He has closer stuff, was very productive last season and was a sleeper pick of mine coming into the season. He has not been good so far. You still have to love his upside, and the fact that the Brewers seem to be sticking with him, but he has given you many reasons to worry.
Andrew Bailey: Brian Fuentes has actually been pretty good holding down the spot for Bailey, but the job seems to be Bailey’s as soon as he comes back from a forearm injury in a couple of weeks. I consider Bailey, Houston Streets twin as far as being effective whenever healthy.
Kevin Gregg: I don’t care how many teams make this guy into their closer, he is not very good. As I said, saves are built on luck, but this guy will likely be exposed at some point.
Kyle Farnsworth: He seems to have taken over the closers role for Tampa and has done well. The problem with that is he has seemed to be fragile mentally throughout his career. I don’t think things have changed. Ride him while he’s hot but be afraid….very afraid.
JUST A MESS:
Matt Capps/Joe Nathan: Actually as far as messes go, this is a shiny one. Matt Capps is a solid closer who now holds the closer role. Joe Nathan was a special closer who is coming off of injury. Both are good pitchers. The problem is, when or will Joe Nathan take his job back? It’s almost impossible to tell. If I had to guess, I’d think Nathan gets back the closer role near the all-star break. But that is just a guess.
Brandon Lyon: Houston is horrible and Lyon is average at best.
Jon Rauch/Frank Francisco: Rauch has the closer role and has been effective. But the better fit is likely Rauch setting up Francisco. I think this eventually will happen.
Brandon League/David Aardsma: League has done a decent job holding it down for Aardsma. Aardsma himself is not nearly an elite closer and Seattle is terrible.
Sean Burnett/Drew Storen: Bullpen by committee is not good for fantasy. Young Storen is the keeper though. And he got the save today.
Ryan Franklin/Mitchell Boggs/Jason Motte: Ryan is outta there! Maybe the only time he has heard that all season with an ERA over 9. Reading the tea leaves, as Tony LaRussa has not revealed his plans, it seems Mitchell Boggs may get a crack at closing. Boggs has been very effective out of the bullpen, so he may be a good one. But there is also a chance that Franlin gets his job back.
The Chicago White Sox calamity: Who ever though Ozzie Guillen would miss Bobby Jenks. 1 save in 7 chances for the Sox so far. Matt Thorton was given first crack a closing and has 4 of those blown saves. I think Chris Sale will be given the next chance but I, much like Ozzie may be doing, am simply picking a name out a hat.
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Written by Mo Johnson