Fantasy: Closer Rankings, Part Two

I’ve already looked at the top 15 closers, now it’s time for the bottom 15. In parentheses is the pitcher (or pitchers) who you should keep an eye on in case something happens to the closer. (Note: Rankings based on 5×5 Rotisserie scoring.)

16. Shingo Takatsu, White Sox (Damaso Marte): Takatsu was excellent in his first season in the majors last year, posting a 2.31 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 62.1 innings while saving 19 games in 20 chances. This year, he should be the closer the whole season, which will help his value quite a bit.

I don’t know if he’ll be quite as good as last year, and he is pretty old (36), but he should be very productive. I’d expect 30-35 saves, 4-6 wins, a 2.75-3.00 ERA, 1.05-1.10 WHIP and 50-60 strikeouts in 60-70 innings.

I thought Marte would be the closer last year, by he struggled early in the season before recovering to post a 3.42 ERA. This year, I think he’ll bounce back to a sub-3.00 ERA and he’ll have some value even if he doesn’t get more than a few saves.

17. Eddie Guardado, Mariners (Shigetoshi Hasegawa): Guardado was only healthy enough to throw 45.1 innings last year, but he still had a nice 2.78 ERA. And before last year, he had consecutive seasons with an ERA below 3.00 and more than 40 saves.

Guardado’s 34 years old and definitely an injury risk, but he’s a very good pitcher when healthy. He should be good for 30-35 saves, 2-4 wins, a 2.75-3.00 ERA, 1.05-1.10 WHIP and 50-60 strikeouts in 50-60 innings.

Hasegawa struggled mightily last year (5.16 ERA), but he had a 1.48 ERA in 2003 and a 3.20 ERA in 2002. He should be able to get his ERA back below 4.00 this year, and his value is helped by Guardado’s injury history.

18. Troy Percival, Tigers (Ugueth Urbina): Percival is no longer an elite closer, as he’s old (35) and injury prone. Last year, he also had a shocking drop in his strikeouts, from 48 in 49.1 innings in 2003 (which was low for him anyway) to just 33 in 49.2 innings last year.

Percival hasn’t pitched more than 60 innings in a season since 1998, and he won’t break that streak this year. He’ll probably provide 30-35 saves, 2-3 wins, a 3.00-3.25 ERA, 1.15-1.25 WHIP and 35-40 strikeouts in 45-50 innings.

Urbina’s not that great a pitcher either, but he’ll get some saves. Either he’ll take over as closer for a while when (not if) Percival misses time, or he’ll get traded to a team that will probably use him as a closer.

19. Dan Kolb, Braves (Chris Reitsma): Kolb had a 2.98 ERA and 39 saves last year, but he still wasn’t one of the best fantasy relievers in the 5×5 format because he only had 21 strikeouts and he didn’t win a single game. I don’t think he’ll go winless again (most relievers pick up at least a win or two somewhere along the road), but the strikeouts are a big concern.

The things that saved him last year were that he only walked 15 batters and allowed three homers, but succeeding with such a low strikeout rate (3.3 K/9IP) is very difficult. Luckily, he has shown the ability to strike people out in the past, with 39 strikeouts in 41.1 innings in 2003. Ultimately, I think he’ll be good for 30-35 saves, 3-5 wins, a 3.00-3.25 ERA, 1.15-1.25 WHIP and 40-45 strikeouts in 60-70 innings.

Reitsma was a decent pitcher last year (4.07 ERA), and he’ll probably get the first shot if Kolb struggles (whether it’s the strikeouts or something else) or gets hurt (he does have a bit of an injury history).

20. LaTroy Hawkins, Cubs (Joe Borowski/Ryan Dempster): What a spring for the Cubs. First Dempster was slotted to be the closer, but he got moved to the rotation when Kerry Wood and Mark Prior got hurt. Borowski was supposed to close in his place, but he’s out for at least the first six weeks of the season. So now it’s Hawkins.

Cubs fans didn’t like Hawkins’ nine blown saves last year, but he did have a 2.63 ERA, and his ERA the past three seasons is 2.22. I don’t believe Hawkins is incapable of closing, and he should easily give you 25-30 saves, a 2.25-2.50 ERA, 1.05-1.10 WHIP and 65-75 strikeouts in 70-80 innings.

The only reason Hawkins isn’t ranked higher is that there’s a feeling that he can’t close, which means he could lose his spot as the closer if he’s struggling when Borowski gets healthy.

21. Chad Cordero, Nationals (Luis Ayala): Cordero has excellent stuff, as his 2.79 ERA in 93.2 major-league innings indicates, but he’s only 23 years old. The nature of young pitchers is that they’re sometimes inconsistent, so don’t be surprised if Cordero struggles at times.

That said, I like his potential. I want to see him close for a full season before I completely trust him, but he should be able to give you at least 25-30 saves, 5-7 wins, a 2.75-3.00 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 70-80 strikeouts in 70-80 innings.

One reason I don’t project him for more than 30 saves is that Ayala also has a 2.79 career ERA in the majors (in 161.1 innings), and I could see Cordero losing (or at least having to share) his job if he struggles early.

22. Danys Baez, Devil Rays (Lance Carter): Baez isn’t anything special, but he does a solid job as long as you know what to expect from him. He’s not going to have a great ERA, and he’s probably not going to rack up a ton of saves.

