Looking to have the best closer in baseball on your team? You need Craig Kimbrel.
If you’re going to win your fantasy baseball league this season, you must have a topnotch closer on your roster.
Last season, the best closer in baseball was easily Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves. Kimbrel led all relievers in WAR, according to FanGraphs, and finished fifth in the National League Cy Young Award voting. If you have the opportunity, snag him and you’ll be golden.
But when sifting through potential draft picks, you should keep a couple of things in mind about closers and guys that could be closing by the end of the season. First and foremost, it’s not all about saves. There are several great closers out there that won’t get nearly as many opportunities as others that play for contending clubs.
You can get plenty of value out of closers that have high strikeout rates and low walk rates. You should be looking for a closer that isn’t going to let up a bunch of runs in high-leverage situations—and potentially save situations—that will be the determining factor between winning and losing a matchup.
But if you need a refresher on who this year’s closers are and who the next best options are—in most instances, the primary setup man—I’ve got you covered. Here’s a look at each team’s late game guys heading into the 2013 season.
*All statistics were obtained via Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted. All injury information was obtained through Baseball Prospectus. All contract information was obtained via Cot’s Contracts.
Closer: Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson established himself as the real deal last season, breaking the Baltimore Orioles’ single season saves record with 51. He posted a 2.49 ERA in 68.2 innings across 71 outings. Outside of 2012, however, he never saved more than 10 games, but also wasn’t always given the opportunity to close.
Top Backup: Pedro Strop
Pedro Strop had a fantastic season as Baltimore’s setup man last season and was one of baseball’s most reliable relievers. Although he walked more than five batters per nine innings, he had only a 2.44 ERA. If something were to happen to Johnson, Strop would be just fine as the closer. He’ll likely close at some point in the future.
Closer: Joel Hanrahan
The Boston Red Sox weren’t satisfied with the back end of their bullpen. Over the offseason they acquired Joel Hanrahan from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hanrahan, who will start the year as the closer, has saved 76 combined games the last two years with the Pirates. He strikes out a lot of batters, but tends to have command issues at the same time.
Top Backup: Andrew Bailey
Andrew Bailey was the team’s closer last season once he recovered from a thumb injury. He appeared in only 19 games for Boston and wasn’t very effective, posting a 7.04 ERA in 15.1 innings. Bailey will be the eighth inning man unless Hanrahan struggles or Boston decides to trade him to a team seeking a better closer.
Closer: Mariano Rivera
The New York Yankees will have one of the best closers of all time healthy and ready to go to start the 2013 season. Mariano Rivera missed nearly all of last season after tearing his ACL during pregame batting practice. Regardless of the lost year, Rivera still is a dominant reliever that no opponent wants to face in the ninth inning. He’ll be a prime candidate for American League Comeback Player of the Year.
Top Backup: David Robertson
David Robertson hasn’t been given the opportunity to close, even after Rivera got injured. That role went to Rafael Soriano while Robertson remained the setup man. Well, he’ll still have the eighth inning in 2013, but that’s just fine. Robertson is one of the sharpest relievers in the game, showing fantastic command each time he takes the mound.
Closer: Fernando Rodney
Fernando Rodney has turned into one of the elite closers in baseball in a relatively short period of time: one season. While Rodney once saved 37 games for the Detroit Tigers in 2009, he hadn’t been a regular closer until last year with the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2012, he saved 48 games while posting an incredible 0.60 ERA in 74.2 innings. Will he be able to repeat his success in 2013, though?
Top Backup: Joel Peralta
While Joel Peralta isn’t the closer, he’s a very valuable arm to have in the bullpen and on your fantasy roster. He struck out an average of more than 11 batters per nine innings last season, posting a 3.63 ERA in 67 innings of work. He handed the game over to Rodney with ease time and time again last year and could potentially do the same this year.
Closer: Casey Janssen
The Toronto Blue Jays improved their club mightily over the offseason and Casey Janssen will surely be one to benefit. With a better pitching staff and offense, he should have the opportunity to save more games and improve his resume. He managed to save only 22 games for Toronto last year. He has, however, posted sub-2.75 ERAs the last two seasons.
