There are some clear Dos and Don’ts when it comes to drafting closers, but lets get the biggest one out of the way first: don’t reach for a closer too early. If you reach for a closer, you’ll likely be the one kicking off the infamous “run on Closers”. If you want to win your league, you’ll want to avoid being that guy. Not only can you expect many of the fantasy baseball closers below to perform roughly equivalently to one another, but all your league managers will target you all year for closer trades and make it difficult to live-down being the sucker who splurged too early on a closer! In the case where some guys are elite and don’t really have any comparison (Craig Kimbrel), you can easily justify not taking him based on the availability of other more crucial positional players. As an example, someone in your league will likely take Fernando Rodney in the 7th or 8th round, whereas you can wait and draft a Soriano or Holland 3 or 4 rounds later. RotoBaller advises you to apply the same approach to the lower tiers of closers: wait until some are gone, and then pounce.
Another reason to avoid splurging on a relief pitcher is the replaceability of closers. Each year a minimum of about 1/3 of the closers in the MLB turn over due to injury, lack of performance, or both. In other words, you’ll have an opportunity to claim many different closers from the waiver wire, if you can keep your ear to the ground and your finger on the trigger. So, while you should definitely make sure to grab one or two “reliable” Closers (without starting the Closer run!), know that the position is highly fungible and most all MLB Closers are replaceable. On Draft Day, you don’t want to find yourself reaching AT ALL for a player in that kind of position. You want to reach for the irreplaceable sluggers and breakout starters, whose stats you won’t necessarily find elsewhere.
Another piece of advice: DON”T rely on drafting and stashing an injured closer. Better to use that pick on a lesser-known closer who will actually start the season with the job
Before jumping into the tiers, we’re going to summarize the top 5 Dos and Don’ts when it comes to drafting closers:
- DO NOT reach for a closer– always let someone else kick off the closer runs
- DO NOT draft injured closers expecting them to quickly regain form! Just don’t do it!
- DO NOT draft a closer with zero track record and expect anything more than a pleasant surprise at best and a spectacular flameout at worst– we’re looking at you Jose Veras, Bruce Rondon and Jason Grilli(
- DO stay active on the waiver wire and pounce on the setup men who appear on the verge of inheriting the closer role!
- Lastly, DO NOT be the guy who has 5 closers and two setup men on his roster and only 5 starting pitchers– every league has a “closer fiend”; don’t let it be you!
Now, with those rules clearly established, let’s take a look at the closer tiers:
Tier 1: Kimbrel and Chapman are in a class of their own. They are truly exceptional at their craft. But you know what? I don’t care, because I won’t own Kimbrel or Chapman on any team this year. If you want to win your league, grab a bigtime slugger in the 3rd or 4th round while openly laughing at the guy who takes Kimbrel or Chapman that early.
Tier 2: These are the really solid guys who’ve done it many times before (with the exception of Rodney maybe) and you can count on each of them for around 35 saves with solid peripherals. Their ADPs range from ~85 to ~120, but don’t let that fool you– once one or two of these guys gets drafted, the rest will go soon after. It’s possible a few guys from Tier 3 even sneak into this closer run. I like all these relievers roughly equivalently, and I would feel good about owning any of them as long as I didn’t kick off the closer run.
Tier 3: This tier includes players who settled into the closer role last year and excelled (Perkins, Holland, Romo, Wilhelmsen, Janssen, Cishek), others who struggled a bit but ended the season there (Reed, Balfour), some who are solidly established but unspectacular (Perez, Johnson, Betancourt, Axford, Hanrahan) and one previously elite closer who’s found himself back in the role (Broxton). As with Tier 2, we can bet that one or two closer runs will see most of the Tier-3 guys drafted in close proximity to one another. I like Chris Perez’s increasing K-rate and GB-rate, and decreasing BB-rate, but his shoulder injury has me a little worried and i could keep him out through the start of the season. John Axford also worries me as he was all over the map last year– I won’t be looking to own him anywhere. Rafael Betancourt is a guy I like a lot here, and considering his ADP I would expect him to be around in the middle of a “run”. Broxton is a bit more risky but he’s a in a great situation in Cincinatti and he had a very good year overall last year. I like Casey Janssen this year and would look to draft him if he is the clear winner of the closer job in Toronto. Joel Hanrahan’s BBs were out of control last year, and I’m a little wary of how he will succeed in Boston, but if he can get it back down to below the 4 BB/9 range, he should have a very solid year as well.
You can tell that I haven’t really mentioned many of the guys who settled into the closer role for the first time last year. I’m a bit more nervous about guys who haven’t had more than half-season of success in the closer role. That said, I do really like Perkins, Holland and Wilhelmsen and I think each of them is capable of putting up top-10 RP numbers. If I grab a closer from Tier 2, I’ll own just one of these Tier-3 guys; otherwise, I’ll snag two of them. In either situation, I’m grabbing my third (and maybe fourth) closers from the final tier.
Tier 4: The bottom of the barrel. The dregs of closer land. Or as experienced fantasy baseballers think of it, the land of Closer Alchemy! Some of these guys are really unattractive, or were recently badly injured. I love that because it leaves huge opportunities for the set-up men to take over here, and thus huge opportunities for me to get a solid #2 closer FOR FREE off the waiver wire. Any of these guys could easily lose their job, which means drafting any of them is a gamble. You’ll draft here because the inventory is very cheap (I’m talking 19-20th round), and you can hope for the best. The key with any of these guys is not to get your expectations up. You’ll either be pleasantly surprised, or you’ll cut him loose when you’re the first to hear that setup man John Doorslammer is being given the reins. I want to highlight one guy I really like in this group: Brandon League has shown he has the stuff to be a good MLB closer, and after signing a big contract he’ll be locked into the job for a while – you could be sitting tight with a top-15 closer for a pretty cheap price.
In the next few days, we’ll be expanding our bullpen coverage with our division-by-division Bullpen Reports, starting with the AL East. These will provide deeper looks into each team’s closer situation, what you can expect from the current incumbent, how secure his job is, and which setup men to be on the lookout for. Stay tuned!
And if you’ve missed them, be sure to also check out RotoBaller.com’s other pre-season 2013 fantasy baseball positional rankings for more in-depth analysis:
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