Fantasy Baseball Player Analysis - Relief Pitchers
Editor's Note: Player analysis profiles appear in the positions at which the players are projected. Profiles of players who may be eligible at other positions in your league include fantasy baseball advice related to a potential increase in value as a result. A player must have started at least five games or have played at least 10 games to be eligible at another position. Criteria for fantasy baseball leagues vary, so check your league rules.
Pros: A winning team with a strong bullpen combined with Paps' starter-like efficiency equals a closer in peak form. The fiery righty walked just eight batters last year for a career-best 9.63 command ratio. The Red Sox plan to urge him to rely on his fastball less and avoid predictability.
Cons: Though his save totals have increased twice since 2006, so has his ERA. There have been slight concerns about his durability after past shoulder problems, which may have more weight after his 5.56 ERA in September.
Fantasy tip: You can't go wrong with Papelbon as your top closer. He'll probably be the first taken, but he may be a bit overvalued due to his team. You shouldn't take a closer too early to begin with, but if proper value fits him in the front end of the middle rounds, go for it.
Pros: Though Nathan's K rate was in its second straight year of a big drop-off from his previous three, he pretty much sustained it from the previous season - sticking it to those who feared deteriorating dominance. He has been one of the more durable stoppers, throwing at least 67 2/3 innings in each of his five years on the job. He also had by far his best career groundball percentage last year.
Cons: He lost more than one mph on his fastball, which he threw less often last year. Despite sustaining his K rate, his dinger percentage on flyballs drastically increased. The Twins have questions about those who must bridge the gap to him.
Fantasy tip: His biggest asset? Comfort. Nathan will probably fall within the top three closers chosen. A selection in the early middle stanzas would suffice for arguably the warmest blanket of this group.
Pros: Just 18 saves shy of the 500 plateau heading into '09, Mo continued to defy his age after posting a career-low 0.67 WHIP in his age-39 campaign. He posted his highest average of K's per nine frames since 1996.
Cons: An absurdly low .232 opponents' average on balls in play probably had something to do with his surprisingly outstanding season. Will he lose more velocity after offseason arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder?
Fantasy tip: Though Rivera's age should rightfully give you some pause, you can safely select him within the top five closers, though you'll probably find the best value for him in the early portion of the middle rounds.
Pros: Coming off a record-setting season, K-Rod is expected to increase the velocity on his heater after holding back to perfect his changeup last season. In fact, his velocity increased as the season went on. He has an average of 11.61 strikeouts per nine innings since 2004.
Cons: There's more mileage on his frame and concerns in his game than his age lets on. His opponents' clip has experienced a steady increase over the last three years, and his walks continue to pile up. His violent delivery may have caught up with him last year as he fought through injuries in both ankles. Righty J.J. Putz should also steal some saves.
Fantasy tip: Don't draft K-Rod for 62 saves, but he's still a top-five selection in this group. Though a huge fall-off remains unlikely, beware the warning signs.
Pros: Albert who? Lidge netted all 41 of his regular season save chances in his best MLB campaign, his first in Philly. His WHIP and ERA plummeted for the second straight season, and he tied his career high in groundball percentage allowed (46.2).
Cons: The odds say he won't attain perfection again, and he still teeters on the edge with his high walk counts. A microscopic 3 percent of the flyballs he allowed left the yard, a far cry from his career average of 10 percent. A return to the norm is expected, which could hurt him at Citizens Bank Park.
Fantasy tip: Like Rodriguez, Lidge can't be expected to sustain his 2008 output, but he fits nicely within the five elite closers.
Pros: Valverde has finished in the top two in saves in each of the last two years. He has neutralized his erratic 2006 (5.84 ERA) with a 3.04 ERA over the following two seasons by using more of his off-speed stuff, which also optimized his fastball's average velocity. His walks per nine innings have gone down in each of the last two years.
Cons: He posted his highest homers allowed per nine innings (1.25) since 2004. His control wasn't always a strong suit, and he's not guaranteed to maintain his recent improvements. Houston's rotation appears to be pretty awful.
Fantasy tip: Valverde is a strong No. 1 fantasy closer that comes with some control risks. Still, you could do worse for a top option.
Pros: Soria shut the door 42 times last year - for the Royals. He has done little to hurt his major league stock in his two seasons, walking just 38 and fanning 141 in 136 1/3 frames. Unlike many closers, he relies on a diverse arsenal.
Cons: He doesn't have an extensive track record, given his entry into stardom after the Rule 5 Draft. Though Soria hasn't established a pattern yet, the .215 batting average on balls in play should move toward - if not pass - his .264 result from 2007. His homers yielded per nine innings nearly doubled.
Fantasy tip: Another 1.60 ERA probably isn't in the cards, but Soria can be drafted as a bargain-rate No. 1 closer. He's still under the radar somewhat because of his unfavorable squad. Take advantage.
Pros: Broxton made the most of the injury to former Blue stopper Takashi Saito (elbow), finishing the 2008 season with 14 saves in the last three months. A 0.79 September ERA capped off the resolution of his 3.40 first-half ERA with a 2.76 post-break performance.
