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Cheat Sheets: 2010 Relief Pitcher Rankings

April 20, 2010 | By RotoRob | comment on this post
Brian Wilson has become one of the best closers in the game for the San Francisco Giants.
The Giants rewarded Brian Wilson for his excellent 2009 campaign.

By Herija Green, Tim McLeod and RotoRob

Closers make up 10 per cent of the counting categories in Fantasy baseball and undoubtedly will contribute 90 per cent of a team owner’s grief. The game of spin-the-closer already commenced on numerous even before Opening Day. The value in drafting a proven, stable closer at the top-end might never be higher than it is this year as we watch the early turnover in mid- and lower-tier closers. If you’re in a gambling mood when shopping for saves, it would be prudent to tie yourself to the corresponding set-up man. An ounce of prevention could be a smart move this season.

1. Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers (3): Some consider Broxton the best closer in the business, but even if you don’t, no one can dispute he’s the NL’s pre-eminent saves man. Expect to use your fifth rounder to bag Broxton, who’s first full season as a closer was a resounding success, as he was incredibly dominant (13.5 K/9) as well as being pretty much unhittable (.165 BAA). — RR

Los Angeles Dodgers Gear

2. Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox (2): Papelbon is obviously a part of the first closer wave that you can expect to begin in the fifth round of your draft. He enjoyed another superb season in 2009 even if his homer rate rose slightly and he had to work harder than ever before (career-high 4.15 pitcher per plate appearance). Papelbon looked in mid-season form this spring, but his command has been spotty in the early part of the schedule. – RR

3. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees (4): Rivera is also part of that first big wave of closers that tend to go in the fifth round, and although his command was cut in half, he still averaged six Ks to every walk…just think about that for a moment. Make no mistake, Mo remains among the best in the biz, so bid accordingly. – RR

4. Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals (13): Soria could earn more saves if he was on a team that actually won every now and then, but he’s still become one of the best in the biz. His flyball rate was at its highest ever, leading to an increased homer rate, but Soria still racked up a second straight 30-save campaign even with spending some time on the DL. – RR

5. Heath Bell, San Diego Padres (7): Bell is one of the top closers in the game, but don’t be surprised if he possibly ends up in a set-up role near the deadline. It is a possibility that could be very costly to your Fantasy team’s chances this season. Tie him to Luke Gregerson and/or Mike Adams if at all possible when drafting. – TM

6. Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants (18): Coming off a superb year, Wilson recently signed a two-year, $15-million deal as the Giants have started to open their wallets to keep their fine young staff together. An All-Star in 2008, Wilson was even sharper last year, lowering his hit rate, helping his owners in WHIP and shaving nearly two runs off his ERA. Hell, he even bagged a career-high five wins. — RR

7. Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets (5): Everyone knew K-Rod wasn’t going to duplicate the 62 saves he posted with the Angels in 2008, but few expected that number to be cut nearly in half (35). His ratios continued moving in the wrong direction as well, including career a worst in both ERA (3.71) and WHIP (1.31), which went up for the fourth straight season. On the plus side he remains a high strikeout hurler that won’t lose his job barring injury. Assuming the Mets are improved this season you can pencil him in for 70-plus Ks and 40-plus saves. — HG

8. Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds (9): Cordero can best be described as deceptively effective. He struggles with his control at times and works into trouble more than you’d like, but more often than not he comes through. His poor control leads to a high WHIP, however, and there’s always a concern that with so many men on base one of these days he’s going to start getting lit up. Despite that, he ranks among the steadier options out there with at least 34 saves in each of the last three seasons and more than a strikeout per inning pitched over his career. — HG

9. David Aardsma, Seattle Mariners (28): Playing for his fifth team in five years, the Rice product surprisingly emerged as a highly effective stopper last season, successfully converting 38 of his 42 chances. He can be overpowering with mid-90s heat, though he’s still prone to wildness. Considering his first four-plus seasons were mediocre or worse, there are concerns about his ability to repeat his 2009 performance, so try to pair him with a steady veteran closer. – HG

10. Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics (34): The reigning AL Rookie of the Year was flat out nasty in 2009. Bailey didn’t record his third save until June, but still finished with 26. He was virtually unhittable at times, holding opponents to a .167 average and fanning 91 in 83 1/3 innings. Bailey was shut down for a while during Spring Training with tennis elbow, which is a mild concern, but he still has too much upside being Oakland’s closer from Opening Day this time around not to find a home in the middle rounds. — HG

11. Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers (15): The portly shaped Valverde is a sparkplug on the mound, and that outward emotion has served him well with 116 saves over the past three seasons despite missing 41 games with a calf injury. He throws hard, racks up the strikeouts and hasn’t encountered any arm troubles since 2005. Considering the less talented Fernando Rodney tallied 37 saves as Detroit’s closer last year, you should pencil in Valverde for at least that many. — HG

12. Rafael Soriano, Tampa Bay Rays (37): The veteran righty made the transition to full-time closer look easy last season, saving 27 of his 31 chance and fanning an incredible 102 hitters in 75 2/3 innings. As always, though, there is plenty of risk involved with spending a pick on Soriano, who has dealt with arm troubles throughout his career. Given that fact, handcuffing him to Dan Wheeler would be a savvy move. — HG

13. Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs (39): When you’re talking risk/reward at the position, you’d be hard pressed to find someone that fits that designation better than Marmol, whose outings range from dominant to disastrous. He definitely has the stuff to be a closer, but the questions about his emotional makeup will remain until he consistently succeeds in that role. Control is his biggest issue on the mound, and it’s the reason a guy with a .170 BAA had a 1.46 WHIP. If he figures it out, he could be an All-Star level closer. If he doesn’t, well at least he’ll still give you a bunch of strikeouts. – HG

14. Trevor Hoffman, Milwaukee Brewers (12): The game’s all-time saves leader just keeps on chugging along. Hoffman hasn’t thrown harder than the mid 80s in years, but his other-worldly changeup still makes hitters look foolish. His age (42) is a mild concern, though his work ethic is unquestioned and he’s had little trouble staying healthy even as he starts reaching Jamie Moyer territory. There’s nothing flashy about Hoffman anymore, but he’s about as steady a No. 2 closer as you’ll find. – HG

15. Chad Qualls, Arizona Diamondbacks (21): Qualls did a reasonably good job following the departure of Valverde before a knee injury ended his season in late August. He’s not a prototypical closer in that he doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters. However, Qualls has excellent control, which allowed his WHIP to stay at 1.00 despite a .250 BAA last year. The D-Backs thinned some hard throwers from their pen so his job security should be fairly high, and the makeup of their club (strong pitching, suspect hitting) could lead to plenty of save opportunities. — HG

16. Ryan Franklin, St. Louis Cardinals (11): Dave Duncan’s Hall of Fame credentials should have a picture of Franklin as Exhibit A. A fringe journeyman with one foot out of the majors when he arrived in St. Louis, Franklin has been remade into a legitimate closer. He’s got a deep repertoire of pitches and features a fastball/cutter mix. Franklin won’t notch many strikeouts and, unlike someone like Marmol, holds virtually no value if he’s not closing. Converting 38 of 43 opportunities should earn him a little leeway, though, making him a decent option as your second stopper. — HG

17. Billy Wagner, Atlanta Braves (NR): At 38 years old and with less than 20 innings under his belt since Tommy John surgery, Wagner carries a lot of risk. It has to be considered encouraging that he’s still hitting the mid 90s on the radar gun, though, and the Braves are the type of team that could get him a lot of opportunities. He may be the single biggest risk/reward selection at the position so try to nab Takashi Saito late to hedge your bets. – HG

18. Matt Capps, Washington Nationals (19): Capps was brutal last year, burned by far too many long balls, and that prompted the Pirates to trade him to Washington. He endured an ugly spring, making us wonder how long he’d hold down the closer gig for the Nats. Well, he’s been wild in the early going, but it hasn’t hurt him – yet. With Brian Bruney looming as a potential replacement and Drew Storen on the way, Capps could find himself on the move again at the deadline. — RR

