It happens every year. Relievers come out of nowhere to seize the ninth inning. Fernando Salas, Sergio Santos and Jordan Walden are just a few examples. Those relievers have been great for owners lucky enough to scoop them up on the waiver wire, but will you be able to count on them in 2012?
Walden (2.60 ERA, 28 saves) looks like he'll be a mainstay in the Closer Report for years to come. He had only nine career saves coming into 2011, but he's been fantastic since he took over for Fernando Rodney in early April, dominating hitters with his devastating slider (10.04 K/9). Only a rookie, Walden has shown some fatigue as of late, but few young hurlers are looking more valuable going forward.
Santos should also be a great bet next year. The White Sox's closer (3.09 ERA, 28 saves, 12.85 K/9) has fallen into a platoon with Chris Sale lately, but as we discussed last week, he's on track to be the one and only ninth-inning option in 2012. The White Sox are currently second in the league in total save opportunities (54). With a season's worth of work, Santos could tally 40 saves in 2012.
Salas, however, may not even end 2011 as the Cardinals' stopper. Since the Cardinals' demoted Ryan Franklin, Salas (2.47 ERA, 23 saves, 9.05 K/9) has been solid. But solid isn't enough for St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, who recently suggested Jason Motte could start seeing some save opportunities. This is, obviously, bad news for Salas' future. If you're in a keeper league, you shouldn't hold on to Salas.
It's harder to determine the future for Javy Guerra, the Dodgers' closer. Guerra (2.21 ERA, 15 saves) took over the ninth when the Dodgers lost Jonathan Broxton to an elbow injury. He doesn't have a typical closer's arsenal (he sports only a 7.61 K/9) but he's nailed down four straight save opportunities and is 15 for 16 on the year. Despite his resume, there is no way to know who'll receive the save opportunities in 2012. Broxton will be back and healthy and Kenley Jansen (3.38 ERA, 14.77 K/9) and Hong Chih-Kuo (1.20 ERA, 12 saves in 2010) are also capable of closing out games. If you have Guerra in a keeper league, you have to keep him. But this has the makings of an open competition.
How did the rest of the major league bullpens fare this week? Let's take a look around the league:
Craig KimbrelJohn AxfordJonathan PapelbonMariano RiveraJoel HanrahanHeath Bell
Papelbon has been great since the All-Star break (0.50 ERA, zero walks in 18 innings) but the save opportunities just haven't been there. September is historically one of his worst months (5.81 ERA in September the past three years), meaning it could be a disappointing second half for Papelbon owners.
J.J. PutzBrandon LeagueJose ValverdeDrew StorenFrancisco CorderoCarlos MarmolRyan Madson
Marmol (4.26 ERA, 31 saves) again imploded in spectacular fashion on Saturday, serving up his second game-winning grand slam in less than a month. When Marmol is bad, he's really bad. But more often than not, he's been solid for the Cubs, and they aren't going to replace him anytime soon.
Andrew BaileyNeftali FelizJordan WaldenChris PerezKyle FarnsworthJoakim SoriaJavy GuerraLeo NunezSergio Santos
Since the Rangers acquired Koji Uehara and Mike Adams, Feliz (2.87 ERA, 26 saves) has been much better. He has eight saves and a 2.33 ERA since the break. The lack of strikeouts is still worrisome, however. ... Soria is having a down year (4.31 ERA, 25 saves) and an abnormal HR/9 is partly to blame (1.12 in 2011 versus 0.69 for his career). He might not return to the sub-2.00 ERA pitcher, but he still makes for a nice buy-low candidate in 2012.
Joe NathanFernando SalasRafael BetancourtFrank FranciscoMark MelanconKevin GreggBobby ParnellSantiago Casilla
Betancourt (3.20 ERA, 10.54 K/9) has nailed down three straight save chances, and the Rockies aren't going to demote him if he keeps this pace up. And yet he's owned in only 54.2 percent of leagues. Right now, he's a must-own. ... Parnell (4.10 ERA, five saves) has been a mixed bag since taking over the ninth inning in New York. But the Mets are playing for 2012, so Parnell isn't going anywhere. Ride him if you're desperate for saves. He's owned in only 44.6 percent of leagues.
Backups who will ensure you're banking saves even if your closer goes down: