Trying to find reliable relievers, especially closers, is like trying to catch squirrels with a hula hoop. Nobody wants to overpay or worse yet end up with a dud who kills your ratios and is always in danger of losing the gig. I’ll be rooting around on the waiver wire or in the final rounds of the draft this year for my saves so I’m not going to be the one to tell you to draft closers early or even at all. This is more about identifying three relievers who will be undervalued this year due to an injury or poor performance in 2012, but who will help fantasy teams either in saves, solid ratios, or strikeout numbers. We’ll start out with a no-brainer and work our way down to a sleeper.
Mariano Rivera: Despite tearing up his knee in a freak injury last year, Rivera is still one of the best in the game. It seems the injury has apparently scared at least some drafters away. The 2nd reliever off the board in 2012 (ADP 68) is now the 6th reliever taken (99th). That’s not a huge difference, but if you are planning on getting a closer in your top 100 picks, this is the guy who I feel is the best bet to outperform his current draft position with a bounce back year. In case you missed this crazy statistic from Mike Foss’s USA Today article two weeks ago: more men have walked on the moon (12) than have scored against Mariano Rivera in the postseason (11). I think it is safe to draft Rivera as if 2012 never even happened.
Ryan Madson: We’re starting to get closer to my comfort level for drafting relievers with the 186th player off the board. Madson never got off the ground in Cincinnati in 2012 and ended up having Tommy John surgery. For those of us hoping to get him for the cheapest price possible, news that he will most likely miss the start of the 2013 season due to some setbacks only suppresses his value further. When bargain hunting for closers, it’s important to look at who you think is going to get the majority of saves for the year, not just the majority of saves in April and May. While Ernesto Frieri is a great option for the Angels and has better strikeout numbers than Madson, let’s remember that Madson was 32/34 in save opportunities with the Phillies back in 2011 with a 2.37 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. The biggest reason I think that Madson will end up being the better bet as the Angels closer is his walk rate. Madson’s BB/9 rate of 2.4 in 2011 is a lot prettier than Frieri’s 4.1 in 2012. When batters get free passes in the ninth you’re playing with fire. You may have to be patient, but a bounce back year from Madson will provide saves and good ratios among this year’s crop of cheap relievers.
Al Alburquerque: This is where it gets deep, but this is also where it starts to get a little more exciting and the last names quite a bit longer. Closer is a funny position and by funny I mean the guy who ends up as a team’s saves leader is sometimes the guy we least expect. In 2011, Alburquerque posted a 1.87 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 13.9 K/9 in 41 games. He missed most of last year with elbow surgery, and he won’t even be on the radar in most league formats thanks to a less than stellar spring and plenty of other options in the Detroit pen. With Jose Valverde out of the picture, the Tigers are left with lefty Phil Coke, rookie Bruce Rondon, Joaquin Benoit, and Octavio “ignore my splits against lefties” Dotel. That’s not exactly a stable situation. Alburquerque is a name I am filing away if the Detroit bullpen situation is still as cloudy as it is today. Like Frieri, Al had a less than desirable BB/9 in 2012 (5.4) so he will need to get that under control to ever have a real chance at the closing gig. But if a healthy 2013 leads to some improved command, he could develop into a sneaky source of saves in addition to his already solid strikeout numbers.