Saves speculation is a critical part of winning most fantasy leagues, as inheriting a closer gig is the most immediate way for a player to gain a profound boost in value. So, periodically, I’m going to chime in here listing my five most desired non-closer relievers.
While many top-flight middle relievers can have value to a team, their skill sets and production levels are largely replaceable on the wire. It is the path to closing that most significantly differentiates similar options. Here are a few things I consider when evaluating this.
- Stability and skill of current closer. This is the most formidable obstacle facing a middle-reliever looking to close: Is the current closer likely to lose his job because of poor performance?
- Skill level of middle reliever. Is this player actually better than, or at least comparable to, the player currently closing? If he gets the job, can he keep it? Is the player good enough to push for consideration as a closer even if current closer merely falters, but does not full-on implode? Is the player good enough to have value to your team without closing?
- Injury history of current closer. Injuries are tough to predict, but all things being equal a pitcher behind Huston Street is more likely to inherit a job than one behind Jonathan Papelbon.
- Competition within bullpen for inheritance. At times, a team may have a shaky closing situation, but it is unclear who is next in line for the job. The best situation for a would-be closer is to be the clear, single successor.
- Likelihood of trades. This will become more important as the season progresses. If the incumbent is a trade candidate, that boosts the value the player next in line.
Ranking these players at any given time is not an exact science, so I look at these posts as an opportunity to promote discussion. Also as a disclaimer, I’m avoiding players on the disabled list (i.e., Ryan Madson). I will include a player currently involved in closer-by-committee situations only if I see his emergence as a singular owner of the job as likely. Remember, this column is about players most likely to see a drastic boost in value, not just options to vulture a handful of saves.
And, away we go.
1. Kyuji Fujikawa. Fujikawa averaged almost 12 K/9 in his career in Japan and hasn’t posted an ERA above 2.01 in the last eight seasons. Carlos Marmol is a disaster waiting to happen and failed to nail down the first save opportunity of the Chicago Cubs season. This is likely to be the first non-injury-related closing change this season.
2.Kenley Jansen. I know Brandon League has a big contract and Jansen has some heart issues, but my impression is that people are overthinking this one. The Dodgers are trying to win and they don’t care about money; talent will win out sooner than later. Additionally, Jansen’s ridiculous strikeout numbers make him among the most valuable non-closers.
4. David Robertson The man with the high socks is stuck behind the greatest closer in the history of the game, but Mariano Rivera is 43 and coming off an injury. Rafael Soriano is in Washington, and Robertson is slated to be the man if Rivera goes down again. Robertson also has a multi-year record of production worthy of mixed-league ownership even without a closing gig.
5. David Hernandez. Here’s a relatively unknown K-monster with a smidge of closer experience situated behind a very good incumbent with an injury history. J.J. Putz has shed a bit of his injury-risk reputation over the past few seasons, so it’s possible that I am overestimating his risk, but Hernandez is a good bet for 85–100 punch-outs out of the bullpen regardless, so that’s a pretty solid base to fall back on.