Closer Updates: Cubs, Tigers, Brewers, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Royals

At this point, the question on everyone's mind is this: will we go a week without the Cubs changing closers? Okay, maybe it's not on everyone's mind, but I'll bet it weighs deeply on yours if you've found yourself drawn into that particular fray. Fortunately, while there might be turmoil on the North Side, things might just be calming down a bit around the rest of the Majors.


Quick, guess the two most recent Cubs to save a game! That's right, Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg. If this isn't a mixture for excitement, I don't know what is. Expect strikeouts and lots and lots of walks in the ninth inning while these guys tackle the job. The good news is that Marmol has been pitching well enough to drive his ERA all the way down to 4.35, having not been scored upon since April 6th. The bad news is that his WHIP still sits at 1.80, and he walked five batters and hit one in his last three appearances. I think the Cubs will take any opportunity they can get to let Marmol save games, as his trade value is a lot better if he can be passed off as a "proven closer." If he falters before Fujikawa returns or he is traded, Gregg looks like he'll be in line for most of the saves. Why? Well, why not? It's bad news for Shawn Camp and James Russell, though they aren't officially out of the saves mix.


Speaking of pitchers out of the saves mix...Jose Valverde is back. Up in the Majors, he's already saved a game in his lone appearance and owned in 58% of Yahoo! leagues. Go ahead and snag him in just about all formats. He probably doesn't have the most job security in the world, but I imagine that the Tigers won't want to throw themselves back into closer-uncertainty-land soon after leaving it. He might get more rope than most pitchers of his skill level. On another note, Bruce Rondon is up in the Majors, though his manager seems pretty happy not to be using him in the ninth. If Rondon is lights out and Valverde gets lit up, a change is possible. Sorry, Joaquin Benoit hopefuls... 


Nothing's wrong with Jim Henderson, who's saved the game in his last three appearances, but rumor has it that John Axford might be back in the old job soon. There hasn't been an official timetable or anything, but the Ax Man hasn't allowed a run or walked a batter since April 9th. If he's righting the ship, he'll get the job back, whether Henderson has an 0.90 ERA or not. The only good news for Henderson owners (at least, the ones who don't have Axford too) is that he's pitched well enough to be worth keeping around.

Red Sox

Joel Hanrahan is starting his rehab assignment and is eligible to come off the DL on Monday. The Sox traded for him to be their closer. Andrew Bailey has filled in and done a great job. The Sox also traded for Bailey to be their closer. Management hasn't said anything definitive, other than it might be a fight for the job. So, I guess this counts as bad news for owners of both. Bailey has pitched better this year, but it's probably fair to say than Hanrahan will have to be bad not to win his job back. That's certainly possible. Whatever ultimately happens, expect Bailey to keep the job for several days while Hanrahan is allowed to get back in the swing of things.


J.J. Putz has gotten himself in enough trouble that his manager had to reassure everyone that he was "still the closer." Things got bad enough that Matt Reynolds saved two games last week, one in relief of Putz, the other in relief of David Hernandez. This one is worth keeping an eye on, though Putz managed his fourth save on Thursday to go with the three he's blown. So far, there's no change, and Putz should have a bit more leash left; the veteran closer has proved himself over the years to the point where Arizona probably won't demote him for a bad couple weeks. If his struggles get worse, Reynolds, Hernandez, and Heath Bell may all get a crack at the job.


Nothing but good news for Greg Holland owners, as he's pitched his ERA all the way down to 5.14 with five consecutive scoreless outings. In fact, all the runs he's given up this year came in one inning, pitched across two horrific days. He's got 14 strikeouts in his seven innings pitched and seems to have gotten away from any controversy over his bullpen role. Making things easier for him, Kelvin Herrera has had two disastrous outings and actually pushed his ERA above Holland's. Why all this talk about ERA, you wonder, in this age of better statistical analysis? Closing is about results, not process, and good results keep jobs.


Not as easy a week for speculative pickups, as most of the pitchers involved will be already owned. If Valverde remains available, he's by far the best pickup (unless Holland or Putz are somehow on the waiver wire). Axford is actually less owned than Valverde (just 51% of Yahoo! leagues), so it's a good time to get him. Marmol is on a hot streak and has at least a share of the closing job; he should be owned in more than just 39% of Yahoo! leagues. Leave Gregg and the others alone. Bailey is owned in three-quarters of leagues, and he's worth keeping as a setup man if he continues to pitch as he has. 

Closer Updates: Cubs, Cardinals, Red Sox, Brewers, Astros

Just when you think things are settled in the world of closers...they aren't. This week sent more injuries our way, plus flame-throwing relievers that couldn't cut it, and K-Rod's return as we know it. Here are the saves-chasing updates from around the Majors.


If your closer's team never shows up in this column, so much the better. If your closer's team is the Cubs, well I feel bad for you son, because they've been a mainstay here on Closer Updates and I see no reason why they might leave. The latest issue is that newly anointed closer Kyuji Fujikawa has hit the DL with a strained right forearm. He'll be out until at least late this month, and could be missing more time. Rumor has it that he'd been experiencing pain for some time, so perhaps this explains why his ERA is at a Marmolian 12.46. Speaking of Carlos Marmol, he won't be closing yet (though he's strung together a couple passable outings and gotten his ERA to around half of Fujikawa's); instead, the Cubbies will be going with a committee led by Shawn Camp and James Russell. The Cubs have a lot invested in using either Marmol (for the trade value) or Fujikawa (because they signed him as a free agent) in the closer's role, so expect the committee to last no longer than necessary. I'll be staying away from this mess for now, as half a temporary closer's job on a lousy team just doesn't seem worth the roster space.


No, I don't have any word on Jason Motte's timetable, but that doesn't mean there weren't more changes in the St. Louis bullpen picture. Neither Mitchell Boggs nor Trevor Rosenthal managed to run with the job, despite ample opportunity and talent. If Thursday's usage was any indication, the Cards will turn to Edward Mujica for their ninth inning leads needs. This had been pondered last week, and it looks pretty likely at this point. In case Mujica falters, I wonder if Fernando Salas might get a chance to close again. This is purely speculation on my part (How smart would I feel if I'd been speculating on Mujica two weeks ago!), and he's off to a pretty horrid start, but he did notch 24 saves with a 2.28 ERA two years ago. Maybe Mike Matheny remembers that as vaguely as I do. For the moment, Mujica is definitely the add.

