Preliminary 2012 Rankings: Top 10 Closers

Before we get into the rankings, let me put in a little disclaimer. These are extremely preliminary rankings for 2012 (prior to my projections being done) and have a lot of room for movement as the offseason progresses. They are done just on the surface, so as you look at them keep that in mind (and all numbers are prior to yesterday’s game):

  1. Craig Kimbrel – Atlanta Braves
  2. Brian Wilson – San Francisco Giants
  3. Mariano Rivera – New York Yankees
  4. John Axford – Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Neftali Feliz – Texas Rangers
  6. Heath Bell – San Diego Padres
  7. Jonathan Papelbon – Boston Red Sox
  8. Drew Storen – Washington Nationals
  9. Jose Valverde – Detroit Tigers
  10. Jordan Walden – Los Angeles Angels


  • At 21-years old it is possible that we saw the development of the next true elite closer in the league in 2011.  If you want to be picky Craig Kimbrel did blow 8 saves, but outside of that what exactly is there not to like?  He posted a 2.10 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 46 saves.  He showed elite strikeout stuff, with a 14.84 K/9, while also posting respectable control, with a 3.74 BB/9.  Considering you can argue that he endured some poor luck (.315), the numbers could get even better.  As long as he can maintain the control (he had a minor league career mark of 5.66), the sky truly is the limit.
  • Brian Wilson struggled in 2011, with the culprit being a decreased strikeout rate (8.84) and an increased walk rate (5.07).  Both numbers are off from his career norms and it is possible that injuries (remember, he started the season late) caused a lot of his issues.  Despite the problems, the upside is too good to simply write him off and forget about him.  We all know that closers can be an erratic group, but at this point I would still consider Wilson one of the best in the league.
  • We will have to see where Heath Bell and Jonathan Papelbon ultimately land to determine their final spot on these rankings.  Regardless, is there any doubt that they will find their way into the Top 10?
  • Joel Hanrahan had a tremendous season, but I am a little bit skeptical at this point.  He showed a tremendous improvement in both his control (4.16 career BB/9 vs. 2.10 in ’11) and groundball rate (41.2% career GB% vs. 52.4% in ’11).  If the improvements are for real then Hanrahan is a lock to be a Top 10 option.  However, right now I’d prefer to have him as a second closer.  Maybe that opinion will change at some point.
  • I know Jose Valverde was a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunities, but let’s not forget the last perfect closer was Brad Lidge and what has happened to him.  I don’t have much faith in him and I would definitely temper expectations and expect a regression, though his worst ERA in the past five years has been a 3.38. 
  • Jordan Walden may have blown 10 saves, but has electric stuff with a 9.99 K/9 and control that was more than good enough (3.88 BB/9).  That’s a great make-up for a closer and I expect him to take the next step in 2012.
  • Let’s get ready for more rumors of Neftali Feliz moving to the starting rotation.  Sooner or later it may just come to fruition so we are going to have to monitor the news and see what happens.  If he remains as the closer it is hard to imagine his demise in control (4.33 BB/9) and strikeouts (7.80 K/9) as being realistic.  Look for a strong bounce back in 2012.

Make sure to check out all of our preliminary 2012 rankings:


  1. Al says:

    Maybe I’m wrong but I have to think that with what he did in September and what he is doing in the playoffs, Jason Motte should be very near if not in the Top 10.

    • Marky Mark says:

      A handful of games isn’t enough to put him on equal footing with guys that did it all season.

      • Al says:

        so are you saying you’d draft Jose Valverde ahead of Jason Motte?

        • Marky Mark says:

          That’s not what I said, but ok….yeah, I would draft Valverde over Motte. I bet a lot of people would.

        • Rotoprofessor says:

          As much as I don’t love Valverde, I would definitely take him over Motte. You just never know what Tony LaRussa is going to do with the backend of his bullpen. Even if Motte pitches well, is there any guarantee that he holds the job all year long?

          • Al says:

            True you never know with Tony will do with his bullpen but he always stuck with Ryan Franklin no matter how bad his numbers were, so it’s not like he is always changing his closer. However is there any guarantee that LaRussa is managing the Cardinals next year? Also, is there any gurantee Valverde will be the Tigers closer in 2012 (club option for $9 million)? Not trying to be argumentative. As I said in my original post, I just wondered if Motte was near making the list. He may not have been the closer all year long but you can’t say he hasn’t had a great season. I really like how you always mention people that almost made the ranking (e.g. Joel Hanrahan) Keep up the excellent writing!

  2. Mady says:

    Where is Ryan Madson if he resigns with the Phillies?

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