Top Backup: Sergio Santos
After missing nearly all of 2012 while recovering from shoulder surgery, Sergio Santos is healed and ready for a full 2013 campaign. He’ll likely be the primary setup man, pitching before Janssen comes in the game. In his last full season, 2011 with the Chicago White Sox, Santos was the closer, saving 30 games while striking out an average of 13 batters per nine innings.
Closer: Addison Reed
Addison Reed is one of the top, young relievers in the game and looks to have a promising career ahead of him with the Chicago White Sox. Reed was Chicago’s closer last season, saving 29 games in 62 appearances, posting a 4.75 ERA. While the ERA is slightly higher than some would like, his command wasn’t really the problem. He doesn’t walk many batters, they just happened to get timely hits off him.
Top Backup: Matt Thornton
Matt Thornton is one of the higher-paid relievers, which is interesting considering he isn’t a closer and never has been. He’s mainly been a guy to pitch in the seventh and eighth innings and that’s stood true the last couple of seasons. Since 2009, he’s been on a bit of decline in terms of reliability, but overall, he’s still an above-average arm. He won’t strike out many opponents, but won’t walk many either.
Closer: Chris Perez
Although Chris Perez missed the World Baseball Classic due to a strained shoulder, he is expected to be ready for Opening Day, according to Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer. Perez has been very effective over the last three seasons with Cleveland. He’s increased his save total in each of those campaigns, saving 39 games last season. He’s also decreased his walk rate, which is noteworthy.
Top Backup: Vinnie Pestano
Vinnie Pestano was one of the lucky players to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. While he pitched only two innings, the fact that he made the team speaks to how good of a reliever he is. He’s been very, very good for Cleveland the last two seasons, appearing in at least 68 games in each and posting sub-2.60 ERAs.
Closer: Bruce Rondon
A lot of eyes this spring have been on young Detroit Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon, who’s expected to be the team’s closer once camp closes. Some concerns have been raised since Rondon, who doesn’t have any major league experience, hasn’t pitched too well this spring. In 10.2 innings, he’s allowed six earned runs on 15 hits while walking seven. He is the definition of a risky fantasy draft pick.
Top Backup: Joaquin Benoit
If Rondon struggles to start the season, the ninth inning may be rewarded to Joaquin Benoit, who likely will be the Tigers’ setup man for at least the first few weeks. Benoit did a great job last season setting games up for Jose Valverde. In 73 appearances, Benoit posted a 3.68 ERA across 71 innings of work. He’s averaged at least 10 strikeouts per nine innings in two of the last three years.
Closer: Greg Holland
Guess who was the reliever with the fourth-highest WAR in 2012? That’s right, it was Greg Holland of the Kansas City Royals, according to FanGraphs. Didn’t see that one coming, did you? Holland may have saved just 16 games last year, but he was valuable in other ways. He struck out more than 12 batters per nine innings and posted a sub-3.00 ERA. That’s called being effective no matter how good or bad your team is.
Top Backup: Kelvin Herrera
For a pitcher coming into his first full season in the big leagues, Kelvin Herrera was very impressive. He pitched in 76 games and 84.1 innings for the Royals in 2012 while posting a 2.35 ERA. If he keeps this up, he’ll be on the fast track to securing a closer role in the near future. He stranded 80.9 percent of baserunners last season as well, according to FanGraphs.
Closer: Glen Perkins
Glen Perkins just wasn’t cutting it as a starter, but it appears that he finally seems comfortable as a reliever. Last season, he was the Minnesota Twins’ closer and did a pretty good job, taking advantage of the opportunity. He saved 16 games—granted he was playing for the last place Twins—and posted a 2.56 ERA in 70.1 innings of work. He kept his walk rate low while he struck out around 10 batters per nine innings.
Top Backup: Jared Burton
When a reliever goes from a contender to one of the worst teams in baseball, one wouldn’t assume he’d get much better. But that wasn’t the case for Jared Burton, who had the best year of his career last season with the Twins, his first with the club. In 64 appearances, he posted a 2.18 ERA in 62 innings. As long as Burton keeps his command under control, he should be able to put together another strong year.
