Position Rankings: Closers for 2014

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of new names will get saves this year, but let's look at the guys who have the jobs right now.

Thirty teams, thirty shortstops, thirty first basemen, thirty catchers. Maybe there's a couple of platoons, and there will be the occasional replacement for injury and/or ineffectiveness, sure. Maybe it's thirty teams, thirty-seven shortstops, thirty-two first basemen, forty catchers. Whatever.

The point is, those numbers are all well and good. But by season's end, it'll also be thirty teams, fifty closers. Maybe 45, 47. Whatever it is, a lot of guys getting projected to have reasonable, helpful numbers in that "save" column at the end of the year won't, and someone we haven't even thought of - heck, someone without even a pro contract right now, maybe - will get those numbers instead.

But this isn't about that. Not really. This is about, today, ranking the 30 closers who have the jobs. Or, at least, theoretically have the jobs - some jobs, like Texas', aren't 100 percent clear. Later this week, Ray Guilfoyle is going to break down some of the top closers-in-waiting, but for now, this is my ranking, 1-30, of the guys who have the jobs right now.

Now, strategy. Most sites will tell you not to draft a closer early, not to waste a fourth-round pick on Craig Kimbrel when you can get Grant Balfour 10-15 rounds later. This site ... is just like those, actually. I don't really believe in paying for saves. The one league I will own Kimbrel in this year, barring a massive surprise, is the one where I've kept him for years, and he's costing me only a late-round pick.

That said, I have to wonder about some things. Every year, more and more people are buying into that strategy, and at some point it'll carry too far. No, I don't think Craig Kimbrel is worth a third- or fourth-rounder. But if everyone agrees with me, and he slides to the seventh round? At some point, you can safely be the first one to draft a closer. It's the Moneyball effect of finding the undervalued resource.

I don't think we've reached that point. But because it's an opinion formed around the whims of other fantasy players and not the performance of the actual baseball guys, it's not one I can swear by. All I can tell you is pay attention, and no, don't take closers "early," but be ready to take advantage if everyone else is doing the same thing.

Anyway, what follows is a smaller-because-we're-talking-about-closers version of our positional rankings we've been running through the last few weeks. Stat projections are courtesy of the guys at Rotobanter.

Rank Player Team
1 Craig Kimbrel ATL
2 Kenley Jansen LAD
3 Greg Holland KCR
4 Aroldis Chapman CIN
5 Koji Uehara BOS
6 Glen Perkins MIN
7 Trevor Rosenthal SLC
8 Sergio Romo SFG
9 Joe Nathan DET
10 David Robertson NYY
11 Casey Janssen TOR
12 Rafael Soriano WAS
13 Addison Reed ARI
14 Jonathan Papelbon PHI
15 Huston Street SDP
16 Bobby Parnell NYM
17 Grant Balfour TBR
18 Jim Johnson OAK
19 Jason Grilli PIT
20 Steve Cishek MIA
21 Jim Henderson MIL
22 Neftali Feliz TEX
23 Nate Jones CWS
24 Jose Veras CHC
25 John Axford CLE
26 Ernesto Frieri LAA
27 Tommy Hunter BAL
28 Fernando Rodney SEA
29 LaTroy Hawkins COL
30 Chad Qualls HOU

1. Craig Kimbrel

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
4 50 1.21
0.88 98
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
4 40 1.94 0.90 101

Closers who aren't Mariano Rivera burn hot and fast. You love them while they're good, and be ready to get out while the getting's good. I'm a big subscriber to the rebound factor with most players - I'm high on Justin Verlander and Matt Cain for example - but when closers start to go, don't count on the comeback. For that reason, I'm not big on the Braves' extension of Kimbrel. But for 2014, he's still easily the top name.

2. Kenley Jansen

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
4
28
1.88
0.86
111
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
4
30
2.28
0.90
101

No one who knows things really understood why the Dodgers added Brandon League and slotted him higher than Jansen before last season; I drafted Jansen in all my drafts and reaped the rewards later. Now that he's entering the season with the job, I likely won't end up owning him anymore, but the ones that do will enjoy it.