19. Bobby Jenks, Chicago White Sox (6): The imposing Jenks may not consistently hit the high 90s on the radar gun anymore, but he’s still a power pitcher that relies heavily on his fastball. Unfortunately, it’s that dependency on a declining heater that has led to him being much more hittable in recent years. Even with relatively good health, Jenks has saved just 59 games the last two years, which is a far cry from the 81 he notched in 2006 and ’07. Jenks is a nice secondary closer at this point and should be drafted as such. — HG

20. Jon Rauch, Minnesota Twins (75): When Joe Nathan went down, it became an open competition for the Twin closing gig – hell, even Francisco Liriano was considered. But Rauch came away with the job, making him a hot early-season pickup. By now, he should be owned in all formats, and why not? The workhorse reliever has been flawless in the role so far. Should he stumble at any point, Matt Guerrier will become an interesting play. – RR

21. Leo Nunez, Florida Marlins (42): A two-pitch hurler that allowed an unsightly amount of home runs for a closer last season, Nunez took over the role after an injury sidelined Matt Lindstrom. He held up fairly well, but he’s more of a closer by default given a lack of internal or external competition brought in by the financially conscious Marlins. View Nunez as a borderline second or third reliever with some upside given his 26 saves in less than a season on the job. — HG

22. Octavio Dotel, Pittsburgh Pirates (54): Part of a deep ChiSox bullpen last year, Dotel signed as a free agent with the Pirates so he could have a chance to close again. He’s nailed down three of his first four save opportunities, so if he’s not already owned in all formats, he will be soon. Dotel’s K rate dipped last year, but was still excellent. Before his first save for the Bucs, Dotel hadn’t recorded one since 2008, and he hasn’t really been a closer since 2007. Don’t be shocked if he’s dealt to a contender at the deadline – a move that could hurt his value, as depending on the situation, he may not be closing in his new home. — RR

23. Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers (NR): Feliz had a rough spring, which foolishly lured us into believing that Chris Ray would get the first crack at closing once Frank Francisco imploded. But as impressive as Feliz was last year, he continues to dazzle this year and so the Rangers have shifted him into the closer role, as least temporarily. But Feliz says he likes closing, and you want to talk untouchable? As of this writing, he has faced 136 batters in his big league career and they have compiled a .124 BAA against him. Feliz’s long-term future may still be as a starter, but for now, he’s going to remain in the bullpen until at least 2011. — RR

24. Matt Lindstrom, Houston Astros (27): Lindstrom had a fight on his hands this spring from Brandon Lyon for the closer job, but he emerged with the gig. And while he already has a wild pitch after going the entire 2009 season without one, Lindstrom’s command has been flawless otherwise, and he’s looking strong. So why is he getting dumped in mixed leagues when it’s pretty clear he’s got a good grip on the job? Well, it may have something to do with the fact that Houston has struggled so badly to win any games at all, never mind generate save chances for Lindstrom. — RR

25. Kevin Gregg, Toronto Blue Jays (22): Gregg was hit a bit harder last season with the Cubs, but he did reduce his walk rates. The real problem with him was the gopheritis. Now with the Jays, he is a superb AL-only pick up at this point, as he’s already proving a more dependable closing option than Jason Frasor. – RR

26. Fernando Rodney, Los Angeles Angels (23): The injury to Brian Fuentes has opened the door for Rodney to close for the Angels, so he makes for a great waiver wire pickup currently. The former Tiger’s BAA has risen three straight years, but that didn’t stop him from being nearly flawless closing in Detroit last year. In fact, over the last two seasons Rodney has recorded a superb 2.66 ERA when he’s pitching in closing situations and 6.69 in all other games. Don’t assume that Fuentes will regain the gig upon his return. — RR

27. Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians (43): Perez has long been a sleeper candidate; in fact, we had him on our list of last-round fliers this year. Well, with Kerry Wood out, Perez has gotten his chance to close, but he – along with the rest of the Tribe pen – has been shaky (in fairness, he only really had one bad outing). Cleveland plans to stick with him, so he could still wind up a surprise this year with 25 or more saves. Perez, coming off a solid season in 2009 in which he pitched better than his ERA would indicate, makes for a good pickup in mixed leagues. — RR

