With the trade deadline behind us and dog days of August upon us, fantasy baseball owners are either making their way towards bragging rights for next season, or making their way towards the local landfill (Hey, it happens to best of us!).
Whether you spent a fourth round pick on an elite closer, or waited to piece together your closing committee, let’s take a look at how the relief pitchers will finish out the rest of the season.
If you “mixed and matched” your relief corps this season hoping for saves here and there, it’s important to also mix in guys with high strikeout totals and low walk rates (as it is with most pitchers). In previous seasons, I've done just a "straight" ranking by position, as opposed to a "tiering" system, but have recently found that the tiering system will help you to better distinguish the difference between a tier-one player and a Tier-two player, ultimately leading to better value.
Mariano Rivera - New York Yankees
Heath Bell - San Diego Padres
Jonathan Papelbon - Boston Red Sox
These top relievers are the same pitchers season after season who continue to be worth every penny for owners who draft them early. Rivera may pitch until he’s 100 years old, but is still the best in the game. Having Kerry Wood help deliver a lead to Mo in the ninth makes him even better.
Although Bell is involved in trade rumors every season, he continues to be the backbone of a strong bullpen in San Diego, as they push towards a division title.
Don’t be freaked out by Papelbon being placed on waivers earlier this week, as most players are during this time of the year. “Cinco Ocho” hasn’t posted the strikeout numbers we’ve all wanted in 2010, but he’s still racking up the save numbers and has been one of the top closers over the past four seasons.
Jonathan Broxton - Los Angeles Dodgers
Brian Wilson - San Francisco Giants
Carlos Marmol - Chicago Cubs
Joakim Soria - Kansas City Royals
Billy Wagner - Atlanta Braves
Jose Valverde - Detroit Tigers
Neftali Feliz - Texas Rangers
Rafeal Soriano - Tampa Bay Rays
The tier-two guys contain a mixture of all reliable closers who have job security.
Broxton is certainly capable of cracking the tier-one group. After posting a disastrous month of July, his value is down right now. Since the All Star break, Broxton has posted an ERA of 9.00 and has only struck out 4.5 batters per nine innings (K/9 ratio). The recent poor results make you wonder if the big guy is dealing with some type of injury. The Dodgers brought in Octavio Dotel during the trade deadline, but he won’t pose a threat to Broxton unless he goes down with an injury. Dotel was just brought in because of Dodgers’ manager Joe Torre’s love affair with ex-Yankee players.
Wilson dealt with some small back issues in the beginning of August, but appears to be fine and still remains an undervalued closer.
The only bright spot with the Chicago Cubs this season is Marlon Byrd’s defense and the strikeouts from Carlos Marmol (16.8 K/9 this season!).
Injuries were the concern with Wagner this offseason for fantasy owners, but those who took a gamble on the left-hander during the late rounds have certainly been rewarded. Wagner and the rest of the Braves’ bullpen have lifted Atlanta into a division lead showing the Phillies that not everything revolves around offense.
Soriano leads the American League in saves with 31 and is also posting a 0.89 WHIP this season. He doesn’t have high strikeout totals like the rest of this group (36 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings), but doesn’t walk many hitters and has only surrendered three home runs.
Things just keep getting better for the Texas Rangers and Feliz this season. The lights-out fireballer has taken the closer’s role and ran with it, striking out everyone in his way. Feliz’s ERA at home is a high 5.06 this season (thanks to the Ballpark in Arlington) but on the road, Feliz has posted a 1.45 ERA and currently sits in third place in the American League with 29 saves.
Francisco Rodriguez- New York Mets
Leo Nunez - Florida Marlins
Matt Capps - Minnesota Twins
Huston Street - Colorado Rockies
Andrew Bailey - Oakland Athletics
The original “K-Rod” has bounced back nicely this season during his second year with the New York Mets. He’s posting better numbers across all categories this season, and could climb into the tier-two section during the final month of play. The fantasy value for Rodriguez has slipped over the past two seasons due to the inability of the Mets to produce save opportunities.
With questions around Nunez’s job security earlier this season, he’s proved that he’s the man down in Miami. Nunez has allowed just one home run and walked 11 batters over 44 1/3 innings this season. With 26 saves already in the books this year, Nunez has matched his career high in saves (26 with the Marlins in 2009).
The Minnesota Twins felt that Jon Rauch was not capable of closing games this season and went out and acquired Capps during the trade deadline. Capps has bounced back this season after an unlucky 2009 in Pittsburgh. Capps is an above-average reliever who posts low strikeout totals (7.4 K/9) and has spent time closing against subpar National League hitters to this point. The move to the American League will truly be a test for Capps, as the NL East doesn’t have Miguel Cabrera types.