Red Sox

Joel Hanrahan is the latest "safe" closer to land on the DL. He's got a hamstring issue and, like Fujikawa, is tentatively expected back by the end of the month. Also like Fujikawa, he's got a four-digit ERA. Unlike the Cubs, however, the Sox have a strong bullpen, led by Andrew Bailey. Bailey has the all-important Closing Experience, not to mention 12 K's in 7.1 IP, a 1.23 ERA, and an 0.68 WHIP. Even manager John Farrell admits that Hanrahan might not return to the closer's role; it very much looks like Bailey could take the job he was traded for and run with it. He's a great add, but if he doesn't work out, Boston might turn to Koji Uehara, who is lights-out but not generally trusted with a full closer's workload.


Like their NL central kinsfolk the Cubs, the Brew Crew seems destined to appear in this space with some frequency. No big changes here, however: Jim Henderson is holding the job down just fine. If he's on your league's waiver wire for some reason...well, probably it's because you don't count saves or you've just got eight teams or something like that. If not, pick him up already. Francisco Rodriguez is back in the fold, though it will be a month or more before he's even eligible to take the job away from Henderson. Good news if you've been holding onto John Axford (like me): he's pitched more or less capably in his last few outings. We were starting to think this was impossible. Keep the faith if you can spare the roster spot, as Axford remains a good candidate to reclaim the ninth inning at some point this season.


Jose Veras finally got a save opportunity on the woebegone Houston Astros. Naturally, he blew it. So far, however, there are no rumblings about replacing Veras. Owned in only 35% of Yahoo! leagues, he remains a good pickup for someone in dire need of saves. Well, a better pickup than trying to muddle your way through the Cubs' mess, anyways. If he does end up getting demoted, maybe we'll see Rhiner Cruz (who's pitched a lot late in games for the 'Stros) or Hector Ambriz (who's pitched pretty well lately) getting a shot in the ninth. For now, though, it's still Veras.


The top closer add here should be Bailey. He's pitching extremely well and he's got a decent chance to steal his old job (that he never really had) back while Hanrahan languishes on the DL. Edward Mujica is owned in only 32% of Yahoo! leagues and deserves to be snapped up next. After that, you've got Henderson who won't be available in many leagues (so grab him if yours is in the minority). Veras is the next guy to grab, though it might be another couple weeks before he gets a save chance. I really don't recommend getting involved in the Cubs' mess, but if you have to, James Russell is probably the guy, mostly by virtue have having blown a save least recently. 

Closer Updates: Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, Royals, Tigers

It's been a week of upheaval in the ninth inning, which means mostly bad things for fantasy owners that spent money on saves. Of course, those issues could (or already did) bring a windfall to those canny managers quicker with the waiver wire trigger than real-life managers were to call out new names in the ninth.

As you already know, John Axford is out as closer and still pitching abominably. Jim Henderson (59% owned in Yahoo!/71% in ESPN) will be seen in the ninth for the moment. As with nearly all closer transitions, the new guy will have a short leash as the team sorts things out, though the Brew Crew has few viable options. The team (including Henderson) expects Axford to be reinstalled at some point. Seeing as they did this last year too, I think there's a good chance of that happening. There's even a good chance that he pitches well when it does, though the odds of both seem to go down every time he sets foot on the mound. Henderson is a clear own, but Axford should probably be held onto, except in very shallow leagues.

Another NL central team made a "temporary" change in the closer role this week. Carlos Marmol is out--again, just like last year--but the Cubs hope to reinstate him. The only reason I can think of for that is so that they can trade him for a B-level prospect at the deadline. The problem with that plan (and for Marmol owners) is that this year's replacement is a lot better than the guys who tried to take over last year. Kyuji Fujikawa (ownership: 66% Yahoo!/83% ESPN) may be sporting an 8.10 ERA, but he's already notched two saves and was expected to be a future closer when Chicago signed him. There is a very good chance he keeps the closer job and Marmol gets shipped out of town for minimal return. In the few leagues where he is available, Fujikawa should be picked up immediately. If you have roster space, keep Marmol around for now, but don't hold your breath that he gets the job back.

Jason Motte's injury is appearing very serious, and the team is expecting to make a May 1 decision on Tommy John surgery. Even if he doesn't go under the knife, there's no way to be sure what his timetable might be. If you don't have DL slots or room on your bench, I'd seriously consider cutting him loose. The only thing that gives me pause is the fact that he'll almost certainly close whenever it is that he does return.

In other news, Mitchell Boggs (51% Yahoo!/60% ESPN) is Motte's replacement for now, but he's been more than a little shaky (to the tune of an ERA north of 11.00). Luckily for his owners, Trevor Rosenthal (17% Yahoo!/8% ESPN) earned a blown save for work in the eighth inning earlier this week. Not so luckily for Boggs owners, Rosenthal is still pitching very well and has the mark of a future closer. I would advise picking him up as a precaution. Of course, there are plenty of leagues in which Boggs is still going unowned; don't let yours be one, as he could still right the ship.

Greg Holland has been in a bit of trouble early in the season, with a 12.00 ERA and a 3.67 WHIP through his first three innings. He's managed to get a pair of saves, but that's exactly how many his top competition, Kelvin Herrera (53% Yahoo!/38% ESPN), has. Too bad for Holland's owners that Herrera's WHIP is nearly three full points better, at 0.69 and he has yet to allow a run. Clearly, Herrera should be owned as a handcuff, though Holland has the stuff to be a high-quality closer and hasn't been quite the disaster train that Axford and Marmol have been.

Joaquin Benoit (38% Yahoo!/33% ESPN/owned in all my leagues with daily changes) should be seeing his ownership rates skyrocket. After two weeks of pitching out of the ninth, it's been confirmed that he'll be the primary guy for save chances. While he's not exactly been named "closer," there seems like a good chance that he'll get 80% or more of the Tigers' chances. The situation reminds me of Kyle Farnsworth's 2011 with the Rays, in which he was never really called a closer by the team, but he racked up saves nonetheless. Benoit should be owned in all leagues, as he's an above average reliever and should be relatively safe in the role. Just don't freak out if Octavio Dotel or Phil Coke steals some of the opportunities.



Closer Updates: Tigers, Blue Jays, Cubs, Angels, Mets, Brewers

Well, the good news is that you no longer need to worry about drafting a shaky closer. The bad news is that you may already own a shaky closer. Take me, for instance, I own John Axford and his 21.60 ERA in a couple leagues.

Speaking of shaky closers, Jose Valverde has signed a minor league contract with the Tigers, so you've got to wonder if he'll be in their bullpen mix in the future. For more up-to-the-minute updates, check out @CloserNews on the Twitternet. You better believe that's the first website I opened up to work on this article.

