Closers


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.


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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.



Point/Counterpoint: Pay for Saves?

Fantasy baseball has changed so much over the past decade. When I started playing this game, I used to be adamantly against paying for saves. While others paid big bucks for Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner, I always seemed to end up with the likes of Joe Borowski and Todd Jones. More often than not, however, I could still compete in the pitching categories by getting better results from my starting pitchers. DIPS theory was not quite mainstream at the time, so it was easier to fill out a staff with sabermetric darlings back then.

Andrew: Premium Closers Are Worth the Price

For a variety of reasons, I'm of the mindset that paying for saves is now the optimal strategy. For one, today's game is far different from the one we watched at the turn of the millennium. Last year's leaguewide .714 OPS was the lowest since 1992. To be more specific, though, the most glaring difference about today's game is the dramatic rise in strikeout rate. Seemingly every pitching prospect is able to throw in the high 90s, and power has dipped substantially with rules now in place to severely penalize for use of PEDs.

With a strikeout now taking place roughly once every five plate appearances, there have been several key fantasy ramifications. Power is scarce. A .260 AVG is actually good, not bad. More and more pristine results are required to compete in the pitching categories. Above all else, though, perhaps no category has been more impacted than strikeouts. In particular, the strikeout rates of closers have gone through the roof. A quick glance at the leaders in SIERA among relievers from last year reveals that 10 of the top 13 are current closers, all of whom had a K/9 over 10. It sounds weird to say, but in today's Roto game a closer who fails to strike out a batter per inning is actually damaging to a fantasy roster in that category.

To illustrate, let's take a look at the following scenarios:

Option A: Draft Craig Kimbrel (ADP 55) in Round 5 and then Danny Salazar (ADP 146) in Round 13

Composite Steamer Projections: 18 Wins / 28 SV / 285 K / 2.99 ERA / 1.13 WHIP in 238 innings

Option B: Draft Felix Hernandez (ADP 51) in Round 5 and then Jim Johnson (ADP 146) in Round 13

Composite Steamer Projections: 18 Wins / 28 SV / 236 K / 3.26 ERA / 1.18 WHIP in 257 innings

So yeah, I'm cherry-picking, but I think there's a point here. Wins and saves are rather whimsical while ERA and WHIP may not be all that different if other names are selected. Having said that, I'm a firm believer that a fantasy owner gains a significant edge in the strikeout category by drafting an elite closer like Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, or Kenley Jansen. Particularly in leagues with innings caps, stellar innings from a lights-out closer are incredibly valuable.  

Luckey: Don't Pay for Saves

In theory, paying for saves can be a good bet when you know it will work. However, like most fantasy baseball projections, it’s hard to know when to draft a player for maximum value – and therein lies the rub. Before you draft your first closer this year, keep in mind three important things. First, closers have among the worst job security in baseball and can lose the ninth quickly. Second, the shelf life of a reliever is short and when they start to get worse – it happens in a hurry (see Trevor Hoffman in 2010 or Heath Bell in 2012). Third, closers become available throughout the season and are, therefore, much easier to find on the waiver wire than a top starting pitcher. So be sure to use that early draft pick on some consistent power or a sabermetric darling and minimize your risk.

1. Closers Have Poor Job Security – Sure drafting a Kimbrel or Chapman is sexy, but it probably isn’t the most efficient use of an early round pick. If you were to draft one of these closer studs, it’s going to cost you. Spend that pick on an ace or big-time offensive name and even with a week’s worth of poor games, you know they’ll still have their jobs. On the other hand, a closer that gives up a few blown saves in a week can easily be pulled for another reliever. If that new reliever pitches well, the job could soon be theirs and somebody else will certainly scoop them up at an amazing value. Last season, Mark Melancon stepped in for an injured Jason Grilli and pitched outstandingly (1.39 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 16 saves). This season, skip the big closer name and go with a position that’s a little safer.

