When discussing what a closer is, your mind may wonder a bit to someone who is bad-ass, who is unhittable — the guy in the clubhouse who is so close to the edge that his teammates may even be a little scared of the guy. The hit HBO series Eastbound & Down humoursly brings these qualities to life in the character Kenny Powers; nevertheless, he embodies what we perceive a closer to be.
These qualities, however, are very fictitious in almost every single way. Closers are not bred, they are jobs left to guys who could not make it as starters. You could make an argument that Brian Wilson is the closest thing to that embodiment, but even he cannot live up to those expectations.
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Now, if closers were company shares on the stock market, they would be very volatile and unsafe investments. Even the safest closers from last season were not a safe pick (see Joakim Soria). Which brings me to the point: Why are you willing to risk a high draft pick on a very unsafe investment?
Here is my strategy when drafting closers: I try and identify the most volatile closer situations and go after the guy who generally has higher upside and is going for a fraction of the price. For instance, last season, the big closer battle in spring training was between Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters. Kimbrel became a draft-day bargain because we were unsure who would ultimately close for the Braves. They let the guy with the highest upside get the first crack at closing and the rest was history. He probably won some guys their leagues because of the high return rate he gave them.
So, let’s identify the teams with volatile closer situations and try to grab the guy who could net us the highest return for a fraction of what it would cost to get a top-10 or even top-15 closer.
Chicago White Sox
Matt Thornton — He may be the guy everyone is wanting, but Thornton has always been the setup guy and never the closer, and he will be 35 on opening day. His K/9 (9.50) last year was the lowest it has been since 2007, and his BB/9 (3.17) was the highest it has been since 2007. Sorry, but I am not buying this guy as the closer for the whole season
Jesse Crain — While the White Sox are saying this guy has a shot at the closer spot, he sported a 4.27 BB/9 and a 0.96 HR/9 last season. I do not like closers who give up walks and home runs. This guy is definitely out.
Addison Reed — Which leads me to the highly touted rookie. He struggled a little in the six games he played last year in the bigs, but he has the stuff to strike people out. I do not think he is this year’s Kimbrel, but I think he could be a huge steal at the end of the draft.
Final analysis: Reed has to be the pick. The White Sox are in the midst of rebuilding this team. Which means you need to find out what you have in your younger players. I do not think Crain and Thornton will be able to hold on to the job if they are the opening-day closer. Look for Reed to get a shot.
Toronto Blue Jays
Sergio Santos — This guy became another great find last season when he made 30 saves for the White Sox. His high K/9 (13.07) and xFIP (2.69) point to another big season for this young guy. This could be the last season he is not a top-20 closer.
Francisco Cordero — The reason Santos is not a top-20 closer is because of this guy. Most feel that Cordero may win the starting closer position or, if Santos struggles at all, Toronto will quickly switch to Cordero. I personally am not a fan of his stats. A .214 BABIP and a 4.14 xFIP (ERA was 2.45) scare me, and then throw in the low 5.43 K/9 and I’m worried about investing in this guy.
Final analysis: Santos is the guy. He is going late, but he could wind up a top-10 closer by the end of the season. I, for one, will be gunning in the late rounds for this guy.
Los Angles Dodgers
Javy Guerra — Last year, it was a complete mess in terms of who was to close for this team, and this year is proving no different. The Dodgers organization has already came out and said that Guerra will be the opening-day closer. I do not think he will keep his job for long. His 7.33 K/9, 3.47 BB/9, .261 BABIP and his 4.07 xFIP (ERA 2.31) seem to point that he is going to regress from last year and may even struggle.
Kenley Jansen — Jansen can bring the heat. His 16.10 K/9 along with a 2.09 xFIP (2.85 ERA) make this guy a legit threat to take over the closer situation. He has to work on his control some (4.36 ERA), but he has the stuff to close.
Final analysis: Jansen is the guy you want here. When Guerra struggles, I do not see him having a long leash when they have a better guy to close games in Janson.
Glen Perkins — This is the guy pushing Capps for the closer position, but does he have the stuff to close? A 9.49 K/9, 3.06 BB/9, .323 BABIP and a 2.92 xFIP (ERA 2.48) are not bad numbers, but they are not numbers that jump out at me to take a draft-day flier on, hoping he ends up with the closer role.
Matt Capps — Last year was not the best year for Capps. A 4.66 K/9, 1.78 BB/9, 1.37 HR/9, .263 BABIP and a 4.49 xFIP (4.25 ERA) are not very good numbers for a closer. He could have the job solely as trade bait so the Twins can save some money. He could get 30 saves, but they may be an ugly 30.
Final analysis: This does not look like a good situation for the Twins bullpen this year. I do not think that either one of these guys has the stuff to be fantasy worthy and will probably not keep the closer job for very long. The problem? No one currently on the Minnesota MLB roster has the stuff to close. Brian Duensing may end up with a shot just for the hell of it. By the end of the season, I believe one of their prospects will get a shot. Whether it is Deolis Guerra, Lester Oliveros, Tyler Robertson or Matt Hauser, it would be a huge guessing game at this point of the season. I am going to watch what happens here, but, ultimately, I am staying away from all of these guys this season.
Jose Valverde — This guy had an amazing run last season and had a perfect 49-for-49 save record. Most people, including me, are wondering when Valverde is going to veer off into a tree and end in a fiery blaze. His K/9 (8.59) continues to trend down year by year, his BB/9 (4.23) is unimpressive, his BABIP (.247) points to him being very lucky and his xFIP (4.01), as compared to his ERA (2.24), shows he might be one of the first top-10 closers to lose his job.
Joaquin Benoit — If Valverde falters (or more likely when), Benoit looks to be one of the first guys to get a crack. This guy has okay numbers for me — 9.3 K/9, 2.51 BB/9, .273 BABIP and 3.29 xFIP (2.95 ERA) are decent numbers. It has to be noted that his K/9 went down and his BB/9 went up from the previous season, which is never a good thing.
Final analysis: By the end of the season, I do not think either one of these guys will have the job. I am definitely wanting Benoit out of the two. If you do draft Valverde, you need to handcuff him. The guy I wanting to see as closer is Al Alburquerque, but he will not be back from injury until mid-March.
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