Closer Carousel Starts Early

Whether it’s a worthwhile strategy or not (and I stand by the fact that it isn’t), numerous fantasy owners tend to ignore closers on draft day. Their decision is either to punt saves outright or to just not invest any auction dollars or draft picks on closers and fish off the waiver wire all year for saves. And why is that? Because when it comes to job security, the number of closers who actually have it is quite small. Not to mention, the rash of injuries we tend to see from year to year. And, of course, their side of the debate gets a little boost here in February as we see three situations involving closers already coming to light.

When the Oakland A’s exercised their $4.5M option on Grant Balfour in October, they thought their bullpen was a done deal. But Balfour required minor knee surgery the other day and is set to be out for 4-6 weeks, leaving his availability for Opening Day in doubt. Not an ideal situation for the A’s, but certainly not one that is insurmountable. In fact, before his torrid end-of-season heroics from the pen, Balfour struggled during the middle of the season last year and was replaced as the closer by Ryan Cook who managed to notch 14 saves beginning in mid-June. He also finished the season with a 28-percent strikeout rate and a 2.09 ERA and will likely be given the first chance to close in place of Balfour. What’s not to love about consistent 95-mph heat and a plus-slider? The A’s may also kick the tires on Sean Doolittle, but as a lefty, it’s more likely that he remains in his set-up role.

Just down the way in Los Angeles…well, Anaheim really…the Angels are also going through some questions regarding their ninth inning situation. Original reports in late January said that Ryan Madson, who was signed by the Angels in the offseason while recovering from early-2012 Tommy John surgery, could possibly miss the first week of the season. The Halos were being cautious, not wanting to rush back their one-year, $3.5M investment. When Madson began feeling soreness in his elbow on the first day of spring training, red flags went up and he was immediately rushed for an MRI. The tests came back clean and the team is hoping that it’s just general soreness that comes from having such extensive elbow surgery, but you can be sure they are prepping Ernesto Frieri, who was a dominant force for them last year — 23 saves with a 2.32 ERA and 80:24 K:BB over just 54.1 innings — as the possible Opening Day closer. Considering the Angels didn’t break the bank signing Madson, it is very likely that he never ends up in the closer’s role should Frieri continue his strong performance this year. He’ll be a solid handcuff, though so don’t cast him aside just yet.

And across the country, a name that is synonymous with closing catastrophes, good ol’ Frank Francisco is struggling again. Franky Frank had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow and has had some difficulties, both mental and physical, in his recovery. He was experiencing inflammation after the first day of spring training and, according to manager Terry Collins, may not be ready to throw a baseball for another two weeks. In addition to that, Mets GM Sandy Alderson said that personal issues, including deaths in the family, have also hindered Francisco’s rehab in recent weeks and there is speculation that he won’t be ready for Opening Day

That opens the door for Bobby Parnell whose fastball averaged close to 96-mph last season but can get it up to triple digits after just a few warm-up tosses. Collins already told him that he’ll be closing while Francisco is out, so there’s no question as to who the heir-apparent is. The only question is whether or not Parnell can fully do away with some of the control issues that he’s had in his career and if he can get a little luckier on his batting average on balls in play. But his overall work last year was solid, posting a 2.49 ERA and a respectable 61:20 K:BB over 68.2 innings. Maybe I’m just not a Franky Frank fan, but should Parnell prove dominant this spring and in the early goings of the season, it would seem logical to keep him in the closer’s role all year.


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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site,, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at

8 Responses to “Closer Carousel Starts Early”

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  1. Forrest Gumption says:

    Every single person connected with the A’s and their media and Balfour himself have said categorically he will be ready for Opening Day.

    Seeing as the A’s constantly have to face King Felix and lose on Opening Day to him, he won’t even be needed on that day anyway. Also, can the A’s quit facing Seattle on Opening Day? Cmon scheduling, cut this out.

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  2. Ayuh says:

    Is Parnell worth a keeper at $5?

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    • Howard Bender says:

      $5 is a little high for me, especially if the Mets are going to keep going with Francisco whenever he’s healthy. You can probably get him for a couple of dollars less late in your draft.

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  3. marlins12 says:

    “Whether it’s a worthwhile strategy or not (and I stand by the fact that it isn’t), numerous fantasy owners tend to ignore closers on draft day. ”

    Why not?

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    • Howard Bender says:

      Closers do more than just accumulate saves. Find a solid one and you’ll get help in strikeouts while keeping your ratios stabilized. Of course you can get ratio help in cheap middle relief out there, but then you don’t get the bonus of saves. The volatility of the position keeps plenty of great guys undervalued, but if you can land one with solid job security, then you’ll benefit all year.

      Here’s a piece I did on the subject back in 2011:

      Good debate in the comments section as not everyone agrees, but I still stand by my belief.

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      • Matt NW says:

        Don’t forget about wins, either. While a starter will almost surely rack up zero saves, plenty of closers record a win for every 15-25 innings, and on the low end, that’s as efficient as many starters (for example, a pitcher who throws 205 innings and racks 14 wins).

        And you can land some crazy luck as well, see Santiago Casilla’s 7 wins in 60 something IP.

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    • B N says:

      Closers are still worth something in quite a few categories (ERA, WHIP, K’s, SV). You don’t want to break the bank on them, since they lose a whole category if they lose the job, but they’re useful. My strategy tends to be to try to pick up 3rd-tier closers: guys who actually have a job but nobody is too excited about (e.g., no Mo Riveras or Papelbons, more young guys and rehab projects).

      In some cases, you wait too long to get anybody decent and it becomes de-facto punting, but it gives you a chance to get some good values. In general, other than some years with very bad luck, I’ve always done quite well in saves without my closers killing my other pitching stats. In my opinion, while it’s a bad move to overpay for closers, it’s also pretty stupid to ignore the category if you can get good value in the 2nd half of the draft.

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  4. Brownie says:

    I think you could add Casey Janssen to this blog. Coming off minor shoulder surgery and is coming along slowly in camp. A lot of questions of whether Santos can steal the job back on a great Jays team.

    It’s interesting to see 3 of the AL’s best teams having questions about their closers (Angels, Jays, Tigers)

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