Closer: Jose Veras
If you’re looking to draft a closer that is going to get a lot of saves in 2013, you should absolutely stay far, far away from Jose Veras. The Houston Astros could end up being the worst team of all time, meaning Veras won’t have many save opportunities. He’s never been a closer, although he has been consistent the last three years with three different teams. His ERA has been in the 3.60-3.80 range in each of those seasons, which is pretty good.
Top Backup: Wesley Wright
Either Wesley Wright is one of the most inconsistent relievers in baseball or he’s finally found his stride on the mound. His first three seasons with the Astros were a disaster, but he’s turned things around the last two, although he didn’t pitch much in 2011. Last season, Wright appeared in 77 games and posted a 3.27 ERA. You can’t ask for more than that from a Houston reliever.
Closer: Ernesto Frieri
Ernesto Frieri should be the Los Angeles Angels’ closer once the season begins since Ryan Madson is questionable to start the year. Madson, however, will likely be the closer for the bulk of the season. Frieri was just fine as the Halos’ closer last year, though, saving 23 games and posting a 2.32 ERA. He’s a very good strikeout pitcher if you’re looking for a reliever that can add to your K total each week.
Top Backup: Sean Burnett
The Angels signed Sean Burnett over the offseason to boost the bullpen—and that’s exactly what he’s expected to do. Over the last three seasons, all with the Washington Nationals, the lefty has been a bit inconsistent. A way to gauge how he’ll pitch is through his walk rate. If he’s walking a lot of people, his ERA is going to skyrocket and he won’t be worth putting into the game. His strikeout rate has also fluctuated in recent years.
Closer: Ryan Cook
Ryan Cook was one of the breakout stars for the surprising Oakland Athletics last season, taking over the closer duties and doing a fine job. Pitching in 71 games, the right-hander finished the season with 14 saves and a 2.09 ERA. He struck out 80 batters in 73.1 innings of work while walking 27. If the A’s have their magic from 2012 carry over into 2013, Cook would be a smart closer to draft.
Top Backup: Pat Neshek
Pat Neshek didn’t see a lot of time with Oakland last season because he pitched the majority of the year for the Baltimore Orioles in their minor league system. Once Neshek was acquired by the A’s, he pitched well, although in limited time. He finished the year with a 1.37 ERA, allowing three runs in 19.2 innings. Be careful with Neshek, though, because once Grant Balfour is healthy he’ll be in the mix.
Closer: Tom Wilhelmsen
In just his second major league season, Tom Wilhelmsen had quite the year for the Seattle Mariners. Getting the nod as the closer, the righty saved 29 games while blowing just five opportunities. Wilhelmsen allowed 22 runs to score in 79.1 innings of work, striking out 87 batters while walking 29. He is certainly someone that you could draft in a later round that has a lot of potential.
Top Backup: Carter Capps
Carter Capps is one of the top prospects that Seattle has and it appears that he’s going to break camp with the club. He appeared in 18 major league games last season. In those games, he was relatively impressive considering his lack of experience. In 25 innings, he allowed 11 runs, struck out 28 and walked 11. This will be an interesting year for Capps, and we'll get to see how he pitches over the course of a full season.
Closer: Joe Nathan
Joe Nathan is a veteran right-hander that has very little risk attached to him in terms of fantasy baseball. He’s going to get a lot of saves and strikeouts and not walk many batters. Last season, his first with the Texas Rangers, he saved 37 games, striking out 78 in 64.1 innings while walking just 13. Nathan has saved at least 36 games in all but one of the last eight seasons. Since 2003, his ERA has been above 3.00 just once.
Top Backup: Jason Frasor
Jason Frasor will be a setup man for Texas to start the season, but once Joakim Soria is healthy enough to take the mound, Frasor might not see much time late in games. Frasor has pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays for nearly his entire career and has made a little bit of a name for himself. He’s been relatively consistent in terms of ERA over the last couple of seasons, sitting in the 3.75 range for the most part.