Axford is the elephant in the room, with that 21.60 ERA, a WHIP of 3.60, and reports of lowered velocity. It's important to frame these things in their early-season context, though: he's allowed four runs on six hits in 1.2 IP. Of course, three of those six hits were home runs, but he's also struck out three in that time. Hiccups like these happen, and at times they are enough to scare a manager into making a change, but not on this team, or at this time. The Brew Crew isn't confident in Jim Henderson, and, really, if they demote Axford now, they're just admitting that they don't have a good bullpen. I don't expect them to do that just yet. 

Of course, Axford owners like me might want to stash Henderson just in case....

The Mets' situation thus far is one of rather happier news, as Bobby Parnell successfully put out a fire in the ninth inning of a four-run game. Fantasy owners don't care much about the results (he just recorded one out and didn't earn a save), but the fact that he was successful (and that other relievers struggled) strengthens Parnell's grip on the job just a little more. I really think Frank Francisco will have a hard time worming into save situations when he returns. Parnell is owned in just 68% of Yahoo! leagues, and 81% of ESPN leagues, so snap him up if you can.

Ryan Madson seems to be experiencing a setback (surprise!), while Ernesto Frieri locked down a save in the 13th inning of the Angels' opener. Neither fact is big news, or unexpected, but I'd say that Frieri's job security inched up just a little more over the week. He's owned in just 79% of Yahoo! leagues, so pick him up if you're among the 21%. No such luck for ESPN leagues, as he's owned in over 99% of leagues.

You know what's worse than having your closer blow the lead in spectacular fashion? Having the lead rescued by his setup man. That's exactly what happened to Carlos Marmol on Monday, who threw just nine of nineteen pitches for strikes, getting one out before James Russell and Kyuji Fujikawa. It was Fujikawa (51% owned in Y!/40% in ESPN) who got the save, and the writing is on the wall for him to take over the job. The Cubbies really want to ship Marmol out for something, but it sounds like won't have any patience with him at all.

The above--unadulterated--is what I wrote before the results of Thursday's game. I leave it this way for instructive purposes, because Fujikawa came on in the eighth yesterday and earned the hold. Maybe that's why Marmol was allowed to give up two runs in the ninth before hanging on for the save. He got some trust--which is good news, of course--but he didn't inspire any real confidence. I'd say Marmol's closing days don't last long at this rate. Maybe the Cubs should have taken their chances with Dan Haren....

Blue Jays
At some point in the middle of the spring, I was sure that Sergio Santos was going to close for Toronto. Fortunately, I didn't have any drafts until late spring, when it seemed like Casey Janssen would be closing. I think he'll be great value for owners that got him with a late pick, and that thought has been reinforced in the last week. Janssen pitched a scoreless 10th on Wednesday, while Santos blew the game the very next inning. The situation was the opposite of the Cubs', as Janssen was leading the closer race, and Santos managed to widen the gap. Making things better for Janssen and his owners, he nailed down a clean save with two strikeouts on Thursday. Owned in most ESPN leagues, but in only 76% of Yahoo! leagues, Janssen is a great add if he's actually available.

Just when you think things are starting to clear up, they get muddier. Valverde is back in the fold, though it remains to be seen how long it will take him to be MLB ready; Bruce Rondon is in the minors; and Phil Coke has pitched twice in the ninth inning. He saved a game he entered with one out, and he blew the save for a loss after that. Al Alburquerque has pitched in the seventh and eighth, and Joaquin Benoit has started the eighth twice. Is Coke (41%Y!/24%ESPN) the closer? I don't know. You'd think so, based on usage, but his split success and handedness don't suggest it. The way I figure, if they run him out to start the ninth, in a save situation, against a righty, then add him. But really, the Tigers don't have a lot of need to avoid a closer committee here.


Technically, the week isn't over, but I think I might be able to say comfortably that none of my closers has lost his job yet. This time last year, I think two of them had. So, I guess Marmol might have an even longer leash than he did last April. 

If Janssen, Frieri, Parnell, or Fujikawa are available in your league, add 'em, in that order. If you can, get all four and thank yourself for not drafting closers, I guess. Coke is the next best add, while Henderson might make sense for Axford owners with space on their bench.

How to Win: Saves

Saves are a curious phenomenon. Invented quite recently--for a stat with the weight of tradition--their presence in baseball's statistical pantheon has actually changed the way games are played and millions of dollars are apportioned. If not for this category, you might still be seeing the game's best relievers pitching the seventh and eighth innings of tied ballgames...not waiting until the ninth, only to sit down if a lead disappears or grows over three. See, saves are illogical, and that's just something we all have to accept before we can win this category.

Saves are subject to several factors, only one of which is a pitcher's performance. Since nearly all saves are doled out to just 30 pitchers at any given time, the manager's choice of pitcher matters too. For some teams (like the Braves) the choice is easy. The Tigers are having a tough time with it. What goes into the manager's closer decision? Who knows for sure, but performance, raw ability, reputation, and appearance all seem to go into it. Recent performance matters too: a quality pitcher can go into a rough patch with a closer gig and high fantasy value and leave with neither. Finally, winning games is part of it too...but, so is winning by a little. I like to target good or mediocre teams with better pitching than hitting.

There are, broadly speaking, two ways to win this one: more closers, or more information. 

To help you do either one, our first list is of the 24 closers who have a firm grip on their jobs. Note that this is not the same as last year's leaders, nor is it a ranking. You can check out our RP Rankings, or our Closer Depth Chart for information on each team's backup closers.

Firm Closers*

AL West

Grant Balfour, OAK
Tom Wilhelmsen, SEA
Jose Veras, HOU
Joe Nathan, TEX

NL West

Sergio Romo, SFG
Rafael Betancourt, COL
J.J. Putz, ARI
Huston Street, SDP

AL Central

Greg Holland, KCR
Glen Perkins, MIN
Chris Perez, CLE
Addison Reed, CHW

NL Central

John Axford, MIL
Jason Grilli, PIT
Jonathan Broxton, CIN**
Jason Motte, STL

AL East

Mariano Rivera, NYY
Joel Hanrahan, BOS
Jim Johnson, BAL
Fernando Rodney, TBR

NL East

Steve Cishek, MIA
Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
Rafael Soriano, WAS
Craig Kimbrel, ATL

*I say firm, but you know I don't mean it. These guys might not be fighting for jobs now, but any could lose it during the season to injury, sudden ineffectiveness, or manager's caprice.

**Brox is solidly a closer as long as the "Aroldis Chapman: Starting Pitcher" plan continues. If Chapman returns to the bullpen, expect him to bump Broxton out of the closer's chair.

With only 24 known closers this late into Spring Training, saves are already a rarer draft commodity than they used to be. It's down to two guys per team in a standard league; you could easily be stuck with just one in a deep league. The volatility inherent to closers makes me usually want to avoid them early in drafts (what I really like is snapping up three or four of the last six taken, but that doesn't look like such a good idea this year). This year, more than in others, I'd strongly consider using early and middle picks to get more than one of the top closers.

