Fantasy Baseball: Closer Hot Seat - NL

by Tim Heaney on March 14, 2008 @ 12:34:21 PDT

 


Welcome to the second season of Closer Hot Seat, KFFL's continued venture into the pressurized cortex that makes up the ninth-inning relief pitcher. This 2008 opening installment focuses on each major league situation, but the in-season versions will detail only the jobs that appear to be in jeopardy.

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For each team, KFFL provides the important relievers for every bullpen situation: The current closer, the "Next in Line" and "Other Possibilities" to steal the job. This report also grades the health and the job security each closer holds. The durability meter is based on time spent on the disabled list over the last three seasons. The job security grade details how strong the current closer has a hold on keeping the job as the season starts.

Grading Key

Durability Grade: 1 (very injury-prone) to 10 (extremely durable)

Job Security Grade: 1 (very shaky) to 10 (firm grasp)

National League East

Atlanta Braves

Closer: Rafael Soriano

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
72
3
9
3.00
0.86
70
2008
51
2
32
3.03
1.13
55

Next in Line: Peter Moylan

Other Possibilities: Manuel Acosta

Analysis: The Braves are putting their bullpen stock in the hands of the 28-year-old Soriano, who won the job late last season after fighting off relievers Bob Wickman and Octavio Dotel. Further cementing Soriano's stronghold on the job was the injury to southpaw Mike Gonzalez (elbow), who is expected to miss at least the first half of the season. His promising strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.67 is a good indicator for success at the position, although Soriano has never been closer for a full season. Moylan and Acosta are expected to split work in the two innings leading up to the ninth. Moylan allowed just two earned runs in 15 1/3 September innings. Acosta, who rose through the ranks as a non-hype prospect, surrendered just 13 hits in 23 1/3 innings pitched last season but walked 14 batters in that time.

Fantasy Tip: Soriano has had a bit of a sore elbow in spring training but it isn't considered serious. He is a solid No. 2 closer since his grasp on the job is only marginally threatened by a Gonzalez's expected late-season return.

Durability Grade: 6

Job Security Grade: 9

Florida Marlins

Closer: Kevin Gregg

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
84
0
32
3.54
1.23
87
2008
61
2
28
3.04
1.20
57

Next in Line: Justin M. Miller

Other Possibilities: Taylor Tankersley, Matt Lindstrom

Analysis: Gregg grabbed the job from Jorge Julio, Tankersley and the injured Henry Owens last season, on his way to rattling off 15 consecutive saves to start the season. Opponents mustered a .206 batting average off the right-hander. Miller returned after spending 2006 in Japan to strike out 74 batters in 64 2/3 innings; the right-hander excelled in eighth-inning duties last year and is expected to serve the same role this year. Tankersley lost out on the job last season and will have to work to get back in the fray. Lindstrom often touched 100 mph on the gun last year and struck out 62 in 67 innings.

Fantasy Tip: Gregg doesn't have to work this season to win the closer spot, but because of his lack of track record you should think hard about making him anything more than a No. 2 closer. Miller could be a backup plan if Gregg falters; however, take a look at Lindstrom. With a blistering fastball and solid slider, he has all the tools to be a top closer.

Durability Grade: 8

Job Security Grade: 8

New York Mets

Closer: Billy Wagner

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
68.1
2
34
2.63
1.13
80
2008
68
3
34
2.99
1.13
84

Next in Line: Duaner Sanchez

Other Possibilities: Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano 

Analysis: If you want reliability, you should look towards Wagner. The flamethrower has recorded at least 34 saves in his last three seasons, and age does not seem to have affected him just yet. Sure, his innings pitched totals have declined while his ERA and WHIP have slowly climbed over that span, but when your WHIP climbs to 1.13 that's not something to complain much about. Sanchez is hoping an injury-free return from a shoulder injury he suffered in a taxicab accident in 2007, and Heilman is still served best as a long reliever. Feliciano is likely to play the role of a situation lefty.

Fantasy Tip: Given that the Mets are one of the favorites in the National League, Wagner should still be in line for 30-plus save opportunities. His consistency warrants his inclusion as a mid-level No. 1 option.

Durability Grade: 7

Job Security Grade: 10

Philadelphia Phillies

Closer: Brad Lidge

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
67
5
19
3.36
1.25
88
2008
70
4
21
3.46
1.17
104

Next in Line: Tom Gordon

Other Possibilities: J.C. Romero

Analysis: The right-hander has a chance to clear his head as he leaves Houston. He is now without a doubt the season-opening closer, although his Philly debut might be delayed. Lidge re-injured his knee during spring training and is in danger of missing opening day. He has progressed nicely, but with offseason knee surgery in his past, the team could be cautious with him. When he does return, one thing Lidge is good for is strikeouts; he has sent at least 88 hitters back to the dugout in the last five seasons. The Phillies will likely give him as many chances as possible to lock down the job since they traded speedy outfielder Michael Bourn for him. The 40-year-old Gordon presents a Plan B, at best, since he had been relied on as recently as 2007, but he is coming off rotator cuff surgery.

