"Don't pay for saves."
I'm sure that's a mantra that most, if not all, fantasy baseball players have heard when it comes to drafting closers. The standard logic behind that belief is solid. The early rounds are always used for building the foundation of your offense and choosing stud starting pitchers to help you in wins and strikeouts.
Closers are good for bolstering ERA and WHIP in small doses as well as being your only source of saves. So many closers come into the league on the waiver wire due to injuries and failed attempts, its usually not smart taking closers in the first eight to nine rounds in drafts.
The problem with that logic is that it doesn't take into account closers that are available a round or two after average. If Mariano Rivera, who typically goes in the late eighth round, is available in the ninth and 10th rounds, he is much more valuable than normal and is worth taking because of the added value.
This concept applies even better with auction drafts where closers are one of the last positions drafted, leaving less money available to spend on them. If Jonathan Papelbon is typically worth $10, he is much more valuable if he can be acquired for $7 late in the auction. The extra $3 is money that can be used to pick up a player like Craig Kimbrel or Brad Lidge. The money you save by pouncing on undervalued closers has a compounding effect on the rest of your team, allowing you to pick up better players than normal later in the draft.
Let's go ahead and move on to my preseason rankings. For the preseason edition, I've included Average Draft Position (ADP) and Average Auction Value (AAV) next to each player. These values come from ESPN.com's Live Draft Results page from Friday, March 25th.
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1) Mariano Rivera (76.0, $12.0)
2) Heath Bell (77.0, $11.6)
3) Joakim Soria (85.5, $10.8)
4) Brian Wilson (65.7, $13.9)
Above is the consensus top four on most websites (they are also my top four for the year, although I've got them in a slightly different order). I put Rivera as the No. 1 closer starting the year as a result of his amazing consistency over the years and the 1.80 ERA/0.83 WHIP combo he put up throughout last year.
Bell's ADP and AAV are basically identical to Rivera's and he could easily be considered No. 1A to Rivera's No. 1. Bell's 1.20 WHIP last year led me to give the very slight edge to Rivera.
As good of a closer Soria is, I worry about the Royal's offense and their ability to get leads for him to close out. The lesser number of opportunities put him at No. 3.
Wilson would be ahead of all of them for me, if not for the news that he may miss time at the beginning of the year with a mild oblique strain. Sergio Romo will likely be the guy if Wilson does miss time, and may be worth a late round pick if you choose to take Wilson.
5) Carlos Marmol (94.2, $9.8)
6) Jonathan Papelbon (98.8, $9.4)
7) Francisco Rodriguez (111.1, $8.0)
All three of these guys are well established as closers and have plenty of leash in case of early struggles. They also put up sub-1.20 WHIP numbers last year and are projected for sub-3.25 ERA and sub-1.25 WHIP this year.
I put Marmol at the top of this tier because of his crazy high K/9 rate the last couple years. Papelbon then goes ahead of Rodriguez because of the quality of defense behind Papelbon and the advantage of having the Red Sox offense giving him more opportunities.
A Little Shaky
8) Joe Nathan (120.3, $5.5)
9) Neftali Feliz (94.9, $10.8)
10) J.J. Putz (137.7, $6.1)
11) Huston Street (147.8, $5.0)
12) Chris Perez (151.0, $4.9)
As we go further down this list, the rankings are more about values and less about who is the better pitcher, leading me to place Joe Nathan at the top of this group. Nathan is coming off an injury that had him sit out the vast majority of last year, leaving his previous owners gun shy on drafting him again this year. Going in the 13th round or for about $5, he's the best value of all the closers in this group and could easily be a top five closer this year.
I moved Neftali Feliz down to nine after all the talk of him entering the starting rotation making him a high risk pitcher, either as a starter or a closer. I will be staying away from him until his role is figured out.
