Closers, and, by extension, the ability to get saves, are a constant pain in the rear for fantasy owners. They are often inconsistent, they implode easily and without warning, and they tend to rise up to prominence out of nowhere, only to get picked up by another lucky owner who just happened to be scanning the news wires a split second before you. If you've read my stuff here over the past year, then you know that I hate closers, saves, and all that they represent. They're a necessary evil, though, at least as long as the ghost of Jerome Holtzman still haunts the stat sheet.
So we must go digging for closer gold and try to find breakout candidates at the position, just like any other. Here are my top five bust out candidates at closer this season.
I rave about Holland quite a bit in these pages, but I feel my enthusiasm for him is justified. Holland did an exemplary job in the season's second half after taking over as the Royals' closer, and he enters 2013 with a lock on the job. His ability to miss bats and never, ever give up any home runs should help him rack up saves for what should be an improved Royal team. He put up ridiculous strikeout numbers while surrendering just two freaking home runs in 67 innings. He's not only my top breakout closer pick, but I also feel he's a candidate to turn into one of the two or three best closers in the league, and the best part about that is that there are still a lot of fantasy owners who have never heard of him.
Reed's final 2012 season line was something less than pretty, and he ended the year as one of the least effective fantasy closers, but there's reason to be optimistic going forward. Russell's second half struggles (he posted an ugly 5.63 ERA after the break) was largely attributable to a sudden susceptibility to the long ball. Reed surrendered five home runs in just 24 second half innings. He had given up just six total in his entire professional career up to that point, including just four in 104 minor league innings.
Reed is probably just an adjustment or two from sorting out his gopher ball problems. His strikeout and walk numbers were all in line. He's a decent bet to see his ERA shrink by two full runs this year, upping his fantasy value substantially.
Let's see, another reliever who strikes out batters at a healthy rate and doesn't give up many home runs? Is it any shock that he makes this list? I love closers who can keep the ball in the park, because closers in general pitch so few innings, and a couple of home runs here and there can send their ERAs into the upper atmosphere. It's also easier to tie games with one swing of the bat than with bloops and blorps all over the field, so a reliever who can quash home runs can keep his blown save total down.
Parnell will start the season as the closer in the Big Apple, as the Mets hope to have a little more stability after the disaster they endured from their ninth inning corps last year. Parnell did fine in a short stint last year as closer in September, and his ability to throw strikes and avoid home runs should make him a solid fantasy closer and decent source of saves.
Carlos Marmol's days as a Cub are numbered (to wit), and once he leaves the Friendly Confines, the closer job in Chicago is all Fujikawa's. Fujikawa was a closer in Japan for years, and the Cubs brought him overseas on a two-year deal to shore up their bullpen. He posted great K/9 numbers across the pond, and historically Japanese relievers have been pretty successful after transitioning to the majors (most famously Kazuhiro Sasaki with Seattle about a decade ago). He's a good guy to grab and stash on your roster for when Marmol is sent packing, so he's likely to be a good source of saves for the stretch drive.
The Brewer bullpen was an utter disaster last season, but one of the few bright spots was Henderson, the minor league veteran who entered the fray in late-July and struck out nearly fourteen batters per nine innings. He has the inside track on the eighth inning this year, but John Axford was so combustible last year that it's not out of the question that he could continue to implode and force the Brewers to demote him. Henderson showed enough last year that he's next in line for closer should Axford go the way of the Turnbow, so he's another guy who is probably worth stashing.