3. Greg Holland

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
2
47
2.11
1.05
103
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
35
2.27
1.02
94

I'm likely one of the few who will have Holland - or anyone who isn't Kimbrel/Jansen/Aroldis Chapman - in the top three. I'm buying Holland's 2013 and an improved Kansas City team keeping Holland's value high.

4. Aroldis Chapman

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
4
38
2.54
1.04
112
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
4
38
2.23
1.00
112

... And I'm not taking anything away from Chapman. My point in having him fourth isn't that he's any worse than the perception; it's just that closer is a Big Four, not a Big Three. Chapman's numbers all suffered last year in comparison to his 2012, but were still great overall; the only one that really gives me pause is his walk rate, which shot up last year.

5. Koji Uehara

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
4
21
1.09
0.57
101
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
4
35
2.10
0.80
75

As a Rangers fan, I can tell you that watching Uehara be so ridiculously good last year hurt just a little; he was good in Texas, but not that good. That said, he's now five years into his career and has a 2.42 ERA and a 178 ERA+. Still, he's 39 next month and put up a fluky-low home-run rate a year ago. There will be regression.

6. Glen Perkins

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
2
36
2.30
0.93
77
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
30
3.12
1.11
72

Why isn't Perkins more popular? I mean, yeah, he's on a bad team, and might not get as many save opportunities as the guys on Boston and St. Louis, but bad closers get saves all the time. I mean, Perkins himself had 36 last year, which is plenty for the value you're seeking, especially when he puts up a sub-1.00 WHIP. Even if he slides back, his 2012 WHIP was 1.038.

7. Trevor Rosenthal

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
2
3
2.63
1.10
108
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
4
35
2.78
1.07
93

If I knew Rosenthal were definitively the Cardinals' closer from now until October, I might slide him up a slot or two. My only hesitation is that he was supposed to be a starting pitcher, and every extra week, month, season he spends as a one-inning closer takes the odds of him ever again being a starter further down. As long as he's a closer, though, he's top-notch.

8. Sergio Romo

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
5
38
2.54
1.08
58
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
35
2.69
1.01
55

Over the last four seasons, Romo has had a WHIP under 1.00 and a K/9 of more than 10. The only thing counting against him is that he only spend a season-plus as the Giants' primary closer. Another underrated guy who deserves more pub.

9. Joe Nathan

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
6
43
1.39
0.90
73
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
4
37
2.84
1.07
69

Just like Uehara's homer rate plummeted unsustainably last year, so did Joe Nathan's, which fell to a crazy low 0.3 per nine innings. His BABIP was .224. And he's 39. He will be on a good Tigers team, and he's still a good pitcher, but if you think his line from last year is repeatable, you have more faith than me.

10. David Robertson

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
5
3
2.04
1.04
77
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
30
2.86
1.13
79

Can I just say how hilarious if would be if Robertson, who turns 29 next month, spends the next 15 years as the Yankees' primary closer and retires in 2029 with 600 saves? It's unlikely, but that would be so great. Anyway, Robertson only has eight career saves right now, but has been a tremendously consistent pitcher over his career thus far, and managed to maintain his lowered walk rate from 2012 into 2013.

11. Casey Janssen

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
4
34
2.56
0.99
50
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
30
2.98
1.11
57

Janssen, like Robertson, like Romo, like Uehara and Jansen, is another example of a guy who just couldn't be a closer, until of course he became a closer. At some point that stupid notion has to die. Janssen hasn't had a WHIP above 1.1 since 2010 - 177 innings in that time - and simply doesn't walk anyone.

