Saving Nolan Ryan

Throughout the season, I’ll be looking at bullpens for all 30 major league teams.  As closers fall off one by one (and they will), I’ll prepare you for who is next in line.  For holds leagues, I’ll list the most likely arms on each team to come through for you.  Finally, I’ll list a sleeper from each bullpen that may find themselves in a key role that you need to keep an eye on.

Closers are the most volatile of the positions in baseball so we’re giving them their own feature here at Fantasy Assembly to keep you one step ahead of your competition.  My strategy when it comes to closers is to pay close attention to potential changes.  If I am one week early grabbing Darren O’Day and he doesn’t become the closer, I’ve lost nothing.  If he takes over for Tommy Hunter as the primary closer, I’ve just taken one step closer to my league championship match up.  For rebuilding teams, this is extremely important as well because closers make excellent trade pieces.  No matter what your position is, closers are critical to the success of your fantasy team.

Tier One: Super Hero Motion Pictures

These closers have superhuman abilities and are dedicated to protecting your team from the evils of Dr. Blown Save, hereafter referred to as B.S.

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
1 Craig Kimbrel Atlanta Braves Luis Avilan David Carpenter Jordan Walden
2 Kenley Jansen Los Angeles Dodgers Brian Wilson Paco Rodriguez Chris Perez
3 Aroldis Chapman Cincinnati Reds J.J. Hoover Manny Parra Sean Marshall
4 Trevor Rosenthal St. Louis Cardinals Kevin Siegrist Randy Choate Jason Motte
5 Greg Holland Kansas City Royals Kelvin Herrera Tim Collins Aaron Crow

What separates these top 5 from the pack is their ridiculous strike out rates. All capable of 100 strikeout seasons, these closers will help in 4 categories.  If you have to pay for saves, this is where to invest on draft day.  If there’s any kryptonite for these closers, opposing hitters haven’t found it yet; that’s no B.S.!

Tier Two: Westerns

These cowboys are tough, honorable and ready to inflict their own personal justice on opposing hitters.

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
6 Koji Uehara Boston RedSox Edward Mujica Junichi Tazawa Andrew Miller
7 Joe Nathan Detroit Tigers Bruce Rondon Al Alburquerque Ian Krol
8 David Robertson New York Yankees Shawn Kelley Matt Thornton Dellin Betances
9 Glen Perkins Minnesota Twins Jared Burton Casey Fien Michael Tonkin

Koji Uehara has settled nicely into the closer role for Boston, if you can call a 0.28 ERA over the final 3 months settling in. Some slight durability questions keep him out of the elite 5.

Joe Nathan was lucky with his HR/FB rate in 2013.  The move to Comerica won’t hurt him and he should be able to continue his consistently dominant numbers.  He won’t own a 1.42 ERA, but he’ll rack up close to 40 saves.

David Robertson assumes the throne in New York.  Excellent ratios and excellent K rate bodes well for his immediate success.

Finally, Perkins rounds out this group with his 90% save rate and 32% K rate.  Draft with confidence.

Tier Three: Dramas

As in film this is the largest group assembled. These closers have big questions and real conflicts.  You’ll see their best, their worst and everything in between.  Tragically, some of these closers will not survive the season while others will persevere and triumph.

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
10 Jason Grilli Pittsburgh Pirates Mark Melancon
Tony Watson
Vin Mazzaro
11 Jim Johnson Oakland Athletics Sean Doolittle
Luke Gregerson
Ryan Cook
12 Grant Balfour Tampa Bay Rays Joel Peralta Jake McGee
Heath Bell
13 Sergio Romo San Francisco Giants Santiago Casilla Javier Lopez
Heath Hembree
14 Steve Cishek Miami Marlins Mike Dunn
Carter Capps
15 Ernesto Frieri Anaheim Angels Dane De La Rosa
Joe Smith Michael Kohn
16 Jonathan Papelbon Philadelphia Phillies Mike Adams
Antonio Bastardo
Jacob Diekman
17 Fernando Rodney Seattle Mariners Danny Farquhar Charlie Furbush
Tom Wilhelmson
18 Jim Henderson Milwaukee Brewers Francisco Rodriguez
Brandon Kintzler
Will Smith
19 Bobby Parnell New York Mets Kyle Farnsworth
Scott Rice
Vic Black

Jason Grilli was back on the hill Friday in spring training action as the team takes things slow after last year’s forearm injury. He struck out 2 in an inning of work Sunday as well. He was one of the game’s best before his injury last year. Mark Melancon makes a fantastic hand-cuff as the tandem can put up elite numbers.

I like Jim Johnson in Oakland with their excellent defense and ballpark.  While he likely won’t approach 50 saves again, I’m no longer afraid to draft him.

In Tampa Bay, Peralta and McGee should continue to see a lot of hold opportunities, even with the new additions of Bell and Balfour.  We can’t forget Brad Boxberger either as Tampa may have the deepest (and best) bullpen in the majors.

Jonathan Papelbon hit 92-93 in his first spring training action, besting last years second half average of 91 mph.  Just the first week of March, this is encouraging news after opponents hit .303 against him in the 2nd half after only .203 in the 1st. Monday’s outing didn’t go nearly as well as he topped out at 88 mph and allowed 4 hits.