2. Closers Do Not Last Forever – Like centers in basketball or running backs in football, closers have a fairly limited shelf life when they’re at their peak. Due to the physical demands of the position, many closers have a few amazing years before disappearing into oblivion and it’s often hard to predict when the wheels will fall off. A quick look at Kimbrel’s K/9 shows that it may be on a downward trend (having dropped from 16.7 in 2012 to 13.2 last season), while Chapman’s average velocity on his fastball has gone down in three consecutive seasons. Even though these two still have mightily impressive strikeout rates, taking them in the early rounds is a leap of faith. If you’re depending on a top starting pitcher, especially someone who relies on control rather than power, the fall from grace will not be so drastic.

3. Closers Can Be Found Later – It is important to note that players at the top of their position rarely fall to their expected draft day value and one of your fellow drafters may strike early. While it’s nice to think that all readers will have a chance to draft Kimbrel, Chapman, or Jansen at their ADP, you will probably have to overpay by a round or two to guarantee that he’ll be on your roster. Why do this when you can pluck a few closers from the waiver wire throughout the season that will be, cumulatively, just as strong? Keep an eye on the early competition battles in spring training and you’ll have an inside track in April. Once the injury bug hits, or a player loses his job after back-to-back blown saves, head to the waiver wire and take your pick…

Trust me on this, I used to pay for saves. If you do elect to wait on closers draft day, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter this season and we’ll keep you up-to-date on any breaking news in the closer world.



Closers Preseason Preview - AL West

As we head out west with the closer previews, there are a few more showdowns for the ninth. While there are some returners this season and a fresh face in Oakland, the two Texas teams offer tantalizing and competitive closer competitions. Like most divisions, the ability to win close games will depend on who finishes the season on top and all eyes will be on the Texas Rangers as their closer situation will have a big impact on the division race.

Houston Astros

Closer – Ongoing Position Battle (Jesse Crain, Josh Fields, Chia-Jen Lo, Chad Qualls)

Going into Spring Training, the Astros continue in lock step with last season as the least dependable bullpen in baseball. Not only are they inconsistent, but it seems that the Astros will give their closer few traditional save opportunities. If one of these candidates above emerge as an effective reliever, expect Houston to ship them to a playoff contender before the trade deadline (see Jose Veras). Last year’s top saves guys Josh Fields (5) and Chia-Jen Lo (2) both return this season. Fields had a below average first season in the big leagues (1-3, 4.97 ERA, 1.30 WHIP), but did manage to earn some trust with the Astros’ management and has a strong 9.5 K/9. On the other hand, Lo posted similar numbers last year (0-3, 4.19 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 7.4 K/9) and makes it difficult to anoint either as favorite.

The first person to challenge the returning sophomores will be journeyman reliever Jesse Crain, who will also provide the greatest competition. Although Crain only has four career saves, he was an All-Star last season and was nearly unstoppable (19 holds, 0.74 ERA, 1.15 ERA, 11.3 K/9) before succumbing to injury. If he comes back to form this season, the Astros may have their guy. Nipping at Crain’s heels will be Chad Qualls, who had an excellent season for the Marlins last year (5-2, 2.61 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.1 K/9) and was originally drafted by the Astros back in 2000.

Bold Prediction – Jesse Crain wins the job and is traded before the deadline. Qualls ends the season as Astros’ closer, with both having respectable seasons.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Closer – Ernesto Frieri

Frieri is very good and the Halos are glad to have him back given his career statistics (2.76 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 12.3 K9). That being said, Los Angeles is also hoping that last year was an anomaly (3.80 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 12.8 K/9) and he will return to the Frieri of old. Although there may be uncertainty for other teams, Ernesto will anchor the division as the AL West closer with the most job security. Even if the Angels’ offense does not live up to expectations, Frieri should still have 30+ saves this season.