Cons: The streaky righty hit some speed bumps along the way, posting two months with ERAs over 5.00. He sometimes can be overwhelmed mentally, which could make his first full season a bit rough.
Fantasy tip: If you choose to get your Brox off, do so with the knowledge that he sometimes can go on tilt. He's a safer option as a No. 2 closer despite his excellent ability to induce breeze.
Pros: Cordero remains a strikeout machine, fanning at least 78 in each of his last two seasons. He increased his groundball percentage for the second straight season.
Cons: His sparkling 2007 is looking more fluky. After registering just 18 walks that year, he lost his control again with 38 free passes in 2008 - 4.86 per nine. He doesn't post comforting strand rates, which often end up hurting his ratios - his 1.41 WHIP last year attests to that.
Fantasy tip: Cordero can be selected as a No. 1 fantasy fireman, but he won't let you draft him at full ease. His 2008 line more truly represents his abilities, so put stock in those numbers more than those from 2007.
Pros: A voluntary decrease in velocity has actually benefited Jenks, making him a more complete pitcher instead of an all-or-nothing launcher. He has walked 30 combined batters since 2006, when he let 31 trot to first. He's durable save a bout with scapula bursitis last year.
Cons: You want his 80 strikeouts from 2006? Too bad. The Doughboy had only 38 last year after 56 in 2007 - a casualty of his mound maturity.
Fantasy tip: It's wise to draft a whiff-inducing closer, but Jenks is an exception. Though his pitching to contact may come back to bite him eventually, you can still settle for him as the last true No. 1 fantasy closer. Be sure to compensate for his lack of K's.
Pros: Capps has tabbed 39 saves since 2006, bringing stability to an otherwise chaotic pitching staff. After having his 2008 season shortened, he came back to a 0.87 ERA and four saves in September. Capps has the second best walk percentage among relievers in the last three calendar years. He is in better physical shape heading into camp.
Cons: He has experienced a general spike in flyball percentage after 2006. Though it's tough to indicate a direct relationship between team record and save chances, the Pirates don't do much for his cause, ranking in MLB's bottom third in the category in each of the last two years.
Fantasy tip: Even with his team's ineptitude, you can put Capps on with confidence as a No. 2 closer. He's a little undervalued, so you may be able to wait a couple of rounds.
Pros: When it came to saves, Wilson got around last year with 41 closures, finally taking hold of the job he made noise for at the end of 2007. The Giants' signing of southpaw Randy Johnson adds another productive starter to give Wilson save chances. He looks to have harnessed his strikeout ability (9.67 per nine frames).
Cons: His ratios don't give off good vibrations. He walked 4.04 batters per nine frames, and his opponents' batting average (.336) returned to his 2006 territory.
Fantasy tip: Wouldn't it be nice if Wilson showed control? Until he does, he's safest as a midrange No. 2 closer who should help fill your K's and saves columns but will hurt elsewhere.
Pros: Wood had a successful introduction to closing as a Chicago Cub. He reminded us of his punchout ability (84 in 66 1/3 cantos) but also treated us to an 18-walk season. His ability to pitch on consecutive days went a long way to him gaining comfort in the role.
Cons: Unfortunately, he also refreshed our memories of his DL demons. A blister on his right index finger cost him 18 games. The freakish talent has always been curbed by his equally astonishing ability to hit the sidelines.
Fantasy tip: It's hard to put firm faith in Wood after one healthy season. He fits as a No. 2 closer, but making him your top dog is tempting fate.
Pros: Picked up the slack left by Manny Corpas with the Colorado Rockies. Fuentes' walks per nine and homers allowed per nine have steadily declined since 2005. His 11.78 K's per nine was his best performance in a full season. He relied on his slider more, which probably helped. The Angels' setup crew ranks among the best in baseball.
Cons: He just came off losing his job to Corpas in 2007. Also, Angels relievers Jose Arredondo and Scot Shields rank among the best in baseball - meaning they could be among the best closers-in-waiting in baseball.
Fantasy tip: The vultures of Anaheim are circling, but Fuentes should still be considered a midrange No. 2. Regardless, he's overvalued. You may want to back him up with Arredondo if possible.
Pros: Qualls has found his strikeout touch (8.58 per nine) and chipped away at his ERA since 2006. He was named closer in September, netting seven saves in the month. His 1.21 post-break ERA (1.01 in August and September) allowed the D-backs to hand him the role to start 2009. He holds a great groundball-to-flyball ratio - a must at Chase Field.
Cons: His early 2008 performance wouldn't earn confidence: ERAs of 7.84 (May) and 6.23 (June) hurt his season. Only 8.5 percent of flyballs allowed cleared the walls - a figure that's sure to drop toward the mean. Setup man Jon Rauch and fireballer Tony Pena linger if Qualls falters.
Fantasy tip: Though you should be more comfortable taking Qualls as your No. 3 closer, he has the upside to perform as a No. 2 if he can carry over his improvements from last year.
Pros: He surprised many fantasy owners by winning the Cubs' closer job out of camp, beating out the sexier Carlos Marmol. Gregg punctuated 60 games in 2007 and '08 for the Florida Marlins. His ERA and opponents' batting average have declined in each of the last two seasons. He probably has a long leash because Marmol has excelled as a setup man.
