Is there a difference in value between closers in fantasy baseball as opposed to the "real-life" variety? For me, there isn't much of one. The only conceivable reason to distinguish between real-life and fantasy success is the arbitrary nature of classic baseball statistics, stats that are more offense- and defense-dependent results. Wins, saves, and ERA -- along with playoff and big-game experience -- are other possible factors. But if I were a real general manager looking for a big-time closer, I'd want a Mariano Rivera (RP, NYY) clone: a right-hander (but not a side-armer) with a repeatable, fluid delivery, aggressive mentality and the following pitches:
• a four-seam fastball in the mid-to-high 90s with some downward movement.
• a two-seamer with lateral movement or a cutter with late downward movement.
• a slider or splitter with a hard, sharp break.
Come to think of it, I might be looking for Joba Chamberlain or Jonathan Papelbon. But when it comes to closers, fantasy or otherwise, it's all about the fastball. Here's what I think:
• Good closers use a bevy of different fastballs as out pitches. They don't rely on slow breaking balls or straight change-ups to sit batters down.
• The most successful pitchers in late-game situations will always be those who can make batters miss on several types of heat -- and when they can't, force grounders that can result in double plays.
I agree wholeheartedly with Robert "Voros" McCracken's seminal essay that says, "There is little if any difference among major-league pitchers in their ability to prevent hits on balls hit in the field of play."
• Pitchers who have high K/BB ratios and higher ground ball/fly ball rates are best equipped to help your team win.
Offense and defense obviously play a crucial factor in determining wins, saves and ERA. But having a good closer helps you win tight games. The top five closers in baseball are invariably going to be among the Top 10 relievers in standard, 5x5 fantasy scoring formats.
Should you temper your expectations for a talented closer on a bad team? Until last season, I would have said yes. But then the fantasy world was introduced to Joakim Soria (RP, KAN), who saved 42 games for the 75-win Royals. Truth is, you can help your fantasy chances by targeting good closers on good teams, but if you acquire closers with the qualities I proffered above, regardless of their team's anticipated success, you can find gems that will make their teams better. It can be a scrumptiously vicious cycle, as owners who targeted Heath Bell (RP, SD) are finding out.
All statistics through Tuesday's games.
Matt Lindstrom, FLA4-for-6 (67%), 7.2 IP, 7 Ks, 9.39 ERA, 1.96 WHIPNext in line: Leo NunezThird in line: Kiki Calero
Fernando Rodney, DET4-for-4 (100%), 8 IP, 4 Ks, 5.63 ERA, 1.13 WHIPNext in line: Brandon Lyon/Joel ZumayaThird in line: Ryan Perry (minors)
Brad Ziegler, OAK4-for-5 (80%), 10.1 IP, 7 Ks, 1.74 ERA, 1.35 WHIPNext in line: Santiago CasillaThird in line: Michael Wuertz/Russ Springer
George Sherrill, BAL4-for-5 (80%), 8.2 IP, 7 Ks, 5.19 ERA, 1.50 WHIPNext in line: Chris RayThird in line: Jim Johnson
Kevin Gregg, CHI (NL)1-for-2 (50%), 8 IP, 9 Ks, 5.63 ERA, 1.88 WHIPNext in line: Carlos MármolThird in line: Aaron Heilman/Jeff Samardzija
Brandon Morrow, SEA5-for-5 (100%), 6.2 IP, 8 Ks, 4.05 ERA, 1.35 WHIPNext in line: David AardsmaThird in line: Miguel Batista/Chad Cordero (shoulder)
Manny Corpas, COL1-for-2 (50%), 10.1 IP, 5 Ks, 6.10 ERA, 1.74 WHIPNext in line: Jason Grilli/Huston StreetThird in line: Taylor Buchholz
Troy Percival, TB2-for-2 (100%), 5.1 IP, 3 Ks, 3.38 ERA, 1.88 WHIPNext in line: Dan WheelerThird in line: Grant Balfour/Jason Isringhausen (rehab/minors)
Scott Downs, TOR2-for-2 (100%), 10.2 IP, 3 HLDs, 14 K, 0.84 ERA, 0.47 WHIPNext in line: Jason FrasorThird in line: Jesse Carlson/B.J. Ryan (DL)
LaTroy Hawkins, HOU2-for-3 (67%), 10 IP, 3 HLDs, 6 Ks, 3.60 ERA, 1.50 WHIPNext in line: Doug BrocailThird in line: Geoff Geary/Chris Sampson
The timeless, itinerant LaTroy Hawkins is 78-for-125 in save chances over his entire career and carries a WHIP of 1.45 -- not glowing recommendations. Still, the Astros won't bring Jose Valverde back until his calf heals enough for him to field his position as well as throw the pill. In Toronto, Scott Downs has been ruthlessly effective in place of B.J. Ryan, and should be the one garnering the saves in his stead. Manny Corpas isn't quite out of the woods just yet. He's in no immediate danger of losing his job, but he hasn't registered a save since April 21 and yielded runs in three of his last four outings. Matt Lindstrom now has more blown saves (two) than any other closer, including an epic fail against the Phillies where the guy's ERA went from 1.50 to 10.80 in two-thirds of an inning. After Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez gave the 29-year-old his vote of confidence, Lindstrom pitched a perfect ninth on Tuesday. Just when I go saying something nice about Fernando Rodney, he destroyed his immaculate ERA and WHIP in the course of a week. Joel Zumaya is active, hitting the upper 90s once again with his fastball, and threw a scoreless ninth in a blowout win, allowing hits to two of the four batters he faced before getting Billy Butler to ground into a double play. Zumaya's breaking stuff isn't quite on point, but if things continue to be eventful for Rodney, the Chula Vista native might get more cracks at the ninth. Brandon Morrow didn't pitch last weekend because of shoulder pain, but appears ready to resume closing duties. According to his manager, George Sherrill won't close on consecutive days -- a decision that makes sense considering his 15.43 ERA when pitching on no rest. Chris Ray has gone 5.2 innings over six outings without allowing a run and will pick up an occasional save under the new arrangement.