Closer: Craig Kimbrel
There’s nothing not to like about Craig Kimbrel. He’s, by far, the best closer in baseball. His numbers are just mind-boggling, especially since he has only three seasons of major league experience. Last season, in 62.2 innings, he allowed just seven earned runs, struck out 116 batters and walked just 14. He stranded 93 percent of baserunners as well, according to FanGraphs. He’s the closer you want on your team.
Top Backup: Jonny Venters
Also a part of the league’s best bullpen, Jonny Venters actually regressed a little last season compared to his previous two years with Atlanta. He missed some time with an elbow issue and didn’t hit 60 innings of relief. When healthy, Venters has been a dominant setup man, usually posting a sub-2.00 ERA. Last season, though, his ERA rose to 3.22, holding 20 games for Kimbrel and the Braves.
Closer: Steve Cishek
Once again, just because a player is on a bad team doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look into drafting him. That’s the case here with Steve Cishek of the Miami Marlins. Cishek isn’t going to come close to leading the league in saves, but he can still be effective in the ninth inning whether the Marlins are winning or losing. He has a 2.57 ERA in basically two full seasons in the majors, averaging more than nine strikeouts per nine innings in each.
Top Backup: Jon Rauch
A bad team’s setup man is probably someone to shy away from. Nothing against Jon Rauch, but the eighth inning isn’t really an attractive role for the Marlins’ right-hander. He’s been inconsistent year-to-year for the last six seasons. He has a 3.80 ERA, which isn’t bad at all, but he’s not going to get saves and he isn’t a strikeout pitcher. A positive note on Rauch, though, is that he has great command and doesn’t walk many batters.
Closer: Bobby Parnell
Bobby Parnell will likely be the New York Mets’ closer until Frank Francisco is healthy enough to take the mound. Parnell hasn’t been that effective as a closer in years past, saving just seven games in 12 opportunities last season. It appears that Parnell may have thrown too many innings too early and that stunted his progression. Throwing 88.1 innings of relief in your first full season is a bit much. He’s improved the last three seasons in terms of lowering his ERA and walk rate.
Top Backup: Brandon Lyon
Brandon Lyon won’t see much of the eighth inning once Francisco returns, but he still might not be a terrible option to have. The former closer can be reliable at times and is coming off a bounce-back season. In 2011, he posted an 11.48 ERA in 13.1 innings of work before undergoing shoulder surgery. Last season, however, he posted a 3.10 ERA across 61 innings and looked confident on the mound.
Closer: Jonathan Papelbon
Jonathan Papelbon is one of the top closers in baseball and would be an extremely good pickup for your fantasy team. He’s saved at least 30 games in each full season he’s pitched in, which has been the last seven. He has very good command and doesn’t walk many batters, but the good part is he is one to strike out many. His ERA has topped 3.00 only once in his career. Sounds like a no-brainer.
Top Backup: Mike Adams
Over the last couple of seasons, Mike Adams has been one of the best relievers in baseball, although he’s never been a closer. He is rock-solid no matter what inning or situation he’s been put into. He’s pitched in at least 50 innings in each of the last three seasons, rarely walking batters and even more rarely allowing them to score. Just once in the four seasons has his ERA been higher than 2.00.
Closer: Rafael Soriano
In one of the more interesting moves of the offseason, the Washington Nationals decided to sign free-agent reliever Rafael Soriano. The deal was intriguing since Washington already had a great bullpen and a great closer. Soriano took over the closing duties for the New York Yankees last season after Mariano Rivera got injured. Soriano saved 42 games for the Bronx Bombers in 2012, posting a 2.26 ERA in 67.2 innings of work.
Top Backup: Drew Storen
Drew Storen was easily the biggest loser of the Soriano signing. He was the primary closer in 2011 and was forced to miss the majority of last season after undergoing elbow surgery. Washington must’ve felt that Storen wasn’t going to be the same after the surgery and that it was essential to sign someone else. Although having other options in-house, Washington brought in Soriano. Drafting Storen could be a risky move.
