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Shutdown Corner: How To Identify Potential Closers

Greetings, RotoAuthority readers! Now that our division roundup is done, it's time to get a little meta. Speculation is a big part of picking up fantasy baseball players, and today I'd like to provide you with a few principles that might help you identify potential closers as Spring Training and the 2013 seasons go on.

Remember, last season, by June almost half the teams in baseball had turned over their expected closers. Being able to identify the next man up early, so you can add and stash him on your bench, can be extremely valuable. Use these tips to find the right guy.

Listen to the manager ... and the GM!

The biggest and best thing that you can do to identify a potential closer is to listen to what his manager, or failing that, his GM, is saying. If a manager is constantly calling one of his setup guys a "potential ninth-inning option" or a "shutdown guy," then that player might have first crack at the closer slot. Remember, the manager tends to make the on-field decisions, so listen to what they're saying. They're the decider.

Oh, but be careful when reading about the next potential closer ... there's a big difference between what the manager actually says and what a beat writer or blogger might be speculating about. Make sure that the information you get is from a trusted source or straight from the manager's mouth, rather than delving into someone's raw speculation.

Another corollary to this is the money issue -- if a reliever is getting paid like a closer (say, anything more than $3-$5 million per season), then they probably get first shot at the job. Trust me on this.

Keep an eye on "proven closers!"

They might not always be the "best" options to close, but managers have historically chosen to give former closers the first chance to close, rather than young pitchers without ninth-inning experience. If a team has a guy in the bullpen who formerly saved a hundred or two hundred games, expect them to get the first shot at the ninth.

A good example here is the situation in Arizona. J.J. Putz is an injury risk, and behind him are three very, very good relievers: David Hernandez, Heath Bell, and Brad Ziegler. Ziegler is something of a ground-ball specialist, so he's probably not going to close. But Hernandez has been phenomenal as a setup man for the D'backs, where Bell is a recent acquisition whose star has fallen over the past couple of seasons.

Nevertheless, Bell has a history of pitching in the ninth, with 153 saves in his back pocket. For this reason (as well as his closer-quality contract), I actually think that Bell might get the first chance to close instead of Hernandez, who is a better reliever. This sort of thing might also happen in New York (with Brandon Lyon over Bobby Parnell) or Cincinnati (Jonathan Broxton over Sean Marshall).

Stay away from left-handed relievers!

Quick, name all the left-handed pitchers who racked up ten or more saves in 2012. Go ahead, I'll wait.

If you're like me -- and I'm a closer expert, remember -- you probably thought "Aroldis Chapman, Glen Perkins ... uh, I don't know!" By my quick count, the only closers who managed that last season were those two guys and Sean Marshall. That's crazy, right?

The truth of the matter is that left-handed pitchers don't seem to get a lot of closing opportunities. Managers like to mix and match, using lefties more in situational roles ... and oftentimes lefties don't have the raw fastball power that managers look for in their closer. So in a situation like Oakland, where there are two nice options to close instead of Grant Balfour (Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle) ... I'd always err on the side of the righty. That means I'd be more likely to pick up Ryan Cook than Doolittle if Balfour isn't ready to go early in the season.

Performance is good, but strikeouts are better!

When looking for potential closers, it's certainly important to look for relievers who are pitching well. But at the same time, performance isn't everything. Look for guys who have a lot of strikeouts who are pitching well, before adding a guy who has good performance without the Ks.

Finally, if you want to keep up-to-date with everything closer-related, follow @CloserNews on Twitter. And don't hesitate to drop me any questions on the Twitter machine, as you can find me at @bgrosnick.

All data from FanGraphs.


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