Closers


Closer Updates: As, Astros, Brewers, Cubbies, Dodgers, Jays, Mets, Orioles, Reds, Rockies, White Sox

It didn’t take very long for the closer conversations to start up around the big leagues. This week we’ll take a quick run around the league and discuss several different developments on the bullpen front. From injuries to surprise replacements, we’ve got a bit of everything for you.

Baltimore Orioles

Tommy Hunter was given the closer title just before Opening Day and he certainly earned his first save of the season against the Red Sox despite allowing two base runners early. Given that Hunter performed well in this high pressure situation, his job security got a little bit better.

Chicago Cubs

Jose Veras had a tremendously rough outing in his first save opportunity of 2014 (38 pitches, 1 hit, 1 earned run, 2 walks, 1 strike out, 1 blown save). If his struggles continue and Pedro Strop pitches well, Veras might be on the hot seat before too long.

Chicago White Sox

This closer situation is still quite uncertain. Ronald Belisario and Matt Lindstrom have both pitched well thus far, but Nate Jones has not. In his first 2014 appearance (17 pitches, 2 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 walk, and 1 blown save), Jones pitched poorly and opened the door for Belisario and Lindstrom.  For now, Lindstrom has the closer job.

Cincinnati Reds

Without Aroldis Chapman, Cincy is still looking for their closer. Because the Redlegs have not committed to J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, or Logan Ondrusek, former closer Jonathan Broxton may take the gig outright next week (or whenever he returns from the DL).

Colorado Rockies

LaTroy Hawkins had a rough outing during in his first save for the 2014 Rockies (36 pitches, 2 hits, 1 earned run, 1 walk, 1 strikeout). This could be a blip on the radar, but if he continues to need 30+ pitches for a save – Rex Brothers might be manning the ninth before we know it.

Houston Astros

Josh Fields earned the Astros’ first save of 2014 and looked good doing it (1.0 innings, 10 pitches, 1 strike out). Chad Qualls struggled in his first appearance and Matt Albers pitched well in his first two outings. At this point, it looks like Fields has a slight edge in this race.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenley Jansen is fine, but Dodgerland will be missing Brian Wilson for a little while. Wilson hit the DL this week with nerve irritation in his elbow and is being shelved indefinitely. Without a timeline for his return, Chris Perez should be next in line if Jansen struggles.

Milwaukee Brewers

The biggest closer surprise came when Brewers’ skipper Ron Roenicke sent in Francisco Rodriguez for the Brew Crew’s first save opportunity. Apparently Rodriguez, rather than Jim Henderson, is the pitcher to own in Milwaukee’s bullpen. However, Roenicke also stated that he hopes Henderson will re-take the role in time.

New York Mets

Bobby Parnell’s return to Queens did not last nearly as long as everyone had hoped. Although Tommy John surgery is not certain, an extended trip to DL is. Look for Jose Valverde to pick up Parnell’s save opportunities and he just might be the Mets’ closer moving forward.

Oakland Athletics

Jim Johnson’s Oakland debut was not exactly what Athletics nation was looking for. With a poor outing, Orioles fans could hear the home crowd booing all the way in Baltimore. Thus far, Johnson has two blown saves in his first two save opportunities of the season. Unless the Indians are simply Johnson’s kryptonite, this might the beginning of a rough season.

Toronto Blue Jays

With Casey Janssen on the DL, it seemed that Sergio Santos would be the closer in Toronto. However, Santos has been inconsistent thus far and Brett Cecil stepped in for his second career save on Wednesday against the Rays. We’ll have to stay tuned, but Cecil might be the one to own pretty soon.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closer Updates: Astros, Jays, Reds, Rangers, White Sox

As you already know, the 2014 MLB season is already under way after a quick series in the Outback and our saves leader thus far is… drumroll please… Kenley Jansen, with a whopping 1 save and a fairly rough start (6.75 ERA, 1.50 WHIP). With Opening Day on our heels, let’s take a quick look at some of the other developments on the closer scene.

Chicago White Sox

The bullpen picture for the Sox is clear as mud. Lead man Nate Jones hasn’t quite taken over the role as some had hoped and manager Robin Ventura recently acknowledged that a closer might not be named prior to Opening Day. Matt Lindstrom and Ronald Belisario are both still in the mix, but so is Javy Guerra – who was just picked up on waivers from the Dodgers.

Cincinnati Reds

With Aroldis Chapman out for at least a month, the closer job in Cincy will be a hot topic until he returns. J.J. Hoover should have the job going into the season after a strong 2013 (69 appearances, 2.86 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 3 saves). Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall are still working their way back from injury and won’t be ready for Opening Day.

Houston Astros

Rather than naming a closer before Opening Day, the Astros have opted to go with a closer-by-committee approach to start the season. Manager Bo Porter made it clear that he’ll be examining matchups before deciding who gets the nod. Right now, the group of potential candidates includes Chad Qualls and Josh Fields, as well as Kevin Chapman, Matt Albers, and Anthony Bass. If nobody takes the gig by May, Jesse Crain should emerge as the favorite once fully healthy.

Texas Rangers

It seems that manager Ron Washington has made up his mind and Joakim Soria will be the closer in Texas on Opening Day. With 160 career saves, look for Washington to stick with the two-time All Star through any early struggles. Former frontrunner Neftali Feliz was just sent to AAA and will try a move to the starting rotation while Alexi Ogando will assume the role of setup man.