Street and Bailey, when healthy, are reliable arms during the ninth inning, but both pitchers have struggled with the injury-bug this season. With not many reliable closing options on their teams, both will continue to see save opportunities.
Brian Fuentes - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Ryan Franklin - St. Louis Cardinals
Bobby Jenks - Chicago White Sox
Francisco Cordero - Cincinnati Reds
Brad Lidge - Philadelphia Phillies
Matt Lindstrom - Houston Astros
Fuentes and the Angels are fading fast in the American League West standings. Fuentes will continue to close in the ninth, but doesn’t post “wow” numbers. He posted better numbers during the month of July (1.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP) but continues to have the tendency to give up too many walks and home runs.
Prior to the 2010 season, I warned fantasy owners about Franklin. He uses the magical illusion of smoke and mirrors to deceive fantasy owners into thinking he is a top closer when in fact, he’s not. Franklin has a 25/6 K/BB rate over 42 2/3 innings and left-handed hitters have a stat line of .303/.333/.515 against him this season, making him avoidable. Manager Tony LaRussa is also known for riding the hot hand and playing the matchups. If Franklin fades down the stretch, so could his save opportunities.
Lidge this season has been inconsistent, but with the Phillies are really left with no other options during the ninth inning, so look for Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel to stick with Lidge.
David Aardsma - Seattle Mariners
Chris Perez - Cleveland Indians
Kevin Gregg - Toronto Blue Jays
John Axford - Milwaukee Brewers
Joel Hanrahan - Pittsburgh Pirates
Drew Storen - Washington Nationals
Alfredo Simon - Baltimore Orioles
Aaron Heilman - Arizona Diamondbacks
Aardsma - see above under Ryan Franklin. Aarsdma has blown four saves this season and has also walked 16 batters over 34 1/3 innings. With the chances of the Mariners actually having a lead during the ninth inning slim, Aardsma has little fantasy appeal.
Perez finally ends up where he belongs - pitching in the ninth and closing out games. Too bad it’s for the Cleveland Indians. With Wood leaving via a trade, Perez controls his own destiny and is a viable fantasy option for cheap saves the rest of the season.
Prior to Hoffman imploding back in May, most knew little or nothing about Axford. With little bullpen relief on the Brewers, Axford was given the job and hasn’t looked back since. Yes, Axford has the unknown factor surrounding his name, but with a sweet mustache and a 10.8 K/9 ratio this season, he’s a reliable bottom tier closer.
With Dotel leaving for Los Angeles, Hanrahan takes over the closer duties for the Bucs. It was a toss up for the ninth inning job between Hanrahan and All-Star Meek, but with Hanrahan owning more ninth inning experience, the Pirates will roll the dice with him. Hanrahan will have the same value as Dotel did when he was closing games for Pittsburgh, but fantasy owners shouldn’t be afraid to own either Meek or Hanrahan.
The Storen era is officially set to begin in Washington. The Nationals have stated that they will use a closer committee role the rest of the season with Storen, Tyler Clippard, and Sean Burnett, but Storen is your guy long term. Clippard posted horrible July numbers with a 7.90 ERA during 12 appearances. Clippard has already logged over 62 innings this season which is a career high for him, so fatigue could be playing a factor. Burnett, a former first round pick for the Pirates, is holding right-handed hitters to just a .174/.245/.209 stat line over 86 at-bats this season, while lefties are hitting .302/.371/.476 over 63 at-bats. Oh year, Burnett has a career 6.71 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP from the month of August until the end of the season. Take in this order: Storen, Clippard, and Burnett.
Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter didn’t fool around with the bullpen during his fist game on Tuesday evening. Mike Gonzalez recorded the first two outs during the ninth before being replaced by Simon, who recorded the final out for the save. With the Orioles having nothing to lose by trotting Simon out there, the whole closing situation in Baltimore is a toss-up. Gonzalez wants to pitch in the ninth inning badly and appears to have regained the velocity on his fastball which has been missing all season, so anything can happen. Be warned.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are in shambles this season, and the bullpen isn’t exempt from the mess. In one of my earlier pieces, I wrote that Gutierrez was the favorite to earn save opportunities for Arizona given the recent failures of Chad Qualls and Aaron Heilman. With Qualls leaving for sunny Florida, D-backs’ manager Kirk Gibson was still reluctant to name a closer. With Gutierrez hitting the disabled-list with a right shoulder injury, it’s Heilman’s turn on the carousel. I also like rookie Sam Demel as a potential replacement for Gutierrez, as he’s posted 21/5 K/BB over 20 1/3 innings.
- All statistical data provided via Baseball-Reference.com
Reggie Yinger is the Senior Editor at Baseball Press and his writing has appeared in a men's national magazine publication. He also contributes exclusive writings to The Fantasy Fix. You can contact him at
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