The Fernando Rodney signing was disappointing to many Farquhar owners, but for a team with playoff aspirations, the bullpen was a huge need.  In holds leagues, Farquhar and his K rate will end up more valuable than Rodney by years end.

Tier Four: Disaster Films

Be prepared for the shipwreck that’s coming. Whether by injury, age or diminishing arsenal these closers are about to be left to freeze and die in the Arctic Ocean.

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
20 Casey Janssen Toronto Blue Jays Sergio Santos
Brett Cecil
Steve Delabar
21 Rafael Soriano Washington Nationals Tyler Clippard
Drew Storen
Craig Stammen
22 Huston Street San Diego Padres Joquain Benoit Nick Vincent
Dale Thayer
23 Addison Reed Arizona Diamondbacks Brad Ziegler
Oliver Perez
J.J. Putz
24 Tommy Hunter Baltimore Orioles Darren O’Day Ryan Webb
Brian Matusz

Casey Janssen is dealing with a sore shoulder, though he’s played catch a couple of days this week.  Janssen has a history of shoulder concerns, including surgery in 2012 and a torn labrum in 2008.  Sergio Santos was dominant in his return last year limiting hitters to a .114 AVG.  Santos hasn’t been healthy since 2011, so the only safe thing (after Delabar’s 2nd half collapse) in the Jays bullpen in Brett Cecil.

Rafael Soriano was back to his old tricks in his first spring training action, allowing 2 runs and 3 hits in his inning of work.  His second outing was worse with 5 runs allowed. 2013 saw his SwSt%, K%, GB% all decrease.  It’s not a matter of if, but when he loses the closer position.  Clippard is the next in line, though Storen had a really good final two months last year.

Huston Street on the surface looked pretty good in 2013, but his K rate hit an all time low and his FB% rate went even higher which resulted in giving up 12HR (9 in Petco).  Already with a mild groin pull, Street has hit the DL every year since 2009.  Joaquin Benoit is coming off a highly successful 2013 campaign and is a much-needed handcuff for Street owners.

Addison Reed may do just fine in Arizona, but he’s got some serious competition with Ziegler and Putz both with closing experience; both with lower xFIP that Reed last year.  I love the addition of Perez here, and with David Hernandez this is one of the deepest bullpens in baseball.

Tommy Hunter doesn’t strike out many hitters and he has a tendency to give up the long ball.  Baltimore won’t give him a long leash with their commitment to winning in 2014.  Matusz, Webb and O’Day will all do well for holds, but don’t be surprised if one of Baltimore’s stud pitching prospects Gausman or Bundy don’t find themselves in the closer’s role at some point in 2014.

Tier Five: Mysteries

Secrets, plot twists and unpredictability are all the order of the day. While some leave you asking “whodunit”, the  mystery with others is “what are they thinking?”

  Closer Team Holds Sleeper
25 Neftali Feliz/ Joakim Soria Texas Rangers Tanner Scheppers
Neal Cotts
Jason Fraser
26 Nate Jones Chicago White Sox Matt Lindstrom
Scott Downs
Donnie Veal
27 Latroy Hawkins Colorado Rockies Rex Brothers Matt Belisle
Boone Logan
28 John Axford Cleveland Indians Cody Allen Mark Rzepczynski Bryan Shaw
29 Chad Qualls/ Jesse Crain
Houston Astros Matt Albers Josh Fields
Kevin Chapman
30 Jose Veras Chicago Cubs Pedro Strop
Blake Parker James Russell

Texas: Ron Washington says the closer race is wide open between Feliz/Soria/Scheppers.  I’m narrowing to Feliz and Soria as they’ve got the closer experience.  Right now Feliz fastball is sitting at 92, down from 97 pre-Tommy John.  Soria meanwhile is throwing well and looking great.  I’m giving the edge to Soria right now, but if Feliz gets his mechanics in order and the velocity starts climbing I’d reverse course.  Watch velocity reports out of spring training; better yet, I’ll do it for you.

Nate Jones with his 98 mph fastball is the likely closer in Chicago.  Lindstrom hasn’t been able to throw yet in spring and frankly doesn’t have the stuff to close out games.  Jones is a great late grab in drafts and may be a good bet to increase his standing.

In Houston, Jesse Crain is likely to start the season on the DL, leaving Chad Qualls as the opening day closer.  Qualls last saw closing action in 2010 when he had an ERA of 7.32.  He’s a better pitcher now with a high GB rate and excellent control, but his K rate is lacking as far as closers go.  Jesse Crain, who has never saved more than one game in his 10 seasons of play, has the best chance to be successful here but health is a major concern.  Josh Fields never really developed into the power closer he was projected as and Matt Albers really doesn’t have closer stuff.  This bullpen is going to be awful.

Finally, Jose Veras had a very good season in 2013, reducing his BB rate below 4.5 for really about the first time ever.  If the control holds up, he could be a decent option.  Pedro Strop was downright dominating after his trade to the Cubs last season, with a 29% K rate and holding opponents to a .172 BA against.  He’ll be the closing option certainly at some point in 2014 for the Cubs.

Paul Hartman

Written by 

Fantasy Baseball player since 1987. Creator of Fantasy Assembly, yet just fortunate enough to be a part of it.

4 thoughts on “Saving Nolan Ryan”

  1. Brothers is a good hand-cuff for the aging Hawkins as well, though I tend to shy away from any Col pitcher.

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