Toronto Blue Jays

After a lengthy recovery from a shoulder injury, Casey Janssen made his spring debut on Monday and had a scoreless appearance. However, Janssen never topped 86 mph and this lack of velocity is a small red flag. That being said, Janssen should come back to full strength after a few more outings and his fastball will follow shortly thereafter. If not, April might be rough.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closer Updates: Astros, Dbacks, Dodgers, Os, Rangers, Reds, Rockies, White Sox

With the Opening Series in Sydney, Australia a few days away, the fantasy season is nearly upon us. Because there are a few closer position battles still undecided, we’ll give you updates on them and the teams prepared to start the season Down Under. If you were hoping to find Closer Rankings, they were posted a few weeks ago and can be found here.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Addison Reed was brought to the desert via trade this offseason and the Dbacks are happy to have him man the ninth. Reed will look to provide some stability to the bullpen this season and, with a fresh start in Australia, he might just pluck a save this weekend.

Baltimore Orioles

Once Jim Johnson headed out west, most thought that the Os would hit the free agent wire looking to replace him. Although Grant Balfour was nearly brought in to close, it seems that the job has fallen to Tommy Hunter. While Hunter may not have the tightest grip on the closer reins, he should have the gig come Opening Day.

Colorado Rockies

Despite all of the Rex Brothers hoopla, the Rockies are still paying LaTroy Hawkins the big bucks. Even with Manager Walt Weiss stating that Brothers will get the occasional save, he won’t be worth much if Hawkins is still getting (and converting) a large majority of the save opportunities.

Chicago White Sox

A few weeks ago, the White Sox closer picture was an absolute mess. However, it seems that Nate Jones has begun to emerge as the favorite. This frontrunner has pitched in five games this Spring Training without giving up a run and has recovered nicely from a gluteal sprain suffered early in camp.

Cincinnati Reds

Panic spread through Reds Nation on Wednesday night when Aroldis Chapman was struck in the face by a come-backer. After being carted off the field, Chapman was taken to a local hospital where fractures in his face were discovered. While any type of fantasy impact is unclear at this time, this injury could be significant if Chapman is forced to miss time.

Houston Astros

Although far from decided, it seems that the Opening Day job will come down to Josh Fields (who performed admirably in the role last season after Jose Veras’ departure) and Chad Qualls (with 51 career saves). That being said, wait around for Jesse Crain, who should pitch well enough (when fully healthy) to wrestle the ninth from Fields or Qualls.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenley Jansen is a hot commodity this season as he tries to prove that last year’s numbers (1.88 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 13.0 K/9, 28 saves) were not a fluke. With the chance to learn from a trio of former closers with 377 career saves (Brandon League, Chris Perez, Brian Wilson), Jansen just might begin his march to the top of the closer rankings this weekend at the Sydney Cricket Grounds.

Texas Rangers

The best kept secret in the Rangers’ clubhouse is who Manager Ron Washington will name as closer. Unfortunately, we have not been privy to that information and will continue to speculate like everyone else. Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria are still battling it out this Spring Training. Feliz has begun to regain his velocity and Soria has been effective in each outing, so stay tuned before committing to either…

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



How to Win 2014: Saves

No category and position are more closely related than Saves and the closers who luck into earn them. You certainly can't make up for lousy saves production out of your relievers by getting a third baseman who specializes in closing out ballgames. (You know...they way you might compensate for non-stealing middle infielders....) So, we're stuck with relievers.

There are more problems with relievers: they're inconsistent from outing to outing and year to year; they're pitchers and so more likely to get injured than others; they pitch in extremely small sample sizes, so luck doesn't even come close to evening out and a single bad night can ruin a season's ERA; their accumulation of Saves is subject to team performance, and that not even of winning but of winning by a certain small margin; their presence in the closer's role is dependent entirely on managerial fiat.

Wow. That list of problems is even worse in print than it was in my head. No wonder RotoAuthority's resident closer expert, Luckey Helms, argues against paying for saves

But I digress. The risks associated with relief pitchers aren't the topic of this article. How to reap their benefits is.

Strategy 1: Buy Those Saves

When you look at RA's Closer Rankings (or anyone else's, probably), you'll see four names far above the rest: Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and Greg Holland. In some outlets you might see our fifth through seventh guys rated near them as well: Koji Uehara, Joe Nathan, and Trevor Rosenthal. These seven pitchers aren't so highly rated because they're the best sources of saves, though.

No, premium closers are premium because they do so much more than save games, offering the possibilities of sub 2.00 ERA's and K/9's over 12.00. All that is great if you're looking to build a balanced fantasy team (which you probably should), but it comes at a very high price. Getting one of these closers as an anchor could be a good idea if you're already willing to spend auction dollars and high draft picks on a closer, but getting two or three of them is likely a price too dear.

But that's not so bad, because there's no guarantee that the best closers will earn the most Saves. Sure, they've got the best odds to do so, but that doesn't keep Jim Johnson from saving 50 games a season with a K/9 of literally zero.* You can get saves without elite relievers. You can win Saves without elite relievers. You just need volume.

*Actually, his career number is 5.96, also known as figuratively zero.

When I advocate paying for saves, I tend to think in terms of my eighth-twelfth round draft picks--it's a lot tougher for me to part with auction cash than it is fourth-tier corner infielders and mid-rotation starters. While it's hard for me to part with a third round pick for Kimbrel and his greatness (the ghost of Eric Gagne keeps reminding me that only Mariano Rivera can be great forever), it isn't so hard for me to give up two or even three of my middle-round draft picks to lock down some saves. When I do, I'm really not looking for closer excellence; in fact, I want just one thing: job security.

