In fantasy baseball, the closer position remains volatile. Rarely does every closer hang on to the job for an entire season - injuries, poor performance and managerial decisions cloud a team's bullpen picture.
Should you be concerned about a struggling stopper? Which relievers are climbing the depth chart? Have any injuries popped up? KFFL.com's Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat keeps you informed when you're looking for saves.
|Job security (JS) score
||1 (unstable) to 5 (untouchable)
|Health (H) score
||1 (injury-prone) to 5 (durable)
Closer: Craig Kimbrel
Understudy: Jonny Venters
Lurkers: George Sherrill
Venters has thrown seven scoreless Grapefruit innings, in which he has given up just one hit. Kimbrel, the presumed closer of the future who battled through his first three March games, has rebounded, most recently by whiffing all three hitters he faced Tuesday and lowering his ERA to 5.68, along with eight K's and three walks in 6 1/3 frames for an emblematic Kimbrel command rate.
Atlanta isn't sweating his slow start, though. He has inherently wild stuff - for better or worse - and has little MLB experience. Plus, it's spring. These scuffles don't justify stripping much of Kimbrel's value; the Carlos Marmol clone isn't The Man yet but has been the favorite. Venters remains a worthy speculation and wise handcuff to Kimbrel. The lefty's chance for shared saves, at minimum, remains alive.
Job security score: 2
Health score: 5
Closer: Jonathan Broxton
Understudy: Hong-Chih Kuo
Lurkers: Kenley Jansen
Broxton rebounded from his disastrous Thursday outing with a scoreless inning Monday, his third blank outing in four spring appearances; he made baby-step improvements on his slider after his previous debacle. His fastball has yet to impress, though, and reportedly has been topping out at just 91 mph.
More smoke, more fire for Lidge?
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt suggested that Brox shift his right foot from the first-base side to the third-base side of the rubber to angle his pitches better for the strike zone. The hurler has yet to try it, but the mere discussion is encouraging. The same shift helped the Colorado Rockies' Huston Street, another slider-fueled reliever, re-nastify his filth in 2009.
New Blue skipper Don Mattingly said he doesn't plan on using Broxton for more than one inning in save situations this season. The righty's overuse was a major contributor to his struggles under Joe Torre last season. Is this coach speak or a lesson learned?
Thankfully, the risk relative to Brox's price still isn't roster-crippling; he arguably has more upside than most No. 2 mixed stoppers. Too bad the crash factor evens that out. At least he's taking moderate steps forward and not doing enough to corrupt LA's initial plans for him.
Job security score: 3
Health score: 4
Closer: Brad Lidge
Understudy: Ryan Madson
Lurkers: Jose Contreras
Guess it was only a matter of time, right? Spring injuries have plagued Lidge's Phillies years. This time, biceps tendonitis will keep him out of game action for a bit, but he played catch sans issues Tuesday and Wednesday and should participate in a bullpen soon. He first felt the discomfort in either his first or second spring outing but tried to pitch through it, and despite a velocity dip for his heater, he said his slider wasn't affected by it.
Brass said Madson or Contreras would step in if Lidge can't start 2011 on time. Does Philly want to move Madson out of the eighth-inning role in which he has dominated? He hasn't exactly proven to be ninth-inning material, either. Contreras proved he could shut the door last season (4-for-5 in opps), but three of those happened early on when both Lidge and Madson were injured.
As long as Lidge can take the mound, he'll close. Unfortunately, as we've seen before, when there's smoke with a Lidge health problem, fire typically follows. Luckily, his price already has injury and statistical risks plugged in. How confident are you in him regaining velocity, an issue he frequently had last year?
Take him as you normally should: heavily discounted and doubted. Madson still has a slight speculative edge, but Contreras is a solid end-gamer.
Job security score: 4
Health score: 3
Closer: Joel Hanrahan
Understudy: Evan Meek
Axford's blade a little dull
Hanny wrote off most of his struggles last Thursday (four runs, five hits and a walk in one inning) because there were things he was still working on. On Sunday, despite giving up a solo jack, he threw inside more and retired the other three batters he faced. The biggest problem for him, though, has been his failures with his slider and leaving pitches up. At least his Pirates time has corrected or improved many of the flaws he had last time he was a closer.
There likely isn't enough time for him to lose the job, but he might be winning it less, so to speak. This remains a situation to watch throughout the season, especially if Meek follows up with more of what he showed in 2010.
Job security score: 3
Health score: 5
Understudy: Drew Storen
Lurkers: Tyler Clippard, Todd Coffey, Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez
Many drafters have simply assumed Storen was a lock to step into full-time closing and have reached for him. First, let's worry about whether Storen's spot on the 25-man roster is secure.
Nats skipper Jim Riggleman recently "gave the media every indication," per one report, of leaning toward beginning the season with a closing committee, with Storen, Clippard, Coffey and Burnett in the running. There's even a chance that Storen might be left out on opening day if he doesn't show more improvements. Maybe the Nats are all-in on their 2012-centric plan (return of Stephen Strasburg, potential arrival of Bryce Harper) and want to be ultra-patient with Storen.
A positive: His Monday outing was arguably his best of camp; he has focused more on his location than beating hitters with his stuff, which partially explains his struggles. Storen was far from spotless in closing last year (5.71 ERA in save sitches). But is Washington really not accounting for his mound tinkering in his recent rough patches, and do they think time in Triple-A Columbus will help make the most of his MLB-ready command?
You must acknowledge the possibility he could become farm-trapped dead weight. Of course, if your draft room lets him slip because of this, take advantage. But reaching or overpaying shouldn't be a priority.
Without Storen taking the reins, it's an unattractive saves setup. The southpaw Burnett isn't a LOOGY, which bodes well for his chances, but Coffey has a decent closer pedigree, and Clippard's 2010 performance should keep him in the picture. They can be end-game selections. Good luck.
Job security score: TBD
Health score: TBD
- John Axford's stomach-curdling spring: five earned runs, four walks and six hits allowed in his last three outings. Batters are tuning him up at a .444 clip in the last five games since he returned from a bout with food poisoning. His velocity has been sound, and the righty says mechanics aren't an issue. Maybe he needs to regain some strength after that illness.
No reason to panic yet over the Milwaukee Brewers stopper's value given the lack of palpable threats to his job, but showing that his heat isn't mashable would be a start toward increasing comfort in bidding on him.
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.