Bold Prediction – Ernesto Frieri proves that last year’s shaky stats (which aren’t that bad in comparison to the rest of the league) were a fluke and his dominance continues with a 40-save season.

Who’s Lurking? – Dane De La Rosa returns to Anaheim this season and management will hope that he can repeat last season (2.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.1 K/9). If Frieri stumbles, De La Rosa may have demonstrated enough to take the ninth until order is restored. To go along with Frieri and De La Rosa, the Angels signed Joe Smith this offseason from Cleveland. Smith is a dependable reliever, who posted a 2.29 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and a 7.7 K/9, and should really help the Angels get out of a jam (Smith has only had 15 inherited runners score over the past two years). Finally, Sean Burnett will be jockeying for position in this bullpen after a strong 13 games last season (0.93 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.5 K/9). If Burnett continues to perform, he will add great depth to the Halos’ bullpen but will probably not get a chance at the ninth this season.

Oakland Athletics

Closer – Jim Johnson

With Grant Balfour gone to Tampa Bay via free agency, the A’s will turn to Jim Johnson in the ninth this season. After leading Major League Baseball in saves over the last two seasons (also only the second player in MLB history to record 50+ saves in consecutive seasons), Johnson was traded in December and will bring his talents to the Bay Area in 2014. With 145 appearances in the last two seasons, Oakland is hoping that Jim Johnson will continue to be durable and dependable in the ninth.

Bold Prediction – Somebody has to say it… Jim Johnson posts another 50-save season, but this time it’s out in Moneyballville. With a handful of blown saves, Johnson continues to be overlooked as an elite closer.

Who’s Lurking? – Should Johnson struggle this season, Oakland will certainly miss Balfour. However, there are a few candidates who should provide relief options just in case. Luke Gregerson has also arrived (via San Diego for Seth Smith) and should continue to be a steady setup guy. Gregerson has 16 career saves and a solid career stat line (2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 9.1 K/9). Ryan Cook, last year’s setup guy (2.54 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 9.0 K/9), is ready to battle for the eighth and may be the first in line if Johnson starts blowing saves. Sean Doolittle is another option, who possesses a career 3.09 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 9.3 K/9, but may have to surpass Gregerson and Cook in camp before getting the ball in crunch time.

Settle Mariners

Closer – Danny Farquhar

Last season, the Mariners struggled to find a dependable closer. After trying out a number of candidates, Farquhar took the job from Tom Wilhelmsen and never looked back. Despite the fact that last year’s statistics look poor (4.20 ERA, 1.19 ERA, 12.8 K/9), Farquhar actually performed quite well after becoming the closer (16 saves, 2.38 ERA). With that performance, Farquhar has earned the trust of Mariners’ management and will enter Opening Day as the closer.

Bold Prediction – Farquhar continues to stay ahead of Wilhelmsen and ends the season with the job, but their battle demonstrates surprising bullpen depth for the Mariners.

Who’s Lurking? – Despite the fact that he lost the gig to Farquhar and was sent to AAA last season, Tom Wilhelmsen will enter Spring Training as some of Farquhar’s greatest competition. Despite the fact that Wilhelmsen struggled last season, he should regain his pitching motion and see stats more in line with his career numbers (3.21 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.5 K/9). Considering the fact that he posted 29 saves in 2012, Wilhelmsen could be breathing down Farquhar’s neck before too long. Yoervis Medina performed admirably in his first season (2.91 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 9.4 K/9) last year and could also provide Seattle with much needed bullpen depth. After being shut down in 2013, Stephen Pryor is a top prospect who should be fully healthy this season. If so, he will be the wildcard and could start to make a name for himself in 2014.