12. Rafael Soriano

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
43
3.11
1.23
51
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
38
3.41
1.21
54

This is the first guy on this list who could realistically lose his job for performance reasons this season. Soriano wasn't as good in 2013 as the Nationals might have wanted when they signed him before last year, and they have Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard - two totally qualified guys - ready to take the role if need be. That said, I could see them keeping him in the role to (a) let them use Storen and Clippard in other roles, keeping the bullpen versatile, and (b) boost any trade value Soriano might have.

13. Addison Reed

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
5
40
3.79
1.11
72
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
32
3.53
1.24
66

So Reed goes from the American League to the National League, which is always a boost. Going from U.S. Cellular Field to Chase Field, and from the AL Central to the NL West, are both basically a wash. With the exception of his save totals - 69 in the last two years, 40 last year - Reed has been a barely-above-mediocre pitcher so far in his career. He's 25, though, and does strike guys out.

14. Jonathan Papelbon

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
5
29
2.92
1.14
57
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
30
3.20
1.12
61

I've never been a Papelbon fan, and I'm on record just a few paragraphs above this one as saying that when closers start to go, they're gone. Despite myself, though, I can't help but see some rebound for Papelbon this year. He'll never again be the pitcher he was in Boston, and Philadelphia isn't likely to be an elite team, but I'm not totally out the door on him.

15. Huston Street

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
2
33
2.70
1.02
46
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
23
3.04
1.06
43

If we knew Street would be healthy all year in 2013, I could easily slide him up several spots - I in fact had him just outside the top 10 in an earlier draft. But he's hit the DL seven times in his career - four in the last three years - and you just never know how long he'll be able to pitch.

16. Bobby Parnell

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
5
22
2.16
1.00
44
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
30
3.40
1.27
49

Parnell is another one of those guys who would be evaluated wholly different as a closer if it weren't for his save numbers. He only became the closer last year, and played for a bad team, so he was limited to 22 saves. But he put up a 177 ERA+ and a 1.000 WHIP last year. Believe in him.

17. Grant Balfour

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
1
38
2.59
1.20
72
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
25
3.45
1.23
61

Honestly, I don't understand what the Oakland A's were doing dumping Balfour for Jim Johnson - and his contract - but I don't think that makes me special among baseball writer-guys. Balfour hasn't put up a bad year since 2009, and hasn't put up an awful one since 2007. Back in Tampa Bay, he could be the latest in their ever-changing line of premium closers.

18. Jim Johnson

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
50
2.94
1.28
56
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
33
3.61
1.27
43

You want higher strikeout numbers than you get from Johnson, and his WHIP of 1.280 last year was nothing special. The opposite of Parnell and Romo and the like, I can't imagine Johnson would get the love he gets without 101 saves over the last two seasons.

19. Jason Grilli

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
0
33
2.70
1.06
74
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
25
2.53
1.03
81

I have no idea what changed about Grilli during his season lost to injury in 2010, but he went from a mediocre journeyman to a start Pirates reliever; he's now been elite or close to it for three seasons. That said, he's 37 now, and I'm not at all convinced he's actually better than Mark Melancon, who I could easily see taking over if there's any sign of Grilli struggles, which costs him a few spots in my ranking.

20. Steve Cishek

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
4
34
2.33
1.08
74
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
30
2.91
1.18
69

Cishek struggled mightily to start the season last year, allowing two runs in two of his first three outings. He carried an ERA above 4.00 into the middle of June. Between that and the fact that he was peddling for an anonymous Miami team, it went largely unnoticed that Cishek was actually really good a year ago. He ended the season with a 2.33 ERA, a 167 ERA+, and 9.6 K/9. If he can maintain that, this ranking will be crazy low.

21. Jim Henderson

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
5
28
2.70
1.13
75
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
28
3.39
1.21
79

Henderson became the surprise Milwaukee closer after almost a decade in the minors, and he was crazy productive in 2013. Still, there was a reason he took so long to make it, and for every surprise late-career revelation, there's a flash in the pan that fades back. I'm unconvinced.