José Valverde, HOUValverde finished a game on one leg the other day when he jacked up his calf fielding a bunt. He'll be shut down for a few weeks, as he was put on the DL.
B.J. Ryan, TORRyan's woes have been attributed to a tight trapezius muscle. He was placed on the 15-day DL, but there's no current timetable for his return and he's bound for a minor league rehab stint before he rejoins the club.
Joey Devine, OAKDevine underwent Tommy John surgery and is out for the remainder of the season -- and possibly a portion of 2010.
Mike González, ATL3-for-4 (75%), 8.1 IP, 16 Ks, 4.32 ERA, 1.20 WHIPNext in line: Rafael SorianoThird in line: Peter Moylan/Manny Acosta
Julian Tavarez, WAS0-for-1 (0%), 8.2 IP, 12 Ks, 3.12 ERA, 0.92 WHIPNext in line: Kip Wells/Joe Beimel (DL)Third in line: Joel Hanrahan/Garrett Mock
Joel Hanrahan has lost his job for the time being, but with Joe Beimel (strained left hip flexor) out until mid-May, the remaining options elicit thoughts of soaked baseball trousers and a widening yellow puddle encompassing the pitcher's mound. Julian Tavarez is with his 11th team since 1993, when he broke into the bigs with the Indians. He's got a career ERA of 4.44 and won't be much of an improvement over Hanrahan, but he and perennial underachiever Kip Wells will share closing duties and pick up a save or two until Beimel's return. By the way, do not pick up Wells. He's horrendous. In Atlanta, Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano are also sharing closing duties, as Gonzalez will be used in late-game situations against tough lefties -- forcing Soriano to pitch in the ninth more often. On Tuesday, Gonzalez struck out the side, boosting his K/9 rate to an obscene 17.28, so he'll still get the bulk of save chances.
Jonathan Papelbon, BOS5-for-5 (100%), 9.1 IP, 8 Ks, 1.93 ERA, 1.39 WHIPNext in line: Takashi SaitoThird in line: Hideki Okajima/Manny Delcarmen
Mariano Rivera, NYY4-for-5 (80%), 8.1 IP, 11 Ks, 2.16 ERA, 1.20 WHIPNext in line: Damaso MarteThird in line: Edwar Ramirez/Brian Bruney (DL)
Francisco Rodríguez, NYM4-for-4 (100%), 7.2 IP, 12 Ks, 2.35 ERA, 1.04 WHIPNext in line: J.J. PutzThird in line: Pedro Feliciano/Sean Green
Joe Nathan, MIN3-for-4 (75%), 7 IP, 7 Ks, 2.57 ERA, 1.00 WHIPNext in line: Matt GuerrierThird in line: José Mijares/Jesse Crain (DL)
Jonathan Broxton, LAD6-for-7 (86%), 10 IP, 16 Ks, 0.90 ERA, 0.50 WHIPNext in line: Hong-Chih KuoThird in line: Guillermo Mota/Ron Belisario
Brad Lidge, PHI4-for-5 (80%), 8.2 IP, 12 Ks, 7.27 ERA, 1.85 WHIPNext in line: Ryan MadsonThird in line: Chad Durbin
Heath Bell, SD8-for-8 (100%), 8.2 IP, 9 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.69 WHIPNext in line: Duaner SanchezThird in line: Cla Meredith
Joakim Soria, KC5-for-5 (100%), 5 IP, 8 Ks, 1.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIPNext in line: Juan CruzThird in line: Kyle Farnsworth/Ron Mahay
Bobby Jenks, CWS4-for-4 (100%), 7 IP, 6 Ks, 2.57 ERA, 1.29 WHIPNext in line: Octavio DotelThird in line: Matt Thornton/Scott Linebrink
Kerry Wood, CLE4-for-4 (100%), 8.0 IP, 14 Ks, 6.75 ERA, 1.75 WHIPNext in line: Jensen LewisThird in line: Rafael Betancourt
Trevor Hoffman, MIL1-for-1 (100%), 2 IP, 1 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIPNext in line: Todd CoffeyThird in line: Carlos Villanueva/Seth McClung
Matt Capps, PIT5-for-5 (100%), 6.1 IP, 4 Ks, 1.42 ERA, 1.11 WHIPNext in line: John GrabowThird in line: Tyler Yates
Frank Francisco, TEX6-for-6 (100%), 10.2 IP, 9 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.56 WHIPNext in line: C.J. Wilson/Eddie GuardadoThird in line: Jason Jennings
Francisco Cordero, CIN6-for-6 (100%), 8 IP, 8 Ks, 3.38 ERA, 1.63 WHIPNext in line: David WeathersThird in line: Jared Burton
Brian Wilson, SF4-for-5 (80%), 9.2 IP, 12 Ks, 3.72 ERA, 1.03 WHIPNext in line: Bob HowryThird in line: Jeremy Affeldt
Chad Qualls, ARI4-for-5 (80%), 8 IP, 12 Ks, 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIPNext in line: Tony PeñaThird in line: Jon Rauch
Ryan Franklin, STL6-for-6 (100%), 9 IP, 9 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.56 WHIPNext in line: Kyle McClellanThird in line: Jason Motte/Chris Pérez
Brian Fuentes, LAA4-for-5 (80%), 7 IP, 10 Ks, 6.43 ERA, 1.86 WHIPNext in line: Scot ShieldsThird in line: Jose Arredondo