2012 was the most tumultuous for closers that I can ever remember. There were so many changes and injuries to the back end of team’s bullpens that at some point you just couldn’t keep track anymore. Anaheim, Oakland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Toronto were just a few cities that fantasy players were watching on a daily basis to see who was closing out games. Here’s to hoping that 2013 is a much better year for consistency with closers, but if history is any indication, there will be six to eight teams at a minimum that will experience some sort of uncertainty at the position. Do you reach early? Do you wait until late? Everyone has their own strategy when it comes to closers, but here’s how I think it will shake out this coming season.
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1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
3-1, 1.01 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 116 Ks, 42 saves, 3 blown saves
It has been an absolute reign of terror in the ninth inning in Atlanta the last two years since Kimbrel has come to the majors. 88 saves, 11 wins, 283 strikeouts in just 160 innings. He allowed just seven earned runs in over 60 innings last season. His rookie season his owners worried about Johnny Venters taking some chances, but between Kimbrel’s dominance and Venter’s struggles in 2012, those days are long gone. There is no doubt who the man is for the Braves, not to mention the best closer in baseball. It isn’t even close folks, Kimbrel is the best in the business right now, and he’s only 24.
2. Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
2-1, 2.26 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 69 Ks, 42 saves, 4 blown saves
I was sure that Drew Storen was all ready to pitch the ninth again for the Nationals, but then they went and signed Soriano and immediately stamped him as their stopper. Soriano had an awesome season as he took over the closer’s role when Mariano Rivera was just a heap on the Royals’ warning track and never looked back. He goes to the National League and one of the best teams in the league to boot, what’s not to like? He might be old but there should be no problem for him to do it again for Washington.
3. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
1-2, 1.91 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 60 Ks, 44 saves, 5 blown saves (2011)
Am I crazy to rate a 43 year old coming off of a blown out knee this high? But it’s Mariano. Hey, I’m the furthest thing from a Yankee fan, but you just can’t argue this guy’s career. And whether this is his swan song or if it is just a return from a nasty injury, he is going to want to show he still has it. His team won’t be as dominant, but he will continue to throw that one pitch that no matter how much hitters know it is coming, they still can’t hit it. I’m going to go with this guy until I see he can’t do it anymore.
4. Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
4-5, 2.75 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 86 Ks, 42 saves, 7 blown saves
He may have blown seven saves, but Motte was a dominant closer for the first time in his career, and he will enter 2013 as the no doubt closer for the Cards. This guy throws absolute gas. GAS! He tied for the National League lead in saves as well, and there’s no reason to think that St. Louis won’t at least challenge for the NL Central crown again. Surprisingly, he will turn 31 years old in June, but Motte seems to just be entering his best years. I would like to see him throw a bit more of a variety of pitches and maybe keep his emotions in check, but I guess that’s what makes a closer successful. Come out for one inning and throw your ass off! And Motte is one of the best ass throwers in baseball. Draft him early among closers and you will be happy you did.
5. Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
2-1, 2.49 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 41 Ks, 51 saves, 3 blown saves
He isn’t your prototypical closer. He doesn’t throw overly hard, he doesn’t strikeout a lot, and he’s approaching 30 years old. But it was Jim Johnson who led the major leagues in saves in 2012 as he took the Baltimore Orioles to an improbable run to the postseason. Johnson had never really closed for any stretch of time before last season, so even though he saved 50+ games, I’m not sure you can just necessarily say he will do it again. I will rank him pretty high, but I am not 100% sold on him, but given the state of the position in the last year and a half, who the hell knows what will happen. Baltimore doesn’t have an obvious next in line, so figure Johnson will do it again, just not as well.
6. Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
5-6, 2.44 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 92 Ks, 38 saves, 4 blown saves
People have been writing Papelbon off ever since 2010 when his ERA was near 4.00 and he blew eight saves. Granted he is getting up there a little in age, but ever since that “off” season, he has been back and throwing gas again. I know that Philadelphia was off last season and very well could be off again this season, but Papelbon doesn’t let too many chances go to waste, and he is still near 100 strikeouts in a season. I believe that he will again be very successful in 2013 and he seems to get overlooked, so when the cream of the crop goes off the board, he will be sitting there to drop in your lap.
7. Huston Street, San Diego Padres
2-1, 1.85 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 47 Ks, 23 saves, 1 blown save
Street is one of the more frustrating players in all of fantasy baseball. When he is on the mound he is absolutely lights out. Almost every time. But his problem has always been staying on the mound. He has never been one of my favorite closers since his days back in Oakland, but he definitely has his place at the back of the Padres bullpen. I never like to worry about health with a closer, there are too many other things to worry about. Street is great if you can take the ups and downs, it’s just not my way, I’d let someone else draft him.
8. Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
2-2, 0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 76 Ks, 48 saves, 2 blown saves
I spent most of last season trashing Fernando Rodney and assuring fantasy players that he couldn’t keep up the pace that he had set most of the season. Well, I’m man enough to tell you when I am wrong, and I was dead wrong on this guy last year. Earlier in his career he would always let a hit or a walk or an error ruin an outing. But none of that happened last season and he proved to be one of, or perhaps the best efficient closer in baseball last season. The Rays will certainly compete for the AL East crown again, and Rodney should again have a heck of a chance to save 40 games again. I don’t see that he could possibly have an ERA and WHIP under 1.00 again, but he should be among the league’s best.
9. Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
4-2, 1.79 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 63 Ks, 14 saves, 1 blown save
When Brian Wilson’s beard went down for the season, the Giants initially went with Santiago Casilla as their closer for quite a while, and he was successful. Eventually though, Romo was pitching too well to ignore and took the job over when Casilla faltered. Well, he never gave up control of that role once he grabbed control and San Francisco rode him all the way to the World Series. The Giants are a little worried about him closing for the whole season, but I think he can do it, and do it well. He’s a very good strikeout pitcher and the Giants will give him plenty of opportunities to lock down the saves. I might have him higher than others, but I like Romo and think he will be a top option at the position.
10. Joel Hanrahan, Boston Red Sox
5-2, 2.72 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 67 Ks, 36 saves, 4 blown save
In 2010, Hanrahan was one of the more impressive relief pitchers in the majors as he struck out 100 batters and had 18 holds. He went on to save 76 games over the last two seasons and that success earned him a trip to e the Red Sox closer for 2013. Although he switches leagues and actually goes to a worse team in Boston, I still see Hanrahan being a very impressive closer in 2013. He has a heck of a shot at 40 saves, and should record more than a strikeout an inning. He is still a viable first closer on your roster.
11. Todd Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
4-3, 2.50 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 87 Ks, 29 saves, 5 blown saves
I don’t think anyone expected Wilhelmsen to actually hold down the job when he got his chance last season, but not only did he hold it, but he excelled at it. He might have blown five saves, but Wilhelmsen was a hell of a lot more than anyone could have expected in 2012. His ERA and WHIP were more than acceptable, and his strikeout total was also strong. He enters 2013 as the clear cut closer for the Mariners, but I’m not sure that you can trust him to hold the job again all season or to be the guy he was last season. It’s hard to forget how many closers lost their jobs last season and I wonder if this year will be the same as 2012. I have some faith in Wilhelmsen, but it is cautious optimism.
12. J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
1-5, 2.82 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 65 Ks, 32 saves, 5 blown saves
After a few seasons where he had trouble staying healthy, Putz has turned it all around since 2010 and has turned into one of the more reliable closers in baseball. The Diamondbacks have been a contender the past few seasons and Putz has had great numbers across the board. He has been striking out more than a batter an inning, his ERA has been under 3.00, and he has 77 saves in the past two seasons. I think Arizona might take a step back after trading away some of their offense, but their pitching is good enough that they still should win a bunch of games which should again make Putz a good choice for your fantasy bullpen.
13. Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
0-4, 3.59 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 59 Ks, 39 saves, 4 blown saves
2011 was a near perfect season for Perez, but unfortunately he could not follow it up with another suck dominant performance. Not saying that 39 saves are bad by any stretch, but the ERA and strikeouts just weren’t the same. The Indians have made some nice improvements on their offense which could bring Perez even that many more chances in 2013. He throws some pretty decent heat and should be able to improve on his 59 strikeouts from last season, and the rest of his ratios should improve a little this coming season as well. He isn’t an elite option, but he is still very solid and is worthy of being your second closer in 2013.
14. Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
1-1, 2.54 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 67 Ks, 22 saves, 3 blown saves
After rarely being called on to close in his career, Janssen surprisingly took the job and ran with it once Sergio Santos was predictably hurt and no one else could do it. Janssen was amazingly efficient and barely blew an opportunity. Things could definitely be different. Santos is supposedly healthy (at least for five minutes), and Janssen had minor offseason shoulder surgery. While he has been a solid bullpen arm, I’m not sure that we can expect Janssen to be that good again in 2013. He is supposed to be ready for the middle of Spring Training, which means he will be a little behind but should be fine. He isn’t a top option, but he has a chance to be a decent option again.
15. Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
3-5, 2.80 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 78 Ks, 37 saves, 3 blown saves
We wrote Nathan off in 2010 after he had Tommy John Surgery and missed the entire season and part of the next one. Even when he did return he was a shell of his former self. Well, Nathan ripped the top off of his coffin in 2012 and put himself back on the fantasy map with a fantastic season. Thankfully, at age 38, he declined to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. The Rangers will take every precaution not to have him overexert himself in the Spring, and hopefully he can have another successful season. Nathan showed that he could be a dominant strikeout pitcher and if he’s able to stay healthy he should be a viable option again in 2013.