28. Ryan Madson, Philadelphia Phillies (47): Madson earned a career-best 10 saves last year, but it was clear that he struggled in the role, so much so that we pegged him as someone who could lose the job even before Brad Lidge returns. And while his overall results aren’t great, Madson has been shutting the door, recording plenty of Ks and showing tremendous command. He’s a must-own in NL-only leagues and seeing decent traction in mixed leagues, too. — RR

29. Franklin Morales, Colorado Rockies (NR): Morales was earning saves last September, prompting a Wire Troll recommendation from us. And with Huston Street out until May, Morales is again earning saves for the Rox…well, at least he’s trying to earn saves. He’s blown two of his first four chances, so the Rockies may not wait until Street returns to make a change, but Morales is coming off a solid season in which he pitched in a career-high 40 games, so he currently makes for a solid NL-only league add. — RR

30. Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles (73): Johnson has taken over as closer from the injured Mike Gonzalez, earning an immediate Wire Troll recommendation. And while he blew his first save opportunity, Johnson bounced back with a solid two-inning save. He’s gaining some traction in AL-only leagues, and while he pitched a career high 70 IP and saved 10 games last year, he wasn’t as sharp as he was in as a rookie. He’s getting cuffed around even harder so far this year, but as long as he’s bagging saves, Johnson is worth owning. — RR

31. Brian Fuentes, Los Angeles Angels (8): Taking over for K-Rod in LA, Fuentes obliterated his previous career high in saves with 48. That’s the good news. The bad news is that his peripheral numbers aren’t that impressive. His ERA (3.93), WHIP (1.40) and limited number of strikeouts (46 in 55 IP) underscore the fact that he isn’t a dominant pitcher. Fuentes started the season on the DL with back woes, but he’s expected back this week. However, don’t assume that he’ll automatically regain the closer job. – HG

32. Mike Gonzalez, Baltimore Orioles (17): Gonzalez has always seemingly been on the outside looking in when it comes to being a closer. He nailed down all 24 of his chances in 2006, but has saved just 26 games in the three seasons since, due in large part to injuries that cost him much of both 2007 and 2008. When he’s on he can be dominant with his fastball, but he can’t be relied on given his injury history and lack of a proven track record in the ninth. He’s a flier as a No. 2 and is better suited as your third bullpen arm. Gonzalez started the year in awful fashion, blowing two of three save chances before landing on the DL because of his shoulder. He’s out until mid-May. – HG

33. Huston Street, Colorado Rockies (16): The switch to the Senior Circuit obviously agreed with Street, who enjoyed arguably his best season to date in 2009. His 35 saves were two short of his ’06 total, but he blew nine fewer opportunities. Street isn’t overpowering and instead uses his impeccable control to send hitters strolling back to the dugout. Health is always the concern with Street, and he opened 2010 on the DL due to inflammation in his right shoulder. With his history and current health woes (he’s expected back in mid-May), he’s a risky No. 2 closer. – HG

34. Brad Lidge, Philadelphia Phillies (14): Lidge is expected to remain on the DL until late April with his elbow and knee woes. It’s a disappointing start considering how awful he was last season. You generally don’t want your closer winning games, but the fact that Lidge failed to garner a single win for the first time in his career underscores how bad 2009 was for him. Wise Fantasy owners of Lidge have picked Madson as a handcuff. – RR

