Quality closers are a very important factor when your trying to build a championship caliber fantasy team. It isn’t difficult to find guys who will get you saves, however, it isn’t easy to find a player who can rack up strikeouts, as well as keep their WHIP below or around 1.00. ERA is obviously important too, yet to me it isn’t as important because if the pitchers ERA is high, they wont be closing. In this article I am going to discuss the top 15 closers in fantasy, as well as some other guys to look for as back up options.
1. Craig Kimbrel: Kimbrel is undoubtedly the best RP in fantasy. He does not fear any situation, and has the ability to make any pitch at any moment. His ability to rack up strikeouts allows him to get out of his own jams or any one elses. He is on a very solid Braves squad and should have many save opportunities in 2013. His 2012 stats: 3-1, 1.01 ERA, 42 saves, 116 Ks, 0.65 WHIP. Needless to say, Kimbrel should be the first RP taken in your draft.
2. Aroldis Chapman: Chapman may have the most electrifying pitches in all of baseball. Until very recently he was slated to be a starter, but it was recently announced that he will be back in the closer role in 2013. He was very important to the NL Central champion Reds last season and will be again if they want to repeat their success. In 2012, Chapman went 5-5, 1.51 ERA, 38 saves, 122 Ks, 0.81 WHIP. The Reds are a high scoring offence and they will provide Chapman with plenty of save chances.
3. Fernando Rodney: Although Rodney will be 36 years old when the season starts, I believe that he will be very effective in 2013. He had the best year of his career in 2012 with 2-2, 0.60 ERA, 48 saves, 76 Ks, 0.77 WHIP. He pitches for the Rays which will help him to rack up save chances. Most of the Rays games are low scoring due to their strong pitching staff and lack of offence. Rodney will be relied heavily upon to shut the door in the 9th inning. He personally got his 2013 off to a strong start while going 7 for 7 in save opportunities during the WBC.
4. Rafael Soriano: When Mariano Rivera went down last May, the Yankees put Soriano in the closer role and never looked back. As a Yankee fan myself, I think Soriano was the most important player in helping them achieve another AL East championship in 2012. He went 2-1, 2.26 ERA, 42 saves, 69 Ks, 1.17 WHIP. His 42 saves are even more impressive considering he didn’t get his first until mid May. He is now with the Nationals and is positioned to have an even better season. The Nationals project to be the MLB’s most complete team and Soriano will be the guy who takes them to the next level. I’m sure that every Nats fan remembers the blown save in game 5 of the NLDS last year. With a closer like Soriano, that lead will remain intact.
5. Jason Motte: He helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 2011 and continued his success with a very strong season in 2012. He was 4-5, 2.75 ERA, 42 saves, 86 Ks, 0.91 WHIP. The Cardinals have one of the top offences in the MLB so you know they are going to win a solid number of ball games. Motte got a save in nearly half of their wins last season and I expect him to do the same again in 2013. He may slide a little in drafts because of names like Rivera and Papelbon, yet I expect him to be better than both of them.
6. Jonathan Papelbon: He has been a top closer for 7 years now and 2013 will be no different. The Phillies are not the power house that they once were but they have more than enough talent to win more than 80 games meaning Papelbon will have at least 35 saves this season. In 2012, the Phillies had a ton of injuries and really struggled for the first half of the season. Papelbon was still able to go 5-6, 2.44 ERA, 38 saves, 92 Ks, 1.06 WHIP. He is a model of consistency at the closer position and is a no brainer in all formats.
7. Mariano Rivera: He is the best closer of all time and used to be number 1 on this list every year. However, entering the 2013 season he will not only be 43, but he also hasn’t pitched in a regular season game in almost a year. He has looked very impressive this spring and should be able to carry that success into the regular season. The reasons why he is 7th on this list and not higher is the risk of injury as well as his declining strikeout numbers as he has gotten older. The Yankees are also a weaker team in 2013 and Rivera may not get the amount of save opportunities he has in the past. The encouraging stat for Rivera is that since he turned 40 he has averaged a 1.87 ERA, 27 saves, 37 Ks, 0.87 WHIP. Keep in mind that save and strikeout averages would be higher if he pitched a full season last year.