Closer Cage Matches

Not every save comes from a closer with a solid job. Each division hosts a team that can't seem to make up its mind about their stopper, and you can (with a little luck) profit from taking a chance with pitchers in those situations. Just don't depend on them. I went into a little more detail about these cases on Friday, so I'll keep it brief here.

Angels: Ernesto Frieri v. Ryan Madson

Frieri should start as closer; the plan is that Madson will return to the job when he's healthy.

Dodgers: Brandon League v. Kenley Jansen

League has been dubbed "closer" by the Dodgers...but they've done this before, and Jansen is really, really good. Especially at striking people out.

Tigers: Bruce Rondon v. Joaquin Benoit v. Al Alburquerque v. Phil Coke v. someone they haven't traded for yet.

This one's a mess. If you can spare your last round pick to have a horse in the race, go for it.

Cubs: Carlos Marmol v. Kyuji Fujikawa

Marmol is the closer. Marmol is very available in trade. Don't expect him to close in his new destination.

Blue Jays: Sergio Santos v. Casey Janssen

Janssen is hurt, but was supposed to have the job. Santos was pitching very well, but he was hurt last year and now he might be a little bit hurt.

Mets: Bobby Parnell v. Frank Francisco

Parnell is a pretty good pitcher who isn't hurt. Francisco is a volatile (but underrated) pitcher who is hurt.

Any of these situations could also end up in job shares or committee approaches. I've listed the current frontrunner first in each case (though others might be less bullish on Santos and Parnell), but all of these teams' plans are way up in the air.

Draft More Closers

Now that we've actually found the closers, we can get back into some real strategy. As I said above (long ago, by now), one of the two main ways to win saves is to have the most closers. In some years, you can do this on the cheap, by getting undervalued closers way at the back end of your draft. This year, not so much. You can also spend heavily on the most elite closers, those unlikely to lose their jobs even after blowing two or three saves in a row. (That can happen to anybody.)

I recently tried this strategy out in a Yahoo! mock draft. A standard Yahoo! league is very shallow, and it doesn't contain MI or CI spots, and only runs three OF's. What does this mean for closers? Well, if I only need one player at each premium position, then I can stand to spend a little more on closers. That's what I did. I drafted four closers, and if this were a real league, I would win saves for sure with this crew. Here's my whole team (for context), with relievers in black:

1. Giancarlo Stanton (Mia - OF) 
2. Edwin Encarnacion (Tor - 1B) 
3. Cliff Lee (Phi - SP) 
4. Craig Kimbrel (Atl - RP) 
5. Aramis Ramirez (Mil - 3B) 
6. Shin-Soo Choo (Cin - OF) 
7. Jonathan Papelbon (Phi - RP) 
8. Jose Altuve (Hou - 2B) 
9. Michael Bourn (Cle - OF) 
10. Ian Kennedy (Ari - SP) 
11. Anibal Sanchez (Det - SP) 
12. Nick Swisher (Cle - 1B,OF) 
13. Brian McCann (Atl - C) 
14. John Axford (Mil - RP) 
15. Jason Grilli (Pit - RP) 
16. Alcides Escobar (KC - SS) 
17. Todd Frazier (Cin - 1B,3B,OF) 
18. Wade Miley (Ari - SP) 
19. Hisashi Iwakuma (Sea - SP,RP) 
20. Josh Rutledge (Col - 2B,SS) 
21. James McDonald (Pit - SP) 
22. Bronson Arroyo (Cin - SP) 
23. Jason Hammel (Bal - SP) 

My starting pitching is a little thin, and I don't have much bench, but I think it's a decent team. (If you don't, let me know in the comments, so I don't do this in a real draft...) The important thing, though, is that I will win saves.

Presumably, you can spend extra on saves without going to this extreme. One way to do this is to grab closers that are better than their draft positions. In case you didn't notice, I did a little of that on the team above.

John Axford is the 5th reliever going on MockDraftCentral, and 8th on RotoAuthority's rankings, so there's no value there...except that he's number 13 on Yahoo!

Similarly, Glen Perkins is our 15th ranked closer, and he goes at a fair 14th on MDC, but you can get him 21st on Yahoo!

Jason Grilli is our 10th closer ranked, but he's going 19th on MDC and 17th on Yahoo! Grilli (and his awesome 13.81 K/9) are very underrated.

Rafael Betanourt is our 14th closer, but he's 18th on MDC and 16th on Yahoo!

Addison Reed is our 17th closer, but he's 22nd on MDC and 20th on Yahoo!

Huston Street is our number 16, but he lasts until number 24 on MDC. On Yahoo!, though, he's ranked 12th, so be careful.

Jose Veras is way down everybody's lists, but saves could be extra-hard for him to come by: even at 250 overall on Yahoo! and 303 on MDC, he's probably still the second Houston Astro taken in many drafts. Yeah, that's a bad team.

Any of these pitchers--or any other--could get very underrated in any draft you might do. Even when intending to fill some other position, remember to consider grabbing a value closer if one slips to you. In an auction, of course, this is even easier to see, though your leaguemates might make you pay a premium if they notice you trying to amass an All-Star bullpen.

Get More Information

You can succeed in saves without spending more than the competition. In last year's Silver League, the team that won in saves finished at or near the top of the whole league standings. That team didn't break the bank on closers in the draft (though I seem to recall them spending the normal amount). Instead, throughout the year, they consistently snatched up some of the best closers to take over jobs midseason. Helpfully, I believe they started by nabbing Fernando Rodney.

If you think you can succeed this way, I say go for it. All it means is more more work, and it can really pay off. Following our own @CloserNews Twitter feed is a great way to start, but I'd suggest loading up on as many information sources as you can. It helps living on the West Coast, or staying up late to catch the night games and news. Injuries and managerial decisions can happen at any time, and in many leagues, a newly minted closer will have been snatched up by the time you wake up in the morning. 

There's another way to squeeze saves out of your team, and that is to stream setup guys. It takes some seriously careful watching (it was a lot easier for me to do when I was taking night shifts on the @CloserNews feed, I'll tell you that), but when a closer has pitched two or three days in a row, you won't expect him to come in the next day, so you grab his backup and hope for a save opp. For a couple years, I've wanted to try devoting a whole team to this strategy, but I haven't gotten around to it, mostly for time zone related reasons.

A Few Final Words: Different Strategies for Different Leagues

I'm in five different leagues next season, and I'll have at least four different strategies for success in saves. If your league does daily changes and has a lot of open P slots, then either of the strategies above will work well for you. You can leave most of your relievers in on most days (or cycle in your streamers), and sit them when you need to put in extra starters. It's like reliever paradise. I'll probably go for quantity in one, and information in another and see what happens.

