That’s the number of teams during the 2012 season that used the same closer from start to finish. Out of 30 MLB clubs. Just 10. That’s it.
Given that level of turnover, it’s obvious that fantasy owners not only need to pay attention to the guy in charge of the ninth inning, but also the guys that could take over the final frame should a change be made.
Not all of the relievers listed below need to be drafted. Especially not in shallower mixed leagues. But, at the very least, you should be aware of these possible “closers in waiting.”
Kenley Jansen, RHP, Dodgers
Jansen was on many “closer in waiting” lists last season when he entered the year as the setup man to Javy Guerra. The big right-hander wound up notching 25 saves in 2012 (to Guerra’s eight) while posting a 2.35 ERA and ridiculous 0.85 WHIP and 13.7 K/9 rate. However, Jansen missed nearly a month of action with a recurrence of heart problems, and Brandon League took over the closer role and ended up keeping it even after Jansen returned. Even though Jansen underwent a heart ablation procedure that the Dodgers hope will rid him of the issue, the club decided to re-sign League as their closer. However, it’s obvious that Jansen has the superior skill set of the two, so don’t be surprised to see the Dodgers make another switch in the ninth inning.
Vinnie Pestano, RHP, Indians
Indians closer Chris Perez managed to hold the former 20th-round pick off with a pretty good season, but Pestano out-pitched him for the second straight year, posting a 2.57 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 76/24 K/BB ratio over 70 innings. It’s certainly worth pointing out that Pestano hasn’t been nearly as good against left-handed hitters (.261/.343/.437) as he has righties (.139/.226/220), which could give manager Terry Francona pause in trusting him in the ninth inning. However, there’s no disputing the fact that he’s been more effective overall than Perez.
David Hernandez, RHP, Diamondbacks
Hernandez was a starter in the minors and for a significant chunk of his first two years in the majors, but he’s been a full-time reliever in his two seasons with the D’Backs and has blossomed into one of the better bullpen guys in the game. The hard-thrower set career bests across the board in 2012 and significantly improved his walk rate, which had arguably been the one thing holding him back from elite status. Hernandez is an extreme flyball pitcher, which is a bit scary since he pitches in a hitter-friendly park, but he’s allowed just four homers in each of his two years in Arizona. J.J. Putz is coming off two straight terrific years and will enter 2013 as the closer again, but he’ll also turn 36 next month and the D’Backs have a much younger, top-shelf reliever waiting in the wings.
Kyuji Fujikawa, RHP, Cubs
The Cubs overhauled their rotation this offseason, but they also made a potentially big addition to a bullpen that desperately needed one. Fujikawa, 32, was arguably the best reliever in Japan over the last six seasons, posting a 1.36 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and absurd 510/94 K/BB ratio over 369 2/3 frames. While it’s always dangerous to read too much into statistics from Japan, it’s hard not to be intrigued with those kinds of numbers. Fujikawa has lost some pep on his fastball in recent years, but a nasty splitter and fantastic control have allowed him to remain highly successful. Fantastic control is obviously something lacking from current Cubs closer Carlos Marmol’s arsenal, as it’s been the main cause for his unpredictability. If Marmol starts off slow and Fujikawa starts off fast, a change could be made in a hurry.
Bobby Parnell, RHP, Mets
Prior to 2012, Parnell had shown flashes of the ability that has had the Mets excited about his potential as a future closer. He really put it all together this past season, though, easily setting career-best marks in ERA (2.49) and WHIP (1.24) while cutting down his free passes significantly (2.6 BB/9). And, after previously being plagued by inconsistency, Parnell was also quite steady, never having an ERA higher than 3.60 in any month. Frank Francisco is expected to enter 2013 as the Mets’ closer, but he’s coming off elbow surgery and a horrible season, making Parnell someone to target later on in fantasy drafts.
Kelvin Herrera, RHP, Royals
When Joakim Soria went down with a season-ending elbow injury before last season, the Royals first turned to Jonathan Broxton and then to Greg Holland in the ninth inning after Broxton was traded. Herrera only got a sniff of the ninth on days when Holland was unavailable, but that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of doing the job if given the chance. The diminutive right-hander used his high-90s heat to post a 2.35 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 77/21 K/BB ratio over 84 1/3 frames in 2012, compiling 19 holds and three saves along the way. Holland has a big arm in his own right and should have some leash in 2013, but Herrera represents a viable option should the Royals switch things up.
Josh Fields, RHP, Astros
Considering he’s never thrown a pitch at the major league level, Fields’ inclusion here admittedly requires a leap of faith. The former first-round pick and Astros’ Rule 5 selection has two things going in his favor, though. One is that he sits comfortably in the mid-90s with his fastball and is coming off a superb year, posting a 2.01 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 78/18 K/BB ratio over 58 1/3 innings between Double- and Triple-A. The second thing Fields has is opportunity. Right now, the Astros’ best bet for saves is Jose Veras. Yes, the same Veras that holds a career 4.01 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 4.9 BB/9 rate and only five saves over 314 1/3 big league frames. Fields might turn out to be irrelevant in fantasy, but he’s at least someone to keep an eye on.