Cons: His efforts at the back end were often nerve-wracking. Gregg's command ratio also fell off. He is recovering from knee surgery, although he appears in the clear.
Fantasy tip: Gregg makes for a solid No. 2 closer, but you always have to be aware of Marmol behind him. If Marmol falls, you can handcuff them if the value is proper.
Pros: Four years removed from his unfortunate chair toss, Francisco still enjoys telling batters to take a seat. The friar's K rate exploded last year (11.79 per nine frames), and he cut his walk rate by more than two per nine. A team that plays its home games on a little league field needs a strikeout-happy closer.
Cons: His puke-worthy flyball rate could still hurt him at home, and he doesn't allow enough groundballs to comfortably offset that pet peeve. He only had five save chances last year and should (for some reason) still see minimal competition from lefty C.J. Wilson for the role.
Fantasy tip: Reliever with strikeouts, good. Strikeout reliever with improved control, better. A midrange No. 3 slot, perfect.
Pros: A steady return from Tommy John surgery resulted in a 32-save, 2.95-ERA season for the southpaw. His K rate dropped a bit, but it fell to 9.00 K's per nine, so that's not exactly a nerve-wracking development, especially given he was working his way back.
Cons: He struggled with his command last season, averaging 4.34 free passes per nine innings. The fear lingers that he may re-injure his elbow given his violent arm action, and a forearm malady delayed the start of his 2008 comeback. The Jays are concerned about a big drop in velocity this spring, although they insist it's not related to any injury. Scott Downs may steal some save chances.
Fantasy tip: Ryan shouldn't be taken as anything more than a midrange No. 2. There are several warning signs that suggest he's not the safest option. You may want to handcuff him with Downs.
Pros: He returned in June after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery - and led the Bravos with 14 saves. He returned to his optimal strikeout ability (11.76 per nine). He blew just two chances last year and hadn't botched one since 2004.
Cons: Gonzo had a 5.09 post-break ERA with a horrific 61.4 percent strand rate and 1.60 homers per nine allowed. There's a small threat that righty Rafael Soriano (elbow) could take away some save chances as the season goes on, but Sori is just as injury prone, if not more brittle.
Fantasy tip: Fantasy owners are overlooking the lefty, meaning those seeking a cheap No. 2 stopper should sneak him onto their squad.
Pros: Trevor Hoffman's successor, Bell is a strong groundball pitcher despite the decrease he posted last season. Outside of July (7.59 ERA) and September (6.39) gaffes, he had a 2.18 ERA.
Cons: Bell faltered in his strikeout-to-walk ratio and strand rate. His 102 K's in 2007 look to be fluky, and his 93 2/3 innings from that year seemed to take a toll on him. His rate of free passes has climbed since 2004. His lack of experience in the role is disconcerting.
Fantasy tip: PETCO Park should continue to help - but not enough to make him more than a No. 3 closer. He's the kind you wait on.
Pros: Street earned the closer's job with a strong finish to spring. Though 2007 is an outlier for his strikeouts per nine, he hovered near his career average with 8.87 in 2008. He posted his highest strand rate since 2005, and he rectified his terrible start with a 1.74 September ERA.
Cons: Street lost his exclusivity in the ninth with the Oakland Athletics last year, but the trends that emerged were more disturbing. His consistently high flyball rates might come back to bite him inside flyball heaven. Last year his walks skyrocketed and his velocity fluctuated. There is no guarantee that he'll be the closer for the whole season; Manny Corpas hovers behind him.
Fantasy tip: Street ranks as a midrange No. 2 stopper, but beware of his peripherals negating any saves he records. Corpas has some work to do to regain his standing with the team, but you may want to lock both them up if you haven't drafted yet.
Pros: His K rate. He has combined for 210 whiffs in his 156 2/3 innings since moving to the 'pen after 2006. Marmol's durability shouldn't be a concern as he had numerous outings of more than one inning as a setup man in the last two seasons.
Cons: Kevin Gregg overtook Marmol for the closer role. Manager Lou Piniella may be inclined to keep Marmol in the seventh- and eighth-inning role for the entire season since he has excelled in that fashion. The K's will still help, but a lack of saves detract from his fantasy value.
Fantasy tip: Marmol is still a solid fantasy arm, but you should have at least two closers ahead of him. His K's make him the best non-closer reliever in the fantsay world.
Pros: The 2006 fifth overall draft pick, Morrow has nasty stuff with a 95 mph fastball. In time split between the bullpen and starting rotation last year, Morrow struck out 9.91 batters per nine innings in the majors. Of the relievers vying for the closer's job, he has the best stuff.
Cons: He has been bothered by forearm stiffness in camp, and he has yet to prove he's at full health this spring. The M's haven't committed to him at closer yet and have plenty of other arms available in the bullpen.
Fantasy tip: Though not the closer yet, he likely will be sooner than later. Take him as a risky midrange No. 2 closer in the middle rounds. He'll likely be climbing draft boards so you'll have to reach a bit for him.
