With less than three weeks till Opening Day (I don't count the night game before), Major League Baseball is almost here. So is your fantasy baseball draft. No better time than now to start preparing for it.
Here are my mid-spring training rankings for the closer position.
Please Note: Stats are listed as: Wins, ERA, Saves/Opportunities, Strikeouts, WHIP and IP for the 2010 season. The player’s age at the start of the 2011 season is next to his team’s name.
No. 1) Mariano Rivera - New York Yankees (41)
2010: 3 - 1.80 - 33/38 - 45 - 0.83 - 60.0
Even at 41 years old, Rivera takes the top spot for fantasy baseball closers. While Rivera doesn’t have the high strikeout totals anymore, his ERA and WHIP continue to be at the top of the rankings. Rafael Soriano might get some save chances during the season, but nothing should discourage you from drafting Rivera for your fantasy team.
No. 2) Brian Wilson - San Francisco Giants (29)
2010: 3 - 1.81 - 48/53 - 93 - 1.18 - 74.2
The closer of the World Series Champions had an exceptional year in ’10. Over a three-year period, Wilson’s strikeouts have gone up while his ERA and WHIP have gone down. Wilson has also averaged 42 saves the last three seasons and stands to get a lot of save opportunities for a Giants team that plays in many low scoring games.
No. 3) Heath Bell - San Diego Padres (33)
2010: 6 - 1.93 - 47/50 - 86 - 1.20 - 70.0
Since taking over as closer of the Padres after Trevor Hoffman left, Bell has solidified himself as one of the best closers in fantasy baseball. Going into the final year of his contract would normally raise his value, but San Diego might trade him to shed salary and get young players in return. So there is a chance that he could get traded to a team that already has an established closer, and Bell would then lose save opportunities.
No. 4) Joakim Soria - Kansas City Royals (26)
2010: 1 - 1.78 - 43/46 - 71 - 1.05 - 65.2
Having a closer from a team towards the bottom of the standings can be a plus in fantasy baseball. The games those teams win are usually close. Soria has been dominant closing games for the Royals the last three seasons, and at 26 years old, is entering his prime years. He is worth a top draft pick.
No. 5) Neftali Feliz - Texas Rangers (22)
2010: 4 - 2.73 - 40/43 - 71 - 0.88 - 69.1
Feliz grabbed the closer role for the Rangers last season and helped them reach the World Series. The reigning 2010 AL Rookie of the Year was so dominate as a closer that Texas may use him as a Starter in ‘11 to help make up for the loss of Cliff Lee to the Phillies. Becoming a starting pitcher would be the only way Feliz gets knocked off the Top 10 closers list. If he stays on as the closer, his WHIP and high strikeout rate make him worth being one of the top RPs drafted in fantasy leagues.
No. 6) Carlos Marmol - Chicago Cubs (28)
2010: 2 - 2.55 - 38/43 - 138 - 1.18 - 77.2
Marmol signed a three-year, $20 million contract extension last week. His 15.99 strikeouts per nine innings in ’10 set a major league record. While I try and avoid drafting any player to my fantasy team that just signed a big contract in the offseason, Marmol’s strikeout totals comparable to that of a starting pitcher make him too good to pass on.
No. 7) Jonathan Papelbon - Boston Red Sox (30)
2010: 5 - 3.90 - 37/45 - 76 - 1.27 - 67.0
Going into the final year of his contract and being rumored in multiple trades over the offseason should give Papelbon plenty of motivation heading into this season. Papelbon has been one of the top fantasy closers in baseball the last few years, and even though he had a down year for his standards last season, he is definitely worth drafting especially if you can get him in the later rounds.
No. 8) John Axford - Milwaukee Brewers (28)
2010: 8 - 2.48 - 24/27 - 76 - 1.19 - 58.0
After replacing Trevor Hoffman as the Brewers' full-time closer during the season last year, Axford showed himself to be one of the top RPs in fantasy baseball. He was also one of the best fantasy waiver wire pickups of the entire season, but he will get drafted this year and is worth a look as your No. 1 fantasy closer. With the additions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee is going for it this year and should provide Axford with plenty of save opportunities.
No. 9) Andrew Bailey - Oakland Athletics (26)
2010: 1 - 1.47 - 25/28 - 42 - 0.96 - 49.0
Although Bailey missed time on the DL last season, he still wound up with impressive numbers. His ERA and WHIP are the fantasy statistics that really stand out, and he plays his home games in a great pitchers park. All of it is based on if he can get healthy for the start of the regular season. He just started pitching in spring games. The Athletics are a pitching first team and should be involved in close games, making a healthy Bailey a solid fantasy closer selection.
No. 10) Craig Kimbrel - Atlanta Braves (22)
2010: 4 - 0.44 - 1/1 - 40 - 1.21 - 20.2
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez suggested that Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters might share closing duties this season. That thinking may not last for long as Kimbrel showed he is capable of dominating hitters in the short time he was in the majors last season. Kimbrel struck out 40 batters in just 20-and-two-thirds innings last season with a 0.44 ERA. If he gets the opportunity to close games for Atlanta, Kimbrel has a chance to wind up as one of the top closers in fantasy baseball.
Jonathan Broxton - Los Angles Dodgers (26)
2010: 5 - 4.04 - 22/29 - 73 - 1.48 - 62.1
Huston Street - Colorado Rockies (27)
2010: 4 - 3.61 - 20/25 - 45 - 1.06 - 47.1
Brad Lidge - Philadelphia Phillies (34)
2010: 1 - 2.96 - 27/32 - 52 - 1.23 - 45.2
Matt Thornton - Chicago White Sox (34)
2010: 5 - 2.67 - 8/10 - 81 - 1.01 - 60.2
Chris Perez - Cleveland Indians (25)
2010: 2 - 1.71 - 23/27 - 61 - 1.08 - 63.0
Jose Valverde - Detroit Tigers (33)
2010: 2 - 3.00 - 26/29 - 63 - 1.16 - 63.0
Francisco Cordero - Cincinnati Reds (35)
2010: 6 - 3.84 - 40/48 - 59 - 1.43 - 72.2