Fantasy Midseason Rankings: Closer

Finishing my series of rankings updates, it’s time to look back at my preseason closer rankings and update them for the rest of the season. Keep in mind that this is a list of who I think will be the best closers for the rest of the season, not who I think have been the best closers so far this season. (Preseason ranking in parentheses.)

1. Eric Gagne, Dodgers (1): He’s not quite as dominant as he was last year, but he’s still clearly the best. He’s got 27 saves, a 1.65 ERA, a 0.76 WHIP and 64 strikeouts in 43.1 innings, so he really helps you in all four of those categories.

2. Mariano Rivera, Yankees (2): As dominant as he’s been, this is the best season of Rivera’s career. He’s on pace to set career highs in games and saves and throw his most innings since 1996. Even if his ERA goes up by 75-percent before the season ends, it would still match last year’s career-best mark. The only thing you can complain about here is that his strikeouts are down a little bit.

3. Brad Lidge, Astros (NR): I don’t know where I would have ranked Lidge had he started the season as Houston’s closer, but it’s not a huge shock to me that he’s in my midseason top five. In his rookie season last year, he was just blowing hitters away until he hit a wall in August and posted a 10.03 ERA for the month.

This year, he’s got a nice 2.42 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, but the amazing stat is his 81 strikeouts in 52 innings. That strikeout rate (14.02 K/9IP) is almost on par with what Gagne did last year (14.98 K/9IP). Expect Lidge to be a dominant closer the rest of the year.

4. John Smoltz, Braves (4): Smoltz has a 2.18 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 45.1 innings, but he hasn’t been one of the best fantasy closers thus far because he only has 18 saves. That puts him on pace for 31 saves after saving 100 games over the past two seasons.

I think he’ll pick up the pace, and maybe he already has. He’s recorded 11 saves in Atlanta’s last 38 games, which is a 47-save pace over 162 games. That’s closer to what you’d expect from Smoltz, and I’d expect about 20 saves the rest of the way.

5. Armando Benitez, Marlins (14): Have you seen the Vengeance Scale column Bill Simmons wrote for yet? Well, he might need to revise it soon to include Benitez’s 2004 season. After four-plus years of listening to New York fans trash him at every opportunity, he’s shoving it right in their faces this season.

Not only does he have a 1.29 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 32 saves, but eight of those saves have come against the Mets. I don’t think Benitez is going to stay on pace for 56 saves, and I don’t think he’ll keep his ERA and WHIP quite this low — especially since his strikeout rate (7.95 K/9IP) has continued to decline — but he’s getting the job done and he’s always been a decent closer.

6. Billy Wagner, Phillies (2): Losing a chunk of his season to injuries didn’t help, but Wagner’s struggles are somewhat baffling. He has a 0.87 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 33.1 innings, but his ERA is just 3.34 and he’s only got 15 saves. I’d expect the ERA to be about a run lower the rest of the way and I’d also expect at least 15 more saves this year.

7. Joe Nathan, Twins (18): Nathan was good last year, his first season as a full-time reliever, but he’s been amazing this year. He has 26 saves, a 1.05 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 42.2 innings. I think he’ll cool off a little bit, but there’s no reason he can’t save 20 games with a 2.50 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 10 K/9IP the rest of the way.

8. Keith Foulke, Red Sox (3): Talk about an odd season. Foulke’s got a 1.76 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 46 strikeouts in 51 innings. However, he’s only got 15 saves and he’s blown five saves, which is just baffling. He’s been struggling in July, but he struck out three straight hitters to get out of a jam and get the save on Tuesday.

I think his ERA might continue to rise a little bit, but I also think he’ll notch a few more saves than he has been. Maybe expect him to finish with a 2.25 ERA and 33-37 saves.

9. Octavio Dotel, A’s (6): Apparently, Dotel just decided to increase all of his rates and averages this year. His strikeout rate? Up from 10.03 K/9IP to 12.97. His walk rate? Up from 3.21 BB/9IP to 3.91. His home run rate? Up from 0.93 HR/9IP to 1.07. His batting average allowed on balls in play? Up from .214 to .339. And his ERA? Up from 2.48 to 3.91.

Among all of those numbers, the one that stands out to me is this year’s .339 batting average allowed on balls in play. That just doesn’t sound right, and it shouldn’t continue. I’d expect him to drastically lower his ERA and WHIP while saving more games and continuing to pile up strikeouts.

10. Eddie Guardado, Mariners (9): The only thing preventing Guardado from being ranked higher is that he’s only on pace for about 30 saves and I don’t think his teammates are going to help him beat that pace. He’s been very good, but his 1.96 ERA and 0.85 WHIP are both likely to go up and his save rate isn’t.

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11. Francisco Cordero, Rangers (16): Cordero’s been a very good reliever for three seasons now, so it’s no surprise that he’s succeeding as a closer. He walks a lot of hitters, but he strikes out even more and he doesn’t give up many homers. I think his ERA (1.96) will go up a bit, but I don’t see why he can’t save 45-50 games this year.

12. Jason Isringhausen, Cardinals (11): He’s just having another solid season with 24 saves, a 2.58 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 45.1 innings. I don’t think he’ll ever be an elite closer, but he should always be a good closer as long as he’s healthy.

13. Braden Looper, Mets (19): After struggling with inconsistency in Florida, Looper’s found a home in New York. He has 19 saves, a 2.06 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 45 strikeouts in 52.1 innings. I think that ERA will go up a bit, but he shouldn’t have any problems saving 35 games.

14. Trevor Hoffman, Padres (10): Hoffman’s pitched very well, but the problem is that he’s pretty much only pitched in save opportunities. Of his 35 appearances, 28 have been save opportunities and he’s converted 25. That’s a solid save total, but he’s only on pace for around 60 innings this year, which means his 2.34 ERA and 0.95 WHIP won’t have much impact on your team and it also means he’ll only get around 50 strikeouts.

15. Danny Graves, Reds (26): I don’t know if I really think Graves will be one of the 15 best closers the rest of the way, but he’s tied with Rivera for the major-league lead in saves, so I guess I have to include him. He’s got a 3.12 ERA and 1.12 WHIP and his peripheral numbers are a little odd.

He only has 30 strikeouts in 52 innings and he’s already allowed 10 home runs. That’s not good, but it is good that he’s only issued five walks. Ultimately, I think his ERA will creep up above 3.50 and he’ll finish short of 50 saves.

Fell from top 15

Troy Percival, Angels (7): Injuries have limited his appearances and his effectiveness. Last year’s 8.75 K/9IP was the lowest strikeout rate of his career. This year, it’s all the way down to 5.47. He just doesn’t seem to be right, and he may never be a great closer again.

Arthur Rhodes, A’s (8): I really thought he’d have no problem becoming a closer, and I maintain that the Rhodes of 2001 and 2002 would have done just fine had he been used as a closer. The problem is that he appears to no longer be that effective, which probably shouldn’t have been such a shock since he’s 34 years old and coming off a subpar season.

Joe Borowski, Cubs (12): In case you don’t realize how good Borowski was the last two years, here are his numbers: 2.69 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 163 strikeouts and 48 walks in 164 innings. He even got past the “unproven closer” taboo with 33 saves in 37 chances last year. My guess is that he was hurt long before he went on the DL, because otherwise his 8.02 ERA is just baffling.

Matt Mantei, Diamondbacks (13): I should have known better, I guess. Let’s just move on.

Robb Nen, Giants (15): Hopefully, you listened to the warnings that his injury might not be as easy to bounce back from as initially reported in the off-season. I felt this was as low as I could rank a pitcher of his ability, but he just couldn’t get himself right.

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