Closer: Carlos Marmol
Carlos Marmol is the definition of a risky draft choice. He tends to be extremely wild most of the time and doesn’t have much command. Over the course of his seven-year career, he has averaged more than six walks per nine innings. In other words, if he pitches an inning, there’s a good chance he’s going to walk someone. Although his strikeout rate is high and his ERA isn’t horrible, the walks are something to keep an eye on. They’re a deal-breaker.
Top Backup: Kyuji Fujikawa
The Chicago Cubs signed Kyuji Fujikawa over the offseason with the hope that he’d bring his international prowess to the United States and turn some heads. The right-hander is expected to pitch in the eighth inning for the Cubs, but that could change based on how well or poorly he pitches to start the season. In seven innings this spring, he’s allowed just a pair of earned runs while walking two and striking out eight.
Closer: Aroldis Chapman
One of the biggest storylines this spring was whether the Cincinnati Reds were going to have Aroldis Chapman in the starting rotation or the bullpen. After taking quite some time to decide, the Reds will have Chapman back in the coveted closer role. Chapman’s blazing fastball makes him an easy draft choice since he’ll rack up tons of strikeouts. Closing for one of the game’s best teams won’t hurt as well. He saved 38 games for the Reds in 2012.
Top Backup: Jonathan Broxton
Jonathan Broxton would’ve been the closer if Chapman was going to move to the rotation, but now that he isn’t, Broxton will be the setup man. Broxton has been a very good reliever over the course of his career, but has regressed some the last two seasons. His strikeout rate has drastically dropped and his walk rate has fluctuated. His ERA has been all over the place the last four seasons. Although usually good, Broxton isn’t a lock to pitch well.
Closer: John Axford
John Axford is one of the closers that should have a good season, but might not considering the year he put together last season. In 2010 and 2011, he pitched very well, never blowing more than three saves in no less than 27 chances. He kept his ERA low and his strikeout rate high. But last season, he blew nine saves and his ERA jumped from 1.95 to 4.67 year-to-year. What Axford will we see in 2013?
Top Backup: Jim Henderson
In his first year in the big leagues, Jim Henderson pitched pretty well for the Milwaukee Brewers. Appearing in 36 games and pitching in 30.2 innings, he struck out 45 batters, walked 13 and allowed 12 earned runs. It’s also worth mentioning that he had 14 holds last year. He’s been a little shaky this spring and we’ll soon see if he was a first-year wonder or if he’s going to be the real deal.
Closer: Jason Grilli
The Pittsburgh Pirates traded closer Joel Hanrahan over the offseason in order to give the role to Jason Grilli, the team’s setup man. Grilli was very good last season, appearing in 64 games, striking out 90 batters in 58.2 innings while walking 22. The Pirates are confident that he’ll make a smooth transition from the eighth inning. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that he has a tough time keeping the ball in the park, allowing at least a couple of home runs per year.
Top Backup: Mark Melancon
Mark Melancon was one of the pieces to come to Pittsburgh in the Hanrahan deal. The former Houston Astros closer struggled mightily in his first and only season with the Boston Red Sox. He appeared in 41 games and pitched in 45 innings for the Red Sox, posting a 6.20 ERA, by far the highest of his career. Melancon just looked lost on the mound from time to time and found himself in the minors for a chunk of the year.
Closer: Mitchell Boggs
With Jason Motte expected to miss the start of the season with a mild elbow strain, Mitchell Boggs will be the one closing games for the St. Louis Cardinals. Boggs has been a reliable arm out of the Cardinals’ bullpen the last handful of seasons and appears to have gotten better in each of the last four seasons, lowering his ERA from 4.19 to 2.21 from 2009 to 2012. What’s also important is that his walk rate has also decreased while his strikeout rate has stayed steady.
Top Backup: Trevor Rosenthal
Trevor Rosenthal was a candidate to make the team as a starting pitcher, but lost that battle to Shelby Miller and will now pitch out of the bullpen. Rosenthal is a hard-throwing right-hander who will rack up strikeouts for your team. He struck out 25 batters in 22.2 innings, which isn’t much, but he has the potential to do much more damage. He has only 19 games of big league experience, but is one of the more promising young pitchers in baseball.