Putz is returning to the closer role in his first year with the Diamondbacks, a role that he was successful in with Seattle in 2006 and 2007. Those two years he had 76 saves in 150 innings pitched with 186 strikeouts, a 1.80 ERA, and 0.80 WHIP. If he's even close to those numbers this year, he will clearly be a top 10 closer and be a very nice pickup in the 14th round or for $6.
Huston Street has a long leash in Colorado and will get you a good number of saves as well as decent ERA and WHIP numbers. His ERA was a little high last year at 3.61, but if he can come in anywhere below there, he won't hurt your team ERA.
Chris Perez gave up just two earned runs in 32 innings pitched over the final three months of the season and has the full year to close. It's hard to imagine him keeping up that torrid pace, but anything close will still be a very successful year.
13) Jonathan Broxton (120.3, $7.2)
14) John Axford (151.6, $5.0)
15) Andrew Bailey (157.9, $5.7)
16) Ryan Franklin (174.6, $3.0)
Each player in this group has a specific concern that could hinder his success.
Broxton last year had high ERA and WHIP numbers (4.04/1.48) and a noticeable decline in strikeouts and saves. If you can get him at $5 or less late in a draft, go ahead and take him; otherwise, he's a stay away for me.
This will be John Axford's first full year of closing for the Brewers and his nerves could get the best of him. His 2.48 ERA last year will almost surely rise in full time work at the closer spot.
Andrew Bailey's spring has been plagued with news of an oblique injury and may miss opening day. He's not a high strikeout guy, but had great ERA and WHIP numbers last year. If he misses time, Brian Fuentes will likely be the guy and a good source of early cheap saves.
Ryan Franklin is the king of the ugly save but he gets the job done. The defense behind him does a lot of the work, but he does a good job keeping hitters off-balance.
17) Matt Thornton (170.9, $3.4)
18) Jose Valverde (156.6, $4.1)
19) Brad Lidge (170.7, $3.5)
Matt Thornton has been named the closer to start the year for the White Sox over Chris Sale. The 34-year-old southpaw has posted sub-2.75 ERAs and sub-1.10 WHIPs the last three years and has great upside this year in his first year as a closer.
Jose Valverde had 26 saves in just 29 save opportunities and has shown the skill set to close 40+ games in a season. If the Tigers offense can give him more opportunities, his saves should surely rise from the mid-20s the last two years to the mid-30s or even better.
Two years ago, Brad Lidge had an atrocious 7.21 ERA and blew 11 saves, but managed to bounce back last year with a better ERA and WHIP but less saves. The saves should go up quite a bit with the Phillies' stud rotation and hopefully the ERA and WHIP will stay low.
In Case of Emergency
20) Drew Storen (184.8, $3.3)
21) Francisco Cordero (153.8, $3.9)
22) Leo Nunez (207.4, $2.0)
23) Brandon Lyon (212.0, $1.6)
24) Kevin Gregg (215.2, $1.6)
Drew Storen has the most upside of anyone on this list, but the Nationals say they will go with closer-by-committee to start the year and Storen has not thrown well in spring training.
Francisco Cordero has Aroldis Chapman waiting in case he were to have a bad stretch and his high ERA and WHIP numbers don't help his cause.
Leo Nunez is the closer in Florida due to total lack of opposition in the bullpen; he's fine for a couple bucks at the end of the draft.
Brandon Lyon has yet to prove he can close on a consistent basis and put up good numbers.
Kevin Gregg saved 37 games last year despite a high 1.39 WHIP and is a career 4.03 ERA pitcher.
All of these guys are okay for a couple bucks, but don't be afraid to dump them when someone better emerges elsewhere.
Other Situations To Watch
- Craig Kimbrel/Jonny Venters
- Jake McGee/Kyle Farnsworth
- Brandon League/David Aardsma
- Fernando Rodney/Jordan Walden
- Joel Hanrahan/Evan Meek
- Frank Francisco/Jon Rauch
Who do you think the #1 fantasy closer is in 2011?
Written by Jim Dingeman exclusively for www.thefantasyfix.com
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