8. Sergio Romo: Romo only took over the closers role late in the season in 2012. He had immediate success and helped the Giants win the NL West. In the playoffs he was nearly untouchable and helped the Giants win their 2nd World Series in 3 years. His 2012 numbers were 4-2, 1.79 ERA, 14 saves, 63 Ks, 0.84 WHIP and I expect them to be just as good in 2013. The only difference will be that he has job security and will be the closer for a full season and should finish with 35-40 saves.
9. Joe Nathan: Nathan re-established himself as a top 10 closer last year in Texas. He posted a 3-5, 2.80 ERA, 37 saves, 78 Ks, 1.05 WHIP. While the Rangers are not as strong of a team in 2013, Nathan has always been very consistent and there is no reason why that wont continue this season. Due to his age (36), Nathan may fall in your draft rankings, however, I find that consistency is the most important attribute in a pitcher which is why I have Nathan in the 9th spot.
10. Jim Johnson: The Orioles emerged as a surprise team and Johnson emerged as their star closer. Johnson is the anchor of a very talented Orioles bullpen. In 2012, Johnson went 2-1, 2.49 ERA, 51 saves, 41 Ks, 1.02 WHIP. The Orioles were incredible in close games in 2012 and should be again in 2013. They have a great offense and an underrated pitching staff that will get the ball to Johnson with a lead often this season. Johnson is a classic example of a pitcher who may not have amazing stats, yet he is a lock for a ton of saves and is a must draft.
11. Huston Street: He isn’t on a good team but his numbers speak for themselves. In 2012 he posted a 2-1, 1.85 ERA, 23 saves, 47 Ks, 0.72 WHIP. Street will help keep your ERA and WHIP down every week while picking up a solid amount of saves. He isn’t going to win you the saves category but he will contribute in multiple ways. He is nothing special but he gets the job done.
12. J.J. Putz: The Diamondbacks are a solid team entering the 2013 season. They have a terrific pitching staff and a balanced lineup. This will directly impact how well Putz does this season. In 2012 he was 1-5, 2.82 ERA, 32 saves, 65 Ks, 1.03 WHIP which is pretty much what you can expect from him in 2013.
13. Joel Hanrahan: Like Street, Hanrahan is a solid pitcher who isn’t on a good team. He was traded this offseason from Pittsburgh to Boston which won’t help his production. The Red Sox struggled last season to close out games so Hanrahan will certainly help them. Last year he was 5-2, 2.72 ERA, 36 saves, 67 Ks, 1.27 WHIP. He should have a similar amount of save opportunities but he is moving to the AL East which could negatively affect his ERA and WHIP.
14. Greg Holland: He was on my list of break out players in 2013 and he is a dark horse to crack the top 10 closers. His experience closing is limited, however, with his ability to strike out well over 1 batter per inning he has a ton of value. In 2012 he was 7-4, 2.96 ERA, 16 saves, 91 Ks, 1.37 WHIP. Although his WHIP is higher than you want from a RP, Holland is the magic age of 27 where players suddenly reach their potential. I expect it to improve this season and he should get plenty of save chances with an improved Royals ball club.
15. John Axford: He struggled in 2012 with 5-8, 4.67 ERA, 35 saves, 93 Ks, 1.44 WHIP. He is on this list because even in a bad season he was able to put up 35 saves and 93 strikeouts. He is reliable and will do more to help you than hurt you. The Brewers aren’t the strongest team, but that won’t prevent Axford from being a solid contributor to any fantasy roster. He could regain his form from a couple of years ago which would make him a top 10 closer.
Other Notable Closers: Brandon League (LAD), Ryan Madson (LAA), Grant Balfour (Oak), Addison Reed (CWS), Tom Wilhelmsen (SEA) and Rafael Betancourt (COL).
Good luck to everyone in their upcoming drafts and I hope that this information can help. If you haven’t already, check out my other articles and follow me on Twitter @In_Lou_Of. I enjoy hearing feed back whether it is positive or negative so please feel free to comment on the articles as well as tweet at me.