Closer: J.J. Putz
J.J. Putz has had one roller coaster of a career. He once was very good for the Seattle Mariners, then he was bad for a short period of time and then over the last three seasons, he’s been very good again. In his last two seasons, both with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he’s saved a total of 77 games, blowing just nine opportunities. He’s also averaged less than two walks per nine innings since coming to Arizona, a very low rate. He’s a sleeper that will be a top closer in 2013.
Top Backup: Heath Bell
Heath Bell has been a closer the last four seasons, but now with the Diamondbacks he’ll cover the eighth-inning duties. Before last season, his only year in a Miami Marlins uniform, Bell saved at least 40 games in each of the previous three seasons with the San Diego Padres. He really struggled, however, with Miami. In 73 games and 63.2 innings, he posted a 5.09 ERA and a very high walk rate, averaging more than four walks per nine innings.
Closer: Rafael Betancourt
Despite pitching for the Colorado Rockies, Rafael Betancourt has been a very solid reliever the last three seasons. He also had some great years while with the Cleveland Indians. His first year as the regular closer in Colorado, the right-hander saved 31 games in 38 chances last season. Betancourt has watched his ERA decline in each of the last three seasons, an important note for a reliever on a poor team.
Top Backup: Matt Belisle
Somewhat surprisingly, Matt Belisle is another reliever that has had success with the Rockies. He’s had a very large workload for Colorado the last three seasons, pitching in at least 74 games and 72 innings per season. Belisle, while he might give up a couple of runs from time to time, has great command. Last year, in 80 innings of work, he allowed only 18 free passes. The former starting pitcher is an interesting late-round option.
Closer: Brandon League
Brandon League is one of the more underrated closers in baseball. He had a great 2011 campaign with the Seattle Mariners, saving 37 games, and then last season, saving 15 games combined between Seattle and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers are going to win a lot of games in 2013, so taking League should be an easy decision. But fantasy owners should keep in mind that although Los Angeles may be winning, that doesn’t necessarily mean League will get many save opportunities.
Top Backup: Kenley Jansen
Kenley Jansen was the Dodgers’ closer before they acquired League. He saved 25 games in 32 chances last year, posting a 2.35 ERA in 65 innings. He is a very good strikeout pitcher, mowing down 99 batters by way of the K in 2012. The year prior, he struck out 96 batters in just 53.2 innings. Jansen would be the closer on a lot of teams, but for now, he’s Los Angeles’ setup man.
Closer: Huston Street
Huston Street also is a good closer that there isn’t much talk about. He’s saved at least 20 games in each of the last four seasons and has established himself as a solid reliever in three different bullpens. In 40 games and 39 innings last season, he saved 23 games while blowing just one chance. The San Diego Padres had to have liked that. Street also got his ERA down to 1.85, which is the second-lowest mark of his career.
Top Backup: Luke Gregerson
Luke Gregerson is a good reliever that is going to be a star someday, but it’s rather head-scratching that he’s gotten worse the last four seasons. His value has gone down considerably, according to FanGraphs, and there isn’t much to explain why. Over the course of his career, he’s always had a fairly low walk rate and his ERA has never been higher than 3.24. His strikeout rate has fluctuated a bit, but overall, he seems like a fine reliever.
Closer: Sergio Romo
Sergio Romo is one of the more well-known names around baseball these days. That’s usually what happens when you’re the closer for the world champions. But the credit he gets is well-deserved, even though he doesn’t have crazy save totals. In fact, Romo has just 17 career saves. But what’s done it for him has been his ability to strand runners, strike out batters, keep them from drawing walks and not allow runs. He’s certainly a good draft pick if you have the opportunity to select him.
Top Backup: Santiago Casilla
While you may be inclined to take Santiago Casilla because of the team he plays for, that may be a risky move. Casilla has been very inconsistent over the course of his career and he can either be quite solid or quite shaky. He was the Giants’ closer for a bit last season, saving 25 games before handing the job over to Romo. He’s posted solid ERAs the last three years, but he has had seasons where his ERA has topped 4.00.