By Adam McGill
1. Craig Kimbrel, ATL – Kimbrel blew all other closers out of the water last season. His fastball was untouchable in the later parts of the Braves’ outings, while his consistency and strikeout numbers put him atop all fantasy leagues. Kimbrel posted an ungodly 127 strikeouts in his 77 innings pitched, and did it all while topping out at over 100 MPH. Any closer than can post 40 saves with strikeout totals that will make Cliff Lee blush, is an absolute must have in fantasy.
2. Heath Bell, MIA – Bell was one of several huge acquisitions by Miami this off-season, which also includes All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and Manager Ozzie Guillen. Bell managed to convert 3 of his 48 save attempts last year although the Padres were offensively challenged, and now joins the hardest hitting team in the bigs. The Marlins’ have a handful of players who can hit at least 20 home runs, which can be gold for fantasy relief pitchers. Bell will be a hot commodity come draft time, but his hype is definitely justified.
3. Jose Valverde, DET – Valverde led the MLB with 49 total saves in 2011, but more impressive was the fact that he did not blow a single save all year. He had good command of his fastball and was making the ball dance around the strike zone. “V For Valverde” had great command over the ball, at times making it dance around the strike zone. It is hard to imagine that a closers’ value could possibly go up heading in the next season after leading the sport in saves, but the addition of first baseman Prince Fielder can only help the veteran’s run support. Expect him to post another 40-plus save season and be a quality option at the position.
4. Jonathan Papelbon, PHI – The Phillies’ finally got the closer that they have been trying to bring in for years. The singing of Papelbon gives the team an ace to finish the ninth innings, and considering all the fire power in front him, is looking to have a career season. Papelbon will become a top closer again with the move into the (215) and he will get plenty of chances to finish games with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in front of him. Papelbon will have enough chances to easily post over 40 saves this season if he can remain healthy, and is coming at a great value with an Average Draft Position of the 6th or 7th closer taken in current drafts.
5. Brian Wilson, SF – Wilson had a down year, as far as fantasy owners and beard enthusiasts go. Wilson only recorded 36 saves and his ERA was hovering over 3.00 (3.11), in what proved to be a severly dissapointing campaign. The Giants’ are expecting much better numbers from “Black-beard” as the whole team will be healthy in spring training. Fantasy junkies should expect another 40-plus save season from Wilson and an ERA that has an even number in the beginning. Fear the Beard!
6. Joel Hanrahan, PIT – Hanrahan exceeded all expectations set for him before the season started. He saved 40 games for the first time in his career and gave the Bucos’ a flamethrower in the ninth inning. He may already be 30 years old, but the veteran certainly still has value in keeper leagues, especially since he was drafted towards the end of most drafts.
7. John Axford, MIL – The “Axman” posted a sizzling 1.95 ERA with 46 saves last year. He was unfazed by the mid-season acquisition of Francisco Rodriguez around the trade deadline, something that seemed to motivate him as the season progressed. He was third at the position with 86 strikeouts, trailing only the aforementioned Kimbrel. Axford may not have the cleanest mechanics, but the veteran repeats the same motion on each release. He leaves opposing batters baffled at the plate and his staggering 6’5″ frame is more than intimidating. Axford will see a slight dip in his value with Prince Fielder gone and Ryan Braun likely to miss time with a steroid suspension, but he still remains a top-five fantasy option.
8. Mariano Rivera, NYY – Despite all the criticisms about Rivera’s value as he ages, the 42-year old still saved 44 games in 2011. He may only have two 40-save seasons in the last six years, but he continues to give the pin stripes quality performances in the ninth. The “Sandman” boasts a career 1.00 WHIP, and more often than not will be working with a lead that is more than one run. He will come cheaper and cheaper each season and he will be a great value pick from here on out.
9. J. J. Putz, ARI – When Putz was dealt to Arizona not many people took notice. However, the veteran put together a terrific first year in the desert. He posted a career high 45 saves, quickly earning himself a full time spot in fantasy rosters. He has always been a fly-ball pitcher, but his slider has come along nicely in the last several years, helping him limit the amount of balls he puts in the air. Putz is a great fantasy RP and will post numbers comparable to the guys taken three rounds before him.
10. Carlos Marmol, CHC – The “Marmol-low Man” is still being picked among the top five relief pitchers, despite the tumultuous 2011 season. He recorded only 34 saves, while his ERA sat at a despicable 4.01. Marmol severely struggled with his control, but the 29-year old is too good not to correct the error. He still struck out 99 batters in only 74 innings, which was among the top at the position. Marmol provides K’s and a consistent numbers of saves, so owners should not shy away from him.
2012 MVP: Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2012 Rookie to Watch: Andrew Bailey, BOS
2012 Breakout: Drew Storen, WSH
2012 Bust: Jonathan Broxton, KC
Best Source of Saves: Jose Valverde, DET
Best Soure of Strikeouts: Craig Kimbrel, ATL
Best Source of WHIP: Mariano Rivera, NYY
Best Source of Innings Pitched: J.J Putz, ARI