Others to Consider

35. Kerry Wood, Cleveland Indians (25) (out until early May because of his back)
36. Frank Francisco, Texas Rangers (10): Any time you spend three separate stints on the disabled list there are going to be red flags about your durability. Such is the case with Francisco, who has good stuff, but has been derailed time and again by injury woes. When he’s on, however, he can befuddle hitters (255 Ks in 230 2/3 career innings). He started the year looking shaky, and has been replaced as closer by Feliz on a “temporary” basis. – HG
37. Jason Frasor, Toronto Blue Jays (71)
38. J.J. Putz, Chicago White Sox (38)
39. Matt Thornton, Chicago White Sox (82)
40. Juan Gutierrez, Arizona Diamondbacks (NR)
41. Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals (46)
42. Mike Adams, San Diego Padres (NR)
43. Daniel Bard, Boston Red Sox (NR)
44. Matt Guerrier, Minnesota Twins (79)
45. Luke Gregerson, San Diego Padres (NR)
46. LaTroy Hawkins, Milwaukee Brewers (30)
47. Takashi Saito, Atlanta Braves (55)
48. Brandon Lyon, Houston Astros (74): Lyon was battling Lindstrom for the closer job this spring, but now that he’s settled for a set-up job, those who drafted him expecting saves are now dumping him. And it’s not as if Lyon is excelling in his set-up role currently, but coming off a superb year doing the job in Detroit, there’s definitely hope he’ll turn it around. He better reverse this trend considering Houston gave him a multi-year deal. – RR
49. Joba Chamberlain, New York Yankees (NR)
50. J.P. Howell, Tampa Bay Rays (NR)
51. Joel Zumaya, Detroit Tigers (48)
52. Brandon League, Seattle Mariners (NR)
53. Scott Downs, Toronto Blue Jays (24)
54. David Robertson, New York Yankees (NR)
55. Danys Baez, Philadelphia Phillies (NR)
56. Hideki Okajima, Boston Red Sox (59)
57. Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies (NR)
58. Ryan Perry, Detroit Tigers (70)
59. Brad Ziegler, Oakland Athletics (26)
60. Nick Masset, Cincinnati Reds (NR)
61. George Sherrill, Los Angeles Dodgers (20)
62. Todd Coffey, Milwaukee Brewers (66)
63. Ramon Troncoso, Los Angeles Dodgers (68)
64. Peter Moylan, Atlanta Braves (NR)
65. Michael Wuertz, Oakland Athletics (NR)
66. Jeremy Affeldt, San Francisco Giants (62)
67. Ryota Igarashi, New York Mets (NR)
68. Kevin Jepsen, Los Angeles Angels (NR)
69. Kris Medlen, Atlanta Braves (NR)
70. Jensen Lewis, Cleveland Indians (49)
71. Brian Bruney, Washington Nationals (63)
72. Jose Mijares, Minnesota Twins (67)
73. Alfredo Aceves, New York Yankees (NR)
74. Damaso Marte, New York Yankees (NR)
75. Koji Uehara, Baltimore Orioles (NR)
76. Mark Lowe, Seattle Mariners (NR)
77. John Grabow, Chicago Cubs (45)
78. Tony Sipp, Cleveland Indians (NR)
79. Manny Corpas, Colorado Rockies (44)
80. Shawn Kelley, Seattle Mariners (NR)
81. Kyle McClellan, St. Louis Cardinals (NR)
82. Dan Wheeler, Tampa Bay Rays (33)
83. Hong-Chih Kuo, Los Angeles Dodgers (NR)
84. Eric O’Flaherty, Atlanta Braves (NR)
85. Grant Balfour, Tampa Bay Rays (56)
86. Brian Sanches, Florida Marlins (NR)
87. Chris Sampson, Houston Astros (NR)
88. Chris Ray, Texas Rangers (51)
89. Evan Meek, Pittsburgh Pirates (NR)
90. Burke Badenhop, Florida Marlins (NR)
91. Jerry Blevins, Oakland A’s (NR)
92. Edward Mujica, San Diego Padres (69)
93. Carlos Villanueva, Milwaukee Brewers (53)
94. Dennys Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals (NR)
95. Brian Duensing, Minnesota Twins (NR)
96. Jenrry Mejia, New York Mets (NR)
97. Juan Cruz, Kansas City Royals (29)
98. Drew Storen, Washington Nationals (NR)
99. Arthur Rhodes, Cincinnati Reds (NR)
100. Dan Meyer, Florida Marlins (83)
101. Bob Howry, Arizona Diamondbacks (NR)
102. Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates (31)
103. Sean Burnett, Washington Nationals (NR)
104. Ronald Belisario, Los Angeles Dodgers (76)
105. Samuel Gervacio, Houston Astros (NR)
106. Joey Devine, Oakland Athletics (NR)
107. Jason Bulger, Los Angeles Angels (NR)
108. Kelvim Escobar, New York Mets (NR)
109. Mike MacDougal, Florida Marlins (NR)
110. Kyle Farnsworth, Kansas City Royals (NR)

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2010 Preseason

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