Okay, I want excellence too, if I can get it, but job security is my top priority when I employ this strategy. With only this one factor under consideration, let's do a little re-ranking of closers.

Total Security

These guys have been closing games for a long time, earned the trust of their team, or just got a big pile of cash from a new team after closing games for a long time. Their managers likely can't remove them from the role without permission from the front office. They will safely ride all temporary storms:

Kimbrel, Nathan

Wow. Just two. No wonder they're so expensive.

Very Secure

These guys will have long leashes thanks to their strong track records, or standout performance, though they may not have been in the ninth very long. Their teams may have few other solid bullpen options:

Chapman, Holland, Jansen, Glen Perkins, Sergio Romo, Steve Cishek

Varying levels of quality here, but some potential value.

Mostly Secure

These guys are either quite good, or their team has few other options, but not both. They may be talented pitchers but lack the "proven closer" merit badge. Or their team may have had a turbulent recent history in the closer's role and be more open than most for quick changes. An extended stretch of bad luck could result in a demotion:

Uehara, Rosenthal, Casey Janssen, Johnson, David Robertson, Jason Grilli, Ernesto Frieri, Grant Balfour, Jonathan Papelbon, Fernando Rodney, Bobby Parnell

There are a lot of ways to be just "mostly secure," but these guys are still good bets to keep their job all year.

Basically Secure

These guys own their job without question for now, but poor performance could change that, as they aren't established, have inconsistent histories, or their teams have multiple decent alternatives:  

Addison Reed, John Axford, Jim Henderson, Rafael Soriano, Huston Street, Jose Veras

Out of this group, falling strikeout rates and the presence of elite setup guys in their bullpens makes me think that Soriano and Street are particularly volatile. I won't be drafting either in any format.

On Thin Ice

These guys have next to no job security (but may be available very late in drafts for excellent potential value):

Tommy Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins

Fighting for the Job

These guys don't technically have the job, but are in the lead for it at the moment. When they get it, their prize will be to move to the "On Thin Ice" tier. Yay for them. Their top competitors are in parentheses:

Neftali Feliz (Joakim Soria, Tanner Scheppers), Nate Jones (Matt Lindstrom, Daniel Webb, plus a bunch of other guys), Chad Qualls (Josh Fields, the injured Jesse Crain)

Possession is nine tenths of the law in closer land, so anyone who does end up with a job is worth drafting in the hopes that good luck and inertia are in your favor.

Job Stealers

These guys have a better shot than most at stealing a closing gig at some point in the season. If your purpose in drafting non-closing relievers is to snag saves, these are your guys:

Mark Melancon, Pedro Strop, Joaquin Benoit, J.J. Putz, Rex Brothers, Tyler Clippard, Darren O'Day, Cody Allen

Also included are anyone who loses in the above closer battles.

Strategy 2: Don't Pay for Saves--but Don't Ignore Them

I spent a lot of time on the first strategy, so I won't fill up too much more space with this one. Frankly, it's pretty straightforward, just a lot easier said than done.

A caveat: I don't find this to be a worthwhile strategy in leagues with weekly free agent/waiver wire moves--you need to pay to compete in those formats.

The first thing to do is set aside some roster space for relievers. Maybe you use some late-round picks on the dark horses in closer battles, or some slightly-less-late-round picks on the leading candidates or even full closers with low job security. Or maybe you just take the best setup guys available, regardless of whether or not their closer has good security. Whatever.

No matter what you do with this roster space (and you'll want at least three roster slots for this, I should think), you'll be treating the players you draft as highly expendable. These are your rotating Saves slots for now, not players on your team.

You also need to start following @CloserNews on Twitter. No Twitter account? Get one if you don't want to pay for Saves. Use this advice not only to find out which closers are about to lose their jobs, but also who's likely to get rested the next day. Then, pick up the setup guy for the teams with resting closers. You'd be surprised how many Saves fall through the cracks each year. Back in the old days, when I worked for CloserNews, I seriously considered attempting to get all my Saves like this with a fantasy team to see what would happen. Still haven't had the guts to try it.

Get up early (if you're on the West Coast) and stay up late (East Coasters) to catch the latest updates.When they announce that LaTroy Hawkins is being removed from the closer's role, somebody in your league will already have their fantasy team loaded up. Be that person. 

Keep a particular eye on the strikeouts and velocity of closers and the guys replacing them--sometimes that's even more important than their overall stats. Remember, being "closer material" is less about being the best pitcher in the bullpen and more about being the coolest pitcher in the bullpen, selling jerseys, growing facial hair, pumping up the crowd, and blasting Metallica or AC/DC.

I'm totally on board with the first half of the rationale against paying for Saves: closers are volatile and unpredictable. The second half, that Saves are always available on the waiver wire, has grown dicier. It's totally true--but your whole league knows it, and they'll be looking for Saves too.

Strategy 3: Hybrids

You can always mix the two strategies; in fact, anyone paying for Saves should be just as active on the waiver wire as anyone else. Not only can you benefit from more Saves (and make trades if you have excess) you're protecting your investment by making it more difficult for anyone to get similar value for free. Your only limit is roster space.

You can also make Strategy 2 your primary plan, but keep an eye out in drafts for solid value. If enough of your league wants to get their Saves from the waiver wire, you might want to go the other way. Alternatively, it might be good to get one closer with high job security to anchor you while you speculate on further Saves.

