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 basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, catchers, left fielders, right fielders, center fielders, the combined outfielder rankings, AL 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…"