Pros: The old man still had some oomph in him - the average velocity on his fastball was the highest in the last four years, and he posted his highest strikeouts per nine frames (9.13) since 2003. The Pads saved his arm late in the season because they weren't playing for anything. His competition for saves is limited in Milwaukee...
Cons: ... when he's healthy. Hoffman (oblique) will start the season on the DL. This may be the first sign of what could be a rapid fall. Can Carlos Villanueva steal his thunder and knock him off his post? Hoff also was surprisingly susceptible to homers at PETCO last year.
Fantasy tip: Don't hassle yourself with the Hoff if you want a safe option. If you have to take him as a No. 3 stopper, be sure to pair him with Villanueva later on in the draft.
Pros: A blah starter turned flame-throwing reliever, he registered nine saves in the final two months of 2008 after a scramble for back-end work. He was held back by his lack of a third pitch - closers only need two strong weapons. Hanny has ample strikeout potential (9.92 per nine last year) and doesn't have much outstanding competition for the role.
Cons: His pitching hand often slips (4.48 walks per nine last year), and he was only closer for a brief period last year. Can he sustain it? Though it wasn't much of a worry, his velocity took awhile to ramp up this spring after the WBC delayed his season tune-up.
Fantasy tip: If you're willing to stomach an ERA near 4.00, you can wait to grab his strikeouts as a late-round No. 3 fireman. Resist the flawed "Bad team? No saves" strategy.
Pros: After some question about his readiness for the season after he suffered a strained rotator cuff, he looks good to go. More heat than Death Valley; triple digits come with little effort. He was flawless in five save occasions last September, with a 1.74 ERA, and seemingly has the mental capacity to handle late-inning situations.
Cons: Not enough whiffs induced for a fastball-driven hurler (career 7.60 per nine). He needs to harness his control (4.08 walks per nine) and secondary pitches. There are several promising candidates (Leo Nunez, Ryan Tucker and even Jose Ceda) waiting to fill in if he falters in a full season.
Fantasy tip: If he doesn't back up his heat with effective pitching, many fantasy owners will be burned if they draft him above the No. 3 tier.
Pros: Though manager Tony La Russa refuses to name an official stopper, it looks as if Motte will receive the most chances in a crowded St. Louis bullpen, especially since righty Chris Perez was sent to Triple-A. Motte has been working on two other pitches (changeup and slider) to go along with a dangerous fastball. He had a dominance rate of 14.60 between Triple-A and the majors last year.
Cons: Motte's control was high during his last two minor league stops, so he might not be able to keep his walks low as he did in the bigs last year. He'll be in his third year as a pitcher after playing behind the plate for the early part of his career. Ryan Franklin and others (Jess Todd?) are still there to step in if Motte shows his inexperience.
Fantasy tip: Consider Motte a low-level No. 2 or high-end No. 3 stopper for his K's alone. You may want to keep the other candidates on your watch list to pick up if things become muddled.
Pros: With Joey Devine (elbow) missing at least three weeks of action, Ziegler becomes the de facto stopper. Ziegler had a record scoreless streak of 39 innings to start his career last year. His key indicators (dominance, control, command) in the minor league suggest he won't be as bad in those departments this year. He's an elite groundball reliever and has excellent control.
Cons: Ziegler managed to strand a ridiculous 92.3 percent of the batters that reached base against him; this deflated his ERA to 1.06. He's a soft tosser who managed just a 4.53 dominance rate (K/9) last year. The A's like to mix in other pitchers to close depending on the situation. Santiago Casilla, Russ Springer and Michael Wuertz could make Ziegler's fantasy life difficult.
Fantasy tip: Ziegler is a midrange No. 2 stopper, but there's no guarantee the job will be his all year even if he's healthy. Oakland's liberal stance on save opportunities hurts him. Though Devine may be hampered for most of the season, you can't rely on Ziegler as a steady source of closures.
Pros: The string bean was considered the front-runner for 2009 closer before the arrival of Brian Fuentes. The groundball-friendly rookie vultured 10 victories with a 1.62 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. The former starter has no qualms in recording the extra out. His K's per nine rate (8.11) was only mediocre for a reliever, but he averaged 9.1 in the minors.
Cons: Expecting a 1.62 ERA again isn't wise. His strand rate (82.2 percent) should come down a bit, and he still allows a bit too many walks (3.25 per nine).
Fantasy tip: The consummate closer in waiting may have to linger for a good chunk of 2009. Still, in the late rounds of deep mixed processes, you could find worse setup relievers. He should pilfer some closures.
Pros: Balfour throws hard - HARD - which explains his sick 12.65 strikeouts per nine frames last season. He decreased his home runs-per-flyball rate noticeably and saved four games in spot duty. Tampa could look to him again in such situations considering the unreliability of Troy Percival's health.
Cons: Where did this come from? The Aussie, like a couple of other relievers in the Rays' 'pen, seemed to emerge from the abyss; entering last season, he had a career 5.44 ERA in 92 2/3 career big-league innings. He walked 3.70 hitters per nine, which was actually a big improvement from previous rates.