16. John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
5-8, 4.67 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 93 Ks, 35 saves, 9 blown saves
People often hate relief pitchers and even closers because of their unpredictability. They are all-stars one year, and awful the next. Axford was the absolute definition of that last season. After two magnificent seasons, Axford was a disaster last season as his ERA rose over 2.50 points, and he blew seven more saves than he did in 2011. The Brewers probably won’t be great in 2013, but I think they will still be near a .500 team. I completely expect Axford’s ERA to at least get back to the high 2.00s again, and he is still a great strikeout pitcher for a closer. I think he is going to be available in drafts much later than he should and could be a great later round option, as the Brewers don’t really have a great secondary option even if he struggles some.
17. Ryan Madson, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
4-2, 2.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 62 Ks, 32 saves, 2 blown saves (2011)
Tommy John Surgery cost Madson all of 2012, and while many pitchers come back stronger after this surgery, Madson is having elbow trouble again this Spring. He had an MRI that showed no damage so it could just be a little weakness during recovery, but the Angels are going to be ultra-careful with him coming into the year. There is little hope that Madson will be ready for Opening Day which will give Ernesto Frieri the shot to prove his worth again. Will Madson be ready by May? Signs point to yes, but I gotta tell you, I’m not going to take that risk this year.
18. Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers
2-6, 3.13 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 54 Ks, 15 saves, 6 blown saves
Apparently Kenley Jansen’s breakout season wasn’t enough to keep him as the closer for the Dodgers. They traded for Brandon League late in the season, and he has already been deemed the closer for 2013. His ERA is not good, he walks far too many batters, and his strikeout ratio is awful for a closer. I’m not sure that I really understand the move making League the closer and I am not going to be drafting him this season. I think it is just a matter of time before Jansen is back in the ninth inning and doing what he does well, closing the door. I wouldn’t take the chance on League unless most of the other closers are taken and you are using him as perhaps your third closer.
19. Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
3-3, 3.42 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 72 Ks, 20 saves, 3 blown saves
Sigh. I have a tough time ranking Marmol. I have liked the guy (even though he’s a Cub) for the past three or four seasons. The last two years have made it very tough to not only like him, but even keep him on your roster. He walks too many guys, he lets one little bump in the road ruin his outing, and the Cubs suck something awful. The good part is he strikes out a ton of batters and when he comes into the game he generally shuts the door even if he makes it interesting. What can we expect from Marmol this season? I don’t know. But I think considering how bad the team is and the fact that he lost his job for half of the year in 2012, I believe he will be a good late round gamble.
20. Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
7-4, 2.96 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 91 Ks, 16 saves, 4 blown saves
Holland did a great job with the closer’s role once he was given it late in 2012, and with Joakim Soria now in Texas, Holland is set to be the Royals’ guy for all of 2013. He does put too many guys on base, but he didn’t blow too many games and his strikeout numbers were very good. The Royals are still the Royals so Holland isn’t going to be a top option, but I believe that he will be consistent and will a low end second closer for your fantasy team.
21. Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
3-2, 4.75 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 54 Ks, 29 saves, 4 blown saves
Reed is very young, but he had a pretty decent season as the Sox closer after taking over for Matt Thornton. But let’s look at the criteria we look for in a closer. His strikeout ration is ok, but far from solid. His ERA and WHIP are awful, especially when he faded late in the season. The good part was he didn’t blow many saves. I have zero faith in Thornton, so Reed doesn’t have a ton of competition for saves which definitely helps him if he struggles a little in the beginning. I like Reed as a second closer at best, but best served as your third guy.
22. Jonathan Broxton, Cincinnati Reds
4-5, 2.48 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 45 Ks, 27 saves, 6 blown saves
The Reds brought in Broxton so that they could finally move current closer Aroldis Chapman into the starting rotation where they have envisioned him since they brought him to the team. Well, this was supposed to be the year, but as we sit here in late February, the final decision is yet to be made. Even if Broxton is the guy in the ninth inning, I am not a big fan. He was pretty good in 2012, but the velocity and dominance that he showed when he was with the Dodgers is a distant memory. He is a low level closer in my books, and is only worth a late round selection as a flier assuming he remains in the ninth inning role. If he’s moved to the eighth, Chapman becomes a top five option at the position.
23. Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
1-4, 2.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 57 Ks, 31 saves, 7 blown saves
If I have to say something nice about Betancourt, the best I can do is say that he is functional. He gets the job done…….for the most part. I had him on one of my rosters from beginning to end last season, and while he is far from spectacular and he blew a bunch of chances, I never found myself wanting to drop him. Wilton Lopez is decent competition for save chances if Betancourt struggles again, but overall I think he has a pretty good lock on the job. He isn’t great, he’s barely good, but he’s the closer for the Rockies and that’s at least worth something. Isn’t it?
24. Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
3-2, 2.53 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 72 Ks, 24 saves, 2 blown saves
Balfour finished the season strong as the Athletics closer in August, September, and October and was ready to enter 2013 as the closer. Minor knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus has his status for Opening Day up in the air. Balfour says that he will be ready to start the season, but even if he is I wouldn’t be surprised if he is eased into the role. Ryan Cook did a good job for the most part last season and I believe that he is the man for the job. If you take Balfour have a Plan B or draft another closer.
25. Bruce Rondon, Detroit Tigers
2-1, 1.53 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 66 Ks, 29 saves (minors)
The table was set for him to get a chance to be the closer to start the season, but early Spring control problems seem to have put that plan on the back burner. Manager Jim Leyland says that Rondon still has a chance to open the season as the closer, but I have to say that it is very shaky at this point. It could be Joaquin Benoit, but likely Al Alburquerque would be the next one in line to get a chance to be the man. But Rondon shouldn’t be completely written off just yet, but keep an eye on the news going forward. It isn’t often that a title contender has such unrest at this position to start the year, but right now that is the case in Detroit.
26.Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates
1-6, 2.91 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 90 Ks, 2 saves, 3 blown saves
Soooo, the Pirates are on the verge of competing for real and they trade away their closer and put a man into the role that is 36 years old and really has never had the job before in his career. Grilli had by far the best year of his career, especially when it came to strikeouts. It’s hard to say whether or not he is going to excel doing this with his lack of experience, but if he is able to put it together again in 2013 he should be a good candidate. The problem is most middle relievers who are great one year, aren’t the next and I don’t have faith in him. Could Mark Melancon take the job? Tony Watson? Jared Hughes? I can’t say for sure, but I don’t have a ton of faith that Grilli will hold the job for too long. I see him as a long shot to be a viable closer in 2013.
27. Bobby Parnell, New York Mets
5-4, 2.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 61 Ks, 7 saves, 5 blown saves
With Frank Francisco not ready to start the season, and let’s be honest he’s no great shakes when he is in there, the Mets have tabbed Parnell to start the year in the ninth inning. This is a tough one for me because I always liked Parnell and his ability to touch the upper 90s and even 100 on the radar gun, but he has shown the propensity to blow save chances. However, let’s face it, he hasn’t been given a whole load of chances to know that he is the man at the end of the game. At least to start 2013 he will have that shot, and it is a shot that I believe that he will run with. Francisco is very injury prone and kinda sucks when he is healthy, so I hope we see Parnell and his triple digit fastball saving games all season in Flushing. He isn’t a high level option for his inconsistency and the fact that the team isn’t very good, but if you are looking for a sleeper at the position, he might be your guy.
28. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
5-3, 2.35 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 99 Ks, 25 saves, 7 blown saves
Jansen had surgery in the offseason to correct an irregular heartbeat, but he also made opposing hitters an accelerated heartbeat when they had to face him. For some reason though, it was not enough for Jansen to keep the job. He is second in command to Brandon League, but Jansen still belongs on fantasy rosters. His ERA, WHIP and strikeout numbers are pretty awesome and he will help you even if he isn’t getting saves. However, I believe that it is just a matter of time before he is again getting saves and is a big producer on your team. He will likely be available towards the end of the draft and could reap you great rewards.
29. Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
3-1, 2.56 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 78 Ks, 16 saves, 4 blown saves
Perkins was a pretty crappy starting pitcher and was then transferred to bullpen where he was a pretty crappy reliever. Something came around in 2011 and was magically a pretty good reliever. Then in the second half of 2012 he was a pretty decent closer. Will he continue down this road and become a really good closer? Ehhhhhh, I don’t believe it. Not to mention the Twins should suck something awful. Look for Perkins to have a regression although I think he will hold the job. Outside of Jared Burton, the Twins don’t have a plethora of options in the ninth. I think Perkins will be good enough to stay the guy. Think Rafael Betancourt in 2012.
30. Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
5-2, 2.69 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 68 Ks, 15 saves, 4 blown saves
I’m looking at this guy like he could be a bit of a sleeper candidate. Heath Bell sucked incredibly bad last season and Cishek did a pretty decent job. He did blow four of 19 chances, but he did strikeout more than a batter an inning and his ERA was pretty good. The Marlins are going to be perhaps the worst team the Major Leagues has ever seen, so Cishek might not get a whole ton of chances. However, look at Joakim Soria’s career back when the Royals lost 95 games and his save numbers were still good. Too bad the Marlins might lose 105 games, so he’s probably going to top off at 30 saves, but hey that’s not bad. If there was one guy that I kind of trust that no one is thinking about, it is Cishek.