MLB Closer Tier Rankings

Bryan CurleyCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2010

NEW YORK - JULY 24:  Billy Wagner #13 of the New York Mets pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies on July 24, 2008 at Shea Stadium in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Phillies 3-1.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Don’t pay for saves.

Now that I got that out of the way, we can turn our attention to the relievers.

Amazingly, there are a lot of relatively stable bullpen situations across the league. Houston and Pittsburgh are the only teams that don’t have a clear-cut closer, although there are other teams with guys on shorter leashes and a few teams with setup men waiting in the wings.

This stability makes my opening line even truer this year. I understand the value of having a top-tier closer with a minuscule ERA and WHIP and impressive strikeout numbers, but all I really care about are the saves (as long as it’s not the 2010 version of Brad Lidge).

So what if our top tier in 2010 averaged a 2.11 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 38 saves last season? The third tier (excluding Billy Wagner, who missed most of the season) averaged a 3.67 ERA, 66 strikeouts and 34 saves last year, and that includes Lidge! Take his record-breaking season out and you’re looking at a 2.89 ERA, 63 strikeouts and 35 saves.

Hmm. Tier Three closers averaged just four fewer saves and an ERA under 3.00 last year, and they are available as late as the 17th round?

You can look me in the eyes and take Jonathan Papelbon with your seventh round pick. I’ll take Shane Victorino, Chris Carpenter or Bobby Abreu and smile right back.

You can also check out the rest of our color-coded rankings .

Tier One

Jonathan Broxton (LAD), Mariano Rivera (NYY), Joe Nathan (MIN), Jonathan Papelbon (BOS), Joakim Soria (KC)

It doesn’t really mean anything, but four of the five projected closers whose names begin with “J” are in Tier One. Just sayin’. Anyway, all of these guys are elite in every category, but no one strikes batters out like Jonathan Broxton .

In the last seven years, Mariano Rivera has only once had an ERA higher than 1.94. How does that happen?!

Joe Nathan finished second in saves last year (47) despite an astronomical 2.10 ERA. Well, astronomical for him I guess.

Red Sox fans freaked out about Papelbon’s control last year, but his WHIP was still just 1.15. It has risen steadily for three straight years, though.

If only Joakim Soria played for a better team. Is there a more elite player that fewer people know about?

Tier Two

Andrew Bailey (OAK), Heath Bell (SD), Francisco Rodriguez (NYM), Brian Wilson (SF), Rafael Soriano (TB), Jose Valverde (DET)

Andrew Bailey looked like a Tier One guy last year despite being a starter until midway through 2008.

Heath Bell made Padres fans say, “Trevor who?”

The ERA was higher than you’d like, but don’t forget Francisco Rodriguez ’s 62-save season just two years ago.

One of last year’s nicest surprises at closer, Brian Wilson lowered his ERA nearly two points to 2.74 while striking out 83 batters and collecting 38 saves.

Rafael Soriano ’s walk totals are high, but he’s only once had a K/9 lower than10.4 in six full Major League seasons.

Jose Valverde only logged 16.1 innings through June 30, but then he saved 19 games in the season’s final three months.

Tier Three

Carlos Marmol (CHC), Huston Street (COL), Francisco Cordero (CIN), Trevor Hoffman (MIL), Billy Wagner (ATL), Brad Lidge (PHI), Brian Fuentes (LAA)

Carlos Marmol never wrestled Chicago’s closer role from Kevin Gregg , but Gregg is now north of the border. Marmol might have more upside than anyone on this list considering he struck out 114 batters in 2008 and has a K/9 of 11.9 over the last three seasons.

Huston Street ’s amazing 2009 put Manny Corpas in the closer coffin to start 2010.

Francisco Cordero walks too many people and his K/9 has dropped over the last three seasons, but he’s still getting 35-40 saves with a low ERA.

If you thought Trevor Hoffman was done, think again. His 1.83 ERA and 0.91 WHIP were his lowest since 1998.

Wagner was sensational over the 15.2 innings he pitched last season after returning from injury, striking out 26 batters (14.9 K/9). In case you were wondering, his average fastball was 94.2 MPH compared to the 94.6 MPH heat he was throwing in ‘07-’08 when he had a 2.42 ERA.

At least you can get Lidge when his value is lowest.

Brian Fuentes led the league in saves (48) despite a 3.93 ERA. There’s something about the Angels and saves.

Tier Four

Ryan Franklin (STL), Mike Gonzalez (BAL), David Aardsma (SEA), Frank Francisco (TEX), Chad Qualls (ARI), Bobby Jenks (CHW), Kerry Wood (CLE)

Ryan Franklin might have recorded 38 saves, but I can’t stomach the 6.5 K/9 from a closer.

Had Mike Gonzalez gone to Tampa Bay and not his former teammate, Soriano, he might be higher on this list. Still, he’s really good.

Brandon Morrow was supposed to be the closer for the Seattle Mariners. Thanks to David Aardsma , he’s now in Toronto.

Frank Francisco ’s ERAs are a little high, but so are his strikeout rates.

Chad Qualls is the NL version of Francisco without the high strikeout rate or the sorry-looking mugshot .

Bobby Jenks saw his ERA rise to 3.71 and his saves drop to 29, but he got his strikeouts back.

Kerry Wood got pretty erratic in 2009 with a BB/9 of 4.6, and Cleveland is just a bad team.

Tier Five

Leo Nunez (FLA), Matt Capps (WAS), Kevin Gregg (TOR), Scott Downs (TOR), Brandon Lyon (HOU)

Leo Nunez has been solid, and even ranked 26th he still has the job to himself.

Matt Capps was just awful last year, but the Nationals don’t have any other options. 

Gregg was brought in to be the closer, but Scott Downs held down the fort for a period of time last year. Brandon Lyon will be battling Matt Lindstrom for Houston’s closer job, presumably for most of 2010.

For your daily fantasy baseball fix, check out Baseball Professor .


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