Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
"Don't pay for saves."
That's something fantasy baseball owners have no doubt heard often when preparing for a draft.
Thirty-seven relief pitchers recorded 10 or more saves, so you can see why that strategy has prevailed.
If you stay on top of closing situations, plan ahead and get a little lucky with your additions, you can piece together a solid fantasy bullpen.
Just look at our top 10 fantasy relievers; only five of them actually had the closer job on Opening Day, and just three were highly drafted.
1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves - Kimbrel was so good in 2012 that he almost disproved the "don't pay for saves" strategy by himself. If you paid for Kimbrel -- likely the No. 1 closer off the board -- you received 42 saves, a 1.01 ERA, 0.65 WHIP and a ridiculous 116 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings. Opponents hit .126 against him.
2. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds - Kimbrel and Chapman are the clear-cut top two. They had everything you look for in an elite fantasy closer -- saves, ERA, WHIP -- coupled with strikeout totals resembling those of a junk-balling starter. Chapman fanned 122 batters in 71 2/3 innings, saved 38 games and posted a microscopic 1.51 ERA and 0.81 WHIP.
3. Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays - Speaking of microscopic, Rodney was untouchable in 2012. He posted the lowest ERA (0.60) for a pitcher with at least 50 innings in MLB history, saved 48 games and gave up just 43 hits with 15 walks and 76 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings (0.78 WHIP).
4. Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals - Motte assumed closing duties late in the 2011 season and closed out the 2011 World Series with just 12 career saves to his name. He was far from a sure thing coming into 2012 but turned in 42 saves with a 2.75 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 86 Ks in 72 innings.
5. Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles - Johnson led the majors with 51 saves and had a 2.49 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, both excellent. However, as a hard sinkerballer he pitched to contact and only fanned 41 batters in 68 2/3 innings.
6. Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies - Papelbon reached 70 innings for the first time in his career and fanned a career-high 92 batters in 2012, his first season in the National League. He also posted his lowest ERA (2.44) since 2009 and saved 35-plus games for the sixth time in his career.
7. Rafael Soriano, New York Yankees - Life after Marino wasn't so bad in Soriano's hands. After the great Marino Rivera went down with a catastrophic knee injury in May while shagging fly balls, Soriano stepped in and saved 42 games with a 2.26 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 69 Ks in 67 2/3 innings.
8. Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers - Nathan was a mystery coming into this season. He hadn't been fantasy relevant since 2009 due to a torn UCL in his right elbow. Texas gave him a shot, and Nathan rewarded the Rangers and fantasy owners who did the same with 37 saves, a 2.80 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 78 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings.
9. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers - It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Jansen would take the closer job from Javy Guerra after Jansen fanned 96 batters in 53 2/3 innings last season, and he did just that in May. Jansen ended up saving 25 games with a 2.35 ERA and 0.85 WHIP. He also whiffed 99 batters in just 65 innings.
10. Ernesto Frieri, San Diego Padres/Los Angeles Angels - Frieri was off the fantasy radar entirely as a Padres middle reliever, but he suddenly became unhittable (literally) after being traded to the Angels in early May. Frieri didn't give up a hit in his first 13 innings with his new team and assumed the closer role as a result. Frieri threw 54 1/3 innings as a member of the Angels and saved 23 games with a 2.32 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. Overall, he fanned 98 batters in 66 innings.
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