Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat - NL

by Tim Heaney on February 25, 2011 @ 06:30:06 PDT


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?'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)


Atlanta Braves

Closer: Craig Kimbrel

Understudy: Jonny Venters

Though manager Fredi Gonzalez has toyed with the idea of a platoon sitch, Kimbrel, who turns 23 in May, has the early edge. His K foundation doesn't belittle the title. We're talking Carlos Marmol-esque here, for better (100-strikeout upside) or worse (crippling walk rates). Closers can get by with shaky control, but what about someone with little MLB experience who walked 5.66 per nine at Triple-A last year?

The southpaw Venters, a converted starter, found his niche in relief last season and was useful in fantasy without saves. His grounder inducement and control (though still not stringent) have trumped Kimbrel's so far. His taming of righty bats works in his favor, too.

Los Angeles Dodgers RP Jonathan Broxton
Man in a Brox: Will he step up?

Both have small MLB sample sizes and carry control flaws, but Venters marinated in a full season's worth of work with Atlanta last year. Kimbrel has widely been dubbed the closer of the future, but what if the future isn't 2011? If you invest in Kimbrel, you should probably purchase Venters, too. Braves bullpens typically nurture save chances, so this is a case when handcuffing two talented arms isn't a roster-crippling idea.

As enticing as Kimbrel's makeup is, his hype could jack his price up to those of more stable closers. Beware. Venters has less risk and presents similar profit potential. He might not outright take the gig, but he's an attractive gamble after the attractive, established closers are gone.

Job security score: 2

Health score: 5

Florida Marlins

Closer: Leo Nunez

Understudy: Clay Hensley

Lurkers: Ryan Webb, Edward Mujica

Nunez's best skills season still wasn't good enough to keep his hold on the job all season; he blew up in August and ceded the job to Hensley. The Fish are starting 2011 with Nunez in the role. Rekindling his confidence in his slider, which he abandoned early on last year, will be a good start toward him keeping it. His notable growth in grounders, K/9 and BB/9 shouldn't be written off, but he's still erratic.

Thornton-Sale, O's, Nathan, more:

AL Hot Seat | Depth charts

Hensley's late-season luck played into his stopper success: .156 BABIP and 93 percent LOB in August, .200 and 100 percent in his seven-save September. Even with the explosion of his swinging-strike percentage, the former starter is more deception than power, and he's in line for widespread fluctuation, even with his successful curveball growth.

Webb and Mujica boast the profile to close - velocity, ground balls, control - with Webb having slightly more sleeper value, especially in NLs, because Mujica is an option for long relief or the occasional spot start.

Nunez's 56 saves in the last two seasons were mainly the result of a lack of competition; Florida added two enticing arms to the mix and isn't totally convinced by Nunez's capabilities. It's safe to be skeptical of his long-term hold. For now, he's the best of a heaping pile of mediocre, and just because he's in the lead doesn't mean he's worth a strong investment. You win your league over six months, not based on draft day roles.

Job security score: 3

Health score: 5

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer: Jonathan Broxton

Understudy: Hong-Chih Kuo

Lurkers: Kenley Jansen

Mighty ... fallen ... etc. Broxton imploded in 2010. He lost some movement, velocity and confidence. These weren't complete shockers given his erratic track record.

Like its acting, producing, gophering and food-serving gigs, LA has two capable backups clawing for more work. But like in LA, dreams don't always come true. Kuo has elite skills but still has kid gloves because of his shaky health record. The enticing Jansen has overpowering stuff but carries control issues befitting his limited pitching background.

The K-heavy arms in waiting still make this a prime speculation situation. Then again, it's also a solid buying opportunity for a stopper who, when right, has No. 1 stuff. Working in his favor is the team's recommitment to holding him at the back end; though it's not as long as in past years, his leash isn't tight.

Plus, Broxton's brutality hid productive K/9 and grounder rates - they were just ... not Broxtoney. Risks are mitigated by his falling cost. Here's a potential steal for his 2009 numbers, with the hope that Don Mattingly didn't count Joe Torre's bullpen management as gospel.

Job security score: 3

Health score: 4

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer: Joel Hanrahan

Understudy: Evan Meek

Washington Nationals RP Drew Storen
No one else matters

Hanrahan was named closer. Buy, right? Seems like it: Pittsburgh encouraged him to use his entire arsenal after acquiring him in '09, which has helped breed his elite dominance and budding control. He has closer experience - mostly rough with the Washington Nationals in '08, but better with the Pirates. His stint as primary stopper post-Octavio Dotel reflected his improving skills, even with some rough patches.

