To successfully draft your closers in fantasy baseball, I suggest you consider my fantasy football philosophy to drafting a kicker.
You see, the best fantasy kickers aren’t always the best real-life kickers. They typically aren’t found on the team with the most high-powered offense, either. That is because kickers get most of their value when the offense sputters and they have additional field goal opportunities.
Same concept can be used on closers in baseball.
The closers with the most saves in 2010? Brian Wilson (48) and Heath Bell (47). Neither of those guys were necessarily the best pitchers at the position. Carlos Marmol led all closers with 138 strikeouts. Rafael Soriano lead all closers with a 1.73 ERA.
With all that in mind, here are my closer rankings for 2011:
- Heath Bell, SD. If you want a good idea of what way a guy is headed, look at three-year trends. Bell has reduced his ERA each of the past three seasons. He has increased his strikeouts consistently over the past three seasons and, he continues to up his saves. The Padres aren’t going to blow out opponents, giving Bell plenty of opportunities in a pitcher-friendly park.
- Brian Wilson, SF. My three-year trend thing? Wilson is very similar to Bell. Drastic reduction during that time in ERA, steady improvement in strikeouts. A slight dip in saves in 2009 was easily bettered by a 48-save 2010. Like the Padres, the Giants aren’t offensive world-beaters, giving Wilson plenty of save chances.
- Joakim Soria, KC. Another example of how high-saves closers can be found on teams with mediocre offenses, Soria is one of a few closers that has developed into a sure thing each of the past thee seasons. His price will be higher than I’d like on draft day, but he should again get 35-plus saves during the 2010 campaign.
- Carlos Marmol, CHC. This is higher than many have the fireballer. However, it is hard for me to overlook his extreme strikeout potential, even if his high walkout rate affects his stats somewhat. His 2.55 ERA wasn’t elite among closers, but his 138 strikeouts definitely were, and the Cubs are the type of team to provide plenty of save opportunities to whoever is closing games. There is also a lot of questions with the others on this list, in my opinion.
- Mariano Rivera, NYY. He’s been a saves machine for well over a decade, and continues to defy age and laws of physics. Sure, his numbers took a step backwards in 2010, and sure the Yankees have added Rafael Soriano to the bullpen as a setup and more-than-qualified backup option. You just can’t go against this guy, although his name value alone will keep him higher in drafts than I would like.
- Joe Nathan, MIN. Coming off a lost 2010 season, Nathan is a risk … especially when considering that teammate Matt Capps was a solid fill-in option. However, Nathan plays in the perfect situation for a closer. He has a long track record of elite numbers. Reports out of Minnesota suggest that Nathan will definitely reclaim his closer role and Capps will fit in as setup guy. Watch Nathan closely this spring. If he shows he is healthy, he could be a nice draft-day bargain.
- Jose Valverde, DET. Perhaps not as sharp as others on this list, Valverde’s 3.00 ERA in 2010 was much better than those coming later in these rankings. He gets his fair share of strikeouts and I personally love his situation on a Tigers team that should win plenty of games in 2011, but not by huge margins that eradicate save opportunities.
- Francisco Rodriguez, NYM. Sure, K-Rod’s save numbers weren’t stellar in 2010, but that had just as much to do with an injury-plagued and under-performing offense as it did with K-Rod’s own injury issues. The Mets are better than they played in 2010, and as they improve, so will Rodriguez’s numbers.
- Chris Perez, CLE. As many expected, Perez was closing games once Kerry Wood was out of the picture in 2010, and he didn’t disappoint down the stretch despite the limited offensive talent in Cleveland. Like others on this list who will get more saves due to their team situation than their sheer ability, Perez could be a very nice value option in 2011, and is one of several reasons I’ll be passing on closers while others are drafting the top five on this list.
- Neftali Feliz, TEX. As any young player would, Feliz had some growing pains last season, but still turned in an impressive number of saves. I’d have him ranked higher on this list if it wasn’t for the Rangers’ brass’ insistence on considering Feliz for a possible starter role, something the squad will seriously look at this spring. If Feliz does get locked into the closer role for the 2011 season, he has definite value. As a starter, the verdict is still out, but he won’t be helping your saves in that gig.
- John Axford, MIL. Another young guy with lots of talent, Axford looked good last season for the Brewers in part-time duty. This year, the closer role should be his to lose, and Milwaukee has the firepower to keep themselves in games all year.
- Andrew Bailey, OAK. Bailey maintained a solid ERA during the 2010 season, something that gets him an extra long look from me this year. His biggest issue was lack of opportunities for a A’s squad that struggled in general. They haven’t improved that much from 2010, so temper expectations. At least Bailey is pretty certain to keep the closer job all season, which is better than others.
- Jonathan Broxton, LAD. Few closers can tank like Broxton did over the second half of 2010 and still hold onto the closing gig. However, the Dodgers are committed to keeping him in the closer role, and he doesn’t have any strong competition for the position. Still, if he continues to struggle, he could be looking for a job. High risk, decent reward option here.
- Jonathan Papelbon, BOS. How the rankings have changed from last year at this time. After being heralded as a top-3 closer by many heading into last season, Papelbon’s job is less secure after allowing ways too many earned runs in 2010 and through the emergence of Daniel Bard. Bobby Jenks was also brought in to Boston this offseason, so the writing may be on the wall for Papelbon as a closer.
- Drew Storen, WAS. A highly touted rookie, he didn’t get his chance to close until late in the season. His five saves doesn’t give us too much of a litmus test as to what he can do for a full season, but his potential alone should merit a pick in the later rounds on draft day.
Who are your top closers for the 2011 season? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below.