But I also play in leagues with weekly lineup changes and waiver wire pickups, and one of them allows only two relievers--but awards them a ton of points. For these, my plan will (probably) be to get at least one high quality reliever, one medium quality guy, and a third or fourth injury backup. Or maybe I'll go for two of the top ten and hope for the best. We'll see how the draft goes.

Some leagues do quite a few categories: 7x7 or even 10x10. The more categories you have, the less you should spend on closers. Similarly, points leagues can have very valuable closers, or make them pretty worthless. On the flip side of things, if you play in a 4x4 league (the original standard), saves just got way more valuable. Ratchet closers up your lists accordingly.

Whether you play in a deep league or a shallow league, with weekly changes or daily, with just two RP slots or more than you can even use, there is a value for saves out there. Whatever it is pay that, and not more. In a head-to-head league, you could even punt the category (but don't, because someone else will and even one closer will beat that team twice next year), but every little bit helps in standard Rotisserie.

There's an old adage floating around in the aether of our cultural consciousness that, "It's better to be lucky than good." Nowhere is this more true than in getting saves for your fantasy baseball team, so: good luck!

By the way, this concludes the standard 5x5 categories, but it doesn't conclude the How to Win series. My plan is to examine OBP next week, since plenty of leagues use the stat and it indirectly affects all leagues. If a bunch of people clamor for something else, though, maybe I'll change the plan....

2013 Position Rankings: Relief Pitchers

No position comes close to relievers when it comes to unpredictability. With their value tied so intrinsically to saves, and each pitcher throwing only a tiny sample of innings, it shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone when weird things happen: like Fernando Rodney being 2012's best reliever; like John Axford pitching badly enough to lose his job; like anything that happens when Carlos Marmol is on the mound. 

So how do you rank players that come with such an intense level of inherent variance? With caution. Waiting on closers and drafting multiple smei-competent back-enders has always been my plan at this position, and I see little reason to change. Great relievers fall suddenly, and nobodies rise to prominence just as quickly. The rounds into which the closers are tiered reflect my own closer-caution--unfortunately, some drafts won't let you play it so safe if you want to compete in saves, so consider the rounds looser guidelines than usual, even though the player groups stand just fine.

We're finished with the hitters; you can find ShortstopsThird BasemenSecond BasemenFirst BasemenCatchers, and  Outfielders at these links. Today's rankings come from a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff and they cover all the closers, plus some of the most draftable setup guys. They're divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price.

3rd Round

1. Craig Kimbrel, ATL

Kimbrel is so good that even I would consider taking him in the third, and I haven't taken a closer before the 10th in about five years. Those strikeouts pile on value; my only worry is that dominant relievers before him have fallen hard.

7th Round

2. Jonathan Papelbon, PHI

After Kimbrel, there is no one I would take over Papelbon, for the simple reason that he's been good for so long that his sample isn't all that small any more: we can safely conclude that he's a good pitcher. It doesn't hurt that the Phillies are paying him big stacks of cash and won't remove him from the job unless he turns into Heath Bell.

8th-9th Round

3. Mariano Rivera, NYY
4. Joe Nathan, TEX
5. Jason Motte, STL

Rivera's been so good for so long that only his injury keeps him this low on my list. It's not that I think he'll be the best closer out there, it's that I'm very confident that he'll be good--and keep his job. Nathan proved last year that his injuries are behind him; like Rivera, so is a long history of success. Motte is a lot lower on this list than most, but don't get me wrong: he has a higher fantasy ceiling than anyone above him (except Kimbrel), but his relative inexperience also tells me that he has a lower floor. Plus, his team isn't invested in him the way Nathan's, Rivera's, and Papelbon's are.

11th-12th Rounds

6. J.J. Putz, ARI
7. Rafael Soriano, WAS
8. John Axford, MIL
9. Fernando Rodney, TBR

Putz is rock solid--when healthy. Fortunately, David Hernandez is one likely backup, and he's worth rostering in a setup role. Unfortunately, Heath Bell is the other likely backup. Soriano should be great in saves and strikeouts, but his walks will keep his WHIP up and probably lead to the occasional blowup. Axford should rebound from a tough 2012 to be the high-K stopper we'd come to expect. Rodney's last season screams fluke...but what if it wasn't? I'm willing to take that chance, albeit not as early as mock drafters are.


10. Jason Grilli, PIT
11. Sergio Romo, SFG
12. Greg Holland, KCR
13. Tom Wilhelmsen, SEA
14. Rafael Betancourt, COL
15. Glen Perkins, MIN 

Grilli seems like he came out of nowhere, but he's put up two excellent seasons in a row, and has four straight years of increasing strikeout rates--a number that increased to 13.81 K/9 last year. Romo has serious questions about the health of his elbow, and the best-case scenario for him seems to be that other members of his bullpen vulture more saves than average. Holland and Williamsen rake in the strikeouts but play for mediocre teams. Also, their closing tenure has been short, so their leashes will be too. Betancourt would be a tier higher if he didn't play in Colorado. Perkins was excellent last year, but how many leads will the Twins' rotation be able to deliver?


16. Huston Street, SDP
17. Addison Reed, CHW
18. Jonathan Broxton, CIN
19. Jim Johnson, BAL
20. Grant Balfour, OAK
21. Chris Perez, CLE
22. Steve Cishek, MIA 

Street is a very good pitcher--when healthy, which isn't much of the time. Draft him expecting a DL stint. Reed flew under the radar a little, but was quite successful. Broxton didn't impress--especially with the strikeouts, but the Reds should hand him plenty of leads. Johnson was dynamite last year...but he doesn't get many strikeouts and this Orioles fan expects a bit of team regression. Balfour's overall numbers are pretty good, but he bounced in and out of the closer role. Oakland is an organization that isn't afraid to make changes or defy convention, which is great for them, but less than ideal for a fantasy closer. Perez was surprisingly competent last year, but his shaky history keeps our enthusiasm low. Cishek pitched well, but it probably wouldn't take much for the mercurial Marlins to make a change. Also, they might not be too good next year.


23. Joel Hanrahan, BOS
24. Bobby Parnell, NYM

Hanrahan's underlying numbers were pretty shaky last year, and I don't think Boston will hesitate to make a change if one is needed. They proved with Andrew Bailey that trading for someone doesn't mean he'll get a long leash. Parnell is looking more and more like the Mets' closer in camp. If he starts the season with the job, he'll have to really blow up to lose it to Frank Francisco.


