It's almost time for pitchers and catchers to report to their spring training cites. This means the men who each team count on to secure a win will be reporting. In the last inning in a close game, the team's manager calls on his best bullpen pitcher to come into the game and shut the door. The closers role is one of the most important roles on a baseball team. Let us countdown the Top 10.
15. Jonathan Broxton
14. Leo Nunez
13. Huston Street
12. Jose Valverde
11. Ryan Franklin
Francisco Cordero starts our countdown at No. 10. In 2010, the Cincinnati Reds’ closer collected a save in 40 of 48 opportunities. His ERA at 3.84 was a bit high, but his 59 strikeouts and 1.43 WHIP made up for it. Cordero looks to be setup by flame thrower Aroldis Chapman, who will most likely give Cordero more save opportunities in 2011.
The Reds look to be favorites in the National League Central, and Joey Votto and Scott Rolen should give Cordero everything he needs to have another successful season.
Jonathan Papelbon fills the No. 9 slot.
The right-hander from Baton Rouge recorded 37 saves in 2010. His 3.90 ERA was steep for a top 10 closer, but his 76 strikeouts, 10.2 K’s/9 innings pitched, and 1.27 WHIP made up for it. Papelbon was very inconsistent last year. He blew 8 saves and was rumored to be on the verge of losing the closing job to Daniel Bard. However, after numerous trade rumors about Papelbon, he still finds himself as the closer of the Boston Red Sox.
Boston picked up Bobby Jenks in the offseason to be Pap’s setup man. If Papelbon doesn’t produce, Boston will make the switch to Jenks immediately. But, if Papelbon pitches at his potential, he earns his spot at No. 9 and the closing job for Boston all season long.
Brad Lidge finds himself at No. 8. This right-hander saved 27 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010. His ERA was a bit high at 2.96 for a top ten closer, but expect Lidge to have an outstanding year in 2011.
Lidge struck out 52 hitters, had a 10.2 K’s/9 innings pitched, and had a WHIP of 1.23 in 2010.
In 2011, he will be even better. The Phillies have the best pitching rotation in Major League Baseball. Closing games for Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt are going to give Lidge, a two-time All-Star, a huge number of saves.
Neftali Feliz is placed at No. 7.The twenty-two year-old burned down hitters with outstanding stuff and struck out 71 batters and put up a remarkable 0.88 WHIP. He had a great looking 2.73 ERA.
The Dominican helped the Texas Rangers storm into the 2010 playoffs and all the way to the World Series. In the postseason, he pitched seven innings and allowed three hits with one run.
Look for Neftali to put up even better numbers in 2011, and beyond, as this young hurler goes further into his career.
Joe Nathan lands at No. 6.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery, Nathan missed the entire 2010 season.
In 2009, however, the hard-throwing righty shut the door on many American League teams and recorded 47 saves in 52 opportunities. He helped lead the Minnesota Twins to the postseason. That year, the three-time All-Star struck out a total of 89 hitters and held a 0.93 WHIP.
Although he missed the entirety of the 2010 season, expect Nathan to return from injury and pick up right where he left off.
The Kansas City Royal slips in at No. 5.
Joakim Soria impressed everyone around the league in 2010 by posting 43 saves, second in the American League, for a bad Kansas City team. He also shined with a great 1.78 ERA and an astounding 1.05 WHIP.
With the departure of Zach Greinke, it’s hard to say if he will be able reach as many saves as he did last season. However, Kansas City is a young team that will be able to put Soria in a fair amount of save situations.
The big man from San Diego fills the No. 4 spot.
Heath Bell signed a one-year contract with the Padres in mid-January. After a great 2010 season, Bell was inked up to make $7.5 million in 2011. He notched 47 saves in 50 opportunities last year while striking out 86. The right-hander held a 1.93 ERA and an intimidating 1.20 WHIP. He also was responsible for a high 11.1 K’s/9 innings pitched.
This two-time All-Star holds the four spot because the Padres parted ways with their best offensive player Adrian Gonzalez. Without Gonzalez, I don’t believe the Padres will win as many games as last year, limiting Heath Bell’s save opportunities.
Carlos Marmol is in charge of the No. 3 spot.
The Chicago Cubs righty possesses the league’s most electrifying arm and a deadly slider.
Last season, he led all relievers with 138 strikeouts and a 16.0 K’s/9 innings pitched. Marmol also led all other closers with 77.2 innings pitched.
Although he tends to be wild at times, he recorded 38 saves out of 42 chances in 2010 for the North Siders. Carlos Marmol is lights out. If he doesn’t get a strikeout, it’s likely an out anyway, as hitters batted .147 against him last season.
It is very promising that Marmol will increase his number of saves this year with a better Cubs offense and Kerry Wood as his set-up man. You can expect the 2008 All-Star to have more strikeouts and less walks as he fixes the problems of being wild.
World Series champion Brian Wilson holds the No. 2 spot.
Last season’s saves leader recorded 48 saves in 53 opportunities. The righty posted a 1.81 ERA while holding down a low 1.18 WHIP. Striking out 93 batters, he posted an 11.2 K’s/9 innings pitched.
Closing games for pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are going to give Wilson, a two-time All-Star, numerous saves once again. Look for Brian Wilson to have a similar successful year shutting the door in close games for the San Francisco Giants.
The No. 1 spot and the best closer in all of baseball is 41-year-old Mariano Rivera.
The New York Yankees gave the righty, with one of the best cutters in the history, $30 million for two more years of service in mid-December. After holding down a low 1.80 ERA, a 0.83 WHIP, and recording 33 saves in 2010, the contract was well deserved.
The six-time All-Star is second on the All-Time Saves List, trailing Trevor Hoffman by 42 saves. With the great offense New York has, and new Yankee Rafael Soriano taking the set-up role, it’s a major possibility of Rivera breaking the record this season.