Probably one of the most difficult positions to draft in fantasy baseball is the Closer position. If your league counts saves as a category, there are a hundred different strategies you can use to draft closers. Half the battle though is knowing who to draft and when. Below you'll find the first bunch of potential closers we'll analyze in the National League. First up, the NL East.....
Atlanta: Craig Kimbrel or Jonny Venters
With the retirement of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito going to Milwaukee the Braves closer situation is wide open. The early co- favorites are Kimbrel and Venters but both are young so in addition to do they have the tools physically, but more importantly, do they have what it takes to be a closer mentally? In just 20 2/3 IP Kimbrel had a 0.44 ERA with 40K's. Can't get much more dominant than that right? However, Kimbrel walked 16 batters in 20 2/3 IP and had control issues in the minors. If Kimbrel can keep the walks down he should be a big favorite to win the closers job. Venters had a great 2010 with a 1.95 ERA in 83 IP along with 93K's. However his walks were a bit high at 39 although Kimbrel would kill for a walk every 2 innings probably. Venters was used a tremendous amount in 2010 so one has to wonder if physically that will effect him in 2011.
Sleeper Save Candidates - If the young kids falter, Freddi Gonzalez might have to turn to veteran relievers such as Scott Linebrink, Peter Moylan or George Sherrill. Remember, Sherill had 51 saves for the Baltimore Orioles in a season and a half in 2008 and 2009. Also, keep an eye on hard throwing youngsters Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy because if they can't win the 5th starters job, they might wind up in the bullpen.
Florida: Leo Nunez?
Nunez had 30 saves last season but struggled from August on and in fact had 8 blown saves. After August 25th, Nunez only had one save the rest of the season which was actually the third to last game of the season. Nunez will need a solid spring to show everyone he is capable of being the closer for the entire year.
Sleeper Save Candidates - Ryan Webb and Clay Hensley
Hensley did a real good job of closing for the Marlins in September and overall was really solid the entire year for the Fish with a 2.16 ERA in 75IP. Ryan Webb came over in Cameron Maybin trade and was sort of over looked due to the fact the San Diego Padres had so many good arms in that bullpen. Webb, like Hensley, had a solid 2010 and from what I read, the Fish just maybe got their closer of the future.
NY Mets: Francisco Rodriguez
Considering K-Rod's season ended on August 14th, his 25 saves seem really good. However, there are a few red flags with K-Rod and I am not even taking into consideration his arrest at the ballpark last August. K-Rod is on the last year of his deal and the Mets will most likely love to take his 12+ million dollar salary and use it elsewhere. The Mets like some of their other high salary players are hoping that K-Rod can have a big 1st half so they can trade him and get a couple of really good prospects come late July. Remember the Mets are viewing 2011 as a transition year so unless the expected happens they will not even be in the wild card hunt come July and veterans especially guys on their last year of their deals will be big time trade bait. K-Rod getting traded to an AL team will kill his NL only owner.
Sleeper Save Candidates - Bobby ParnellThrows hard had a solid half a season with the Mets (2.83 ERA in 35 IP) and we love Parnell's K to walk ratio (33 to 8).
Philadelphia: Brad Lidge
Considering Lidge missed all of April coming back from an injury and the disastrous 2009 Lidge had, 2010 was a big success. Lidge had 27 saves with a sub 3 ERA and strong K's. Lidge is also on the last year of his contract so he is either playing for to become a free agent or for the Phillies to pick up his 2012 option at $12 million. That's a big incentive however Lidge has shown he is capable of fantastic years and dreadful years.
Sleeper Save Candidates - Ryan Madson
After a poor April and coming off the DL in late June for his own stupidity, Madson had a dominant 2nd half. If Lidge gets injured or has another dreadful season, Madson will get the ball come the 9th inning.
Washington: Drew Storen
The former #10 overall pick in the 2009 draft had a solid rookie campaign and with Matt Capps traded to the Twins last season, the closers job is all there for Drew Storen. Storen had a 3.58 ERA in 55 1/3 IP along with 52K's and 22 walks. Storen only allowed 3 HR's last season. There is not much in the way of competition for the closer spot for Storen and he was drafted that high because the Nats thought of him as being their closer for years to come. That means Storen will get a very long leash.
Sleeper Save Candidates - Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard
Both were very reliable work horses for the Nats last season putting up solid seasons. If Storen shows he is either incapable or just not ready yet to be the closer either Burnett or Clippard will become the Nats closer for the short term.
Next article will be on the Closers for the NL Central.
NL King - C.Lizza