Top 20 Closers for 2009

Ranking closers is an extremely tricky proposition.  It’s a volatile position, with turnover happening quite often be it due to injury, trades or ineffectiveness.  Hey, someone has to pitch the ninth, right?  Just look at the Mets with Luis Ayala last season.

With so many situations still unsettled, it makes it that much tougher.  If they are no guarantee to close the entire season, how can we rank them among the best in the game?

With that said, let’s take a look at how I ranked them:

  1. Jonathan Papelbon – Boston Red Sox
  2. Mariano Rivera – New York Yankees
  3. Joe Nathan – Minnesota Twins
  4. Francisco Rodriguez – New York Mets
  5. Brad Lidge – Philadelphia Phillies
  6. Joakim Soria – Kansas City Royals
  7. Bobby Jenks – Chicago White Sox
  8. Kerry Wood – Cleveland Indians
  9. Brian Fuentes – Los Angeles Angels
  10. Jose Valverde – Houston Astros
  11. Jonathan Broxton – Los Angeles Dodgers
  12. Francisco Cordero – Cincinnati Reds
  13. B.J. Ryan – Toronto Blue Jays
  14. Carlos Marmol – Chicago Cubs
  15. Trevor Hoffman – Milwaukee Brewers
  16. Brian Wilson – San Francisco Giants
  17. Matt Capps – Pittsburgh Pirates
  18. Frank Francisco – Texas Rangers
  19. Heath Bell – San Diego Padres
  20. Matt Lindstrom – Florida Marlins

Notes:

  • I really wanted to push Soria up on this list, somewhere in the Top 5, but I need to see him repeat his success before I feel comfortable doing that.  I wouldn’t count on him repeating a BABIP of .215, which certainly would cause his miniscule 0.86 WHIP to increase.  Don’t get me wrong, I think he is going to be one of the elite once again, but I need to see it one more time.  To see what I’m expecting from him in 2009, check out what I projected back in December by clicking here.
  • I know people have concern regarding Trevor Hoffman and if he still has anything left in the tank.  He’s certainly not the strikeout artist he once was, but going 30 for 34 in save opportunities last season tells me he will still be able to lock down the victory when given the opportunity.  In Milwaukee, he should have plenty of chances.
  • Will Carlos Marmol hold onto the job?  Will he even start the season with the job?  That question is pushing him down the list, thanks to Kevin Gregg’s presence.  I have to believe that it’s Marmol’s job to lose, but that is just my opinion.  I also believe he has the chance to be one of the top closers in baseball, after striking out 114 batters in just 87.1 innings.  That’s electric and enough to keep him on the list over some of the other players facing competition.
  • I have been singing the praises of Frank Francisco since last season and I’m not about to change my tune now.  Eddie Guardado’s presence could muddy the situation a bit, but all reports seem to be pointing to Francisco holding the job.  That makes him a great late round selection in all formats.
  • Can Brad Lidge possibly go a second full season without blowing a save?  It is highly unlikely, so I certainly wouldn’t go into the season expecting perfection once again.
  • I’m honestly not sold on Matt Lindstrom, but he just doesn’t face much competition in Florida at this point.  Leo Nunez?  Scott Proctor?  He barely slid on here thanks to his strikeout potential and the fact that he appears pretty safe, though it also wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t finish the season closing games (either due to inability or the fear of injury).  Keep your expectations in check here.
  • Jonathan Broxton has shown his tremendous strikeout ability already and has all the makings of a dominant closer.  He went 14-18 in saves over the final 3 months, showing that he can handle the pressure.  Could he be this season’s breakout closer?  It’s quite possible.
  • Could Heath Bell fill Trevor Hoffman’s shoes?  We’re soon going to find out, as it is his job to lose.  It was impossible to expect a repeat of his ’07 breakout (2.03 ERA, 0.97 WHIP), but he has proven to be a bulldog coming out of the pen.  Also, given their offense, how many blowouts do you really expect the Padres to get?  That could make him a great source of saves.  If you want a bit more, check out what Tom Krasovic said in our Ask the Expert (click here to read).
  • According to Jeff Zriebec in our recent Ask the Expert (click here to read), George Sherrill will be starting the season as the closer, but there’s a good chance he doesn’t finish there.  That certainly is part of the reason why he is out of our Top 20 rankings.  A 4.72 ERA and 1.50 WHIP didn’t help either.
  • As Troy Renck of The Denver Post stated in our Ask the Expert (click here to read), it’s likely that Huston Street opens the season as the Rockies closer, but Manny Corpas should get his chance before 2009 is over.  That uncertainty keeps both out of our Top 20.
  • Speaking of uncertainty, Joey Devine or Brad Ziegler?  Who knows at this point, but again that keeps both off the list for now.  As the situation plays itself out, that certainly has the potential to change.
  • Who was the last man off?  Probably Chad Qualls, and it was extremely close.

