On Monday I took a look at some of the major names switching addresses this offseason and how that moves would affect their fantasy value. Now, I'm going to delve quickly into the group I completely neglected in that article: closers. Before I go into them, though, a rant...
I hate closers. Well, not closers per se, but the save stat. Saves are the stupidest statistic in baseball, a silly rule with awful, arbitrary guidelines dreamed up by a bored sportswriter in the 1960's. It often is responsible for attributing value to a relief pitcher where none exists. Any statistic that makes Joe Borowski and the artist formerly known as Leo Nunez a valued commodity does not pass the stink test.
Since closers are accumulators of saves and make much of their money and perceived value from saves, I guess by extension I have to hate closers. I hate that they throw so few innings per season, and yet they're deemed more important than other (often way better) relievers simply because they pitch in the ninth inning. I hate the fact that I have to worry about these guys as a one-category footnote at the end of every draft. I hate the fact that in keeper leagues, I get hard-balled for any pitcher who could be a closing "prospect", as if that's a commodity anyone would want to be hording. I despise saves, I hate having to worry about closers, and yet I can't win a league without them. Closers: the bane of my fantasy baseball existence.
Ok, deep breath. Calm. Find that place between rage and serenity, like Magneto, only not while on a kill-crazy rampage. Anyway, after the jump, some closers who recently switched locales, and how they'll be affected.
--Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Well, the Phillies got their man, bringing in Papelbon to close out games in the City of Brotherly Love. Will Papelbon be better than Ryan Madson was last year? Probably not. Will he be richer? Of course he will. The Phillies are throwing Papelbon $50 million over the next four seasons (with a vesting option for a fifth) to pitch in 60 innings per year and look intimidating, when they could have paid somebody half of that to do the same thing. Can I get a golf clap?
At least Papelbon is consistent enough that this contract won't completely blow up in Philadelphia's face, at least not immediately. Except for a hiccup in 2010, Papelbon has been one of the top relievers in the American League since he burst on the scene in 2006. While no longer otherworldly like in 2007, his strikeout rate has remained consistently very good, never falling below ten K/9, a good sign heading forward. In a world where closers don't have very long shelf lives, Papelbon is about as safe a bet on draft day as you'll get, next to the ageless Mariano Rivera. Citizens Bank Park is an easier place to hit home runs in, but I can't imagine Papelbon pulling a Brad Lidge-2009 on everybody and he should be one of the first couple of closers picked.
--Heath Bell, Miami Marlins
Probably the silliest signing of the offseason so far. The $27 million question is whether or not Bell will be the same pitcher now that he's left Petco Park and its never-ending expanse of outfield. To wit: he's given up 67% of the home runs in his career on the road.
If the move from historically pitcher-happy Petco isn't scary enough, Bell's declining ability to miss bats is. Last season, Bell's strikeout rate fell off a cliff, from 11.1 in 2010 to 7.3 in '11. That's bad, and you don't need me to tell you that that's a sign of declining velocity and declining stuff. Closers who can't rack up strikeouts don't last very long, and at age 34, Bell is exactly the kind of pitcher you should just avoid. Let some other sap desperately scour the waiver wire when Bell's replacement when his ERA inevitably balloons.
--Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Ah, Joe Nathan. Your Baseball Reference page makes every Giants fan cry. The Rangers signed Nathan to a two-year deal, nicely avoiding giving wacky money to another closer while simultaneously enabling Neftali Feliz to make his long-awaited debut in the starting rotation. Texas is taking a major gamble here that Nathan can stay healthy and regain his pre-2010 form, because that's a lot of money to give a guy who has thrown 45 innings in the past two seasons. Nathan had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and didn't look so good when he first came back last season. Plus, all of his indicators (K/9, HR/9, WHIP) were going in the wrong direction.
On the bright side, his second half was a little better and most TJ survivors regain all of their velocity, with some even seeing an increase. Nathan is 37 and now pitching in a very hitter-friendly park, so I have to imagine his days in the elite class of closers are over. However, if you're able to snag him very late in the draft (or even- gasp- on waivers), he could provide an insanely high return on investment if he magically becomes the dominant Joe of yore.
--Mark Melancon, Boston Red Sox
The Sox, somewhat surprisingly, traded Jed Lowrie, a halfway decent shortstop option, for Melancon, who is basically an interchangeable reliever who was lucky enough to get the magic "C" stapled on his chest last year. He only saved 20 games, but that isn't any indictment of his pitching; the Astros just really blew.
It's up in the air whether he'll close games for Boston. The team is still shopping around and rumor has it that they're in the hunt for Andrew Bailey. Also, Daniel Bard is still around to close games should his (supposed) move to the starting rotation end in flaming disaster. If Melancon does enter 2012 as the Boston closer, he's worth something because Boston will win games, but with his uninspiring strikeout rate he's the most likely of anybody on this list to lose his job by June.