Good luck in Saves--you'll need it. Or, better yet, follow @CloserNews! We'll be back next week to wrap up the traditional categories with Home Runs.



Closer Updates – A Quick Run Around the League

After giving a preview on each division, as well as some closer competition updates and overall rankings, it’s time for a general rundown of each team’s closer situation. In addition to providing some insight into various bullpens, you will also find some helpful injury updates. Moving through the regular season, you can find similar information on our Closer Depth Chart.

American League

Unlike the quiet NL, all of the Spring Training closer battles are happening in the American League thus far.

Baltimore Orioles – 1. Tommy Hunter, 2. Darren O’Day, 3. Ryan Webb

While Os skipper Buck Showalter still won’t firmly commit to Hunter as the guy, it certainly seems that he’s leading the pack right now.

Boston Red Sox – 1. Koji Uehara, 2. Edward Mujica, 3. Junichi Tazawa

Uehara issued a surprising walk against the Braves last week and catcher David Ross explained that the mishap could be chalked up to the closer working on another pitch for his repertoire.

Chicago White Sox – Competition – Ronald Belisario, Mitchell Boggs, Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom, Daniel Webb

It’s been rough for the White Sox because no pitcher has emerged yet as closer – Belisario arrived late to camp because of visa issues, Jones & Lindstrom are close to healthy after missing time early, Webb missed a week for family reasons, and Boggs is still trying to distance himself from last year’s 8.10 ERA.

Cleveland Indians – 1. John Axford, 2. Cody Allen, 3. Bryan Shaw, 4. Vinnie Pestano

If his time at the World Baseball Classic caused Axford to fatigue in 2013, he could be in for a bounce-back season and bring consistency to the Tribe.

Detroit Tigers – 1. Joe Nathan, 2. Bruce Rondon, 3. Joba Chamberlain

With 341 career saves, Nathan will bring reliability to a Tigers’ bullpen that has developed a reputation for its inconsistencies.

Houston Astros – Competition – Matt Albers, Jesse Crain, Josh Fields, Chad Qualls

With favorite Crain out past Opening Day with an injury, Qualls is currently leading sophomore Fields and journeyman Albers for the closer role.

Kansas City Royals – 1. Greg Holland, 2. Aaron Crow, 3. Kelvin Herrera

Holland should be in line for another monster year in KC, while Crow and Herrera will see their setup roles increase in the absence of an injured Luke Hochevar.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 1. Ernesto Frieri, 2. Dane De La Rosa, 3. Joe Smith

De La Rosa could provide real value if Frieri stumbles – Manager Mike Scioscia had the two splitting closing duties at one point last season.

Minnesota Twins – 1. Glen Perkins, 2. Jared Burton, 3. Brian Duensing

With a 90% save conversion rate, Perkins is a solid closer and should make a case for his second straight All-Star appearance this season.

New York Yankees – 1. David Robertson, 2. Matt Thornton, 3. Shawn Kelley

All eyes will be on Robertson this season and he should rise to the task, his career 11.7 K/9 and 2.76 ERA didn’t happen by mistake.

Oakland Athletics – 1. Jim Johnson, 2. Luke Gregerson, 3. Ryan Cook

Johnson’s arrival in Oakland shouldn’t change his stock too much – he’s still a dependable closer who can be projected for 35+ saves (though another 50-save season might be aggressive).

Seattle Mariners – 1. Fernando Rodney, 2. Danny Farquhar, 3. Yoervis Medina

Rodney has been signed to closer, but Farquhar might just be good enough to regain his job if there are struggles early.

Tampa Bay Rays – 1. Grant Balfour, 2. Heath Bell, 3. Joel Peralta

Balfour will be more reliable in Tampa than Rodney was last season and Peralta is a solid setup man, but buyer beware when it comes to Heath Bell.

Texas Rangers – Competition – Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers, Joakim Soria

Manager Ron Washington has not yet chosen a closer for 2014 and is unopposed to a closer-by-committee approach, but the race should come down to Feliz edging Soria before Opening Day.

Toronto Blue Jays – 1. Casey Janssen, 2. Sergio Santos, 3. Steve Delabar

Entering a contract year, Janssen is a very solid closer who should have another above-average season in the Great White North.

National League

Barring any major injuries before Opening Day, the NL has a much clearer picture in terms of closers than its AL counterpart.

Atlanta Braves – 1. Craig Kimbrel, 2. Jordan Walden, 3. Luis Avilan

Kimbrel signed a four-year extension with the Bravos that is chock full of incentive bonuses – look for another dominant year for the righty.

Arizona Diamondbacks – 1. Addison Reed, 2. Brad Ziegler, 3. J.J. Putz

The Dbacks traded for Reed to be their closer, but J.J. Putz seems determined in Spring Training to regain his old job in 2014.

Chicago Cubs – 1. Jose Veras, 2. Pedro Strop, 3. Blake Parker

Veras will lead the Cubbies this year and should see more save opportunities in Wrigleyville than he did while serving as the Astros’ closer.

Colorado Rockies – 1. LaTroy Hawkins, 2. Rex Brothers, 3. Wilton Lopez

While Brothers may have the job before season’s end, Hawkins will definitely start the season as closer in Denver.

Los Angeles Dodgers – 1. Kenley Jansen, 2. Brian Wilson, 3. Chris Perez

Jansen has the opportunity to learn from some stud relievers (Wilson, Perez, and Brandon League) and emerge as a top-tier closer in 2014.

