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Why losing Wilson isn't a big deal

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It was a sad weekend for closers. First television lost its favorite relief pitcher (or at least the best we've had since Sam Malone was on "Cheers" 20 years ago), Kenny Powers, as "Eastbound and Down" aired its final episode.

And now Brian Wilson, the closest thing baseball has to Zach Galifiankis (in both humor and facial hair), appears to be headed for Tommy John surgery, putting his 2012 season in doubt.

Sure it's tough to swallow. We will miss Kenny's mullet and his endless partying and Giants fans will surely feel empty without House of Pain's "Jump Around" blasting through the speakers at the start of every ninth inning.

But entertainment value and fantasy value are two different things. For fantasy owners, Wilson's injury is just a bump in the road. Sure it's an annoyance but it won't alter the course of your team's season.

That's not to say that closers don't matter. Having stability is hugely important to the success of any big league squad. If Jonathan Papelbon had been just a little bit better last Sept. 28th, Terry Francona and Theo Epstein might still be employees of the Boston Red Sox.

And when was the last time you saw a closer by committee win the World Series? It sure hasn't happened in my lifetime.

But fantasy is different. Matt Kemps and Miguel Cabrera are tough to replace, but closers are always coming and going.

Closers are like New Year's resolutions: they usually don't last very long. Just take a gander at the top 10 list in saves for 2006. That was just a little more than five years ago, yet only five of the 10 are still pitching in the major leagues, only three are still closing out games (Joe Nathan, J.J. Putz and Huston Street) and none is pitching for his original team.

Even between 2009 and 2011, there isn't a lot of continuity in the top 10 for saves. Only Heath Bell, Francisco Cordero and Mariano Rivera remained amongst the top-10 closers two seasons later.

The home run leaderboard during that time span was much more stable. Five of the top-10 power hitters in 2009 (Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Mark Reynolds and Mark Teixeira) were still in the top 10 in home runs two years later.

You know how they say at Cheers everybody knows your name? That's not true about closers. With the exception of Rivera, the river-dancing Papelbon and, of course, the quirky Wilson, the elite closers are an anonymous bunch.

Just look at last year's crop of ninth-inning studs. Half of them came out of nowhere. John Axford, Joel Hanrahan, Craig Kimbrel and Drew Storen all finished in the top eight in saves last season, combining for 175 saves. Out of that quartet, only Axford (24 saves in 2010) had more than 10 saves in the previous season. Who could have seen that coming?

Inconsistency comes with the territory when you are dealing with closers. Take Putz, for example. Back in 2006 and 2007, he was one of the premier closers in the American League, converting 76 of his 85 save chances during those years. Then in 2008, Putz began losing his touch (eight blown saves in just 23 opportunities) and by 2009 (two saves, career-worst 5.22 ERA), it looked like his career was over.

But somehow, against all odds, Putz reinvented himself with the Arizona Diamondbacks, dominating the National League for a career-high 45 saves in 2011 at age 34. Try to make sense of that.

As frustrating as closers can be for fantasy owners, in some ways, they're easier to figure out than normal players.

With position players you have to consider a batter's average, their OPS, how many stolen bases they have and their home run totals. It's a delicate balancing act.

Closers are simple because they're only dealing with one stat: saves. Every team has one and the difference between the best one and the 20th-best isn't that noticeable. Who's really to say that Jose Valverde will fare any better in 2012 than Sean Marshall? It's almost impossible to know. That's why you'll never see me taking a closer in the first 10 rounds of a fantasy draft.

Fantasy owners already have a whole slew of options on the waiver wire when it comes to closers. Jonathan Broxton, Fernando Rodney and Hector Santiago are still available in about half of leagues and it probably won't be long until someone else gets hurts, opening the door for another unheralded reliever to fill up your saves column.

You'd think guys who only pitch one inning a game would be less susceptible to injury but it just doesn't work like that. Andrew Bailey, Kyle Farnsworth, Ryan Madson, Joakim Soria, Storen and Wilson have all fallen victim to the injury bug this season and it's only mid-April.

And don't limit your closer search just to pitchers on winning teams. Sure logic would tell you that closers who play for contenders will have more chances for saves. But closers and logic don't usually go hand in hand. Five members of last season's top 10 in saves (Bell, Cordero, Hanrahan, Brandon League and Storen) were on teams with losing records.

With closers, you just have to roll with the punches. Who knows, maybe Wilson's likely replacement, Santiago Casilla, will be just as effective as Wilson was. We'll miss Wilson's antics but in the end, getting saves is all that matters. And there are plenty of players in this league who can do that ... you just have to know where to look.

And no, Kenny Powers is not a viable fantasy option. He is fictional.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at

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