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March 10, 2010

Fantasy Focus

Closers

by Marc Normandin

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We're almost there! Today brings us the final batch of positional rankings, as we have ordered the primary closers (for all but one team, but we'll get to that currently developing story later) for your drafting convenience. You know the drill by now, so let's take a look.

For the previous rankings in the series, check out first basemensecond basementhird basemenshortstopscatchersleft fieldersright fielderscenter fielders, the combined outfielder rankingsAL starting pitchers and, finally, NL starters. Now, here are the changes to this year's ranking system:

  • Players are no longer ranked by number (the 1-20 system). Instead, I am implementing a tiered system using stars (five stars is the best, one is the lesser of your options). These stars are equal across positions to make comparisons between them easier—for example, there are three five-star first basemen, but there may be more or fewer than that at other positions—if it comes to it, the first player at a position may be a four-star option. You can derive positional scarcity from the number of four- and five-star players available and make decisions from there. Players are loosely ordered within tiers, with my first preference to my last.

  • Last year, I covered 60 starting pitchers total, which was still a lot relative to what I did at other positions but nowhere near enough. This time around, like with the other positions, I'm covering exponentially more. Just from the National League, I'm covering 83 pitchers. I looked at the depth charts and took the starting five for every team, then added some of the spot starters (who in some cases, are currently injured or rehabbing pitchers, or are also potential mid-season promotion candidates) to the list. Generally, those added with fewer innings are going to be ranked in lower tiers because they can't produce as much for you, but I wanted to at least have them here so they were in mind on draft day for you. If anyone you are curious about is missing, chances are good they were projected for a meager number of innings on the season, but if you have any questions I'll be glad to answer them in the comments.

Five Stars
Player
IP ERA WHIP HR/9 SO K/BB SV
Jonathan Broxton 60 2.82 1.11 0.8 77 3.5 37
Jonathan Papelbon 55 2.78 1.13 0.8 60 3.3 43
Mariano Rivera 60 3.52 1.21 1.2 55 3.4 40
Huston Street 60 3.10 1.12 0.9 62 3.4 37
Joakim Soria 60 2.98 1.19 0.8 64 3.4 33

Conspicuously absent from this tier is Joe Nathan, who I was debating as the top closer just yesterday morning before news broke that his the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow could cause him to miss the entirety of 2010. While no one has been picked as a replacement, Craig Brown took a look at some potential candidates to replace him from within the Twins’ organization.

There's still plenty to love in this tier, though, as a pair of Jonathans combine their strikeouts, saves, and sub-3 projected ERAs to take over the top in Nathan's absence. Papelbon's ERA may seem high given last year's performance, but if you poke around at his adjusted ERAs—notably SIERA—you will see that this forecast makes a whole lot of sense (assuming 99 percent of his pitches this year are not fastballs). Rivera's ERA strikes me as high here, but then again, how many comparable pitchers are there? This is like trying to find appropriate Bonds comps a few years back, so Rivera's demise will be foreshadowed well before it occurs. Street's one concern is his home park, which could scare some people away, but he's one of the best at what he does, regardless of locale. Soria has the unfortunate handicap of playing for the Royals, but his numbers make him a top-flight stopper just the same.

Four Stars
Player
IP ERA WHIP HR/9 SO K/BB SV
Andrew Bailey 60 3.24 1.23 0.9 60 2.4 35
Rafael Soriano 50 2.95 1.14 0.9 56 3.1 37
Heath Bell 65 3.40 1.27 0.7 68 2.7 33
Frank Francisco 60 3.20 1.18 1.1 68 3.1 36
Francisco Rodriguez 60 3.64 1.30 1.1 64 2.3 35
Francisco Cordero 60 3.78 1.35 0.9 55 2.0 35
Chad Qualls 60 3.42 1.18 0.9 54 3.6 34
Billy Wagner 48 2.86 1.15 0.9 55 3.2 32

Bailey's plenty good on his own, but his park creates a nifty little security blanket to help his BABIP. Soriano may pick up more innings and saves than this, given that the Rays know how to leverage innings in their bullpen. He may end up with the best WHIP of this group as well. Bell has two things working for him: strikeouts and Petco Park. That ERA seems high to me as far as a weighted mean goes—I would expect a 3.40 mark in his lower percentiles. Francisco's biggest question mark is health. If he's physically able, his forecast makes a lot of sense, and he compares to Bell very well.