25. Brandon League, LAD
26. Ernesto Frieri, LAA
27. Kenley Jansen, LAD
28. Jose Veras, HOU
29. Sergio Santos, TOR

League and Frieri are both slated to start the season closing for their Los Angeles teams. Both teams are expected to switch closers at some point in the year. For the Angels, that's the plan: switch to Ryan Madson. For the Dodgers, it's what you expect when Jansen is that much better than League. As far as what will really happen...I couldn't say at all. I can say, however, that I prefer to take the guy with the job in hand, because sometimes they don't let it go. Speaking of jobs in hand, that's what Veras has in Houston, and what Santos appears to be grabbing--to start the season--in Toronto.

Should any of these messy closer situations get fully straightened out by Opening Day, Frieri and Jansen would belong in the 13-14th tier, Santos and League in the 15th-16th tier.


30. Casey Janssen, TOR
31. Ryan Madson, LAA
32. Carlos Marmol, CHC
33. Kyuji Fujikawa, CHC

Janssen and Madson haven't healed as expected and could be seeing their jobs slip away. Should they manage to gain a certain hold on their jobs before Opening Day, both would be worth taking among the 15th-16th tier.

Marmol will have the job as long as he's a Cub--how else to keep his trade value up? The bad news for anyone who drafts him is that the Cubbies might have him traded by Opening Day. If that happens, bump Fujikawa way up this list, as he won't have much competition for saves. I would take him around the 15th or 16th round.

23rd and Beyond

34. Joaquin Benoit, DET
35. Al Alburquerque, DET
36. Bruce Rondon, DET
37. Frank Francisco, NYM 

I don't know what will happen in Detroit's bullpen, but all three of these guys have a chance to close, and a chance to keep the job if they get it. Maybe Francisco will keep his job.

Quality Non-Closers 

38. Vinnie Pestano, CLE
39. David Hernandez, ARI
40. David Robertson, NYY
41. Luke Gregerson, SDP
42. Sean Marshall, CIN
43. Santiago Casilla, SFG
44. Ryan Cook, OAK
45. Andrew Bailey, BOS
46. Drew Storen, WAS
47. Johnny Venters, ATL
48. Mike Adams, PHI
49. Antonio Bastardo, PHI
50. Tyler Clippard, WAS
51. Jacob McGee, TBR
52. Trevor Rosenthal, STL
53. Koji Uehara, BOS 

Some of these guys have a decent shot to close, thanks to a shaky or injury-prone incumbent (Pestano, Hernandez, Robertson, Gregerson, Cook, Bailey, Uehara), while others might vulture some saves along the way (Casilla, Marshall). Some are just worth rostering on their skills alone (Bastardo, Storen). All of these guys are probably best left for deeper leagues.

This year's closer picture is murkier than it has usually been in the recent past. More teams have unresolved questions surrounding the back end of their bullpens: the Angels, Dodgers, Tigers, Mets, Blue Jays, and Cubs are all without a certain closer. Expect to get quite a few saves off the waiver wire, and in the meantime, draft a few backup closers. Your relievers don't have to be the best to get the most saves.

Draft Round Battles: Rodney Vs. Axford

Here's my working theory for Fernando Rodney's 2012 season.  When Mariano Rivera blew out his ACL on May 3, he decided to bestow the Closer's Matrix Of Leadership on to Rodney since...well, I don't know, maybe Mo has a soft spot for Joe Maddon.  Anyway, after taking the Matrix in a ceremony that presumably involved both men singing "The Touch," Rodney turned into Rodimus Prime and proceeded to dominate the ninth inning as few closers ever have, posting an 0.58 ERA over 62 1/3 innings after May 3.

Granted, the theory has a few holes.  For one, Rodney already had an 0.73 ERA in 14 games before May 3.  Secondly, the Closer's Matrix Of Leadership may be (MAY BE) completely fictional.  But still, I'm at a loss to think of any other reason for Rodney's incredible, improbable all-timer of a 2012 season.  The longtime journeyman reliever suddenly exploded with one of the best relief seasons in baseball history and became the best example yet as to why nobody is better at bullpen reclamation projects than the Tampa Bay Rays.

Of course, the problem with a Cinderella season is that everyone presumes midnight is about to strike.  On Roto Authority alone, Bryan Grosnick has called Rodney's season "somewhat of a mirage" while Steve Adams labelled Rodney as a bust simply because there is so little chance that Rodney has suddenly eliminated all his bad habits and turned into an elite pitcher at 35 years old.  Most notably, Rodney carried a career 4.9 BB/9 from 2002-11 and then posted only a 1.8 BB/9 in 2012 --- does anyone think that will happen again, or that Rodney will be helped by another .220 BABIP?

Let's compare Rodney's advanced metrics with those of his Draft Round Battle opponent, Brewers stopper John Axford...

Rodney: 2.13 FIP, 2.67 xFIP, 2.24 SIERA, .220 BABIP, 9.2 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 27% strikeout rate, 57.9% ground ball rate

Axford: 4.06 FIP, 3.29 xFIP, 3.10 SIERA, .307 BABIP, 12.1 K/9, 5.1 BB/9, 30% strikeout rate, 46.3% ground ball rate

Rodney is clearly better overall but it's a closer gap than you would at first suspect given Rodney's all-world season and that Axford temporarily lost his job as Milwaukee's stopper.  Axford posted a 4.67 ERA but, as the metrics show, he didn't really pitch that badly aside from a bump in walks, and Axford had been a bit prone to free passes (3.7 BB/9 from 2009-11) even before 2012.

Of course, the one metric I left off that list was Axford's achilles heel for 2012 --- the long ball.  Axford's HR/9 jumped from 0.3 over his first three seasons to a 1.3 HR/9 in 2012 and a whopping 19.2% of his fly balls allowed went for homers.  Oddly, Axford's fly ball rate (29.7%) was a new career low, so it's possible he may have been a victim of his home turf; by the park factor metrics, no stadium was more homer-friendly than Miller Park in 2012. 

After breaking out in 2010 and delivering a strong 2011 season, it seemed like Axford was establishing himself as one of those reliable closers you could pencil in for 30+ saves and strong peripherals every year.  He certainly took a step back last year but it hasn't hurt him greatly in this spring's early fantasy drafts.  Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position report places Axford as the fifth closer taken and the 105th player drafted overall (108.89 ADP). 

He is one spot behind, you guessed it, Rodney, who checks in as the 89th overall player drafted with a 92.53 ADP.  I was a bit surprised to see Rodney that high given the seemingly universal reservations that everyone has about him for 2013.  MDC's numbers, however, are generated by mock drafts that feature pretty hardcore fantasy managers, so this isn't a case where Rodney's draft spot was boosted by auto-drafting or newbies who are dazzled by an 0.60 ERA.  It speaks to the overall volatility of the closer's position that, for as many question marks as these guys have, every closer behind them on the list also carries a lot of uncertainty headed into next season.