22. Neftali Feliz

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
0
0
0.00
1.50
4
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
30
3.66
1.27
47

Feliz pitched only six games - 4.2 innings - in 2013, after only eight games in 2012, because of injury. He looks like the team's likely closer to start 2014, though Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers are, like, right there. If the role is Feliz's all year, he'll be fine, but the relative strength of the team's other relievers gives Feliz minimal job security.

23. Jose Veras

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
0
21
3.02
1.07
60
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
25
3.81
1.28
61

2013 was Veras' first year as a closer, and he only did the job for part of the year, sliding back into a middle reliever role after being traded to Detroit in midseason. The Cubs have already said he'll likely be their closer for 2014, in what could amount to a similar role as 2013 - hey, dude, be a decent reliever for a while so we can trade you in July.

24. Ernesto Frieri

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
2
37
3.80
1.24
98
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
30
3.61
1.22
92

If the Angels had any kind of decent bullpen a year ago, Frieri wouldn't even have held onto his job; he struggled mightily in 2013, with a 99 ERA+ and a 1.238 WHIP. He's homer-prone and struggles with walks, so even with his crazy-high strikeout rate, he's ridiculously hard to count on.

25. John Axford

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
7
0
4.02
1.52
65
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
25
3.58
1.28
74

Axford has had a weird career. After 46 saves and a 1.95 ERA in 2011, he struggled to get to 35 saves and a 4.67 ERA in 2012. He followed that up with a disastrous start to his season in 2013 in Milwaukee, putting up a 4.45 ERA with the Brewers that led to him losing his closing gig and eventually his spot on the team, shuttling to St. Louis late in the year. In 13 games and 10.1 innings with the Cardinals, Axford showed enough for the Indians to sign him to be their closer. With Cody Allen and Vinnie Pestano-among others-in the fold, who knows if Axford keeps the job, but he has it for now.

26. Nate Jones

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
4
0
4.15
1.22
89
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
24
3.34
1.31
66

The departure of Reed from Chicago means Jones is the de facto closer. He put up a 3.4 K:BB ratio last year in 78 innings, though he had only a 4.15 ERA and a 1.218 WHIP. The closer role is the closer role, so the saves could be there, but Jones is not tremendously inspiring.

27. Tommy Hunter

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
6
4
2.81
0.98
68
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
20
3.80
1.17
52

It looks like Hunter will be the Orioles nominal closer to start the year. Dude can't get lefties out - they hit .369 off him last year versus .162 for righties - but the other top closing option, Darren O'Day, can't really do it either. Maybe the Orioles work something out with a closing platoon with Hunter and/or O'Day and Brian Matusz, but we'll see.

28. Fernando Rodney

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
5
37
3.38
1.34
82
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
15
3.38
1.35
68

Is there any real chance that Rodney is superior to Danny Farquhar, who the Mariners already have in the fold and costs way less? I didn't understand this signing. Rodney is a mediocre pitcher who had one insane year - a 641 ERA+ in 2012, which is the kind of stat that breaks a metric - and now looks like the career journeyman he was before that year. He's a late-round flyer of a closer.

29. LaTroy Hawkins

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
13
2.93
1.15
55
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
25
4.01
1.36
43

I just don't see Hawkins - 41 now and pitching in Colorado - holding on to a closer gig with someone like Rex Brothers there to take the reins. You don't root against a guy doing what he loves to do for as long as he can do it, but Hawkins just isn't as good as Brothers.

30. Chad Qualls

2013 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
5
0
2.61
1.23
49
2014 ROTOBANTER PROJECTIONS
W SV ERA WHIP K
3
11
3.60
1.30
44

Qualls is another guy who, if I know he were to have the role all year, I'd be fine with. He has only 51 career saves - none since 2010 - but enters the year as the Astros' guy, and was great in 62 innings with Miami last year. But Qualls, 35 now, has no role in Houston's future, other than as a piece to send away for other pieces. And there aren't many teams who could trade for Qualls to be their closer; he'll go somewhere and be a middle reliever again.

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