In the non-surname category of Francisco's, you have two pitchers who are going to pick up plenty of saves, but maybe not with the same impressive peripheral numbers that those above them will display. Assuming the Mets’ injury curse is over, K-Rod should easily hit this value, though he has yet to pitch in any exhibition games becuase of pinkeye. Qualls may not have the punchout totals of other closers, but he's still well enough above in other categories to merit this kind of consideration. Wagner, if healthy, is five-star material. That if is bigger than the pitcher it's attached to, so be wary. You can see from his forecast just what kind of rates you can expect if he lasts all season as the Braves’ closer, and it's going to be very tempting to pick him up despite the risks.

Three Stars
Player
IP ERA WHIP HR/9 SO K/BB SV
David Aardsma 55 3.48 1.31 1.0 59 2.3 35
Brian Wilson 60 3.54 1.27 0.9 64 2.7 35
Octavio Dotel 60 3.43 1.29 0.9 71 2.5 27
Jason Frasor 57 3.82 1.32 0.9 53 2.3 19
Mike Gonzalez 55 3.72 1.29 1.0 58 2.8 30
Jose Valverde 60 3.21 1.23 1.1 64 2.6 24
Bobby Jenks 60 3.68 1.26 1.2 52 2.6 32
Kerry Wood 55 3.75 1.35 0.8 57 2.4 32
Carlos Marmol 60 3.35 1.37 0.8 72 1.9 32

Aardsma's numbers are great for a reliever, but as a closer he's much closer to the average. He and Wilson both fit that mold pretty well, though Wilson may pick up a few more whiffs than your average closer. Dotel will most assuredly pick up more strikeouts than your average closer, but I'm not sure he's that much better overall than the guys in front of him, if at all. He probably has the best potential of anyone in this tier to pitch himself into a higher one though, especially if his 2007-2008 K rates returned. If the Blue Jays decide to give Kevin Gregg the bulk of the save opportunities then Frasor should do worse than the forecast for 19 saves.

With the next few pitchers, you'll see somewhere they are lacking relative to their higher-ranked peers. Gonzalez should have average closer K rates, but with an ERA a bit higher than you would like, and 30 saves isn't lofty enough to offset that. Valverde has the ERA, but he's right around the average K rate and is penciled in for a low save total. Jenks is below average in ERA and Ks, Wood in ERA and WHIP. Marmol's walk rates make me want to avoid him entirely despite the potential for strikeouts galore.

Two Stars
Player
IP ERA WHIP HR/9 SO K/BB SV
Leo Nunez 60 3.89 1.33 1.1 48 2.1 33
Ryan Franklin 55 3.65 1.36 0.8 36 1.6 35
Brian Fuentes 55 4/10 1.35 1.1 50 2.3 34

Nunez doesn't have to worry about Matt Lindstrom anymore, but you do have to worry about his below-average (for a closer) strikeout rate, and his ERA doesn't look impressive, either. Franklin may post a better ERA, but he will give you even less in the punchouts department. Fuentes is somewhere in between, with more strikeouts than either but also more potential for a damaging ERA.

One Star
Player
IP ERA WHIP HR/9 SO K/BB SV
Trevor Hoffman 50 4.17 1.35 1.1 37 2.3 34
Matt Capps 60 4.12 1.31 1.1 46 2.6 32
Brandon Lyon 60 3.59 1.29 0.9 47 2.0 19
Matt Lindstrom 60 4.46 1.42 1.1 47 1.7 17
Brad Lidge 55 5.00 1.54 1.3 51 1.8 31

Hoffman worries me in the sense that if I were to pick one pitcher most likely to underperform his weighted mean, it would be him. The combination of age and park bothers me enough that I wouldn't want to spend too much on him at auction or waste a pick on him too soon. Capps could easily be a two-star or better pitcher, but with the more than satisfying glut of closers above him, there's no reason to spend on that risk unless you're desperate. Lyon is a lot like Nunez as far as numbers go, but he may battle Lindstrom for save opportunities, which hurts his value. If it's perfectly clear Lyon is the guy picking up the opportunities all year, you can disregard this raking and bump him up to two-star. Lindstrom is obviously here because there's a chance he could snag some saves out from under Lyon, as mentioned.

