Closer Talk

Apr 13, 2012


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By Jordan Hall
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Fans hate their closers. This is pretty much a given. Outside of an elite few, closers as a rule, strike fear in the hearts of their fans daily.
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It’s part unreasonable expectations, part the nature of the job. Closers are alone on an island. Everyone is watching them and can easily spot a job done poorly. Couple this with the fact that fans view one blown save as one too many and it’s easy to see why there is so much turnover at the position.
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While this turnover is bad for fans, it’s great for fantasy owners. Proper diligence can reward handsomely in the saves category.
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My saves strategy is to try to grab one of the “sure things” in the draft and pick up closers as they pop up during the season. With supposedly safe bets Drew Storen and Andrew Bailey starting the year on the DL and Jose Valverde and Mariano Rivera dealing with early bouts of ineffectiveness, things are even more up in the air this season.
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While trying to guess what’s going to happen at the back end of bullpens is borderline impossible, monitoring the days events can shed some light on the matter. You can drive yourself mad analyzing every piece of information but there are certainly things that can be major tells of what is really going on.
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When looking at closers, I look at WHIP. Obviously the less base runners a pitcher allows the less runs they will allow and therefore blow less saves. As a rule high WHIP closers don’t last. Every bullpen has another option and if a guy is giving his manager a heart attack every night, he won’t last.
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When examining guys that are prime to step into closer jobs I primarily look at strikeout rates. Strikeouts are sexy and memorable. They stick in managers’ minds and frequently earn guys a chance to close if the incumbent is struggling. I’m a sucker for pure stuff as well. I’m much more willing to gamble and pick up a guy who has a couple plus pitches in his repertoire even if his numbers aren’t stellar.
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I think Fernando Rodney is going to hold onto the job in Tampa. Fernando has always had the stuff to close and strikes a lot of guys out. He’s the type of pitcher who requires the intensity of the ninth inning to truly turn in his best performance.  As much as he scares fans, historically he’s been very reliable in the closers role.
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People have been destroying Alfredo Aceves but I love his chances to stick as the Sox’s closer. First of all, there are no other options and more importantly, Aceves is much better then he showed against the Tigers. He really does have closer stuff, he just ran into one of the most dynamic and clutch offenses in baseball. Obviously Andrew Bailey’s return is looming but I don’t see why Aceves couldn’t rack up 15 saves in the meantime.
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J.J. Putz may have all the experience but David Hernandez is the most talented reliever in the Arizona bullpen. When you’re dealing with an established stopper like Putz, he’s going to have a little bit longer leash but he has an extensive injury history and has gone through rough patches. Hernandez is a guy who’s peripherals will help you even without the saves. I think he’s one opportunity away from being the next big thing at the closer position. It’s better to act too soon rather than too late. Should the closer role sit vacant without Hernandez  claiming it, I wouldn’t be surprised if rookie Trevor Bauer did. He has the best swing and miss arsenal in the minors and could fill in like David Price and Justin Masterson on his way to bigger and better things in the rotation.
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Brian Wilson and his beard are clearly not 100%. His velocity is down and with it will come his effectiveness. I would imagine at some point this year, he will end up needing a lengthy stint on the disabled list. When that happens, Sergio Romo is your man. He’s another high strikeout set up man that can pump gas. I’m not saying he’s going to be Mariano Rivera when he gets the job but I think there’s a good chance that he will be a formidable closer once entrenched.
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I’m a sucker for Matt Thornton. I’ve always loved his stuff. He reminds me of Billy Wagner without the high intensity delivery. Every year I think he’s going to lock down the closer’s role and every year I’m wrong. It’s hard to ignore an easy 98 and a plus slider from the left side though. So one more year I’m buying Matt Thornton for 25 saves. I don’t dislike Hector Santiago but his rapid ascension through the organization makes me question his readiness.
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Bobby Parnell is by far the best option out of the Mets bullpen. He’s not a prototypical 9th inning man but when the other choices are Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, you don’t have to be. The Mets aren’t very good but even last year’s Astros team afforded Mark Melancon 25 save opportunities.
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Anybody who watched the playoffs last year needs no convincing that Alexi Ogando would be a dynamic closer; it’s the opportunity that is in question. While I have always been a huge Joe Nathan fan, it’s time to face facts: he’s done. He may have some flashes of vintage Joe but injuries have taken their toll. In addition to his impending loss of effectiveness, he is still a big time injury risk. Mike Adams is very good in the 8th but something about him screams that he couldn’t handle the 9th, although that’s just a personal hunch.
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Al Alburquerque led the American League in strikeouts per nine last year. He’s currently on the disabled list while recovering from arm surgery but is due back in June. That should be about the time that Jose Valverde will need a break. After a perfect season last year, Papa Grande blew his first save of the new season and is due for several more. While most closers have either electric stuff or tremendous command, Valverde has neither; instead he relies on smoke and mirrors. Amazing Al was born to be a closer with his upper 90′s fastball and electric slider. Valverde may keep his job until the end of the season but Alburquerque certainly looms. So this season when your closer blows yet another save, take a deep breath. It really is a tough job under the microscope. Not every franchise has been blessed with a Trevor Hoffman, however it could be worse. At least no franchise is burdened with Todd Jones in the 9th anymore.
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Like I said: it could be worse. Have fantasy questions? I’d be happy to help www.twitter.com/lefthandsmoke23

Posted by | Categories: fantasy baseball, MLB | Tagged: Closers, fantasy baseball, MLB |
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