Miami Marlins – 1. Steve Cishek, 2. Mike Dunn, 3. A.J. Ramos

After replacing Heath Bell, Cishek was quite the surprise in Miami last season and will look to build on his strong finish to 2013.

Milwaukee Brewers – 1. Jim Henderson, 2. Francisco Rodriguez, 3. Brandon Kintzler

With K-Rod’s recent foot injury (yes, he stepped on a cactus), Henderson has an even longer leash entering Opening Day.

New York Mets – 1. Bobby Parnell, 2. Vic Black, 3. Jose Valverde

Parnell has pitched without pain this Spring and should be the closer in Queens again this season – unless Jose Valverde storms through the minors and takes the gig.

Philadelphia Phillies – 1. Jonathan Papelbon, 2. Antonio Bastardo, 3. Justin De Fratus

Papelbon was much better than described last season, has regained his velocity this Spring and seems to be on track for another solid season.

Pittsburgh Pirates – 1. Jason Grilli, 2. Mark Melancon, 3. Vin Mazzaro

Grilli has looked good in Spring Training and may be ready to charge out of the gates once again (10 saves last April).

San Diego Padres – 1. Huston Street, 2. Joaquin Benoit, 3. Dale Thayer

Benoit’s presence will greatly improve the Padres bullpen, but Street is still the Padre’s guy in the ninth and should be in line for another solid season.

San Francisco Giants – 1. Sergio Romo, 2. Santiago Casilla, 3. Jeremy Affeldt

Romo is another closer who is going into a contract year and he’ll be pushed by Casilla and Affeldt all season long.

St. Louis Cardinals – 1. Trevor Rosenthal, 2. Kevin Siegrist, 3. Carlos Martinez

Rosenthal has the potential to be a top notch closer and Cards’ management would certainly love to see their faith in him rewarded with a 35+ save season.

Washington Nationals – 1. Rafael Soriano, 2. Tyler Clippard, 3. Drew Storen

Soriano is still getting the big bucks in DC and his job is safe for now, but Clippard is an elite setup man who might be worth a look if you’re trying to improve your fantasy bullpen.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: Closers

As you certainly recall, we’ve recently dug into a number of different position rankings for hitters (including Outfield, Catcher, First Base, Second Base, and Third Base – with Shortstop rankings to arrive on Saturday). Now it’s time for Closers to get a little love. Like the rest of the RotoAuthority rankings, we’ll break down the position into tiers with some extra attention to sleepers and setup guys. Unlike Opening Day, we won’t make you wait any longer…

Tier 1 – Top Guns

1. Craig Kimbrel

2. Kenley Jansen

3. Aroldis Chapman

4. Greg Holland

The top tier features four excellent closers with high-end career strikeout rates (Kimbrel – 15.1 K/9, Jansen – 14.0, Chapman – 14.7 K/9, Holland – 12.3). With 163 combined saves last season, each one of these guys can give you a serious advantage in the relief pitcher department week-to-week. Many will place Kimbrel in a tier all by himself, and perhaps rightfully so, but I think that Jansen, Chapman, and Holland will give him a run for his money in 2014.

Tier 2 – Next Best Thing

5. Koji Uehara

6. Joe Nathan

7. Trevor Rosenthal

8. Casey Janssen

9. Jim Johnson

10. Glen Perkins

Uehara had an outstanding end to 2013 and might be among the game’s best. If he can prove that his 2013 numbers aren’t a flash-in-the-pan (1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 12.2 K/9, 21 saves), he’ll be pushing Kimbrel with the rest of the top tier. Nathan has been consistent (340 saves over the last 10 years) and should keep the Joe Show going in Detroit. Rosenthal will have to prove that last season was not a fluke (2.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 12.9 K/9) and he can handle the ninth before moving up the rankings. Janssen, Johnson, and Perkins are all consistent enough to round out the top 10 for the fickle closer position.

Tier 3 – On the Cusp of Top-Notch

11. David Robertson

12. Jonathan Papelbon

13. Jason Grilli

14. Sergio Romo

15. Ernesto Frieri

16. Rafael Soriano

17. Grant Balfour

18. Steve Cishek

Robertson will inherit the ninth after Mariano Rivera’s departure and has outstanding numbers as a setup guy (2.04 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 10.4 K/9 last season). If he can keep these numbers up, he’ll perform admirably in Mariano’s stead and be a draft day gem. Although Papelbon seemingly struggled last season, he still posted good numbers (2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 29 saves) and should have another good year. Grilli provides strong value this season and was a dominant closer most of last season (2.70 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 13.3 K/9, 33 saves) despite missing time due to injury.

Tier 4 – Steady Eddies

19. Addison Reed

20. John Axford

21. Huston Street

22. Jim Henderson

23. Fernando Rodney

24. Bobby Parnell

Without being too flashy, this tier is dependable if you’ve decided to wait at closer. Axford might return to form and move up a tier before the season’s end. Rodney is closing for the new look Mariners and could have plenty of save opportunities. If Parnell can stay healthy for 2014, he’ll provide some great value later in drafts.

Tier 5 – Position Battles & Closer Sleepers

25. Jose Veras

26. Tommy Hunter

27. LaTroy Hawkins

28. Neftali Feliz

29. Nate Jones

30. Chad Qualls

31. Mark Melancon

32. Rex Brothers

33. Jesse Crain

34. Danny Farquhar

35. Joakim Soria

Unlike the above tiers, this one if chock full of potential and uncertainty. Jose Veras will regain the ninth as closer for the Cubbies and Tommy Hunter seems to have won the closer gig in Baltimore. Hawkins might eventually lose his job to Rex Brothers, but the Rockies are paying him to be their closer on Opening Day. While Jesse Crain may eventually own the job in Houston (out until April with injury), Chad Qualls should be the first to have it in 2014. Neftali Feliz and Nate Jones would both be ranked higher if either were officially named closer.

Tier 6 – Setup Guys

36. Darren O’Day

37. Tyler Clippard

38. Cody Allen

39. Pedro Strop

40. J.J. Putz

41. Matt Lindstrom

42. Joaquin Benoit

43. Brad Ziegler

44. Tanner Scheppers

45. Sergio Santos

46. Daniel Webb

47. Brian Wilson

48. Jose Valverde

49. Francisco Rodriguez

This grab bag tier features a number of names you’ve seen before and some that are fairly new to the scene. Clippard and Allen are both elite setup men that could steal a few saves. Strop, Benoit, and Santos also provide tremendous value as setup men and can be useful in several fantasy formats (especially those that count holds). Putz and Ziegler are speculative picks that could pan out if there’s a closer competition in Arizona. Other wild cards include former closer studs Wilson, Valverde, and K-Rod.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



The Market Report: Relief Pitchers

The Market Report is a weekly analysis of player valuations in the fantasy marketplace in an effort to find undervalued commodities.

Baseball has finally returned at long last. Spring Training games have begun, and Opening Day is in sight. We conclude our positional breakdowns with a look at relief pitchers this week. Once again, ADP values are provided in parentheses.

Tier One

1. Craig Kimbrel (55)

Tier Two

2. Aroldis Chapman (75)

3. Greg Holland (84)

4. Kenley Jansen (104)

Tier Three

5. Koji Uehara (122)

6. Joe Nathan (122)

7. Trevor Rosenthal (127)

Tier Four

8. Addison Reed (139)

9. Jim Johnson (147)

10. Rafael Soriano (147)

Tier Five

11. Sergio Romo (165)

12. David Robertson (166)

13. Glen Perkins (172)

14. Jason Grilli (174)

15. Jonathan Papelbon (185)

Undervalued

Jason Grilli (ADP 174)

Grilli sure has had a strange career. After several years of mediocre performance out of the bullpen, the veteran somehow enjoyed a breakout campaign in his age 36 season in 2012 with a dominant 36.6 K% against just a 6.4 BB% as a setup man to Joel Hanrahan. In his first year as a closer, Grilli was simply brilliant last year with a remarkable 1.71 SIERA, just behind Craig Kimbrel for fourth in the NL. Now, there are reasons why such great skills are available at a discount.  Grilli is certainly up there in years, he suffered a right forearm strain late last season, and Mark Melancon is behind him and more than capable of closing. Having said that, the reward far outweighs the risk at that price. This is a dominant reliever with elite skills going roughly 100 picks after the Tier 2 closers. Invest.

Nate Jones (ADP 272)

OK, so he hasn't officially been named the closer for the Pale Hose just yet, but he appears to have a leg up on the competition. My general approach to a murky closer situation is to grab the reliever with the best skills and let the roles fall where they may. Well, Jones clearly possesses better skills than fellow White Sox closer candidates Matt Lindstrom and Daniel Webb. In fact, last year he ranked 10th in the American League with a 2.56 SIERA. Sure, the White Sox are going to be a miserable club this season, but I care more about protecting my ERA and WHIP than accumulating saves. Once again, if the job were already his, he wouldn't be available on the cheap. Based on the current ADP, the risk that he fails to win the job as closer is minimal, and I just see this as a buying opportunity. The worst case scenario is you have a dominant setup man to serve as a buffer in ERA and WHIP. Speaking of which...

Pick an Elite Setup Man, Any Elite Setup Man

By now, it's a rather common practice in fantasy baseball, but the point bears repeating. Elite setup men are wonderful additions in leagues that allow for daily lineup changes. Even if a primary setup man never usurps the closer role, he still can still provide help in the ratio categories. My favorite targets this year are Joaquin Benoit, Sergio Santos, and Pedro Strop. One thing that all of these setup men have in common is that they're currently behind closers who will be free agents at the season's end. I also don't expect any of their clubs to be contenders, so it's certainly possible the current closers are dealt midseason anyway.

Overvalued

Rafael Soriano (ADP 147)

Let's start with the fact that Soriano's skills last season were mediocre at best. A relatively poor 18.4 K% coupled with average skills elsewhere resulted in a 3.11 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. In today's fantasy game, those numbers are actually below average for a closer. Moreover, his 3.71 SIERA indicates he was a tad fortunate, too. Now let's keep in mind that both Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen are likely better from a True Talent perspective. As a matter of fact, Steamer projects a better ERA for both of the setup man than for Soriano. Finally, the veteran has had trouble staying healthy over the course of his career. With all of this mind, there's  simply no good reason to draft the Nationals closer at his current pricetag.



Closer Draft Strategies

Now that we’ve dug into division-by-division bullpen previews, as well as provided updates on the current closer position battles, there are only a few things left to cover before drafting season is well under way. Next week we will explore closer rankings, but now it is time to discuss different drafting strategies for closers. A few weeks ago, we used a Point-Counterpoint column to address an age old question – Should one pay for saves? Unless you’ve decided to punt saves altogether and avoid closers like the plague, your strategy will fall under one of the below approaches. Whichever you choose, RotoAuthority and @CloserNews will be here all season to help you win saves and your league.