 Brad Lidge. Oh, Brad Lidge. It may seem like PECOTA is being harsh, but remember, he did have an ERA of 7.21 last year with a WHIP of 1.81. He is the kind of guy I would be willing to absorb the risk on solely because he may churn out one of his good years, but at the same time, once the price went above a few bucks, I would bail on bidding further faster than you can say, "Pujols, deep to left field…"  

28 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

rotoman21

I'm surprised to see Street listed as a five star. And I was surprised to see Wagner listed as a 4 star, I think lower for Billy.

Mar 10, 2010 09:12 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

Marc ... I'd be interested in understanding how PECOTA comes up with the projected saves totals. Save opportunities are going to be more prevalent with teams involved in close games (i.e. their runs scored and runs allowed aren't that different, not involved in many blowouts either way, etc.). Does the team's projected runs scored and allowed factor into the projected saves?

Mar 10, 2010 09:29 AM
rating: 0
 
tballgame

I'm agreeing with this comment more than replying to it. Saves are more plentiful for teams in pitchers' parks (lower scores, closer games). Also, some closers have a stronger hold on the job than others. There was talk of moving Wood. If Francisco breaks down once, does Feliz take that role. Oakland has had two 'surprise' closers over the past two years. The five star guys seem safe (won't lose job without UCL tear), but I'm not sure the four star guys are quite as safe (under what situation does Soriano lose the job to Howell, for instance). How does that play in?

Mar 10, 2010 10:31 AM
rating: 1
 
Cromulent

Interested in this as well. Just to pick one, the Valverde saves total seems curiously low.

Mar 10, 2010 11:29 AM
rating: 0
 
ashitaka

Tables!

Mar 10, 2010 09:29 AM
rating: 6
 
Playwright22

Where's Gregg? And the comments on Frasor/Gregg are a bit confused. Thanks, Marc.

Mar 10, 2010 09:44 AM
rating: 5
 
basejaw

Thanks Marc! Lidge is so damn confusing. His breaking ball is stil one of the most dominant pitches in baseball, but I was wondering what your thought were in regards to his fastball velo. Was it down significantly last year?

Mar 10, 2010 10:07 AM
rating: 0
 
fieldofdreams

How useful would this list be for Scoresheet? Saves per se don't mean much there.

Mar 10, 2010 10:22 AM
rating: -1
 
Michael Bodell
(89)

I agree. I think you are missing a position which is relief pitching in general (or maybe non-closer relief pitching?).

And it isn't just scoresheet, some leagues don't count saves, or do count other things like holds, and may mandate that we pick players who are relievers and not just the "closer in waiting" types.

Mar 10, 2010 22:44 PM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

Does Ryan Madson get a nod in the 1-star/take-a-late-round-gamble-on-him category due to Lidge's potential combustion?

Mar 10, 2010 10:47 AM
rating: 1
 
Ameer

Hey Marc! I would love to see a "potential closers" type of article, noting non-closer relievers and your opinions on their chances of becoming closers in the near- and short-term of the season. Thanks!

Mar 10, 2010 11:05 AM
rating: 7
 
steelydanu

I agree with Ameer, having a list of potential "up and coming" closers as well as having minor leaguers that are being groomed would be awesome! Also having some kind of odds or potential in being a closer.....I hate closers!

Mar 11, 2010 10:59 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Just curious- considering that era and whip from closers is far less important than for starters, and that saves are king (in most FLB leagues), did your rankings account for this?

Mar 10, 2010 11:07 AM
rating: 2
 
rotoman21

Ameer, that is a fantastic idea.

Mar 10, 2010 11:18 AM
rating: 1
 
gluckschmerz

"If the Blue Jays do the smart thing and decide to give Kevin Gregg the bulk of the save opportunities then Frasor will do better than the forecasted for 19 saves."

