This post is the latest in Ryan’s fantasy baseball position primer series. To see his primers for all other positions, click here.
Stock Watch: Rising
J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
After a few years of struggling with injuries and command problems, Putz seemed to find his former self in the closer’s role in the desert last season. For two years, the former Mariner was considered one of the top closers in all of baseball, but his career went awry for a few seasons due to shoulder problems.
The key to Putz’s success last season was the rediscovery of his command. His walk rate was 5.83 per nine in 2009, but it was cut in half in 2010 at 2.50. Then, last year, Putz posted 1.86 walks per nine innings to go along with his 2.17 ERA and 45 saves. It seems like the D’backs closer is back to his old dominant self.
Ryan Madson, Cincinnati Reds
Madson moved into the closer’s role and thrived in Philadelphia. During the last few seasons, Mad Dog has become one of the most dominant setup men in all of baseball, but there were lingering questions about whether he could finish games. Last year, the big righty finally put everything together in saving 32 games for the NL East Champion Phillies.
He now moves to Cincinnati, where he should experience similar success. Madson has consistently low walk rates to go along with striking out more than one man per inning. The biggest boost to Madson’s numbers was his sharp decline in his home run rate from .68 per nine innings to just .30 homers per nine. Madson is a top closer this season.
Stock Watch: Falling
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
After a few years of living life on the edge, Marmol finally exploded last season, blowing four saves and posting a 5.91 ERA in the second half of last season. The main problem with Marmol is his incredibly high walk rate, which is a danger for any closer. It is hard to imagine the wild closer suddenly learning to control his live arm.
Prior to last season, Marmol had been able to live despite his horrendous control, but, after the late season collapse, it is very difficult to put the Cubs’ closer as someone who should be sought out in the draft.
Closer Big Questions
This offseason featured a mass movement in closers. Who has helped their value the most?
Andrew Bailey, Heath Bell, Jonathon Papelbon, and Ryan Madson are just a few of the closers that moved last offseason. However, the biggest increase in value would be that of Huston Street, who moved from Coors Field to the caverns of San Diego’s Petco Park. Street had a home ERA of 4.11 in his career at Coors, but he has a career 2.83 in all other ballparks. Looking at the Padres horrific offense, they will rarely blow any teams out so Street will definitely not be short of save opportunities.
Which setup men have the opportunity to move into the closer’s role this season and be valuable sleepers?
Every season, the closer carousel ends up dropping setup men into positions of fantasy value. This year, the closer changes could give players like Scott Downs, Vinnie Pestano and David Hernandez added value as closers-in-waiting.
The Angels have Jordan Walden, just a second year closer, at the end of the bullpen. However, it would not be difficult to see Walden being replaced by the veteran lefty Downs, considering that Walden blew 10 saves to lead the league last year. Pestano will take over for at least the beginning of the season for the Indians with Chris Perez hurt. If Perez has problems as the season goes on, Pestano should provide good numbers. Last season, he posted a 2.32 ERA with 84 strikeouts.
Hernandez serves as the beneficiary if J.J. Putz’s past shoulder issues return. Hernandez had 11 saves last season and provides solid numbers in terms of ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts, despite pitching in the desert.
You will hear this a million times when planning for a fantasy baseball draft: “Do not pay for saves.” The fact is that picking the top relievers is pointless. Each season, there are new closers who post high save numbers despite not even being counted as a fantasy option before the season.
For instance, last season it was Putz, Madson, and Sergio Santos, among others. The difference between someone like Craig Kimbrel and Huston Street is negligible. Closers do not pitch enough to make a huge difference in your championship run. It is easier to pick up the hot closers as the season goes along rather than spending a middle round pick on them.