On opening day, 30 MLB closers will be unveiled to the world. If previous experience is any indication, before the season ends 10 will be gone, 10 will under perform expectations and some players you never considered or even heard of at the outset of the season will be grabbing saves come August. With this inherent unpredictability surrounding closers as a backdrop, let's go from worst to first around the majors. The Chief Competition represents the player most likely to step in should they falter or suffer an injury. We’ll cover the top 15 closers Sunday.
30. Miguel Batista, Seattle Mariners: Assuming Seattle does not sign a free agent, Batista probably gets the nod to start the season. He does have a pedigree, having saved 31 contests as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2005. He is deserving of last place on this list, having walked more batters (79) then he fanned (73) and winning just four games as a starter last season with a lofty 6.26 ERA. Chief Competition: Roy Corcoran.
29. Fernando Rodney, Detroit Tigers: Rodney was tossed into the fray last season after Todd Jones went down and it was a decidedly mixed bag. He has the stuff to be a successful closer but struggles with his command and appeared flustered at times on the mound. While converting 13-of-19 save opportunities in 2008, his struggles mounted after the All-Star break with a 4.07 ERA and 24 walks in 31 innings. Chief Competition: Brandon Lyon.
28. George Sherrill, Baltimore Orioles: If the 2008 season had ended on May 31, Sherrill would likely have been awarded Fireman of the Year honors. On that date, he was already sitting on a major league leading 17 saves. Unfortunately for Sherrill, the season continued and his performance deteriorated. Along the way, he accumulated 14 additional saves but watched his ERA balloon to 4.73 with a 1.50 WHIP. Control was a sticking point, as he walked 33 in 53 innings. Chief Competition: Chris Ray
Photo courtesy of Chris Creamer - SportsLogos.net
George Sherrill began last season as a top closer, but fell significantly in the second half. He ranks 28th on this list.
27. Troy Percival, Tampa Bay Rays: Didn't this guy already retire? After stints with the Angels, Tigers and Cardinals, Percival brought his traveling show to Tampa Bay. Although netting 28 saves last season, injuries have become a way of life with him. He might earn 20 saves in 2009, but it won’t be pretty. He is the classic high risk, relatively low reward option. Chief Competition: Grant Balfour
26. Frank Francisco, Texas Rangers: Overcoming his chair throwing fetish, Francisco emerged last season as the Rangers closer. He grew into the role and improved as the season progressed, posting a 2.45 ERA with 38 strikeouts in just 26 innings following the All-Star break. He has serious breakout potential with an upside of 25-30 saves this year. Chief Competition: C. J. Wilson
25. Joel Hanrahan, Washington Nationals: Hanrahan outlasted the competition to remain the last closer standing in 2008. Anointed when Jon Rauch was shipped to Arizona in July, the early results were encouraging as he racked up nine saves before tailing off in September. Hanrahan employs a 95 mph fastball to good advantage and should improve with additional experience. He needs to minimize base runners (4.5 walks per nine innings last season) to be truly effective but is a strong candidate to corral 25 saves in 2009. Chief Competition: Saul Rivera
24. Chris Perez, St. Louis Cardinals: Perez was the Cardinals first round pick in the 2006 draft and rewarded their confidence last season with a solid second half. With Jason Isringhausen departed, Perez enters the 2009 season with first crack as team closer. However, the situation in St. Louis is fluid with closer by committee a real possibility. Chief Competition: Jason Motte, Ryan Franklin
23. Trevor Hoffman, Milwaukee Brewers: After a Hall of Fame worthy career with the Padres, the six-time All-Star heads east in an effort to pad his career saves record. Hoffman is 40 and worked a modest 45 innings last season while recording 30 saves. The Brewers may expect him to shoulder a heavier workload and could be in for a surprise, as Hoffman's tendency to surrender home runs is trending upward (eight last year following just two in 2007). He remains a determined competitor but will miss the friendly confines of PETCO Park. Chief Competition: Jorge Julio
22. Huston Street, Colorado Rockies: Although just 25, Street has gone from elite closer to answering help wanted ads in Colorado. We're assuming he edges out Manny Corpas for the starting gig in 2009. An injury waiting to happen, Street notched 18 saves in Oakland last season before a hip problem bumped him from the closer role. He's now relegated to the high risk, medium reward category with 20 saves a possibility this season. Chief Competition: Manny Corpas.
21. Matt Lindstrom, Florida Marlins: Lindstrom is a big, strong hurler who attacks with an overpowering fastball and a nasty slider. He is especially good at keeping the ball in the park (one HR allowed in 59 innings last year) and has a clear line to the closer position. He seems poised for an outstanding season with an up-and-coming team. Chief Competition: Leo Nunez
20. Chad Qualls, Arizona Diamondbacks: A career set-up guy, Qualls responded when incumbent closer Brandon Lyon stopped throwing strikes. During the heat of the September pennant chase, Qualls reeled off an impressive seven straight saves, cementing his place as the D-Backs closer. Chief Competition: Jon Rauch
19. Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants: The fact that Wilson accumulated 41 saves last season further dispels the myth that closers on bad teams can't be successful. However, Wilson was not giving off any good vibrations with his 4.62 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. The Giants should provide Wilson with enough save opportunities to keep him busy in 2009. Chief Competition: Bobby Howry
18. Mike Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves: Gonzalez is another closer finding his way back following Tommy John surgery. If 2008 was any indication, his prognosis is excellent. He netted 14 saves and extended his streak of games without a blown save to 183 before it was ended last September. Ponder that Gonzalez is fragile and has never thrown more than 55 innings in a season during his major league career. Chief Competition: Rafael Soriano
17. Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds: Cordero showed some signs of wear in 2008, typified by a walk rate that nearly doubled from the season before. The culprit was believed to be a bone spur in his foot that led to an early end of his season. He is a strikeout pitcher with an inflated WHIP due to the control issues. He should be fine for this season. Chief Competition: David Weathers
16. Heath Bell, San Diego Padres: Bell steps out of the giant shadow of Trevor Hoffman to assume closer duties in 2009. He benefits from playing half his games in a preeminent pitchers’ park and brings a solid arsenal of pitches including a mid-90’s fastball. Troubling were an ERA that went from 2.02 in 2007 to 3.58 last season and a strikeout rate of less than one per inning. Chief Competition: Cla Meredith
What do you think of Robert's list? Let your comments be heard below and stay tuned for the top 15 closers Sunday.
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