Approach #1 – Early and Often

If you are a disciple of the Pay for Saves school, then you’ll certainly be targeting closers early. In particular, you’ll have your eyes set on acquiring one (or more) of Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen. While any one of these closers can anchor a fantasy bullpen on their own, having two of them means that you won’t have to worry about closer again until the end of the draft. Obviously you’ll want to round out your fantasy bullpen with another reliever or two before all is said and done, but a couple of these top tier closers and you should be sitting pretty in the closer department. If somebody else swings early and starts the closer run before expected, be patient and have a backup plan. If you are willing to pay for saves, there’s a chance someone else will too and there’s still plenty of talent out there.

Approach #2 – Medium-Level Talent

Should you miss out on the three amigos above (Kimbrel, Chapman, Jansen), the next best bet is to target several medium-level closers. The difficult part about the closer position is predicting how many save opportunities a pitcher will have or whether a newly appointed closer will pan out. The top tier closers are ranked as such because of their ridiculous strikeout rates and high number of projected save opportunities. That being said, several pitchers will post 40+ save seasons in 2014 without ridiculous strikeout rates and still provide great value to fantasy managers. Despite the uncertainty inherent in the position, look toward closers that have been consistent throughout the years and have strong job security rather than young guns newly taking over the ninth. For example, Joe Nathan, Greg Holland, Ernesto Frieri, Glen Perkins, Jim Johnson, Jonathan Papelbon, and Casey Janssen will all go a few rounds later than the top tier guys and can provide enough value to lead you to a championship. Just keep in mind that one of them will not be enough and you’ll need a few to be truly competitive in saves.

Approach #3 – Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Each season a few closers come out of nowhere and hold onto the ninth tighter than four-seam fastball. Some of them are prospects, some journeymen, and others simply win the job after a closer-by-committee situation. Therefore, the smartest move might be to grab a solid closer early and wait around to acquire the rest later. Although this strategy is riskier than the other two, it can be the most rewarding when executed properly. With late round value at closer, a manager has extra opportunities to draft offensive talent early. If you’re going to take this approach, there are two different types of closers to target.

When drafting, focus on pitchers that are either (A) the lead dog who will eventually take over a closer-by-committee situation or (B) an elite setup man who should have the closer gig in due time. Examples of (A) pitchers include Nate Jones, Jesse Crain, and Neftali Feliz. On the other hand, (B) pitchers include Rex Brothers, Danny Farquhar, and Tyler Clippard. The beautiful thing about the (B) pitchers is that they’ll contribute to your ERA and WHIP even if they don’t grab the ninth right away and give you saves. Finally, do not forget to follow @CloserNews each night as we’ll be giving you tips on who might step in and steal a save.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closer Updates – An Updated Look at Position Battles

So far this preseason, we’ve given an in-depth preview of each division and their closer situations. Now that we’re on the cusp of Spring Training, it’s time to have an update on some of the ongoing position battles discussed earlier this preseason. The NL East and NL Central have both been fairly quiet, but there’s plenty happening elsewhere. We’ve got updates on the position battles in AL Central and NL West, as well as some new arrivals via free agency in the AL West and AL East.

Baltimore Orioles – When we first wrote about the Os bullpen, it seemed that Baltimore was one free agent away from having a new closer and the in-house competition was between Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day. Now it looks like Tommy Hunter is leading the way and will have the first opportunity to close this Spring Training.

Chicago White Sox – During out AL Central preview, we took a look at the White Sox bullpen in the post-Addison Reed era. Frontrunner Nate Jones was the first injury in Spring Training with a mild strain. While the injury isn’t a big deal, it may give Ronald Belisario, Matt Lindstrom, or newcomer Mitchell Boggs a few extra days to earn favor with the brass.

Colorado Rockies – Manager Walt Weiss recently stated that Rex Brothers could get some save opportunities early in the season, depending on matchups. This may be a not-so-subtle hint that they’re ready for Brothers to be the guy in Mile High, so beware of drafting LaTroy Hawkins too early.

Houston Astros – Skipper Bo Porter has made it clear that figuring out the closer’s role would be a top priority this Spring Training. Chad Qualls may be the early favorite given his limited experience as a closer in three seasons with the Diamondbacks. Jesse Crain is still recovering from an October surgery and will be back in April, but probably not near Opening Day.

Seattle Mariners – When we first hit the presses on the AL West, Danny Farquhar seemed to have an edge for the gig over Tom Wilhelmsen. Then, Fernando Rodney was signed by the Mariners and took over the role. He should have fairly safe job security given the money they’re paying him in Seattle.

Tampa Bay Rays – Another bullpen compeittion which was settled by a free agent signing was in Tampa with Grant Balfour. Backed up by Heath Bell, Joel Peralta, and Jake McGee, Grant Balfour will be the closer and should have another strong season following a strong 2013 (2.59 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 38 saves).

Texas Rangers – While there’s been plenty of talk about how Neftali Feliz is ready to take back the ninth inning (he’s reported to camp in the best shape of his career), Ron Washington recently said that he’ll wait a while before naming a closer. Besides Feliz, Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers are both viable candidates with potent stuff and give Texas the most comfortable bullpen battle in baseball.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closers Preseason Preview – NL West

As we wrap up the closer previews for 2014, we take a look at the American League West. With five clear starters (or frontrunners), there shouldn’t be too many shakeups between now and Opening Day. On the other hand, there are some very good setup men and more than one reliever capable of taking over the ninth in an instant.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer – Addison Reed

After coming to the desert from the Chicago White Sox, Addison Reed is poised to take over the ninth for Arizona. Although J.J. Putz will be trying to take his old job back, Reed should persevere and enter Opening Day as the Dbacks closer. With 69 saves over the last two seasons and a career 9.3 K/9, Reed should be consistent enough to keep Putz at bay.

