Jonathan Papelbon The Best Fantasy Closer? I Don’t Think So…

As I’ve done a few mock drafts recently, it has become more and more surprising to me the order that closers come off the board.  The first time I saw Jonathan Papelbon as the first closer taken I was able to dismiss it.  It was just a one-time thing, right?  Well, when I did another mock draft last night and once again Papelbon was the first closer taken I have to begin to wonder what is going on?

Don’t get me wrong, Papelbon is among of the elite closers in the league, but is he really the best one available?

Before we answer that question, let’s look at his line from 2009:

1 Wins
38 Saves
68.0 Innings
1.85 ERA
1.15 WHIP
76 Strikeouts (10.06 K/9)
24 Walks (3.18 BB/9)
.297 BABIP

That’s an amazing line, there’s no arguing that fact, but there are some concerns, most notably with the control.  He has a career BB/9 of 2.33, so there’s a good chance he improves there, but seeing him struggle there has got to make you take notice.

Is that enough to make you say, stay away?  Of course not, but it’s worth noting.

What could be a bigger issue is the number of innings he throws in a season.  Just look at his totals the past four seasons:

  • 2006 – 68.1
  • 2007 – 58.1
  • 2008 – 69.1
  • 2009 – 68.0

Compare that to someone like Jonathan Broxton, who has thrown 76 innings or more in three out of the last four seasons, including a year of 82.  Is it a huge difference?  No, but when you strikeout batters at the rates that these two guys do, an extra 12 innings means an extra 13 or 14 strikeouts.  That adds definite value.

It also gives his ERA and WHIP a little bit of a greater weight on your entire team’s.  Again, not a huge difference, but it certainly is worth noting.

What about the value of Joe Nathan, who has had an ERA above 1.88 twice since 2004, when he became a full-time closer?  Over that same span he’s had a WHIP above 0.98 once (and never above 1.02) and has never had less than 36 saves.  Why is he being valued below Papelbon?

Is it because of the fact that the Papelbon pitches for the Red Sox?  That’s great and all, but it’s just not enough to make me say that he should be the first closer off the board.  The Dodgers and Twins are no slouches and should offer plenty of save opportunities for their respective closers.

Let’s take a look at what I’m projecting for Papelbon in 2010:

65.0 IP, 4 W, 38 SV, 2.77 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 72 K (9.97 K/9), 18 BB (2.49 BB/9)

Don’t get me wrong, those are tremendous statistics and ones that I’d love to have on any of my teams, but is it really enough to make me go out of my way to select him as the first closer taken?  No, it’s not.  If no other closer had been taken and I was itching to take one, Papelbon wouldn’t be my selection and it’s nothing against his abilities.  It’s just that Broxton and Nathan, just as examples, are better options in my mind based on what they bring to the table.

What about you?  Do you see Papelbon as the best closer available?  If you do, why?

If you would like to see a free preview of the Rotoprofessor 2010 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide (available for just $5), click here.

Make sure to check out some of our 2010 projections, including:

Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.


  1. Michael Keneski says:

    I never get him or the other top guys cause i scour the wire and draft lower level guys at the end of the draft. i led my league in saves two years running with that method. last year i drafted chad qualls and bobby jenks and during year got soriano, aardsma, bailey, and frasor. DONT draft closers early.

  2. TY says:

    I’m in the dont take closers early camp, BUT this year especially at Yahoo they’re ranked very low. I’m sure some people will still take them where they are valued, or normally go i should say, BUT if a brox, paps, moriv, or nathan slide to me in the 8th or 9th round where they are ranked, I think you can take one of them there and get GOOD SOLID VALUE out of them. All the junky closers are great, they get saves which is their duty, but some of their peripherals are horrible. In H2H they can absolutely RUIN a week if all you’re trying to get outta them is a save basically thats not worth the risk of even running junky closers out there sometimes.

  3. I’m with you. I love Papelbon, but I prefer Broxton and Mariano over him.

  4. Joe Bob Briggs says:

    If we’re talking about the actual best closer, the guy I would pick if I was starting a real baseball team, I’d pass on all Broxton, Papelbon AND Nathan and take Joakim Soria. Younger, smarter, seems to be less injury-risky, and solid as a rock. Pitching for KC and getting fewer save opps than the glamorous guys just deflates his stock.

  5. sand0val says:

    I would take Papelbon 1st this year. The main reason we get closers is because of their saves. The Red Sox are going pitching and defense this year and he will pile them up. He will also be putting up nice peripherals.

  6. E-Z says:

    Interesting point there by Sand0val. I think conventional wisdom has Broxton/Nathan/Rivera is the top 3 (in whichever order). I think there are some reasons to believe that Paplebon *could* break into that group or even top them.

    1) That Red Sox lineup isn’t put together to blow teams away any more. It’s still potent, but Cameron isn’t Manny in his prime, and 2010 Papi isn’t close to Papi in his prime. I can’t see nearly as many blowouts.

    2) The addition of Cameron and Beltre adds plenty to the defence over the likes of Bay and Lowell, together with a stronger rotation.

    So is this a Red Sox team that projects to win less games than the last two or three seasons – no I don’t think so.

    Is this a Red Sox team that projects to win more games by 3 runs or less and put the ball into the hands of their closer in save situations – quite likely.

    I’d still take Broxton or Mo, but I can see the way an argument can be constructed for taking Paplebon first.

  7. Rotoprofessor says:

    It is a fair point, but again, I just can’t count on them playing more close games, therefore giving Papelbon more save opportunities. All three will be in the 36-40 save range most likely, wouldn’t everyone agree?

  8. TY says:

    RP- yes agreed.

    Joe Bob Briggs- Soria less injury risk? WAS HE NOT HURT MOST OF LAST YEAR? He was on the DL with a sore rotator issue? I would say thats the farthest from LESS INJURY RISK.

    I do like the comments made on Papelbon and I’m in agreement with the way the team is built this year their may be more opp’s for him to get saves. Much more than 45 DOUBTFUL.

    I wouldnt take any of the TOP closers before the 8th round. And even then it really just depends what else is there, i’d take them if i look at all the other SP’s, OF’er, and position players and they are NOT what i want then….

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