Sunday, August 24, 2008

The crazy world of closers

Closers can drive you crazy. No position in fantasy is more polarizing or volatile from year to year.

The fact that only one man on one team in any given game can possibly earn a save makes that category scarce and hard to predict. A comparison of last year's top 10 closers and this year's saves leaders illustrates the point.

Scanning last year's list, we see a few familiar names. Jose Valverde, 2007's major league saves leaders (47) with the Arizona Diamondbacks, could match that total this year with his new team, the Houston Astros. Francisco Rodriguez, tied for fifth last year with 40 saves, is threatening Bobby Thigpen's record of 57 this year. And Francisco Cordero, Trevor Hoffman and Bobby Jenks probably won't return to the 40-save plateau but have been solid nonetheless.

But that doesn't even account for half the list.

What happened to Joe Borowski, second in the league last year with 45 saves? He managed only six this year (with an unsightly 7.56 ERA) for the Cleveland Indians while wasting away on the DL and ultimately getting released.

What about J.J. Putz? He too has spent more time on the DL than the field for the Seattle Mariners, not even recording a quarter of last year's 40 saves and posting an ERA almost three full runs higher.

What of Takashi Saito? He was off to another fine start (17 saves) before suffering an elbow injury. Now at 38, his future as the Los Angeles Dodgers' closer is in jeopardy with young gun Jonathan Broxton taking his place.

How about Todd Jones? His dreadful ratios (4.97 ERA, 1.63 WHIP) weren't that much of a shock, but with the Detroit Tigers' struggles this year, his 18 saves aren't even half of last year's total (38). Now he's on his second DL stint of the year and might not return.

And finally, where's Chad Cordero? After 37 saves in '07 with the Washington Nationals, he went 0-for-2008 and is out for the year with a torn labrum.

Those aren't the only horror stories: Veteran Billy Wagner might not appear in a New York Mets uniform again this year; Huston Street's stock is plummeting with the Oakland A's; Eric Gagne's tenure with the Milwaukee Brewers has been a disaster; injuries spoiled Rafael Soriano's season for the Atlanta Braves; the Texas Rangers' C.J. Wilson went down in flames; and a creaky Jason Isringhausen recently told some St. Louis Cardinals personnel he's "done."

Sure, the biggest names haven't disappointed - Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon have been stupendous, to no one's surprise. But consider these other surprise standouts:

Brad Lidge looked finished in Houston but has been outstanding for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Few people heard of George Sherrill before this year, but he'll finish with more than 30 saves for the Baltimore Orioles, despite his recent shoulder problem.

The Kansas City Royals' Joakim Soria and the San Francisco Giants' Brian Wilson are both top-10 closers. So much for guys on bad teams not getting save opportunities.

Former retiree Troy Percival is closing in on 30 saves with the upstart Tampa Bay Rays, and if not for his various injuries he'd have 40 already.

Bradenton's Chris Perez has emerged as a stopper in his rookie season - the Cardinals' third ninth-inning option this year.

B.J. Ryan continues to get the job done for the Toronto Blue Jays, just 15 months after Tommy John surgery.

Someone named Brad Ziegler has been almost untouchable and has unseated Street in Oakland.

The lesson is this: saves can be found everywhere, and your best-laid plans for your bullpen at the start of the season will probably go awry. Keep that in mind as you're speculating on the waiver wire for saves and debating whether to keep a closer for next year.

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