Is there a typo in there somewhere. I don't get the logic ....

Mar 10, 2010 12:11 PM
rating: 1
 
Marc Normandin

Thanks for pointing that out. It's been fixed with what my brain was thinking but my rebellious fingers refused to type.

I like the idea of giving Gregg save opps mostly because he's not as good as some of the Jays other options, and I would prefer they keep their better pitchers for the high leverage situations, and let Gregg do his thing in the confines of the 9th with the bases empty. From a fantasy perspective, Frasor is the better option since his numbers will be better.

Mar 10, 2010 14:16 PM
rating: 0
 
Dan

Closers almost always end up with higher overall leverage than their setup men.

Mar 10, 2010 18:47 PM
rating: -2
 
Michael Bodell
(89)

Even if it isn't the best thing to do for this year, given the Jays chances of making the playoffs are <2% at best, then maybe you want Gregg to "collect the saves" to add trade bait value to him for a mid season trade. I think most non-contending guys should put their mediocre relievers as the one closer for trade bait purposes.

Mar 10, 2010 22:46 PM
rating: 1
 
mcjacob

cite that.

Mar 13, 2010 01:22 AM
rating: 1
 
mcjacob

(dan)

Mar 13, 2010 01:23 AM
rating: 0
 
davezahniser

I had the same question as gluckschmerz.

Mar 10, 2010 13:02 PM
rating: 0
 
pbconnection

As far as Mariano Rivera and PECOTA is concerned, I haven't checked the numbers but I would assume that PECOTA has projected a worse year than Rivera has produced every single year.

PECOTA just can't wrap it's head around what he's able to do on the mound, much like it's issues projecting knuckleballers.

Mar 10, 2010 13:08 PM
rating: 0
 
Tuck
(667)

PECOTA only misses by about 20 saves on Valverde. How can any closer only get 24 saves, let alone one on a .500 type team in a competitive division? He'll get 35 easy, solid sleeper for 45.

PECOTA does many things well, offering advice on fantasy closers is not one.

Mar 10, 2010 16:30 PM
rating: 0
 
CalledStrike3

Is it possible to offer good advice on closers?

Each year 25-40% of the 'pegged' closers at the beginning are no longer closing. Thus Pecota is effective from a perspective of looking for solid periphials and value.

Mar 11, 2010 08:37 AM
rating: 1
 
Marc Normandin

Trust me, this is my least favorite position to rank. I would rather our fantasy crew spend time looking at potential new closers who will pick up saves than the guys you already know about, but since none of those are guarantees anyways it's a waste to write about them here.

Lee Panas will be covering relief pitchers throughout the spring and the season every Thursday in his turn in the Hot Spots column, so be sure to check those out for updated info on relievers.

Mar 12, 2010 05:47 AM
rating: 0
 
davidmartin

Pecota pegs Frasor for 19 saves, and he's a 3-star. But then Hoffman (34) is a 1-star. Huh?

Mar 11, 2010 09:32 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

As with other BP analysts treatment of PECOTA from time to time, Marc's rankings are not necessarily 100% in lockstep with the PECOTA projections.

"Hoffman worries me in the sense that if I were to pick one pitcher most likely to underperform his weighted mean, it would be him. The combination of age and park bothers me enough that I wouldn't want to spend too much on him at auction or waste a pick on him too soon."

So, Marc took a look at what PECOTA projected, didn't think it was spot-on (in this case, for the reasons he laid out), and marked Hoffman down a couple of notches.

What is NOT shown in that table is Blown Saves (or Save Opportunities). Perhaps those 34 saves occurred over 45 chances? Anyone closer with a 1.35 WHIP is going to walk a tightrope every time out.

Also, *perhaps* PECOTA sees no other likely candidate for saves in the Brewer pen, and gave Hoffman all the opportunities?

Mar 11, 2010 11:06 AM
rating: 3
 
Richard Bergstrom

I'd still grab Marmol. Yes the walks are scary but since it's only over 50 innings or so, the impact of those walks are minimal. Meanwhile, the strikeouts help a ton.

Mar 15, 2010 08:40 AM
rating: 0
 
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