I want to hand out a special Closer of the Year Award, to the closer who was not expected to be quite as successful as he really was. We all expected the Mariano Rivera’s and Jonathan Papelbon’s to have huge seasons, which is why they were among the first closers off the board.
There are people who wait until later in the draft to nab a closer. That is actually a pretty popular strategy these days, given how volatile the closers market has tended to be. Injuries and inability seems to cause constant turnover among the closers. This season alone we saw J.J. Putz go down with injury. We saw Huston Street lose his job due to injury and inability. Joe Borowski was terrible as well. You can add in C.J. Wilson, Manny Corpas, Todd Jones, Billy Wagner and quite a few others.
Basically, what this comes down to is which closer was most valuable to his owners. Value is very objective, no doubt about it. Is value in the number of saves? In the number of K’s? In the WHIP? How much does draft position play in it? There’s a lot that goes into it, so with all that said, let’s take a look at my finalists:
Francisco Rodriguez - Drafted in the sixth round in one of my leagues, I can see why some people may say that he doesn’t deserve to be among the finalists. Still, despite being drafted early, this is the man that set the single season saves record with an amazing 62, blowing away the field. I know he struggled at times, blowing 7 games, but he still put up very impressive numbers across the board, with 77 K, 2.24 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 68.1 innings.
Jose Valverde - He was awful at times, and there were concerns that he could actually lose his job as the Astros closer. Prior to the season, many people would have predicted that to happen, but by the end of the season he was second in the league with 44 saves. He also picked up 6 W’s, struck out 83, posted a 3.38 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP over 72.0 innings. A lot of those numbers came over the final 2 months of the season, as he posted 10 saves in August with a 0.64 ERA and another 7 in September with a 0.93 ERA. Clearly, those who showed patience during his swoon in June (5.11 ERA) and July (6.75 ERA) were rewarded.
Joakim Soria – He plays for the Kansas City Royals, causing some to overlook him, but by the time the season ended he emerged as one of the Top 5 closers in the game. He picked up 42 saves, blowing just 3. He struck out 66 in 67.1 innings, while posting a miniscule 1.60 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. In one of my leagues, he was drafted in the twelfth round, behind the likes of Manny Corpas, Trevor Hoffman, Huston Street and others. His worst month came in August, when he posted an ERA of 4.50, though that was the only month he was above 2.19.
Brad Lidge - Lidge was once considered one of the top closers in the game, but after yielding a home run to Albert Pujols in the playoffs, his career seemed to be on the downturn. In 2006 he posted an ERA of 5.28. In 2007 he suffered from injuries, picking up just 19 saves. In 2008, he turned back the clock, failing to blow save en route to finishing in a tie for fourth with 41. He did so by striking out 92 over 69.1 innings, while posting an ERA of 1.95 and a WHIP of 1.23.
So, the question is, which of these four was the most valuable in my opinion? The first man I’m removing from the competition is Valverde, despite finishing second in the league in saves. The huge swings in production and the struggles in the middle of the season certainly hurt his owners.
I’m sure there were plenty of people who gave up on him, frustrated with the constant runs and bang to their ERA. I know I was one of those people, trading him in my keeper league, along with Garrett Atkins & David Murphy in exchange for James Shields and Johnny Damon. The inconsistency just hurt people way too much, meaning he could not be seen as the most valuable.
Next, I’m actually going to take out Rodriguez. I know he had one of the best seasons ever, but being that he was one of the first closers off the board in all leagues, he should have been expected to be among the top few. That really is not to take anything away from his accomplishments, but a lot of them came due to opportunity, not necessarily his ability. If Lidge or Soria would have been on the Angels, I have to believe that we would be celebrating them as the new all-time single season save leader. When you’re a closer, opportunity becomes a tremendous part of the equation.
That leaves us with Lidge and Soria as the final two in the discussion. Lidge’s turnaround was tremendous, but when push comes to shove, I’m giving the award to Joakim Soria. While he trailed in strikeouts, he still was able to K around a batter an inning, something that surely did not hurt your team.
He also had a tremendous advantage in WHIP. In fact, the only closer who had a better WHIP then him this season was Mariano Rivera, who posted an unbelievable 0.67. The only closers with a better ERA then him were Rivera (1.40) and Joe Nathan (1.33).
The fact of the matter is that many people didn’t give much credit to Soria entering the season, especially since he was going to be the closer of the lowly Royals. Yet, he managed to finish third in the league in saves while posting some of the more impressive ERA’s and WHIP’s among the leagues closers. He is one of the elite in the game, and should be viewed as such in all formats heading into 2009. Considering when he was drafted, he’s clearly the most valuable closer to fantasy owners.