Hanny's price might escalate with the official news, but if you're lucky, many will be driven away by his uni. Optimally, he should be your third mixed closer; though his skills are ownable anyway, he hasn't exactly shown he can hold a saves job for extended periods. His downside is as colossal as the K-fueled power he offers.

The grounder-friendly Meek ain't too shabby, either, and as with Venters, his presumably dirt-cheap cost as backup - maybe a post-draft pickup down the road - could wind up stealing you double-digit saves, at least. He can help you, too, while he's waiting for save opps, if you have the roster depth and patience.

Job security score: 3

Health score: 5

Washington Nationals

Closer: TBD

Understudy: Drew Storen

Lurkers: Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez

The competition is still open between these four. If you're drafting one, pick the 22-year-old heir apparent Storen. The Nats should just get the foreplay over with: His post-May control showed why he didn't need much farm ball. If they don't settle on Storen, this will become messy before they come to their senses ... if Washington does.

Clippard and Burnett have grown leaps and bounds since their moves to the 'pen but appear to be more useful to Washington in the seventh and eighth innings. H-Rod, he of triple-digit heat, is a wild card in this race and on the mound. Unlisted Cole Kimball, a prospect, also chucks gas. Picking anyone other than Storen in a mixed draft would deservedly make you the draft room joker.

Job security score: TBD

Health score: TBD

Mound meetings

  • The Arizona Diamondbacks have some tantalizing backup options, but it'll be J.J. Putz's gig. A knee injury tarnished an otherwise fine rebound season after two years of elbow problems. Putz can perform as a top mixed closer; he has a track record and bankable skills when on the mound. But consider his medical chart long and hard before going that extra buck.
    As for backups, Juan Gutierrez is the default, but David Hernandez, Sam Demel and Kam Mickolio are speculative targets. If Putz goes down, this will likely be a frustrating waiver wire carousel.
  • Luckily, the Cincinnati Reds' Francisco Cordero has Dusty Baker on his side. Who's to say another manager wouldn't try Aroldis Chapman as closer already? CoCo has now walked at least four batters per nine and posted dropping dominance in each of the last three years.
    Many are devaluing him, so the risk is diminished, but it shouldn't leave your head. Chapman's 'pen K's are still worth an end-game mixed speculation ... and a Cordero handcuff, if your league is deep enough to make that a comfortable pairing.
  • Huston Street's injury history should keep his price relatively low once again. He pitched through the final six weeks of 2010 with a rib injury. The Colorado Rockies righty admitted he was throwing too fast and with too much strength last spring and had trouble finding a rhythm at times. He changed his offseason workout in an attempt to avoid that this season. Take advantage of your league mates' skepticism.
  • While Wilton Lopez and Samuel Gervacio have bright spots for sleeper eyes and Jeff Fulchino ... is there, none is an imminent threat to Brandon Lyon. The Houston Astros traded Matt Lindstrom, so they've expressed their confidence in Lyon - he's boring, but he'll have a job initially. If his health or performance breaks, expect a messy fantasy sitch.
  • Many doubt John Axford's ability to keep the Milwaukee Brewers' job for another season. Closers can get away with iffy control if they show attractive grounder and K rates like Axford did in his rookie year. The biggest caution, of course, is that, well, 2010 was his first big league action, but Takashi Saito, LaTroy Hawkins, Zach Braddock and others aren't legit threats sans injury. Count Axford as a middle-tier mixed option that could perform like a No. 1, and more importantly, come at a bargain price.
  • Heath Bell wants to stay with the San Diego Padres past 2011, the final year of his current deal. There are extension talks in the works, but what if the Pads fall out of the running and start considering a trade? Drafting Bell will, once again, force you to keep an eye on Luke Gregerson and, to some extent, Mike M. Adams, but you shouldn't be so concerned that you avoid Bell's elite skills altogether; at least you'll have his time as closer to build on for the rest of your season.
  • Don't draft Ryan Franklin for skills - i.e., don't overpay just because he has the St. Louis Cardinals' job. Luckily, he's cheap in most setups, so there's little concern about lost investment.
    He was considering retirement last year. His improved control doesn't fully exonerate him; he's still hittable and hardly strikes anyone out. Jason Motte is your best speculation, especially with rumblings that Kyle McClellan could take Adam Wainwright's rotation spot.
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Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat | AL depth charts | NL depth charts

About Tim Heaney

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 the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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