Today, I am going to take a look at several closer sleepers in the National League that you can get in the very last rounds of your mixed league drafts, or on the waiver wire. Every one knows that there is plenty of volatility in the closer role, and some owners aren't up for risking an early pick on a closer, so we are here to help. I will profile three relievers who could end up closing with a little bit of luck in 2013.
Wilton Lopez, COL
The Rockies traded for Lopez, and his elite ground ball skills, this offseason to upgrade their bullpen. The Rockies will open the season with Rafael Betancourt as their closer, but Betancourt is all of 38 years old, and he was rumored to be traded at the 2012 trade deadline. I see the Rockies dealing him at some point this season to get younger. What makes him a slightly bigger sleeper is that he is slotted behind Matt Belisle on the Rockies depth chart. But, Belisle has all of five saves in his eight year career, while Lopez saved 10 games last season. Plus, did I mention he is a an elite ground ball pitcher? His ground ball rate has never been lower than 55% in his career, and his 6.75 K/BB rate ranked only behind Craig Kimbrel's 8.29 K/BB rate in 2012.
Mark Melancon, PIT
Melancon was traded to the Pirates in the deal that sent closer Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox a few weeks ago. Melancon struggled early in 2012, giving up 5 home runs, and 11 runs in total, in his first two innings of the season. That performance earned him a demotion to AAA Pawtucket, where he dominated, saving 11 games, with a 0.83 ERA and a 11.22 K/9 in 21 innings of work. He was called back up to Boston, where he sandwiched two bad months ( July and August) with two good months where his ERAs were 1.17 and 0.90. He ended the season with 25-5 strikeout to walk rate in August and September, and limited hitters to a .114/.162/.143 triple slash line in September. He is listed as the set up man for closer Jason Grilli, so he could see some save opportunities should Grilli struggle in the role.
Tim Lincecum, SFG
Sergio Romo has a bum elbow and an elite slider. What are the chances he lasts as the Giants closer in 2013? I say they are slim. What are the chances Lincecum becomes the closer in 2013? Slim as well. But, what are the Giants going to do with him should he toss up a repeat of his horrible 2012 performance? There were only three qualifying starters who had a worse ERA than Lincecum last season - RIcky Romero, Ubaldo Jimenez and Luke Hochevar. He had just one month of an ERA lower than 4.63 last season:
April: 5.74 ERA
May: 5.88 ERA
June: 5.16 ERA
July: 5.67 ERA
August: 3.90 ERA
Sept.: 4.63 ERA
I imagine he will need to start the 2013 season much better than he did last season, but if he doesn't, he could end up closing for Bruce Bochy. And Lincecum wouldn't be the first starter to move to the closer role. John Smoltz, Brett Myers, Dennis Eckersley and Derek Lowe come to mind. Lincecum is probably a long shot to close, but he should come cheap on draft day, so if he does land in this role, he should be pretty dominant.