Texas Rangers

Closer – Ongoing Position Battle (Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers, Joakim Soria)

With Joe Nathan in Detroit, there will be a very serious battle for closer this season in Texas. Given Nathan’s consistency, he will leave very big cleats to fill. First up will likely be Neftali Feliz, the former closer who began last season on the disabled list (career 2.61 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 8.8 K/9). Considering that Feliz posted 30+ save seasons for the Rangers in 2010-11, he may have the insid track on the job. Tanner Scheppers, last year’s dependable setup guy (1.88 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 7.3 K/9 in 2013), will also have a shot at the ninth. Two-time All Star Joakim Soria is also lurking after spending a majority of the last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. The one-time superstar closer (160 career saves) may have just enough in the tank to regain the ninth this season. Alexi Ogando is a difficult pitcher to predict. After bouncing from the starting rotation to the bullpen, Ogando is a jack-of-all trades for Texas and they will use him wherever necessary. If Feliz, Scheppers, and Soria all stumble this season, Ogando may become the closer by default.

Bold Prediction – Neftali Feliz returns to the ninth with a vengeance and reminds Rangers’ fans of the good old days. After earning the job in Spring Training, Feliz hits the ground running and wins comeback player of the year.

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 Central

Like its American League counterpart, the National League central has both fresh faces (Rosenthal and Veras) and returning closers (Chapman, Grilli, and Henderson). The three returning closers carry a strong pedigree (with 99 combined saves last season), but will face a serious challenge from the young guns for the 2014 NL Central Closer gold medal. If the race for the division title comes down to intra-division matchups, the closers below may just decide who gets a shot at the pennant.

Chicago Cubs

Closer – Jose Veras

After being moved from Houston to Detroit last July, Veras has landed in Wrigleyville for the 2014 season. Fresh off his first 20+ save season, he’s ready to bring much-needed consistency to the Cubbies’ bullpen. The right-handed veteran reliever carries a career 9.3 K/9 and hopes to help Chicago forget about last year’s Carlos Marmol experience (who was designated for assignment after a dismal 5.68 ERA in 31 appearances). Should Veras develop under pitching coach Chris Bosio, he will likely have even more success than he had in the American League last season (21 saves, 3.02 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 8.6 K/9).

Bold Prediction – Chicago will win far more games than the Astros did last year, giving Jose Veras his first season with 30+ saves and 80+ strikeouts. With the development of the other young relievers, he leads a talented bullpen and makes the rest of baseball take notice.

Who’s Lurking? -  The Cubs are fortunate enough to have a number of young relievers going into 2014. Pedro Strop pitched well after coming over from Baltimore last season (2.83 ERA, 0.94 WHIP) and has a career 9.1 K/9. After making Chicago’s Opening Day roster in 2013, right-handed reliever Hector Rondon settled in well and had a 3.20 ERA after the All-Star break. Blake Parker, who had a 2.72 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 10.7 K/9 in 49 appearances last season, should not be overlooked either. James Russell, the team’s only consistent lefty over last two years, should post some solid numbers as well, but will be grateful for not having to shoulder the load (151 appearances over the last two seasons).

Cincinnati Reds

Closer – Aroldis Chapman

There is little doubt that Chapman will be the closer in Cincy this season, as the lefty has been dominant since inheriting the job in 2012. Last season, the strikeout artist had a 2.54 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 15.8 K/9 en route to 38 saves. Although he slightly lags behind Craig Kimbrel in terms of strikeout rate, Chapman is certainly the cream of the crop when it comes to closers and is worth an early round draft pick. Given the Reds’ offensive potential, he could be easily looking at another 38-save season (his save total in 2012 & 2013) with a K/9 higher than 15.0.

Bold Prediction – Aroldis Chapman breaks past the 38-save barrier and jumps ahead of Kimbrel as the game’s best closer. Despite the fact that his average pitch velocity drops for the fourth consecutive year, Chapman’s control is better than ever and he chases a 16.5 K/9 – easily making him the most valuable closer in the big leagues.

Who’s Lurking? – After losing the closer’s job to Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton has struggled to stay healthy. Because Broxton is still a top setup man (career 10.7 K/9), he should have a number of holds for the Redlegs this year. Young righty J.J. Hoover had three saves during an excellent 2013 season (2.61 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.1 K/9) and may get a crack at the gig if the injury bug hits. Sam LeCure is also a candidate after a strong 2013 (2.66 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 63 appearances) and a respectable career 8.7 K/9. When Ryan Madson went down in 2012, Sean Marshall initially got the job but performed poorly enough for Chapman to take the ninth. There’s little doubt the Reds have forgotten and Marshall is probably on the outside looking in.

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer – Jim Henderson

Given his admirable performance last season (converted 28 saves of 33 opportunities, 2.70 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 11.3 K/9) and the Brewers’ lack of activity in the closer free agent market, right-handed journeyman Jim Henderson will likely be the closer in Milwaukee on Opening Day. Given that Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford were both traded away last season, Henderson has a fairly long leash in terms of job security and will be given the opportunity to work through any issues before being pulled.

Bold Prediction – Jim Henderson is so good that he reminds the Brewers faithful of Trevor Hoffman’s first season in Milwaukee. By limiting his blown saves and staying healthy, Henderson easily passes the 35-save mark with another 11.0+ K/9 season.

Who’s Lurking? – Brandon Kintzler is an above average setup guy and he should return to the eighth after a solid 2013 (71 appearances, 27 holds, 2.69 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 6.8 K/9). While he may be first in line if Henderson struggles, Brewers management could elect to keep him in a setup role simply because he’s a ground ball pitcher. Second-year relievers Jimmy Nelson (0.90 ERA in 10 innings last season, with a 0.70 WHIP and 7.2 K/9) and Rob Wooten (27.2 innings pitched, 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 5.9 K/9 in 2013) will both have a chance to prove themselves throughout spring training. Tom Gorzelanny is still the bullpen’s only steady lefty, so look for him to remain outside of this race for now.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer – Jason Grilli

After being named the closer before Opening Day 2013, Grilli hit the ground closing. After 10 saves in April, he went on a stretch of pure dominance and even pitched the ninth inning for the National League in last year’s All-Star Game (33 of 35 save opportunities, 2.70 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 13.3 K/9 last season). However, Grilli fell to a forearm injury and left the job open for Mark Melancon, who performed admirably in Grilli’s stead (16 saves, 1.39 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8.9 K/9). By returning before the playoffs began, Grilli regained the trust of Pittsburgh management and will be the closer again in 2014.

Bold Prediction – Jason Grilli charges out of the gate with an April similar to last season (11.0 innings pitched, 10 saves, 1 earned run, 17 strikeouts) and makes any questions about lingering forearm issues a thing of the past. The dynamic duo of Grilli and Melancon give the Buccos baseball’s best one-two punch.

Who’s Lurking? – With Melancon a premier setup man, he is most likely to step into the ninth if Grilli becomes injured again. Although Vin Mazzaro (2.81 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) and Tony Watson (2.39 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) both pitched well last season, they will remain in a setup role for the time being. Justin Wilson is a dependable lefty for the Pirates (2.08 ERA and 1.16 WHIP last year), but he’ll need to separate himself from this talented pack if he wants a sniff at the ninth.

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer – Trevor Rosenthal

Going into spring training, the favorite for the St. Louis closer gig is Trevor Rosenthal. Although this comes with some debate (as Rosenthal could be moved to the starting rotation), he seems to be the best option for the Cards in 2014. With Edward Mujica in Boston, the fireballer hopes to build on the three saves he earned last season (3 saves, 2.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) and his strong postseason performance (four saves). Given his 12.9 K/9 and an average pitch speed of 96.4 mph, Rosenthal might just provide great draft day value this season.

Bold Prediction – At this time next year, baseball fans will start to wonder if Rosenthal is the best closer in the NL Central. Rosenthal has the build of a prototypical closer, with a tremendous strikeout rate, and is throwing nearly as fast as Aroldis Chapman. If Chapman doesn’t stay healthy and the Cardinals keep winning ball games, Rosenthal may just keep trending upward until he’s at the top.

Who’s Lurking? – If Rosenthal does not have success in the ninth, St. Louis might be in some serious trouble. Jason Motte is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and will miss the early part of the season. Sophomore Carlos Martinez is talented, but also very raw (5.08 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and 7.6 K/9 in 2013) and needs to prove he can be consistent. Fellow second-year reliever Kevin Siegrist may be the real dark horse in this race (0.45 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 11.3 K/9 last season) and could emerge if Rosenthal struggles early.

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 East

Unlike their AL counterpart, the NL East closer picture seems eerily clear even before pitchers and catchers report. This list is also very similar to last year’s preseason preview, with only Bobby Parnell providing a new name as projected closer in 2014. Without many position battles, this week’s examination of closers should not change dramatically between now and Opening Day. Barring injury, the NL East may be the only division to give us a complete set of closers with adequate job security throughout the season.

Atlanta Braves

As the gold standard for closers, Craig Kimbrel hopes to have another epic season in 2014. Unsurprisingly, Kimbrel had a dominant season last year (1.21 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 13.2 K/9) and appears ready to continue the trend. Given the Braves’ consistency over the past few regular seasons, he may be in the position to put up another 45+ save season. Even if Kimbrel struggles, the Braves will let their perennial All-Star work through any issues and be hesitant to turn to anyone else.

Closer – Craig Kimbrel

Bold Prediction – It’s hard to have a bold prediction when you’re talking about Kimbrel. With 138 saves in three seasons as the Braves’ closer, he’s pitched almost perfectly for Atlanta. Instead of claiming that he’ll challenge Francisco Rodriguez’s record of 62 saves, let’s say that he’ll make a real run for the Bravos’ single season 55-save record (set by John Smoltz in 2002).

Who’s Lurking? – Fortunately for Braves nation, the Atlanta front office has some experience in rebounding from reliever injuries. This season, the Braves will turn to Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, or Luis Avilan in the late innings. Should Craig Kimbrel fall to injury, Walden posted a 32-save sophomore season in 2011 (for the Angels) and will be first in line to inherit the ninth. David Carpenter had 12 holds last season, a 10.14 K/9 and is also waiting in the wings. The true darkhorse candidate in this race is Luis Avilan, who may not have traditional strikeout stuff, but possesses a career 1.69 ERA and 0.98 WHIP.

Miami Marlins

At the beginning of last season, Steve Cishek was named Marlins’ closer and he performed admirably in the role. Despite the fact that Mike Dunn was nipping at his heels last season and Miami rarely gave Cishek a save opportunity, he was just good enough (2.33 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 9.56 K/9, 34 saves) to keep his job in 2014. Should he kick it up a notch, he’ll certainly become trade bait for a Marlins team who has a tendency to deal talent and build for the future.

Closer – Steve Cishek

Bold Prediction – Although he won’t reach Kimbrel-like heights, Steve Cishek gets his WHIP below 1.00 and has another 30+ save season. If Papelbon struggles in Philly, Cishek will quietly become the second best closer in the NL East.

Who’s Lurking? – A.J. Ramos is a young flamethrower that the Marlins favored at the end of last season and his overall performance was solid for his first full season in the big leagues. Mike Dunn was initially in the closer battle with Steve Cishek last season and pitched fairly well last season as a setup guy (2.66 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 9.58 K/9, 18 holds). If Cishek struggles, Dunn should be the first one to get the call. One offseason move that may have fallen under the radar was the Marlin’s acquisition of Carter Capps from the Seattle Mariners (in exchange for Logan Morrison). Capps is another youngster, who won the 2012 Best Relief Pitcher in the AA Southern League, and will be eager to run with the closer gig if given the opportunity.