Bold Prediction – Despite the fact that Reed beats Putz for the ninth inning gig, each of them pitch outstandingly and give the Diamondbacks an edge late in games. Reed has a 30+ save season and Putz ranks highly among holds leaders.

Who’s Lurking? – J.J. Putz has vowed that he will regain his job and should give Reed a run for his money in Spring Training. Although Putz was on the Disabled List twice last season and blew four saves in April, he held a 1.27 ERA in his last 27 appearances and really came back to form as the season ended. David Hernandez consistently holds a 9.0+ K/9 but is better suited for a setup role. Brad Ziegler may be the dark horse in this race, with a career 2.40 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, and 32 saves.

Colorado Rockies

Closer – LaTroy Hawkins

With Rafael Betancourt lost to free agency, the ninth inning should look a little different in Denver this season. Back with the Rockies, the 41-year-old Hawkins is the definition of journeyman reliever (11 teams thus far) and has been consistent, when healthy, over the years. Last season, Hawkins posted a respectable 2.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 7.0 K/9 last season in Queens and should have another strong year in the twilight of his career.

Bold Prediction – LaTroy Hawkins starts to run into trouble around the All-Star Game and Rex Brothers takes the job in the Mile High City. Brothers finishes the season with 25+ saves and is one of the best closers going into 2015.

Who’s Lurking? – In 2013, Brothers had a 30-inning scoreless streak and 19 saves after filling in for the injured Betancourt. With a career 2.82 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 11.2 K/9, Brothers has the stuff to dominate the ninth and just might take the job if Hawkins struggles early. Another young gun is Boone Logan, who had a solid 2013 season in 61 appearances (3.23 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 11.5 K/9) and has a closer’s profile. Adam Ottavino may not have a great spot in this race yet (2.64 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 last season), but could really bring himself into the conversation with a strong Spring Training.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer – Kenley Jansen

After Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman are gone, Kenley Jansen is your next best bet. With a scorching fastball and dominant strikeout rate, Jansen should be excited about his first full season in the closer’s seat. After starting last year as a setup guy, Jansen ended the season with 1.88 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 13.0 K/9, and 28 saves, and has the stuff to be among the game’s best.

Bold Prediction – Kenley Jansen surpasses Kimbrel and Chapman in his first full year as closer. The Dodgers starting rotation puts Jansen in position for 40+ saves and he posts an unbelievable 14.5 K/9.

Who’s Lurking? – The Dodgers have a very interesting bullpen to back up Jansen with a trio of former All-Stars and 377 career saves. Chris Perez, the two-time All-Star, has a career 3.41 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 8.7 K/9, and four consecutive 20+ save seasons. Brian Wilson, the three-time All-Star with a very dark beard, is also in Los Angeles after 18 appearances last season (0.66 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 8.6 K/9). Brandon League, the last musketeer with one former All-Star appearance, had 14 saves at the beginning of the year but eventually lost the job to Jansen. Another interesting candidate is sophomore Chris Withrow, who posted a 2.60 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 11.2 K/9 in 26 appearances.

San Diego Padres

Closer – Huston Street

Unlike many traditional closers, Huston Street is a closer that relies on finesse rather than pure power. With a strong last season (33 of 35 save opportunities, 2.70 ERA, 1.02 WHIP), Street is poised to have another good year in San Diego. Recently acquired Joaquin Benoit may give Street some competition, but he should march through Spring Training with few issues.

Bold Prediction – Despite the fact that Benoit is on the scene, Huston Street has another strong season in San Diego (29 saves, 2.92 ERA, 1.10 ERA) by depending on his accuracy rather than his power.

Who’s Lurking? – New to the Padres is Joaquin Benoit, who saved 25 games in Detroit last season (2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 8.6 K/9). Benoit was brought in to replace Luke Gregerson (who was shipped to Oakland in the offseason) and should immediately bolster the bullpen. Dale Thayer completed his first full season in the Major Leagues last year and performed admirably (3.32 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.9 K/9). Another competitor is Alex Torres, who came to San Diego from the Tampa Bay Rays after a strong season (career 1.91 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.7 K/9).

San Francisco Giants

Closer – Sergio Romo

Sergio Romo will take over the ninth inning for San Francisco after 38 saves in 2013. With a career 2.29 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 10.3 K/9, Romo is a traditional fireballer who can close the door in the eighth. With some strong bullpen support but little internal competition, Romo should enter the season by saving games early and often.

Bold Prediction – Romo chases 40 saves in 2014 and comes just short with another 38-save season. Although his overall saves number remains the same, Romo lowers his ERA and WHIP, while still posting a 10.0+ K/9.

Who’s Lurking? – With the benefit of great setup man Santiago Casilla, the Padres will be able put Romo in plenty of traditional save opportunities. Casilla had a strong 2013 (2.16 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.8 K/9) and will be ready to contribute in the eighth. Jeremy Affeldt, another late inning reliever, may be simply waiting around for his opportunity for Romo and Casilla to struggle. Lastly, Heath Hembree had a very strong year in 2013 (0.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 14.1 K/9) and will have something to prove in his sophomore season.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.





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