So our choice is between a guy with a long history of being average coming off one magnificent season against a guy with a short history of brilliance coming off a pretty average season.  It's a tough call.  For as much as critics cite Rodney's past, don't forget that Axford is still very much an unproven entity.  His rise from bartending and cellphone sales to a Major League closing job is a great story but it wouldn't be surprising if Axford joins the long list of closers who ended up on the scrap heap after one or two good years.

That said, I would recommend Axford as the better pick on draft day because, while we've seen both he and Rodney pitch at their best, I'd prefer to have Axford if he pitches at his "worst."  Even if Axford duplicates his 2012 season, he'll still help your team by racking up K's and collecting his share of saves.  If Rodney pitches to his low (such as his 2010-11 seasons) then he's not worth having on your fantasy roster.  There's also the fact that if Axford struggles a bit, he's not likely to lose his closer's job against since Francisco Rodriguez isn't there as a backup option for the Brewers.  Rodney doesn't have that luxury in Tampa Bay as Maddon won't hesitate to make a switch at closer if things are going awry. 

After Craig Kimbrel goes, your draft is likely going to see four or five rounds go by before managers start dipping back into the closer pool.  Past Jonathan Papelbon and Jason Motte, any of the six next guys on the ADP list (Rodney, Axford, Joe Nathan, Rivera, J.J. Putz, Sergio Romo) could be the next closer taken and it wouldn't be a surprise.  A healthy (and presumably re-Matrixed) Rivera, for instance, has more fantasy value than Rodney or Axford.  If you get the chance to pick between Rodimus Prime and the Ax Man, I would take Axford since there's less chance that the bottom will fall out on his performance. 

Also, if I'm nice to Axford, he might randomly show up at my apartment and teach me how to grow a sweet mustache.  You can't put a fantasy value on that.

Shutdown Corner: Handicapping the Tigers Bullpen

During our breakdown of the different divisions, I basically stated that the Detroit Tigers closer situation is a crapshoot. With incumbent closer Jose Valverde potentially out of baseball, the Tigers are looking to pull someone out of their bullpen morass and anoint a new closer. Given that the Tigers look to be very competitive again in the 2013 season, fantasy owners want to draft this team's closer, as they chase their saves.

In an attempt to give you the best shot at squeezing value out of the Tigers' relief situation, I'd like to provide my own odds as to who is the closer for the brunt of the season. Most of this info is based on a combination of projected effectiveness, as well as projected use.

5% chance of closing: someone not mentioned below already in the Tigers organization

You've always got to put some money on the field, in cases like this. The Tigers have a number of people who are competing for a long-relief bullpen slot (Drew Smyly, perhaps Rick Porcello) or toiling in Triple-A. I wouldn't bet on any of these folks garnering time at the back of the bullpen, but you never know.

5% chance of closing: Phil Coke

Coke has done a pretty okay job as a reliever for the Tigers, but he has a few strikes against him. First, he's a lefty, and lefties don't close very often. Second, Coke doesn't have the wipeout stuff most teams look for in a closer. What he does have is tenure, and that appears to be valued by some managers. But more than likely, he'll be the primary lefty setup man, and not a serious contender for saves. (Holds are another matter entirely.)

5% chance of closing: Brayan Villareal

Villareal did a very nice job over nearly 55 innings last season for Detroit, posting a 29.2% strikeout rate and a 2.63 ERA. The real reason I don't see him getting so much consideration is that he's been dealing with some elbow soreness during the offseason. He's still kind of a young guy, so I could see someone with more experience getting the job over him ... and the top contender for the spot is like an amped-up version of him at this point. We'll get to that in a minute.

10% chance of closing: someone currently outside the Tigers organization

Last year, the Tigers waited until the "last minute" to add Prince Fielder to an already-stacked team. Who's to say that the team doesn't do something similar during Spring Training of this season. There've been rumors linking the currently-unemployed Brian Wilson to the team recently, and while I'm not sure that'll happen, it's a possibility. There's also the possibility that the team will make a deal mid-season, and that this person will end up leading the team in saves. When in doubt, say "I don't know" and move on.

10% chance of closing: Octavio Dotel

Each of the next three guys brings something to the table: strikeouts. In truth, Dotel gets a ton of Ks, but not as many as the guys after him on the list. Beyond that, he's a wanderer, having spent his career with nearly a dozen teams, his K-rate has dropped a bit, and he's entering his age-39 season. While the Tigers are likely to go with whomever is the best pitcher as closer, I'd have a tough time imagining that Dotel will get the position for full season, and then the Tigers might have to look again for options for 2014.

15% chance of closing: Al Albuquerque

Albuquerque has one thing in particular going for him: a righteous career ERA of 1.59. His FIP (2.11) tells the story of someone who didn't *quite* pitch that well, but those rate stats in his limited action of 56+ innings speak to real talent. But Albuquerque hardly pitched in 2012, and though his strikeout numbers are great, he may not be considered reliable enough to hold down the ninth inning.

25% chance of closing: Joaquin Benoit

Yawn. Joaquin Benoit is actually pretty boring, especially for a guy who strikes out a bunch of guys (29.2% K-rate last season), and gives up more than a few homers (1.77 HR/9 in 2012). But he's boring because he's relatively consistent on a season-to-season basis, and he's been around for a while. Though he had a down 2012, Benoit brings the combination of capability and tenure to a Tigers team looking for both, and that makes him an attractive option as an early-season closer. If he can stay consistent and maintain his recent increase in strikeout rate, I could see him riding out the whole season as the stopper for the Tigers.

25% chance of closing: Bruce Rondon

The prohibitive favorite for the position, Rondon brings prospect shine and the unearthly stuff to the discussion. Going into Spring Training, he's considered by many to be the likely guy for the ninth, despite having never thrown a major-league inning. Rondon brings 100 mph heat, but the problem is that no one is quite sure where the ball will end up after he throws it. The catcher's mitt, the third row, Ann Arbor ... your guess is as good as anyone else's.

Personally, I don't think Rondon will open the season as closer, and that Benoit will. Bruce'scontrol just isn't there yet, something he demonstrated in his most recent Spring Training outing. I'd obviously much rather pick the field over Rondon, especially to start the season. Nevertheless, if he heats up in Triple-A, he'll find himself on the major league roster soon, and his electric stuff will shift him into a ninth-inning role eventually.

In the end, I wouldn't go deeper than a 25% chance that any of these guys wins out. We'll need to get deeper into Spring Training before my confidence rises in Rondon or anyone else. And even then, as we all well know, things will definitely change during the season.

