Fantasy Baseball Rankings – Closers

Fantasy Baseball Rankings – Closers

By: Kyle Brown (@CavghtLooking)

In truth, the closer position has just two tiers: the top guys and everyone else. After that, getting your team enough saves is more a matter of keeping your ear to the ground and making sure you know who the hot hand is in every bullpen. Every year, several relievers come out of relative obscurity and turn into solid closers. For 2012, guys like Fernando Rodney, Jason Motte, Tom Wilhelmsen, Ernesto Frieri, Glen Perkins, Steve Cishek, and Jim Johnson all serve as perfect examples of relievers who went from nowhere to relevant faster than a Craig Kimbrel 9th inning. The lesson: draft your closers, but don’t get too attached.  The stat lines listed below are in a saves/k/ERA/WHIP format.

Tier 1 – The Crème de la Crème

1.      Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta (42/116/1.01/0.67)

Craig KimbrelKimbrel’s FIP last season was 0.78. Zero-point-seven-eight. His K/9 was 16.66. I do not think it is a coincidence that his K/9 contains the number of the beast. If the devil decided to take corporeal form, he would choose to be Craig Kimbrel. Oh yeah, he’s only 25-years old (Editor’s Note: According to Verbal Kint, the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist. As a Mets fan, I wish Craig Kimbrel didn’t exist. Nothing personal.)

2.      Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati (38/122/1.51/0.81)

I am ranking Chapman as a closer because he should be a closer. Even Chapman thinks he should be the closer. Aroldis had a K/9 of 15.32 and his FIP was 1.55. Man, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However, given the strong possibility of the Reds putting Chapman in the rotation, you should take this ranking with a (large and bitter) grain of salt.

3.      Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia (38/92/2.44/1.06)

Papelbon’s first season with the Phillies was excellent. Also, his 12.6 HR/FB% was a career-high, so Papelbon could be due for an even better season in 2013.

4.      Jason Motte, St. Louis (42/86/2.75/0.92)

Motte was nasty in his first full season as a closer. Motte’s formula for turning hitters into applesauce is simple: throw real hard. By relying on his cutter more in 2012 (he threw it 26.0% of the time), Motte was able to get his K/9 up to a blistering 10.75. I have full confidence in Motte for 2013.

5.      Rafael Soriano, Washington (42/69/2.26/1.17)

Soriano should get plenty of save opportunities pitching for the Nationals this season. On top of that, moving back to the NL should give him a small boost in strikeouts. Soriano has a shot at 50 saves this year. 

6.      Joe Nathan, Texas (37/78/2.80/1.06)

Nathan is an old and reliable source of saves. Pitching in Texas makes him susceptible to the long-ball, but it’s not a huge concern. Nathan is good for 35-40 saves with a K/9 over 10.

7.      Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay (48/76/0.60/0.78)

Rodney is another example of a relief pitcher that went bananas last season. Reason (and his 2.31 FIP) tells me that he isn’t going to repeat his miniscule ERA from last year, but he should still be quite good in 2013. Given his likely regression, make sure you draft him behind strikeout specialists like Motte and Papelbon. 

Tier 2 – La Crème Régulier

8.      J.J. Putz, Arizona (32/65/2.82/1.03)

Putz continues to putz along. He is a shining example of high strikeouts (10.77 K/9) and good control (1.82 BB/9). He should have no problem eclipsing 30 saves again this season.

9.      Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle (29/87/2.50/1.11)

Tom Wilhelmsen took five years off from baseball so that he could bartend and (most likely) smoke weed (Editor’s Note: we have no conclusive proof of such illicit undertaking, but hey, smoke ’em if you got ’em). Upon returning, Wilhelmsen needed about one year in the minor leagues to regain his form. Then, in 2012, he became one of the better closers in fantasy baseball. True story.

10.  Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles of Anaheim (23/98/2.32/0.98)

Given the recent news that Ryan Madson is going to start the season on the DL, I am very bullish on Frieri this year. Ernesto’s K/9 was a ridiculous 13.36 last season. It is going to be very hard for Madson to wrestle the closer role away from Frieri once the season gets rolling.

11.  Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees (5/8/2.16/0.96)

Some people will balk at this ranking, but Rivera just doesn’t provide enough strikeouts anymore to be considered an elite fantasy closer. That said, the ERA and WHIP will be fantastic.

12.  Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles (25/99/2.35/0.85)

The Jansen with one “s” makes this list because I have ZERO faith in Brandon League. I sincerely hope that Jansen’s heart doesn’t give him any problems this year. If his heart holds up, then Kenley is going to supplant League and have a K/9 that approaches 14.00. The only thing keeping him this low on my list is the unpredictable nature of his health.

13.  Greg Holland, Kansas City (16/91/2.96/1.37)

Holland needs to work on his 4.57 BB/9, but other than that he is a excellent option. He has posted a 2.97 ERA and an 11.62 K/9 in 128 career games. Draft with confidence.

14.  Sergio Romo, San Francisco (14/63/1.79/0.85)

Romo seemed to solidify himself as the Giants closer in the 2012 playoffs. That said, managers tend to have short memories and a few bad outings could see Romo relegated to the 8th inning or usher in the return of a closer-by-committee system. However, a full year of closing will lead to fantastic results.