Who is missing from this list that you think belongs?  Should someone be higher?  Lower?  Let’s hear what you think.

Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.

11 comments

  1. big o says:

    this article comes at a good time for me.
    later today (slow draft) i will be faced with the decision of soria or fuentes as my 1st closer .

    i agree that soria is destined to be an elite closer , but 08 stats may provide no room for improvement . could he save 5 more games this season ? kc should be better this year but will that translate into more save opportunities ?

    speaking of svo’s , the angels gave f-rod 69 last year .
    but even if things go horribly wrong for them , will fuentes be afforded less than 55 svo’s ?
    i’m thinking that , if the planets all align , fuentes may get 50 saves this season . given the extended scoring system of the league , this would make him particularly attractive .

    thoughts ?

  2. C Bass says:

    Kevin Gregg is not a threat. He was a bad closer on a bad team. In no way does that qualify him to be the Cubs closer. Marmol has been waiting for this opportunity. He is a monster closer in the making on a team that will win plenty of games. I predict him to finish in the top 5.

  3. Rotoprofessor says:

    Big O, it’s a fair point about Soria, but I think you may be a little too optomistic about Fuentes potential for saves. Last season K-Rod has his 69 opportunities and second was Valverde with 51. That’s a huge difference. In 2007, only 3 closers had over 50 save opportunities (Valverde, Borowski and F. Cordero). I think to go into the season expecting 50+ opportunities would be a mistake, because it is rare.

    Over the past 2 seasons 5 closers have had that many chances out of 60 teams, or 8.33%. No matter what the Angels did last season, I don’t like those odds.

    If it’s me, I’m going Soria. What does everyone else think?

  4. Chuck says:

    I’d go with Soria as well, but might push Fuentes over Jenks (Ks) and Wood (injuries). Also, on a hunch, I don’t think Brian Wilson lasts the year

  5. Cuch says:

    What about Mike Gonzalez in Atlanta? I know he has Soriano looking over his shoulder but he was solid when he came back last year after surgery and has done is successfully before in Pittsburgh.

  6. elwood says:

    saves recipe.

    slap-hack hitting (nothing like a couple walks a 3 run homer to gum up the works). Lots of outs, bum singles, steals good for producing the 1, 2 run innings which is what you want.

    DEEP quality, iinnings-eating starting pitching (ie, the 4th AND 5th guy not being whip avalanches)

    2 good setup men

    Guees which team fits the bill to produce not only lots of leads but NICE leads..3-1 4-2 2-0, etc.

    same as last year.

    FUENTES

  7. Rotoprofessor says:

    Cuch, Gonzalez falls into the group of pitchers who have to compete for their job. If he wins it, then he easily could be slotted in the Top 20, but it’s not a gamble that I’d consider taking with more “sure” options available to you.

  8. Tony says:

    Soria over Fuentes anyday. He’ll put up better overall numbers, KC is going to be better than what people think, the Central is a coin toss (not that I think KC can win it, but they’ll compete…somewhat, LOL)

  9. Kelly says:

    The problem with relief pitching in fantasy is that saves are such a moronic stat, based largely on the opportunities your team gives you. So even though I’d say Rivera is probably no longer one of the top five closers in the game, your list looks pretty damn good.

  10. C-Mac says:

    Even though you’ve got him lower than most other publications I’ve seen, I think you’re still too high on K-Rod.

    4.5 BB/9 is a far cry from elite levels, and the dip in K Rate last year is troublesome (even though it did bounce back in the 2nd half).

    Add the questionable peripherals to the injury risk (his arm is much older than the typical 27 year old), and I’m staying far, far away.

    I will be slotting him behind the Valverdes and the Broxtons of the world.

  11. James says:

    Where is Billy Wagner on this list he is probably the best closer playing right now. But really you think paplebon is the best. I can see why rivera is up there but really paplebon. Billy Wagner is the best and i am not a mets fan. Chad Qualls is not a closer. His fast balls speed is about 90 91 miles an hour. I know he is the diamondbacks closer but thats because they are terrible.

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