Fantasy Tip: Lidge is still a prolific strikeout artist but given his recent injuries on top of his well publicized struggles he is best suited as a decent No. 2 closer with No. 1 upside. He is definitely a high-risk option.

Durability Grade: 6

Job Security Grade: 8

Washington Nationals

Closer: Chad Cordero

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
75
3
37
3.36
1.39
62
2008
75
5
34
3.10
1.23
69

Next in Line: Jon Rauch

Other Possibilities: Luis Ayala

Analysis: Cordero slipped up last season as his hits matched his innings pitched for the first time in his career. His ERA, WHIP, blown saves (nine) and batting average against (.260) were also each a career worst. One worry for Cordero this season is the Nationals' new home: Nationals Park is expected to be less of a pitchers' paradise than the old RFK Stadium. He is still the consistent reliever that owners would hope for, averaging 38 saves over the last three seasons on a terrible Nationals franchise. Rauch put up a respectable WHIP (1.10) and batting average against (.230) for the second consecutive season in his extensive role in the back of the bullpen. The durable, 6-foot-11 right-hander decreased his walks by 15 from the year before from 36 to 21. 

Fantasy Tip: Cordero is still a valuable fantasy commodity as a high-end No. 2 closer. The new ballpark certainly detracts from his value a little, but neither Rauch nor Ayala is expected to unseat him barring an injury or trade.

Durability Grade: 8

Job Security Grade: 10

National League Central

Chicago Cubs

Closer: Kerry Wood

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
24.1
1
0
3.33
1.27
24
2008
40
2
18
3.63
1.24
48

Next in Line: Carlos Marmol

Other Possibilities: Bob Howry

Analysis: The Cubbies brought back Wood because they believe that if he unleashes his naturally deft pitches in short spurts, he could turn into a valuable closer. The injury-plagued right-hander is expected to get the first shot, and he allowed just 18 hits in 24 1/3 relief innings last season. Fantasy owners have to wonder, though, if he can hold up in save situations. Howry made his case for the job last season, converting eight of 12 save opportunities when then-closer Ryan Dempster was out with injury. However, he has struggled this spring with an ERA of 11.57 and is likely out of consideration for the job. Marmol hasn't exactly laid out the red carpet, either. The converted catcher's electric stuff - which includes a dynamic fastball - provides a solid foundation for a fireman. Marmol saved two games in the Caribbean Series this offseason and certainly has the most fantasy upside of any one of the trio.

Fantasy Tip: Marmol is leaving draft boards sooner than Wood in most leagues, since he is being drafted in the middle rounds because of his potential. Despite Marmol's high upside, it might be best to avoid paying highly for either Marmol or Wood until the situation solidifies.

Durability Grade: 4

Job Security Grade: 3

Cincinnati Reds

Closer: Francisco Cordero

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
63.1
0
44
2.98
1.11
86
2008
71
5
39
3.04
1.25
82

Next in Line: David Weathers

Other Possibilities: Bill Bray

Analysis: Cordero cashed in on his superb 2007 season by signing a lucrative deal with the Reds. Cordero recorded a career-high 44 saves with the Milwaukee Brewers last year, with a career-best 1.11 WHIP, and he once again proved that he can be a strikeout machine over a full season of work. Cordero has excelled in bandbox ballparks before - he shut down 86 games in his two full-time seasons as Texas Rangers closer - so it's not outrageous to believe Cordero could still save at least 30 games this season. Weathers has long been a backup plan and posted 33 saves last season when southpaw Mike Stanton couldn't cut it at the back end.

Fantasy Tip: The Reds paid Cordero the big bucks to close, and given the Reds' position at the bottom of the NL Central, he will most likely be given a long leash. The guaranteed opportunities are enough to consider him a No. 1 closer.

