2009 Relief Pitching Projections

Jonathan Papelbon's save total has increased each season since his arrival in 2006.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Normally I do not like to pay top dollar for a relief pitcher, but I understand if some of you out there want at least one top-notch closer on your staff. With that in mind, I've ranked the top closers in order of preference.

Jonathan Papelbon, Boston - For the first time in almost 10 years, I have someone other than Mariano Rivera at the top. Papelbon's save total has increased each season since his arrival in 2006. On the other hand his WHIP and ERA have increased as well, though both are still amazingly low for a closer who went more exclusively to the fastball in 2008. With the Red Sox great starting pitching and solid offense, he should get plenty of opportunities in 2009.

Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees- Over the past 10 years Mariano Rivera was always at the top of this list, however, the off-season surgery has me concerned enough to drop him behind the 28-year-old Papelbon. His 2008 season was almost perfect, one blown save, 39 saves, 1.40 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 77 Ks, but he'll be 40 in November and nothing lasts forever.

Joe Nathan, Minnesota - If Rivera is No.1 over the last decade, Nathan would have to be 1A. Toiling in the PR desert of Minnesota, Nathan's numbers are almost as good as Rivera, he just doesn't get the publicity. Last year saw him post 39 saves, 1.33 ERA, 0.90 WHIP.

Brad Lidge, Philadelphia - While the top-three closers were near-perfect in 2008, Lidge WAS perfect. He was 41-for-41 in regular season save opportunities with a 1.95 ERA, 1.23 WHIP (too many walks) and 92 Ks. He won't repeat the feat in 2009, but he still has that nearly-impossible-to-hit slider.

Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets - He set the record for saves in a season (62) last year with the Angels and parlayed that into a big contract with the Mets. But honestly his 2008 season, except for the save total, was very much similar to 2007 when he had "just" 40 saves. Don't expect the record high total of saves in 2009, because he is with a better hitting team who will be ahead by more than three runs a lot more than the Angels were.

Joakim Soria, Kansas City - While the five closers in front of Soria were all high draft choices, the Royals closers ended up being the best bargain of the top-six. Despite a 2008 ADP of 168.09, he managed to match his more pricey brethren with 42 saves, an ERA of 1.60 and a WHIP of 0.86. He is the "poster child" for taking your closers later in the draft.

Brian Fuentes, Los Angeles Angels - Fuentes isn't a "classic" closer, but he did have 30 saves last season while playing in Colorado. He was particularly good away from Coors (29 1/3 innings, 14 hits, 1.84 ERA) which is good because he'll be in Anaheim this season as Francisco Rodriguez's replacement. He won't have a 62-save season, but he should get plenty of opportunities as the Angels play so many close games (4.72 runs-per game vs. 4.32 runs allowed-per-game).

Bobby Jenks, Chicago White Sox - Jenks used to be a 100-m.p.h. strikeout guy, but has changed himself into a control pitcher. Over the past two years, he has walked just 30 in 126 2/3 innings while seeing his strikeout total drop from 80 in 2006 to 38 last year. He's still a top quality closer, but the drop in Ks doesn't help his fantasy value.

BJ Ryan, Toronto - Ryan returned from Tommy John surgery and picked up where he left off. He successfully completed 32 of 36 save opportunities while striking out 58 batters in 58 innings. He was a little wilder than before the surgery, but that was to be expected. Now if only the Blue Jays will play better, his save total will increase. Not likely in the toughest division in baseball.

Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers - Now that Manny Ramirez is safely back in the cleanup spot, the Dodger closer will have plenty of opportunities to show his stuff. He has closer ability (88 Ks in 69 innings), though he was up and down while replacing the injured Takashi Saito in 2008.

Kerry Wood, Cleveland - Kerry Wood was healthy for the entire season. Hold on, did Rush Limbaugh just support the Democratic bailout plan? Did Barry Bonds admit to lying in front of a Grand Jury? All three are about as likely. Woods will be plying his trade in Cleveland this season which will probably mean less opportunities. Still, 34 saves, 3.26 ERA, 1.09 WHIP was a solid effort and if he stays healthy for a second year in a row...well then anything is possible. Maybe I'll win the Lottery too.

Jose Valverde Houston - Valverde started the year as a firestarter (three blown saves, 12.00 ERA), not closer, but after making a few mechanical changes was pretty much unbeatable the rest of the way. He tied Billy Wagner's Astros record of 44 saves in a season and ended up with 83 Ks in 72 innings.

Top-12 Reliever Projections

Jonathan Papelbon BOS 3 3 44 62 75 1.99 0.99
Mariano Rivera NYY 4 5 36 65 61 1.80 1.08
Joe Nathan MIN 2 2 35 68 71 2.00 1.10
Brad Lidge PHI 2 3 37 70 88 2.01 1.27
Francisco Rodriguez NYM 4 3 41 68 70 2.22 1.28
Joakim Soria KC 2 4 34 62 62 2.05 1.13
Brian Fuentes LAA 4 5 33 70 86 2.50 1.16
Bobby Jenks CWS 3 3 31 61 44 2.55 1.11
BJ Ryan TOR 2 5 29 55 59 2.80 1.27
Jonathan Broxton LAD 5 3 30 70 79 3.00 1.18
Kerry Wood CLE 3 4 24 60 64 3.10 1.18
Jose Valverde HOU 2 2 28 66 70 3.18 1.20

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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