15.  Glen Perkins, Minnesota (16/78/2.56/1.04)

Perkins, a converted starter who never really struck batters out, has found a home as the Twins 9th inning man. As a reliever, Perkins can throw harder and focus on his fastball and slider. I expect him to have around 30 saves this season with a K/9 of 9.50.

16.  John Axford, Milwaukee (35/93/4.67/1.44)

After two nasty seasons in 2010 and 2011, Axford suffered from implosion problems last year. His HR/FB% was 19.2%. He never lost the strikeouts last year, but he did have problems with his control. I think he is going to right the ship and turn in a season closer to 2010 than 2012.

17.  Rafael Betancourt, Colorado (31/57/2.81/1.13)

Betancourt abandoned his slider last season in favor of a curveball. The result: a drop in K/9 from 10.54 to 8.90. On top of that, Betancourt’s velocity is in a three-year decline. That said, he should be able to repeat his acceptable 2012 production.

18.  Huston Street, San Diego (23/47/1.85/0.72)

It has always been about health with Huston Street. Insert “Huston, we have a problem” joke. Life is hard on the Street.

19.  Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh (2/90/2.91/1.14)

Mr. Grilled Cheese was a pleasant surprise for Pittsburgh fans (e.g. me) last season. Given his role as setup man in 2012, it is unlikely that he was owned on many fantasy squads. However, he has inherited the closer role for 2013 and should be a solid source of strikeouts and saves. The real question is whether or not he can stay productive all the way through September.

20.  Casey Janssen, Toronto (22/67/2.54/0.86)

Janssen is another deadly combination of strikeouts and control. As long as he remains the closer (which is a caveat for pretty much every pitcher on this list), Janssen will get plenty of save opportunities pitching for the much improved Blue Jays. However, keep your eye on Sergio Santos.

21.  Joel Hanrahan, Boston (36/67/2.72/1.27)

Hanrahan really knows how to make a 9th inning more interesting than it needs to be. In other words, he walks way too many batters. If he is going to be effective in Boston, then he must cut down on his 5.43 BB/9 from 2012. I’m avoiding Hanrahan this season.

22.  Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox (29/54/4.75/1.36)

Reed posted absurd strikeout numbers in his minor league career. On top of that, his control in the minors was much better than the 2.85 BB/9 he posted last season, so I expect him to walk fewer batter this year. Still just 24-years old, he is poised for a breakout as the White Sox closer this year.

23.  Chris Perez, Cleveland (39/59/3.59/1.13)

Perez suffered an injury this spring and had to pull himself out of the WBC. If he can come back healthy from that injury then he will be a solid closer option this season. If he can’t, go and grab Vinnie Pestano off waivers and plug him into your lineup.

24.  Jim Johnson, Baltimore (51/41/2.49/1.02)

No, I didn’t forget about Jim Johnson. The saves leader from 2012 is my 24th ranked closer. Why? Well, Jim Johnson had more saves than strikeouts last season. His 62.3 GB% will definitely produce saves for Baltimore, but I want a high number of strikeouts to go along with my saves.

25.  Steve Cishek, Miami (15/68/2.69/1.30)

Cishek is a solid pitcher with good strikeout numbers who walks a few too many batters. As long as he remains the closer, Cishek will be an adequate option this season.

26.  Grant Balfour, Oakland (24/72/2.53/0.92)

If Oakland gives Balfour the closer role in 2013, then pick him up. However, don’t be surprised if you see Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle stealing some of his opportunities. Make sure you keep an eye on how Balfour recovers from his February knee surgery.

Tier 3 –Le Lait A Mal Tourné

27.  Bobby Parnell, New York Mets (7/61/2.49/1.24)

Parnell has not proved himself as a closer, but he has been a decent reliever for the past two years. It’s a “wait and see” kind of situation. Jeez, the Mets bullpen is a mess.

28.  Jonathan Broxton, Cincinnati (27/45/2.48/1.26)

One of the reasons I think Chapman will end up back in the closer role this season is because Jonathan Broxton is pretty mediocre. I do not like that his strikeouts and velocity both tumbled considerably.

29.  Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs (20/72/3.42/1.54)

Walks, walks, walks, walks. Marmol’s BB/9 was 7.32 last season. If you have ever owned Marmol in a H2H league I can almost guarantee that you have lost a week because of one of his fantastic implosions.

30.  Ryan Madson, Los Angeles of Anaheim (No 2012 Stats)

Coming back from surgery. Starting the season on the DL. Not as good as Frieri. Enough said.

31.  Brandon League, Los Angeles (15/54/3.13/1.36)

Clay DavisAfter Brandon League signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers he turned on episode 4.2 from “The Wire” and smiled as he listened to Senator Clay Davis say, “I’ll take any m——- f——- money if he just giving it away!” Brandon League stinks and Jansen is going to take his job.

32.  Jose Veras, Houston (1/79/3.63/1.51)

If Houston wins a game this year it will probably be by one run. They are going to need Jose Veras. Unfortunately, Jose Veras isn’t very good.

33.  Al Alburquerque, Detroit (0/18/0.68/1.05)

I think that Al-Al is going to win the closer role for Detroit this spring. That said, he still has a lot to prove in terms of durability and control.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In closing (see what I did there), I would like to thank Kyle Brown for his comprehensive and detailed fantasy baseball rankings covering all positions and players of relevance.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter (handle provided at the top) and drop him a line if you have any questions.

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