Durability Grade: 8

Job Security Grade: 10

Houston Astros

Closer: Jose Valverde

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
64.1
1
47
2.66
1.12
78
2008
62
2
31
3.81
1.19
76

Next in Line: Doug Brocail

Other Possibilities: Oscar Villarreal

Analysis: The Arizona Diamondbacks traded Valverde after the right-hander posted career numbers out of the pen. Valverde once again powered his way past opponents with 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings. With Valverde, you're still going to have to settle for a few blown saves here and there (he had seven last year). However, he certainly was more reliable in 2007 given the amount of innings he pitched, which was the second-highest total of his career. Brocail pitched 76 2/3 innings with the San Diego Padres last season, and opponents hit just .228 against him. Villarreal had a down year (4.25 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in 76 1/3 innings) after earning nine wins out of the bullpen in 2006. 

Fantasy Tip: Valverde's not likely to receive any competition for the job, but don't expect him to replicate his '07 numbers. He should be considered a No. 1 option, but you shouldn't overpay for him given his wavering history as a reliever.

Durability Grade: 7

Job Security Grade: 10

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Eric Gagne

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
52
4
16
3.81
1.35
51
2008
43
3
26
3.60
1.40
40

Next in Line: Derrick Turnbow

Other Possibilities: Salomon Torres

Analysis: "Not-so-Everyday" Eric gets another chance to close after closing for the Texas Rangers and toiling in the back of the Boston Red Sox bullpen last year. He was surprisingly effective as the Rangers closer before the trade deadline swap; he executed 16 saves while giving up just 23 hits in 33 1/3 innings pitched and produced a microscopic 1.32 ERA before the All-Star game. He returned to "Evil Eric" form as he struggled to a 6.57 ERA in the big-market environment. Still, a return to the National League could moderately improve his stock. Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux has rehabilitated closers, including Turnbow and 2007 uber-stopper Francisco Cordero. Turnbow, however, is there behind Gagne, waiting for his chance if Gagne were to falter. His .183 batting average against in 2007 was the best of his short career.

Fantasy Tip: Although Turnbow presents an intriguing safety net, the Brewers will likely give Gagne every chance to return to his old dominant form. You shouldn't buy too heavily into the Brewers' philosophy, and Gagne should only be a No. 1 closer in the deepest of leagues.

Durability Grade: 5

Job Security Grade: 6

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer: Matt Capps

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
79
4
18
2.28
1.01
64
2008
76
5
30
2.92
1.12
70

Next in Line: John Grabow

Other Possibilities: Damaso Marte, Franquelis Osoria

Analysis: Capps burst out as another successful sleeper closer last year in his coup of Salomon Torres. It's hard not to like Capps' improvements between 2006 and 2007 with the decrease in hits in a similar amount of innings. His nearly identical half-season splits could help ease some concerns of a sophomore slump. He only suffered three blown saves all season. Grabow has been preparing for a much larger role in the bullpen and could be the default eighth-inning setup man regardless of whether he faces right-handed or left-handed batters. Marte will mainly be utilized as a left-handed specialist, despite an offseason car accident that delayed his workout routine. He is reportedly on track for spring training. Osoria had a strong showing in the Dominican Winter League, posting a 0.84 ERA in 14 appearances.

Fantasy Tip: Capps makes for a valuable No. 2 closer. However, you should not rely on him as the top dog in your fantasy bullpen.

Durability Grade: 9

Job Security Grade: 9

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Jason Isringhausen

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
65.1
4
32
2.48
1.07
54
2008
58
2
29
3.29
1.20
54

Next in Line: Ryan Franklin

Other Possibilities: Russ Springer

Analysis: Fantasy players have long feared Isringhausen's decline, and they have projected this assumption correctly with his save totals. Over the last three seasons, his total has slipped from 39 to 33 to 32. However, his declining save total has not brought his other stats down; opponents hit a paltry .179 against him last year. His pitch velocity has been on the decline for the past few seasons because of his degenerative hip condition, but he tossed 65 1/3 innings last year - his largest total since 2004. Isringhausen will reportedly relieve his stress during the early parts of spring training by sticking to batting practice and Minor League games through the early part of camp to preserve him for the long season. He certainly doesn't have much competition. Franklin has a dependable 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but doesn't offer much statistical upside in the counting categories.

Fantasy Tip: Isringhausen makes for an extremely valuable No. 2 fantasy closer, since he doesn't have any significant challengers for the job.

Durability Grade: 6

Job Security Grade: 9

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer: Brandon Lyon

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
74.0
6
2
2.68
1.24
40
2008
68
3
31
3.30
1.28
44

Next in Line: Tony Pena

Other Possibilities: Chad Qualls

Analysis: The most wide-open closer debate of the offseason was shut for at least the start of the season when Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin named Lyon as the stopper. The right-hander closed out 14 games with just one blown chance in 2005 but has blown 10 saves in his last 12 opportunities over the last two seasons. Pena and Qualls have not been given defined setup roles, but they shouldn't be counted out for the top prize, either. Pena is more of a power pitcher and could be very useful in the closer role, but he hasn't had a chance to prove his worth there.

