2012 Closer Keeper Rankings: Tier Three

As we dive deeper into the rankings, we start to come across some youngster lacking track records and a veteran with some injury concerns. Saves are saves though; it’s amazing what we’ll put up with to make sure we get as many of them as possible.

I’ve included Zach Sanders’ end of season player rankings for reference.

Tier One (link)
Craig Kimbrel
John Axford
Jonathan Papelbon
Mariano Rivera

Tier Two (link)
Ryan Madson
Brian Wilson
J.J. Putz
Jose Valverde
Heath Bell

Tier Three

Drew Storen – $13

Storen had a sneaky good year in 2011, saving 43 games in 48 chances thanks to strong strikeout (8.84 K/9 and 24.4 K%) and ground ball (47.3%) rates. He also limits the free pass well (2.39 BB/9 and 6.6 BB%), and other than a bad week at the end of July (three homers in four appearances), he also keeps the ball in the park (five homers in his other 71.1 IP). The Nationals have flirted with Madson this winter, and Storen’s name did pop up in trade talks at the deadline (most notable with Denard Span‘s), so his job is only as safe as Mike Rizzo’s trigger finger. Storen is primed for a jump into Tier One territory next season.

Joel Hanrahan – $9

The control problems that plagued Hanrahan a few years ago appear to be a thing of the past, as he trimmed his walk rate down to a very strong 2.10 BB/9 and 5.8 BB% in 2011. Now that he’s throwing more pitches in the zone, batters are putting the ball in play a bit more (78.4% contact rate), which resulted in the lowest strikeout rate (8.00 K/9 and 22.3 K%) since his rookie campaign in 2007. That’s still a very good whiff rate, but it’s not on par with 11.58 K/9 he posted from 2009-2010. Hanrahan is the undisputed ninth inning guy in Pittsburgh now, and job security is a beautiful thing.

Kyle Farnsworth – $6

The Rays’ seventh different primary closer in the last seven seasons*, you can make a case that 2011 was the best year of Farnsworth’s career. His strikeout rate (7.96 K/9 and 22.1 K%) was a little below what we’re used to seeing, but he still generated plenty of swings-and-misses (10.2%) while setting career bests in walk rate (1.87 BB/9 and 5.2 BB%) and ground ball rate (50.6%). Farnsworth has remade himself since leaving the Yankees three years ago, adding a little cut fastball to his four-seamer and slider, which has led to what is essentially the best three-year stretch of his career. There is a red flag here though, Farnsworth battled a nagging elbow problem down the stretch and at 35-years-old (36 in April), no nagging injury should be ignored.

* I’m fudging a bit with 2006, they had a revolving door that year.

Carlos Marmol – $3

Marmol is probably the most unpredictable fantasy closer out there, surviving his perpetual walk on the tightrope because he misses bats and generate strikeouts like no one else. His lowest strikeout rate since breaking into the league is 11.31 K/9 and 27.8 K%, but he hasn’t walked fewer than 5.84 batters per nine (14.7 BB%) since 2007. Marmol does keep his WHIP down by allowing few hits, but the blow-up potential is sky high. If you have a strikeout deficient starting staff, this is the guy you want to target for a closer’s spot.

Sergio Santos – $6

A rough September (nine runs allowed in his last ten appearances) was a real sour end to an otherwise spectacular season. Santos struck out more than 13 batters per nine innings (13.07 K/9 and 35.4 K%) and kept runners off base despite a high walk rate (4.12 BB/9 and 11.2 BB%) because he’s so hard to hit. The former infielder went 30-for-36 in save chances after taking over the role at the end of April, and with Matt Thornton on the trade block and Chris Sale moving to the rotation, the only guys looking over Santos’ shoulder in Spring Training figure to be Jesse Crain and Jason Frasor. He is a bit risky as a fly ball pitcher (43% grounders career) in a small park, but it’s hard to pass up those whiffs.

Jordan Walden – $6

Walden had more blown saves (ten) than Phillies (eight) last year, but that’s a number that should hopefully come down in the future. He struck out plenty of batters (9.99 K/9 and 26.5 K%) and got a good amount of ground balls (45.2%), a recipe for long-term success. Walks (3.88 BB/9 and 10.3 BB%) have been a bit of an issue throughout his career, which is why his WHIP (1.24) is merely good and not great. Walden is can be a bit unpredictable, and right now the less than stellar baserunner rate holds him back from climbing any higher in the rankings.

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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

10 Responses to “2012 Closer Keeper Rankings: Tier Three”

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  1. mdmckirgan says:

    Soria? Has he really fallen that far after one “subpar” season that wasn’t even really that bad?

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  2. Chris R says:

    Not sure I understand your ranking rubric, but I’d put Storen above everyone in the second tier except maybe Madson, depending on where Madson lands. Putz and Wilson have injury concerns; Valverde was exceptionally lucky in 2011; Bell is losing the protection that PETCO gave his weakening stuff. Why such low esteem of Storen?

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    • MH says:

      Eh, I see what you’re saying, I’d say Storen and Hanrahan are better pitchers than half of the tier two pitchers and my gut reaction was to agree with you, but they play for pretty terrible teams. And even still, Ignoring SV, the only guys from tier two that are clearly behind Storen and Hanrahan are Putz (injury risk) and Valverde (just not as good), and they both play for teams that made the playoffs in 2011, so there’s at least a bit more save opportunity there. Bell and Wilson had somewhat off years, but they were also both coming off quite a few dominant campaigns that were better than anything Storen or Hanrahan have done to date, and also play for decent looking teams (especially now that the Marlins added Reyes). Madson is a wild card in that we’re not sure where he’ll wind up pitching, but he arguably projects better than any of the pitchers not in the top tier, so as a fantasy ranking, I can see where Mike’s coming from here.

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  3. Sean says:

    Walden blew 8 Phillies?

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  4. wily mo says:

    isn’t addison reed on the radar for the white sox? i feel like broadly speaking a lot of times analysts underestimate the speed change can come to a bullpen. if they have the stuff, and they’re throwing well, and the closer isn’t throwing well, and there’s no one else, dudes go from the minor leagues to closing games in a matter of days or weeks. reed definitely has the stuff and crain and frasor are guys who if they really had what it took to force themselves into closer conversations it would have happened for them by now.

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  5. ChuckNChino says:

    I have to agree that Storen/Hanrahan are better than the other Tier 2 Closers. Pitching on “terrible” teams is not bad when you are a closer, since these teams tend to win by only a few runs. Pitching on winning teams is not always a given for saves. Usually it’s the teams that eek out wins where the Closer actual CAN get a save. The NYY/BOS win 95 games a year, but not all of them are “save worthy”.

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  6. Chris says:

    If Betancourt keeps the Rockies gig he’ll be worth more than a handful of the above closers.

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  7. Jeff says:

    Santos a Blue Jay now.

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  8. Max R says:

    What about Bard? He is taking over as the red sox closer. Hes a pretty unhittable reliever, aside from that week or 2 where he got shellacked.

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