I’d expect him to finish with 25-30 saves, 3-5 wins, a 3.50-3.75 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 55-65 strikeouts in 70-80 innings. If something happens to Baez, Carter is a former All-Star. Of course, he had a 4.33 ERA that season, but he’s not terrible and can get saves if he’s in the closer role.

23. Jose Mesa, Pirates (Mike Gonzalez): Mesa puts up some ugly numbers from time to time, and he was not good in the final two months last season, but he seems to find a way to get the job done. He’s saved at least 40 games in three of the last four seasons, which is certainly something none of the other closers left can say.

I don’t think Mesa will get to 40 again, but he should be good for 30-35 saves, 4-6 wins, a 4.00-4.50 ERA, 1.40-1.45 WHIP and 40-45 strikeouts in 60-70 innings. The biggest concern is Gonzalez stealing his job. Gonzalez showed off his stuff with a 1.25 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 43.1 innings last year, and will probably be Pittsburgh’s closer eventually.

24. Bob Wickman, Indians (David Riske): Wickman’s a big injury risk (he’s only pitched 64 innings the last three years, missing 2003 entirely), but he can still get the job done when he’s healthy. He should be able to provide 25-30 saves, 1-3 wins, a 4.00-4.25 ERA, 1.35-1.40 WHIP and 50-60 strikeouts in 50-60 innings.

He could be significantly better than that, but you don’t want to expect too much from a 36-year-old coming off three injury-plagued seasons. Riske was supposed to be the closer last year, but he struggled early before rebounding to finish with a 3.72 ERA. He should be good for at least a 3.00-3.25 ERA this year, and will be a very effective closer if Wickman gets hurt again.

25. Danny Graves, Reds (Ryan Wagner): Graves saved 41 games last year, but he didn’t pitch particularly well with a 3.95 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. Graves had never saved more than 32 games before last year, and I don’t think he’ll really get close to 40 again this season.

He should be able to save 25-30 games with 2-4 wins, a 4.25-4.50 ERA, 1.35-1.40 WHIP and 40-45 strikeouts in 60-70 innings. Like Mesa, Graves has to worry about having his job stolen, as Wagner’s going to be a very good reliever some day. If that day arrives this year and Graves is struggling at the time, I think Wagner will become the closer.

26. Miguel Batista, Blue Jays (Justin Speier): After a very disappointing first season in Toronto, Batista moves from the rotation to the bullpen. There is certainly precedent for an ineffective starter becoming an effective closer, but there’s also precedent for a starter moving to closer and struggling.

I think Batista will do a decent job, but will struggle at times and not always look good even when he’s getting saves. I’ll guess he finishes with 25-30 saves, 4-6 wins, a 4.00-4.25 ERA, 1.40-1.45 WHIP and 50-60 strikeouts in 60-70 innings.

Speier’s been about an average reliever the last five years, and he could probably get saves if Batista struggles, but he has no value otherwise.

27. Mike Adams, Brewers (Jose Capellan): Adams has put up some very impressive numbers between AA, AAA and the majors the last two seasons, and he should be a solid pitcher this season. However, he’s only pitched 53 major-league innings, so there is some risk that he’ll struggle.

I wouldn’t expect much more than 20-25 saves, 3-5 wins, a 3.50-3.75 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 60-70 strikeouts in 70-80 innings. If he surpasses those numbers, it should be considered a bonus. Capellan is a very highly regarded prospect and probably Milwaukee’s closer of the future, so he may get a look if Adams has problems.

28. Jeremy Affeldt, Royals (Mike MacDougal): Affeldt is an injury risk, and he still hasn’t had a great season in the majors yet. But he’s pretty young (26) and he’s got good stuff. At the very least, he should be able to provide 20-25 saves, 3-5 wins, a 4.00-4.25 ERA, 1.35-1.40 WHIP and 50-60 strikeouts in 70-80 innings.

He could also finally have his breakout season, but he could just as easily struggle or get hurt again and lose his job to MacDougal. MacDougal, of course, was Kansas City’s closer in 2003, but he only pitched 11.1 innings in the majors last year. He needs to greatly improve his control (32 walks in 64 innings in 2003) to be effective, but he certainly could get some saves with Affeldt’s question marks.

29. Greg Aquino, Diamondbacks (Brandon Lyon): Aquino’s only pitched 35.1 innings in the majors, and he wasn’t exactly dominant in the minors, so I don’t know how much to expect from him this season. He’s also struggling some this spring, which might concern the Diamondbacks.

I definitely wouldn’t expect more than 20-25 saves, 2-4 wins, a 4.00-4.25 ERA, 1.40-1.45 WHIP and 40-50 strikeouts in 60-70 innings. If Lyon pitches the way he did at times with the Red Sox in 2003, he could take over as the closer, and Jose Valverde could also regain the job once he gets healthy.

30. Chin-hui Tsao, Rockies (who cares?): I guess you could take a chance on him late in the draft, but I certainly wouldn’t use him to start the season. I’d want to make sure he’s not going to completely implode and kill my team’s ERA and WHIP.

He’ll probably be a better pitcher than Shawn Chacon was last year, but that’s not saying much. And he almost certainly won’t come up with the 35 saves Chacon had. As for his backup, if you’re worrying about the backup closer on the Rockies, you’re in way too deep a fantasy league.

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