Fantasy tip: Balfour's low BABIP and other factors suggest he was fortunate, but he has the fireballs to keep hitters at bay. He may regress a bit and probably won't be first in line if Percy is hurt, but he's a possible pickup in mixed leagues and a decent draft target in AL ones.
Pros: The Mets have an embarrassment of riches at the back end. Putz combined for 76 saves and a 1.86 ERA in 2006 and '07 with the Seattle Mariners. He saved his 2008 season with a 2.96 ERA after the break. There's the slim chance closer Francisco Rodriguez's purportedly declining peripherals could materialize this year....
Cons: Putz was hampered by costochondritis and a hyperextended elbow. He lost velocity while suffering through those injuries - will that happen again?
Fantasy tip: Like Arredondo, Putz presents great value for late-round saves. Don't bank on K-Rod missing time, but the Mets might give Putz some opportunities while resting Rodriguez. If there are no closers left, don't be afraid to speculate.
Pros: He's on his way back from Tommy John surgery, regaining his potent heater. In 2006 he established himself as the closer of the future (33 saves, 2.73 ERA) and closed out 16 before injury halted his 2007.
Cons: George Sherrill is on track to start the season as the closer. Sherrill's first-half stability last year probably extended his leash a bit for this season.
Fantasy tip: Ray projects well for ninth-inning work, but the situation remains uncertain. Don't expect much help initially, but there's more upside with Ray as a low-end No. 3 relief arm.
Pros: The former Los Angeles Dodgers closer continued to excel while on the field last year, fanning 60 in 47 innings with another sub-3.00 ERA. He's the presumptive understudy for save opportunities.
Cons: The lead act in this play is Jonathan Papelbon - only injury will remove him from the headline act long term. Saito still needs to prove he's fully healthy after opting to avoid surgery on his ailing elbow that cost him more than two months of last year.
Fantasy tip: Saito can still be picked in the last few rounds of deep mixed drafts that value carrying setup arms, but beware his age and his elbow.
Pros: The Rhode Island product rebounded nicely from a rough 2007, saving double-digit games for the second straight year as a replacement for the injury-prone Troy Percival. Wheeler became more of a pitcher as his K rate plummeted more than two per nine, but he vastly improved his stand rate.
Cons: His flyball rate spiked, and his K rate drop is worrisome because he relies heavily on his heater. Percival stands to keep his closer role to start off 2009, and Grant Balfour is still in the picture of potential fill-ins.
Fantasy tip: Though it seems that Percival will start out the season as the stopper, his health and declining ability don't produce a favorable season-long outlook. Wheeler did fine in the interim role last year and is the better pick if you have to tap into this late-round well.
Pros: Manager Joe Maddon says Percival is still his closer. The right-hander is out to make sure no one doubts it; he has performed well, with five scoreless frames this spring, and he shows no signs of issues with the back.
Cons: After he had offseason back surgery, how he'll hold up has to be the prime worry; he went on the DL three times last year. Tampa is not short on options to steal save chances, either. Control was an issue for the veteran stopper last year (5.32 BB/9).
Fantasy tip: If you are stumped for a No. 3 closer, Percival isn't a bad low-end option in mixed fantasy drafts. Just don't expect him to help much in ERA, and he could lose quite a few save chances with any unfortunate health developments, which are likely.
Pros: He's the best candidate to close in the absence of Trevor Hoffman. Villanueva posted a favorable groundball-to-flyball ratio. Last year Villanueva was better as a reliever (2.12 ERA, .220 average against, 4.43 command ratio) than as a starter (6.43, .315, 1.94).
Cons: Villanueva's home run percentage on flyballs exploded, and he backed off using his unremarkable fastball last year. Relying too much on location and movement may come back to haunt him if he falters a bit.
Fantasy tip: Villanueva's opportunity for save chances makes him a nice No. 4 fantasy reliever. Even if Hoffman comes back and reclaims his job flawlessly, Villanueva has proven useful in the past.
Pros: One of the game's best setup men in recent years, Shields returned to form in '08 with a 2.70 ERA. He also picked up four saves for his trouble, his fifth consecutive season with multiple exclamation points.
Cons: His workload has decreased each year since 2004 - is his age catching up to him? His M.O. produces high pitch counts, so it's a real possibility. He sits below Brian Fuentes and Jose Arredondo on the ninth-inning totem pole.
Fantasy tip: Given that he's probably third on the saves depth chart, Shields may be best saved for the waiver wire in mixed setups, but we couldn't blame you if you were looking for a steady reliever and tabbed him with your last pick.
Pros: Has more fanboys than a Star Trek convention. A record-setting 0.59 ERA, a career 13.18 K's per nine in the minors, high-90s heat and a greasy slider have earned him at least some save chances.
Cons: Though he has better tools than Brad Ziegler, he'll have to keep them in the garage for the moment while sitting on the DL for at least three weeks. Dr. James Andrews awaits. More than two-thirds of his 65 1/3 MLB innings came last year after years of reassignments and a strained right elbow. His delivery could exacerbate that injury and help lefty hitters read his pitches. His luck evoked his name in '08: no homers allowed. Manager Bob Geren wasn't afraid to go with situational closers last year.