Philadelphia Phillies

Although Jonathan Papelbon struggled last season, the Phillies are paying him far too much and his statistics aren’t bad enough to merit a demotion (2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 29 saves). The bigger concern was the 7 blown saves and 8.32 K/9 (as opposed to a career 10.56 K/9). If the Phillies give him enough save opportunities, he should return to form this season. On the other hand, Philadelphia will have a few potent arms if last season’s K/9 becomes a warning sign of worse things to come for Papelbon (a la Heath Bell). Philadelphia will likely lean on Mike Adams, Justin De Fratus, and B.J. Rosenberg – each of whom have a strong reliever pedigree – to finish the ninth.

Closer – Jonathan Papelbon

Bold Prediction – A Boston-like year for Papelbon shows his return to form (projected – 68.0 IP, 2.20 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 10.00 K/9, 35 saves) and he becomes a major steal for savvy drafters. He may go a few rounds late because of the “hype” surrounding last year’s struggles, but he's got enough upside potential to anchor your collection of closers.

Who’s Lurking? – Although he will not likely be ready for Opening Day after last year’s shoulder injury, Mike Adams probably is the best fit (career 2.39 ERA, 1.08 ERA, 8.99 K/9) to replace Papelbon should the time come . Justin De Fratus and B.J. Rosenberg provide the Phillies with two young righties that have loads of potential, but they need to prove their worth before being trusted in the ninth.

New York Mets

After an injury-riddled 2013, Bobby Parnell has the closer role again for the Amazin’ Mets. With LaTroy Hawkins in Colorado and Frank Francisco on the free agent market, Parnell has been cleared to pitch and all signs point to him firmly inheriting the ninth with little internal competition. Because the Mets’ front office has wanted Parnell to be the closer for a while, his leash should be fairly long even if he starts blowing saves on a regular basis. Despite his injury last season, Parnell still posted a respectable 2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7.92 K/9, with 22 saves and will have even better numbers if he can stay away from the disabled list.

Closer – Bobby Parnell

Bold Prediction – Without strong competition breathing down his neck, Bobby Parnell finally lives up to his potential and has a 30+ save season. With a sub 1.50 ERA and 9.50 K/9, Parnell has Mets fans debating whether he’s better than K-Rod in his prime.

Who’s Lurking? – Unlike other teams in the NL East, New York does not possess the bullpen depth which seems to be the norm. The Mets will be entering 2014 with a trio of relievers that they used fairly frequently at the end of last season - Vic Black, Josh Edgin, and Gonzalez Germen. Black (a righty) and Edgin (a lefty) give the Mets the flexibility to play matchups in the seventh and eighth innings, while Gonzalez Germen could creep his way into the discussion if Parnell struggles and the hierarchy is shuffled.

Washington Nationals

Similar to Papelbon, Rafael Soriano had a 2013 season (3.11 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 43 saves) that doesn’t stray too dramatically from his career average (2.82 ERA and 1.08 WHIP), but does show a dramatic difference in strikeout rate (2013 – 6.89 K/9, career – 9.15 K/9). Even at 34 years old, Soriano should give the Nationals another strong outing this season.

Closer – Rafael Soriano

Bold Prediction – Soriano’s strikeout rate returns to form and he channels the fountain of youth left behind by his former mentor, Mariano Rivera. This season marks the beginning of a career rejuvenation for Soriano, who has 40+ saves, 2.75 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and a 9.00 K/9 en route to a  Nationals’ push for the NL East title.

Who’s Lurking? – Tyler Clippard is the ultimate setup man and he seems to be comfortable with that role (career – 110 holds and 9.97 K/9). Even if Soriano ran into big trouble, the Nats would likely keep Clippard in the eighth and go with Craig Stammen or Drew Storen. After losing the closer gig to Soriano a few seasons ago, Storen has settled into a setup and reliever role. With Storen’s demotion to AAA last July, Washington will probably go with Stammen first (2013 – 2.76 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 8.71 K/9) if Soriano needs to be pulled.

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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