MLB: The Ten Best Closers in Baseball
Teams around Major League Baseball are fielding their new-look rosters and pitching staffs. Whether a team comes close to winning 100 games or struggles to win 60, one of the most important roles on any team is team is the closer.
Managers turn slim leads over to their closers to put the cap on a successful day. Narrow leads are protected, and the closer is expected to shut down the opposing lineup to make the last three outs of the game. If he succeeds, the team will enjoy a win. Should he fail, he will be considered solely responsible for the loss. Talk about pressure.
Here are ten of baseball's top closers. This is a very arguable compilation, but all ten of these guys are rock solid.
10: Jose Valverde
Valverde has been a few different places in his career. He started out in Arizona where he showed flashes of good and bad. After that, Houston brought him aboard and he established himself as a respectable closer. Last season was his first season with the Tigers. Valverde used his season in Detroit to go from being a good closer to a phenomenal closer. His quirky rituals and routines on the mound provide entertainment, and the heat on his pitches strikes fear into batters. His splitter pitch is almost unhittable, and his fastball reaches the upper 90's with ease.
9: Neftali Feliz
The Texas Rangers offense will certainly be putting a lot of leads up on the board. They just need someone who can go out and protect them. Solution: Neftali Feliz. Feliz is just 22 years old, and has already shown he has the stuff to shut down major league batters. His fastball in the high 90's makes batters vulnerable to his knee-buckling curveball and changeup. His numbers last season were phenomenal (2.73 ERA with 40 saves), and there's no reason to believe that won't continue or even improve this season, as Texas will be hungry to redeem themselves after losing the championship.
8: Ryan Franklin
Ryan Franklin took a few notes from watching Brian Wilson. He's got a pretty good goatee going, something that makes him stand out among other pitchers. He also has a great set of pitches. Franklin took over St. Louis's closing job in '08, and has posted very good numbers since (his best season being '09). The only thing to Franklin's disadvantage is a spotty defense to back him. Rasmus's defense is suspect, and Lance Berkman is a liability. Holliday plays decent defense, but this combination of outfielders could be quite better playing behind Franklin. Regardless, Ryan still goes out and gets the job done efficiently.
7: Francisco Rodriguez
K-Rod hit that coveted 60 save mark in 2008 with the Angels. His transition to the Mets hasn't been quite that dominant, but he has still shown he has a great arm. He still shows us why his nickname is K-Rod with his 10.5 K/9 inning average, and hitters know who this guy is when they step into the box late in the game. His off the field issues have been well documented, but so far that has not translated into changing his performance on the mound.
6: Heath Bell
260 lbs. makes for a large frame. Heath Bell translates size into success when he takes the mound. He put up a 1.93 ERA and saved 42 games for San Diego last year, and did so with confidence. Moving forward, he will look to bring down his WHIP a little bit, and continue to provide a stable arm at the back end of the bullpen for a roster that took some offensive hits this off-season (no pun intended).
5: Jonathon Papelbon
Most closers try to intimidate hitters by using different types of tactics. Papelbon doesn't need tactics, his stature says it all. At 6'4" and 225 lbs., Jonathon Papelbon looks like a power pitcher. That's exactly what he is. His fastball hits the mid-high 90's, and he changes it up on hitters with a tough splitter and slider. Combine that with the fact that hitters face the intimidation of the Green Monster, and hitting off of this guy in Fenway really gets into batters' heads. Papelbon will be called on again to close games for Boston this season, and he will do so reliably.
4: Mariano Rivera
At age 41, it seems like there's no way Rivera could have gas left in the tank. But, he sure does. He has posted a remarkable ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP under 1.00 the last three seasons, and if there was ever a formula for successful pitching, that is certainly it. The most fascinating thing about Rivera's age is that he still relies on the fastball to get his outs. Also impressive is the fact that Riviera faces batters at home in perhaps the most hitter friendly ballpark in the league. Yankee Stadium is known for its cheap right field home runs, which puts even more pressure on the pitching. That doesn't bother Mariano, and that's why he is still a rock solid closer in this league.
3: Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson has received a lot of attention the past few months. This is mainly due to two reasons: his shutdown pitching against a potent Texas offense in the World Series and his beard. The more impressive of these two is his beard. It's hard to imagine being a batter and knowing that this guy not only throws dominant pitches, but also has probably the greatest beard that any man has ever grown. There should be a rule that he has to shave it or something. On a more serious note, Wilson can come off of his All Star season and excellent post-season and use that to push himself even harder toward more success in his career (he is only 29). He is a valuable part of an excellent Giants pitching staff.
2: Andrew Bailey
Andrew Bailey is a great example of someone who would get ten times more coverage and hype if he were on a different team. Bailey's heroics have hidden behind the mediocrity of the Athletics ball club the past few seasons, but there's no doubt that this guy is one of the premier closers in baseball. Last year, he pitched in 47 games (49.0 innings) and posted an ERA of just 1.47. His WHIP was just .959 and he saved 25 games. The A's have a very promising young nucleus of pitching heading into the future, and Bailey is the exclamation point on that talent. He combines effective use of the fastball with a solid curve, and stands tall on the mound at 6'3" and 240 lbs. The scariest part? He's only 26.
1: Joakim Soria
Joakim Soria defies the laws of closers around baseball. When you think closers, you think guys with blazing fastballs and power stuff. Soria gets the job done better than any with a very balanced arsenal of pitches. He uses the curveball, slider, and changeup to punch out batters, and his fastball averages around 90 mph. Don't let the low velocity fool you, Soria locates his pitches with the best of them, and that's ultimately what makes him effective. Still having a hard time buying him? Consider this. He posted a 1.78 ERA in 65.2 innings last year, and posted 40 saves. 40 Saves? With the Royals? Just imagine if this guy played on a contending club. Who knows? Maybe this could be Kansas City's year. If it is, a large part will be because of this guy.