Fantasy tip: Stay away from Devine if you need a closer. His promise has been derailed by a recurring elbow injury. If you can grab him in the last few rounds of deep mixed leagues and stash him on a DL spot, go for it, but you'll need to cross your fingers.
Pros: A lights-out campaign complete with 96 strikeouts made Kuo one of the hottest pickups. He cashed in on the promise he showed in the minors (12.2 strikeouts per nine in 163 2/3 innings).
Cons: Elbow and triceps problems dampened some excitement from his breakout campaign. He increased his workload by nearly 50 innings from 2007 - yeah, that will be good for his arm....
Fantasy tip: Kuo will probably be grabbed too soon based on his breakout year. Let someone else spend on a one-hit wonder while you address another, more pressing position.
Pros: As a former closer, he can fill in if closer Bobby Jenks is unavailable. Dotel's strikeouts per nine has been on the rise in the past couple of seasons - it's usually high anyway. Line drives against him have gone down in each of the past three seasons, too.
Cons: The right-hander is still a little wild (3.95 walks per nine in his career, 3.90 last year, a bump up from the previous season). Despite nasty stuff, he tends to give up home runs - even easier to do at U.S. Cellular Field.
Fantasy tip: Dotel can provide solid boosts to your ratios at times, but he's not worth drafting except in AL-only formats. He's a logical alternative if Jenks were to go down, but he's not the only option.
Pros: Dominance, so crucial for closers, is there for Sherrill; he has struck out 9.71 batters per nine innings over the last five years. He sealed 31 wins last year. He seems to be recovering well after shoulder problems ended his season.
Cons: There isn't anything concrete with his status - he is only expected to be the closer but with Chris Ray (33 saves in 2006) and Jim Johnson lurking, it is far from certain that Sherrill will be locking down the back end of games for Baltimore. The O's have ranked in the bottom half of the league in save chances since 2005. He was a lefty specialist for most of his career.
Fantasy tip: If he does hold on to the job through spring training, draft Sherrill in the late rounds as a serviceable No. 3 closer. He is a possible trade candidate for Baltimore, also, if Ray is back to his dominant form to start the year. Handcuff the two if possible.
Pros: How does offseason acquisition Huston Street fit in to hitter-friendly Coors Field? Street gives up a lot of flyballs (extremely dangerous at Coors), and Corpas has shown he can handle the environment in Colorado. He was solid from June through August last year (2.48 ERA). He also has shed some pounds this offseason and is working to fix a flaw in the arm angle of his delivery.
Cons: Street won the closer role despite the statistical warning signs. Corpas has lost some velocity on his sinker this spring. He has to catch up to regain the team's confidence. Corpas' control has declined for two straight years, which was a cause for his struggles in April and May last year and prompted his removal from the closer role.
Fantasy tip: Corpas is worth a late-round flier in mixed drafts based on Street's peripherals. The former may be overlooked, which would allow you to take saves upside while others are selecting players without his opportunity.
Pros: His dominance bounced back last year (7.77 K/9), and it never dipped below eight strikeouts per nine from 2004 through 2006. He improved greatly in control (1.75 BB/9), too.
Cons: Linebrink gives up a ton of flyballs, which is dangerous at U.S. Cellular Field, especially for a reliever. His control may have been a mirage, and he finally showed some wear and tear with a shoulder problem after five years of heavy relief work.
Fantasy tip: Outside AL-only leagues, Linebrink holds little value - he should be drafted only as a ratios booster in those setups. Since Bobby Jenks assumed the closer's role in 2006, no other reliever has more than two saves.
Pros: The southpaw displayed stunning improvement in a number of areas, most notably in batting average against and groundball percentage; they led to outstanding marks in ERA and WHIP. He posted a career-high 9.27 K/9 last season, too. He's one of a handful or more candidates who could be called upon in the ninth in Tampa.
Cons: Howell still walks too many - 3.93 per nine innings last season. That figure is trending upward, not a good sign. He posted an unusually high strand rate, and his ERA was no doubt aided by a huge improvement in home runs allowed - fluke?
Fantasy tip: Expect some regression from Howell. He could be useful at times as a pickup in mixed leagues, but his only value lies in AL-only leagues.
Pros: Perez saved seven of 11 opportunities in the bigs during a tumultuous second half. He threw 9 1/3 scoreless innings in August for six closures and posted a 2.50 post-break ERA. Perez closed out 58 games and struck out 147 in 109 1/3 career minor league frames.
Cons: He was sent down to Triple-A Memphis after a disappointing and injury-riddled spring. Jason Motte has essentially won the majority share, but '08 interim savior Ryan Franklin and others could cloud this situation.Manager Tony La Russa showed a lack of confidence in Perez last season. Perez's 4.50 ERA in save chances last year instills little confidence.
Fantasy tip: Perez should be saved for the last round of deep mixed leagues - or the post-draft waiver pool. NL players should value him more as a stash-worthy commodity. He still has some promise.