Fantasy Tip: This could be one of the shakier situations all season, so fantasy owners need to keep one eye focused on the desert. Lyon should be examined with care on draft day, and you shouldn't make him anything more than a No. 3 closer given his recent shaky history.

Durability Grade: 7

Job Security Grade: 5

Colorado Rockies

Closer: Manny Corpas

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
78
4
19
2.08
1.06
58
2008
55
3
31
2.49
1.14
42

Next in Line: Brian Fuentes

Other Possibilities: Luis Vizcaino

Analysis: Corpas swooped in to steal the job from Fuentes last year even after Fuentes was selected to the NL All-Star team. He blew three saves in 22 opportunities (including his three postseason saves) and allowed only seven earned runs after he took the job in July. The Rockies also made a point of hanging on to Fuentes for some insurance. He's not exactly a slouch; he saved 20 games in the first half of last season. Fuentes' 1.52 ERA after the All-Star break at least keeps him in the closer conversation.

Fantasy Tip: Corpas should still be considered the closer, since his postseason performance cemented his value for this season. He should be considered a higher-end No. 2 closer for fantasy purposes.

Durability Grade: 8

Job Security Grade: 8

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer: Takashi Saito

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
64.1
2
39
1.40
0.72
78
2008
66
3
31
2.30
1.18
66

Next in Line: Jonathan Broxton

Other Possibilities: Joe Beimel

Analysis: Saito was flat-out nearly unhittable at times last season, allowing just 33 hits and 13 walks in 64 1/3 innings pitched. Saito's devastating breaking pitches have kept him dominant at the age of 38. His batting average against decreased from .177 to .151 in his first full season as closer. Saito did raise some concerns last year when he had to sit out for a week with a tired shoulder in July. Although he says he is over the calf soreness that plagued him earlier this spring, Saito has yet to make it into a spring game. At his age, it is not inconceivable that he could suffer some more injuries this year. Luckily, the Dodgers have the luxury of a much younger arm behind the filthy Saito. Broxton has struck out 196 batters in his last two seasons and has the arsenal of a power-pitching closer.

Fantasy Tip: Saito has his eye on the youngster in his rearview mirror, but he is still a No. 1 closer option. Manager Joe Torre loves to ride his vets, meaning as good as Broxton could be he is only a low-round selection due to his ability to get strikeouts.

Durability Grade: 7

Job Security Grade: 8

San Diego Padres

Closer: Trevor Hoffman

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
57.1
4
42
2.98
1.12
44
2008
57
2
37
2.70
1.04
54

Next in Line: Heath Bell

Other Possibilities: Cla Meredith

Analysis: Despite his decline, Hoffman still puts up serviceable fantasy numbers. He has posted at least 41 saves in each of the last four seasons, and he still gives up less than one hit per inning. However, his walk total has increased gradually over the last five seasons, while his strikeout total has declined over the last three years. The key to Hoffman's success is the effectiveness of his changeup, which means a declining fastball can't consistently keep hitters off balance. The 40-year-old doesn't see much else in his way. Bell is suited to be a setup man; he's not overpowering, but his breaking pitches make him a threat for triple-digit strikeouts.

Fantasy Tip: Hoffman doesn't have much to be concerned about since he's pretty much an institution in San Diego. The only way he should be incorporated into your fantasy lineup, however, is as a No. 2 closer or a low-end No. 1.

Durability Grade: 7

Job Security Grade: 10

San Francisco Giants

Closer: Brian Wilson

Year
IP
W
SV
ERA
WHIP
K
2007
23.2
1
6
2.28
0.97
18
2008
58
3
32
2.35
1.10
48

Next in Line: Brad Hennessey

Other Possibilities: Jonathan Sanchez

Analysis: Wilson started last season at Triple-A Fresno before he was placed on the disabled list with a triceps injury. He was then called up in August and received the opportunity to close; he didn't allow an earned run in his first 11 2/3 innings pitched. The Giants feel that their closer of the future has proven himself enough to handle the job this season, leaving Hennessey in the dark despite his 19 saves as the replacement last year. Hennessey suffered from a shoulder injury last year but was the undisputed closer until Wilson assumed the role in the middle of September. Sanchez is someone to look out for; if the Giants can't find a spot or a trading partner for him, his youthful stuff could be showcased in the bullpen.

Fantasy Tip: Wilson makes for a low-end No. 2 closer. Despite his late-season performance, his footing is not entirely cemented into the closer spot.

Durability Grade: 5

Job Security Grade: 6

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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 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.


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