Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
In the final installment of the series, we examine relief pitchers, which in almost all cases, is a closer.
Brian Wilson, San Francisco (ADP 75) - He may look like Jeremiah Johnson, but over the past three seasons he's been a top closer with 127 saves, an ERA of 2.97 and 243 strikeouts in 209.1 innings. Since the Giants' mediocre offense rarely blows out the competition, Wilson should continue to see around 50 save opportunities per season and convert 87.5% of them (127 of 145 from 2008-10).
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs (ADP 97) - Marmol set a major-league record with 15.99 strikeouts per nine innings last season. At that pace, he's posting strikeouts like a starter (138 in 2010) and when added to his 38 saves makes him an elite closer.
Heath Bell, San Diego (ADP 90) - Bell is a top closer pitching in one of the best pitcher's parks in the league. In 2010 he posted 47 saves, a stellar ERA of 1.93 and 86 strikeouts in just 70 innings of work. The question for fantasy owners is how many opportunities he'll get considering the Padres over/under on wins in just 75 1/2?
Joakim Soria, Kansas City (ADP 99) - With a career ERA of 2.01, a WHIP of 0.99 and 115 saves over the past three seasons, Soria is an elite closer. If only he played for a team which could win more than 70 games in a season.
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees (ADP 113) - He is the standard by which all closers are measured. He's a guarantee for 30+ saves, an ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP around 1.00. Injuries as he heads into the twilight of his Hall of Fame career, he'll be 41-years old in November, and a lower strikeout rate last season (6.75 per nine innings) are a concern.
Neftali Feliz, Texas (ADP 93) - There has been a lot of talk about moving Feliz to a starters' role, but Rangers GM Jon Daniels recently declared he'll be the team's closer...for now. He's a more valuable fantasy property as an elite closer than as an unknown starter. Still, the uncertainty that he could become a starter will lower his draft position.
Jonathan Papelbon, Boston (ADP 128) - Eight blown saves in 2010 was cause for concern for the Red Sox as well as fantasy owners. Of more concern to fantasy owners is the team has two other pitchers on the roster (Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks) who could easily take over the closer role if Papelbon's inconsistency continues. That makes Papelbon a risky pick, but he's still averaged 37.6 saves per season over the past five years.
Joe Nathan, Minnesota (ADP 177) - Nathan was a top-three closer before missing all of 2010 due to Tommy John surgery. The good news is as of this writing, Nathan has made four scoreless appearances this spring. Even better news is that fantasy owners are shying away from him either because of injury concerns or they are forgetting how good he can be. The only reason he's not back in my top-five is that the team may let last year's closer, Matt Capps, get a few saves to keep Nathan's innings pitched to a reasonable level. As a 15th-round selection, Nathan is a steal.
Huston Street, Colorado (ADP 150) - Despite missing a large portion of 2010, Street still managed to pick up 20 saves. He seems healthy this spring which means 30+ saves is obtainable.
Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP 161) - There is no denying that Broxton was ugly in 2010 (5-6, 4.04 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 22 saves, seven blown saves), but the talent is still there. New Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has given every indication that Broxton will be the team's closer in 2011 after losing the job to Hong-Chih Kuo at the end of last season. It's another high- risk pick, but one that could reap huge rewards if he returns to his 2009 form.
J.J. Putz, Arizona (ADP 200) - Putz is three years and three teams removed from his 40-save season of 2007. He struggled for two of those seasons, mostly due to injuries, but last year with the White Sox began to throw strikes again. After the disaster that was the Diamondbacks' bullpen in 2010 (24 blown saves), the team is expecting Putz to once again close out the ninth inning. If he can stay healthy, 30+ saves is possible.
Brad Lidge, Philadelphia (ADP 151) - When he throws his fastball for strikes, his slider becomes an unhittable pitch. With a great starting rotation in front of him, Lidge could be in for a good season, but you must always pay attention to his health, in particular his creaky knees.
Andrew Bailey, Oakland (ADP 169) - Bailey has been very good for two consecutive seasons (7-6, 1.70 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 51 saves). If only the A's could get the lead heading into the ninth a few more times. If he pitched for the Yankees or Red Sox, he'd be a top-five fantasy closer. Bailey had off- season surgery to remove chips, but should be ready for Opening Day.
Matt Thornton, Chicago White Sox (ADP 203) - In the final three weeks of 2010, Thornton earned six saves and displayed closer-type stuff which is why the White Sox could afford to let Bobby Jenks leave town. He should be worth 25-30 saves and at least a strikeout-per-inning and as a relative unknown should reward fantasy owners with a huge bargain in the 17th round.
John Axford, Milwaukee (ADP 143) - With the Brewers new and improved starting rotation, Axford should see plenty of opportunities to collect saves. Replacing legend Trevor Hoffman in 2010, Axford posted 24 saves in 27 tries and struck out 76 batters in just 58 innings.
Jose Valverde, Detroit (ADP 172) - Valverde has pitched much better in odd- numbered seasons and this is 2011. His ERA in odd years are; 2.15, 2.44, 2.66 and 2.33 while in even numbered seasons are; 4.25, 5.84, 3.38, 3.00. Valverde's strikeout totals are down a little but, but still around one per inning.
Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets (ADP 170) - Since posting 62 saves in 2008 for the Angels (and being overused), Rodriguez has seen his save numbers steadily decline in two years with the Mets. Despite just 25 saves in 2010, Rodriguez pitched pretty well, with an ERA of 2.20, a WHIP of 1.15 and 67 strikeouts in 57.1 innings. He needs to avoid anymore off-field problems and the Mets to be better and he could be a bargain pick in the 15th round.
Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati (ADP 171) - The 35-year-old Cordero has registered 30+ saves in his last four years and six of the last seven, but the Reds have young Aroldis Chapman just waiting for the opportunity to display his 100 m.p.h. fastball. Any stumble could mean a closer change in Cincinnati which makes Cordero a high-risk option.
Leo Nunez, Florida (ADP 223) - Nunez was solid for the first four months of 2010 (26 saves through July 31st), before blowing up in August (9.31 ERA, 2.48 WHIP, three blown saves). He's added a new slider to his repertoire, but he's still a gamble after losing the closer role to Clay Hensley at the end of last season.
Ryan Franklin, St. Louis (ADP 205) - Franklin will give you a solid save total, but not much else. He's not a strikeout guy and has a career ERA of 4.03 and a WHIP of 1.30. Throw in the loss of Adam Wainwright from the Cardinals rotation and Franklin is your third or fourth closer...at best.