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

All data from FanGraphs.

Shutdown Corner: How To Identify Potential Closers

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

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

Listen to the manager ... and the GM!

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

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

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

Keep an eye on "proven closers!"

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

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

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

Stay away from left-handed relievers!

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

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

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

Performance is good, but strikeouts are better!

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

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

All data from FanGraphs.

Shutdown Corner: NL West Closer Roundup

Welcome back to the (sixth and final) divisional closer roundup here at Shutdown Corner. It's taken us a long time to get here (and out AL West and NL East roundups need a little updating by now), but we're here! We're finally ready to roll out the division that's home to the defending World Series Champions -- the NL West. And, to acces any of the previous round ups, follow the following links: AL East, AL CentralAL WestNL East, and NL Central.

If you haven't been following along at home, here's our closer tiering system for the pre-season:

  • Tier 1: World-class reliever, capable of putting up a season for the ages.
  • Tier 2: Very good closer, both stable and effective.
  • Tier 3: Average closer, may be lacking either stability or effectiveness.
  • Tier 4: Poor closer, either completely ineffective but stable, or very unstable.

Arizona Diamondbacks: J.J. Putz

Aside from a lost year in New York, J.J. Putz has quietly been one of the more consistent late-inning options in baseball over the past seven seasons. Last year, Putz sparkled in the Arizona sun, posting fine alphabet-soup rate stats (2.82 ERA, 2.38 FIP, 29.8 K%, 1.03 WHIP) while logging 32 saves. He rolls into 2013 with a firm grip on the closer spot in Arizona, despite strong relievers behind him in David Hernandez, Brad Ziegler, and Heath Bell.

Putz's Achilles heel is his durability, as he's usually only able to throw between 50-58 innings per season. Given his injury history, a short DL stint is likely during a season, and an extended one certainly isn't out of the question -- meaning you should have a backup plan ready to go for when he goes down.

I recently had a discussion on Twitter with someone who firmly believes that David Hernandez is going to be the closer when J.J. inevitably hits the DL or needs a n extended break. I'm not entirely sure that's going to be the case. New addition Heath Bell is one of those guys who has the "proven closer" label, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he gets first shot to close when Putz goes down. For this reason, it's a little tough to predict who should be your handcuff if you want to grab a backup for Putz ... but remember that Hernandez projects to have much better rate stats than Bell.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (great numbers, doesn't pitch much more than 50 innings per season, serious injury risk, good competition)

Next in line: Heath Bell or David Hernandez

Colorado Rockies: Rafael Betancourt

If you really want to talk about consistency, though, the first second name on your lips (after Mariano Rivera) should be the Rockies' Rafael Betancourt. Betancourt is a rare pitcher who has thrived pitching for the Rockies, using a simply two pronged philosophy: (1) strike everyone out and (2) don't walk anyone.

Revolutionary, I know!

At any rate, 2012 was a bit of a down season for the purple-clad closer, as both his K% (24.2%) and BB% (5.1%) slipped a bit from his stellar stats in the previous few seasons. With Rafael entering his age-38 season, I think that we should temper our expectations for him in 2013. He's certainly still a good closer to draft, but signs point to him entering a decline phase.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (good stats, starting to decline, age is an issue, younger competition in the bullpen)

Next in line: Matt Belisle or Rex Brothers

Los Angeles Dodgers: Brandon League

I'm not gonna lie, this is a weird one. The Dodgers already have a weapon of mass destruction in their bullpen: the heater-tastic Kenley Jansen. But because the team is flush with cash, they made a huge investment in League which seems to indicate that he'll be given the ninth-inning duties. League doesn't have the strikeout rate of a top-tier closer (17.9% in 2012), but he improved upon arriving in L.A. and has a legitimate out pitch. Nevertheless, strikeouts are the most important thing in my eyes, and anyone with that much trouble getting Ks isn't a safe bet. No matter how much the Dodgers are willing to spend.

Don't be fooled, though -- Kenley Jansen is coming for this spot. Jansen strikes out guys with authority (39.3% strikeout rate in 2012) and would be a lockdown option in the ninth if it weren't for continued medical worries about his heart. If you're going to pick one setup man to handcuff at the start of the season, make it Jansen, as his strikeouts will play in almost any league, and he could be closing again by June.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (too few strikeouts, too many walks and meltdowns, good competition in the bullpen)

Next in line: Kenley Jansen

San Diego Padres: Huston Street

If you could be sure that Huston Street would pitch a full season, I'd have you draft him in the top 5-10 of all closers in baseball. Both recently, and over the life of his career, he's proved an ability to strike guys out, limit walks, and he pitches in the hurlers' haven that is PetCo park.

Of course, you can't ever be sure that Street will be healthy for a full season. Last year, Street only logged 40 appearances, but still recorded 23 saves for an unremarkable Padres squad. His injury risk hasn't kept him out of action for a full season yet during his career, but all the "minor" injuries he's sustained over the past three years are painting the picture that if health is a skill, it's one Street doesn't quite have.

Luke Gregerson will probably get first chance to close when/if Street succumbs to injury, but don't sleep on Brad Brach, who strikes everybody out and has only the slightest idea of where the strike zone begins and ends. If Brach can get the ball over the plate with a bit of regularity, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Padres bail on both Street and Gregerson, and hand the ninth over to the youngster.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (good numbers, good situation, moderate injury risk)

Next in line: Luke Gregerson or Brad Brach

San Francisco Giants: Sergio Romo

Sergio Romo's 2011 was about as good as a late-inning reliever could hope for. While no one would expect that 1.50 ERA and 40% K-rate to hold up, Romo's 2012 was pretty awesome as well. The ERA jumped all the way up to 1.79, and the strikeouts still came in bunches, though not as often as in 2011. With Brian Wilson long gone, Romo has inherited the coveted ninth inning role for the defending champs, and looks to hold it down with authority.

Everything would be great ... if it weren't for the fact that the Giants still treat Romo with kid gloves. Romo relies on a wipeout slider, and considering how much it taxes his elbow, the Giants tend to use Romo sparingly throughout the season. In 2012, Romo made 69 appearances, sure, but only logged a little more than 55 innings. There's a pretty fair chance that, while Romo will be the guy for the Giants, he may not be available on back-to-back days in some instances, and that other relievers will vulture some save chances. Nevertheless, the good signs are too many to ignore, and he should be considered a Tier 2 closer for the 2013 season.

The Beard is dead. Long live The Beard.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (fantastic stuff, injury / workload remains a risk, good competition)

Next in line: Santiago Casilla

As always, check out @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute closer updates, and find me at@bgrosnick for everything baseball. Next week we'll write about something other than closers by division ... so get excited!

All data from FanGraphs.

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