Closers to Target

Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Instead of scouring the waiver wire for closers-in-waiting, try targeting these players.

It seems like I always spend the first month (or more) of the fantasy baseball season cycling set up men through my roster hoping to find the next guy to win a closer role. Last year it worked out well when I picked up Fernando Rodney and Ernest Frieri, but this year it's not going as planned as I've seen Phil Coke blow his chance, Mitchell Boggs repeatedly get hammered, and Kyuji Fujikawa land on the DL. I don't usually draft closers because of the obvious volatility of the position and because I usually feel pretty confident that I can find a couple of the relievers who will wind up with the job. We aren't even 20 games into the season so I haven't given up my search but I've started to think. And when I think, it can get pretty scary. But I kept thinking, anyway. Rather than try to guess (educated guesses, of course) who will soon be in line for saves or attempt to overpay for one of the "elite" closers such as Craig Kimbrel or Jonathan Papelbon, maybe I should target some guys who have a job and fly under the radar.

I'm a huge proponent of looking at a pitcher's strikeout data, especially when pertaining to closers. But it seems like sometimes we, as fantasy players, can fall victim to overvaluing that statistic. There are other factors which are essential to closers' success and some pitchers can compensate for strikeouts with other skill sets. These are the types of players I'm considering targeting because they will come at a reduced price but will get the job done. While 100+ Ks from Aroldis Chapman would be nice, I want one thing out of my closers - saves.

To be successful, closers need to do a few things well. They need to limit walks - base runners are a relief pitcher's worst enemy. They also need to limit extra base hits, especially home runs. If runners do reach base, closers must be able to strand them and prevent them from scoring. This is where strikeouts can really help but ground balls are also often effective. Lastly, closers must be able to handle high pressure situations. Although we haven't been able to quantify this ability, it's clear that some people are able to do it and some people are not (Cough... Sean Marshall). Let's take a look at three pitchers that match our criteria.

Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles

Most fantasy players know that Jim Johnson had 51 saves last year. Many also know that he tallied only 41 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. But they may not realize how good Johnson is at other aspects of his job. Johnson has a career BB/9 of 2.66 and throws a first pitch strike to 60% of the batters he faces. He generates an absurd amount of ground balls, ground ball rates over 60% in the past two seasons. It's his ability to induce ground balls that makes Johnson so effective as only 3.7% of batters he faced got an extra base hit in 2012. Johnson's average fastball velocity is 93 mph which is slightly above the average for qualified relievers in 2012 with a killer change up and a decent curveball that round out his repertoire. Johnson led the league in Win Probability Added last year and is one of the best closers in the league.

Win Probability Added (WPA) s c a p y


Johnson (BAL)



Rodney (TBR)



Kimbrel (ATL)



Hernandez (SEA)



Verlander (DET)



Kershaw (LAD)



Medlen (ATL)



Price (TBR)



Pestano (CLE)



O'Day (BAL)


Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians

Perez became fantasy relevant in 2010 when he saved 23 games for the Tribe while posting a 1.71 ERA. His ERA has been almost double that in the two seasons since but he has 75 saves during that time. Perez does a couple of things well that I noted are very important for closers: he doesn't walk batters and he keeps the ball in the yard. Much like Johnson, he is able to compensate for a lack of strikeouts by inducing a high percentage of ground balls. His slider has become one of the better pitches (in terms of generating outs, not necessarily swings and misses) and he started throwing it more often in 2012. He's suffered some injuries and his name has been mentioned in trade talks. Still Perez is the guy in Cleveland. People have been waiting for Vinnie Pestano to take Perez's job. He's has kept them waiting by being one of the more reliable, albeit unheralded, closers in the game.

Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox

Addison Reed is the most unproven on this list, so I was debating whether or not to include him. He took over the closer's role in May last year after dominating the minor leagues in 2011. The main reason he makes the list is that the White Sox seem committed to Reed as their closer. He struggled at times last year but that is to be expected with young pitchers and the White Sox kept trotting him out there. Reed doesn't have overpowering stuff and, despite a strong K/BB rate in the minors, he posted average numbers in K% and BB% last year. Having said that, he converted 29 of 33 saves and he actually performed better in Medium and High Leverage situations. Reed operates with a three pitch mix and, as Bradley Woodrum writes, his slider has potential if he can locate it down in the zone more often. I think Reed has one of the longest leashes in the Majors and is a good bet to continue to receive save opportunities.

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