Pros: This righty isn't nearly as bad as last year's numbers indicate. He might have had some nagging injuries. That's some pretty poor luck, too: unusually high marks in BABIP (.323) and percentage of home runs per flyball (10.3).
Cons: The fact is, it happened. Betancourt's line-drive rate against went up a bit from the previous season, although it has been higher in the past. The big concern: a large rise in his control (3.17 walks per nine issued). He probably has little chance to save games given the Indians' options.
Fantasy tip: Betancourt may be worth a reserve pick in AL games; he isn't as bad as that 2008 line. However, he probably won't have much opportunity to turn in anything besides half-decent ratios or better.
Pros: He'll have the first shot at closing on Opening Day. There aren't any concrete closers in Detroit so Rodney could easily hang on to the job given his sizzling stuff. He struck out 10.9 batters per nine innings last year.
Cons: 2005: 57 games missed to right shoulder inflammation; 2007: 45 games missed because of right shoulder tendonitis and neck and shoulder injuries; 2008: 69 games missed because of right shoulder tendonitis. Counting on Rodney to stay healthy is like counting on the Pittsburgh Pirates to manage a winning record.
Fantasy tip: With manager Jim Leyland's announcement that Rodney will receive the first shot at closing on Opening Day, Rodney has been climbing draft boards. You'll likely have to burn a late middle round pick on Rodney to snag him; do so as a No. 3 reliever.
Pros: His career K rate sits at 9.82; it was a sparkling 10.14 last year. He doesn't give up a lot of flyballs with roughly 55 percent of his career batted balls being grounders. Closer Kerry Wood's injury history is spotty to say the least; Perez likely would be one of the first to step up in relief of him.
Cons: His control regressed last year, and he gives up a fair amount of homers for the few flyballs he gives up. Wood still has the job and was relatively durable as a reliever last year; Jensen Lewis would be the first in line to be the understudy.
Fantasy tip: Perez isn't worth taking in mixed drafts. He's someone to pick up during the season to boost your ratios or if you want a last-resort handcuff to Wood.
Pros: Pena isn't far from a closer's job; reliever Chad Qualls has never started a major league season as stopper, and Jon Rauch struggled in Arizona last year. Both are his main competition. Pena's command (K/BB) was a solid 3.06 last year, and he carries an overpowering mid-90s heater.
Cons: Qualls and Rauch are still his competition. The former appears to be the favorite for the job while the latter strikes out batters at a far greater clip. Pena had just a 6.44 dominance rate and blew five of eight save chances last year.
Fantasy tip: You could take Pena as a last-round option in drafts, but we don't recommend that course of action. His moxie as a closer is questionable, and he likely won't be in line for many opportunities, at least initially.
Pros: Howry is now the setup man of a promising but young Giants 'pen. He usually registers ample wins for a reliever given his ability to pitch more than one inning. He has totaled 17 saves over the last four seasons.
Cons: His dominance has declined since a spike in 2006. His high WHIP and BABIP, though possibly anomalies, say that a decline might be coming. His strand rate has also decreased in each of the last two years.
Fantasy tip: Howry may be the first arm called upon if Giants closer Brian Wilson struggles or sustains injury. He's a good speculative target in NL-only setups for this purpose as well as a potential recovery.
Pros: Impressive during his 2008 rookie campaign, Carlson posted a 2.25 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with 55 K's in 60 innings. Closer B.J. Ryan might be left behind in camp because of a significant drop in velocity. Carlson has posted a solid dominance rate in the minors, too.
Fantasy tip: He might make a decent pick as a speculative option at the end of AL-only drafts, mainly because he in case he reproduces those great ratios and dominance.
Pros: Closer B.J. Ryan has suffered a significant drop in velocity this spring, and he might even be left behind in camp. Accardo saved 30 games in 2007 after Ryan underwent Tommy John surgery. Accardo demonstrated solid control and dominance prior to last year.
Cons: He was sent down to Triple-A, though he shouldn't be there for long. His strikeouts declined considerably last year while his control went in the opposite direction due to the forearm troubles he suffered through. He would have to battle Jason Frasor and Scott Downs for save chances if Ryan isn't ready.
Fantasy tip: The latest news on Ryan's velocity could see Accardo appear at the tail end of some mixed drafts. His value is tied to Ryan's, but if you are starving for saves, Accardo could be worth the grab, but more so in AL leagues.
Pros: The southpaw saved five games last season, all in the first half, because closer B.J. Ryan was still unavailable on back-to-back days at times. Downs has been an outstanding source of ratio boosters in each of the past two seasons. Ryan's violent motion may lead to re-injury.
Cons: It's hard to believe his drastic improvements in line-drive rate against, home runs per flyball and other indicators are sustainable. Any sort of correction should lead to a worse line than he put up last season.
Fantasy tip: Downs is the type that speculators for saves because of injury target in drafts. He's not necessarily worthy of a pick in mixed leagues, but he'd probably be the man to grab if Ryan were to go down.
Pros: A dominance rate that has climbed over the last three years (7.29 last year) combined with control not seen since 2004 helped Madson to his most productive season in years (3.05 ERA, 1.23 WHIP).
Cons: Closer Brad Lidge locked up all 41 of his save chances last year, leaving Madson and the rest of the bullpen to pick up the leftovers. The team had problems overusing him early last year which eventually led to shoulder soreness. A shoulder strain cost him 58 games in 2007 - will that problem haunt him again after a full year?
Fantasy tip: As long as Lidge stays healthy, Madson will work almost exclusively as the setup man. His ratios should help, but he likely won't contribute much in the other rotisserie categories. Select him late in drafts with this in mind if you need a body.
Pros: He can touch the upper 90s with his stuff, and he has a scintillating dominance rate (10.29 in limited time last year; 9.21 for his career). Closer Mike Gonzalez hasn't been the epitome of good health over the last three seasons.
Cons: Soriano was placed on the DL twice last year with elbow problems; the second time ended his season after August surgery. What makes this even more worrisome is his Tommy John surgery in 2005. Soriano is second in the pecking order for saves.
Fantasy tip: The fragile righty is worth drafting to boost your ratios in the last rounds of mixed leagues. He might even get a shot at saves if (when?) the oft-injured Gonzalez goes down. Don't bank on a full season from him, though.
Pros: Perry's spring stats: 11 K's, a 0.77 ERA and one save in 11 2/3 innings. Between Brandon Lyon's uninspiring stuff and Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya's injury history, the closing situation in Detroit is about as stable as quicksand. This could offer the 22-year-old a few save opportunities.
Cons: The fireballer has never pitched above the Class A level. In fact, he has thrown just 13 2/3 innings of professional ball after being drafted 21st overall in the 2008 amateur draft last June. In those 11 2/3 spring innings, Perry has issued eight free passes.
Fantasy tip: He isn't even in the Yahoo! player pool yet so he might not be registering on many fantasy radars. Take him as a last-round flier if you want to speculate on his expected-to-be dominating K rate and the chance at a few save chances.
Pros: Lyon's first-half tune was sweet for the Arizona Diamondbacks: a 2.43 ERA, 19 saves, 28 strikeouts and seven walks. He posted his highest dominance ratio since 2003 and the lowest walk rate of his career. Non-save situations ballooned his post-break numbers, so if he's handled correctly, he can be effective.
Cons: He lost out what was thought to be a chalk job as the closer; Fernando Rodney will close for now. Who knows if/when Lyon will see chances this year? His second-half dirge was sour last year: 8.46 ERA, a 2.06 WHIP, a .381 opponents' clip and a pink slip. The Tigs have ample arms for the job, including Joel Zumaya (shoulder) and prospect Ryan Perry.
Fantasy tip: Lyon is pretty much useless without save chances. Draft accordingly, meaning he's only worth a desperation speculative grab in AL-only leagues.
Pros: Marte has been a reliable source of relief strikeouts, posting dominance ratios of at least 9.72 in each of the last four seasons. He shut the door in five games last year while also serving in an interim role as closer with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Cons: His control rate hasn't been as encouraging as his dominance. He has walked at least 3.57 batters per nine innings in each of his last six seasons. He struggled when he came over to the Bronx, and he's letting up more and more flyballs.
Pros: Wade has masterful control, issuing only 16 free passes in 87 innings over three levels last year. He will probably be the primary righty setup man for closer Jonathan Broxton, who blew eight saves in limited opportunities last year.
Cons: His BABIP was extremely low (.227); don't bank on him being as lucky next year - a rise in his ERA and WHIP could be in store. He doesn't have the usual dominance that makes a reliever a great closer - not that he'll get many save chances right away with Broxton slated to close.
Fantasy tip: Wade is a ratio-boosting pick that should go in the last couple of rounds of deep mixed drafts.
Pros: His dominance rate was already high and only improved on his move from the nation's capital (8.19 to 8.49). He likely is first in line should the relatively untested closer Chad Qualls fail. Rauch's control was exquisite in the season and a half before joining Arizona.
Cons: Something in Arizona didn't agree with Rauch; he lost six games and posted a 6.56 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 26 games for the D-backs after the break. One reason: a consistently high flyball rate that is extremely dangerous in homer-friendly Chase Field.
Fantasy tip: Until he proves he can handle pitching in the desert, Rauch should be avoided in mixed fantasy drafts. Keep an eye posted to Qualls' job security, though.
Pros: His dominance rate has been solid (8.12 for his career; 7.34 last year), and he has the lefty setup job locked down in the Pirates bullpen. He proved capable of handling stopper duties when closer Matt Capps hit the DL last year: four saves, eight K's, a 2.38 ERA and a .139 opponents' clip in August.
Cons: Grabow has never had great control, giving up 3.96 walks per nine innings over his career. He also stranded an unusually high number of batters (85.5 percent) last year; you can expect that to come down, pushing his ERA up in the process.
Fantasy tip: Avoid taking Grabow except in NL-only leagues. His control is too suspect to think he will keep his ratios as low as last year, and he doesn't offer the high upside of other relievers likely available this late in mixed drafts.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous publications, and recognized as a finalist in FSWA's awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he's on The Reality Check with Glenn Clark every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. He hits the airwaves every Thursday at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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