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 covered the bottom 15 closers Saturday.
15. Joey Devine, Oakland Athletics: Devine was acquired as part of the deal sending Mark Kotsay to Atlanta. He finally hit the Bigs in 2008 and wowed folks with a microscopic 0.59 ERA and no homers allowed in 46 innings pitched. He is a major sleeper this season and could net 25 saves. Chief Competition: Brad Ziegler
14. Brad Lidge, Philadelphia Phillies: Like his team, Lidge had an unforgettable 2008 campaign, converting all 41 save opportunities. He proved even better (if that's possible) in the postseason. His relatively low ranking takes into account advancing age (he's 32) and an expected regression to the mean. Another 40 saves in 2009 is unrealistic, but 30-35 should be attainable. Chief Competition: Ryan Madsen
13. Matt Capps, Pittsburgh Pirates: Pinpoint control enables the burly Capp to compensate for a below average fastball. He missed eight weeks in 2008 with shoulder problems but appears to be completely recovered. A very good closer handcuffed to a dreadful team, Capps should still record 25-30 saves this year, shoulder willing. Chief Competition: John Grabow
12. Jonathon Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers: Still just 24, Mr. B averaged an eye popping 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings last season and collected 14 saves. However, he is probably best remembered for coughing up a pivotal home run to the Phillies Matt Stairs in the NLCS. Chief Competition: Corey Wade
11. Brian Fuentes, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Fuentes was very good for Colorado last season, notching 30 saves, and he should have similar success with the Angels. The southpaw melted opposing bats, registering nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings in 2008. Chief Competition: Jose Arredondo
10. Jose Valverde, Houston Astros: Valverde had a very solid 2008 season. Despite blowing seven saves, he converted 44 others with 83 strikeouts in 72 innings. He has overcome the tendency to melt down following poor outings that plagued him earlier in this career. Chief Competition: LaTroy Hawkins
9. Kerry Wood, Cleveland Indians: Wood transitioned to closer with the Cubs in 2008 and made a major splash saving 34 games. He is a perennial injury risk but highly formidable when healthy: 84 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 66 innings pitched last year attest to his excellent control. Chief Competition: Jensen Lewis
8. Bobby Jenks, Chicago White Sox: Decent offensive support and a solid middle relief corps should make Jenks a no-brainer, right? Wrong. This BJ has seen his strikeouts decline two straight years with a corresponding drop in velocity. It’s a red flag when a closer grows content inducing groundball outs instead of challenging hitters. Chief Competition: Octavio Dotel
7. B.J. Ryan, Toronto Blue Jays: An elite closer as recently as 2006, Ryan returned from the dark side (aka 2007 Tommy John surgery) and recorded an impressive 32 saves in 2008. Most pitchers tend to be better two years removed from the procedure, so expect Ryan to regain some velocity on this fastball and rack up another 30+ saves. Chief Competition: Jeremy Accardo
6. Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets: What, a major league record 62 saves in 2008 doesn't automatically place him at the top of the list? Not when your strikeout rate is declining and your base runners per inning are increasing. Still a tenacious competitor possessing the meanest sinker around. Chief Competition: J.J. Putz
5. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees: Still masterful in his late thirties, Rivera is expected to be fully recovered from October surgery to address a bone spur in his pitching shoulder. He recorded 39 saves and his 1.40 ERA in 2008 represented a career low. Chief Competition: Damaso Marte
Photo courtesy of Danny Wild / Danny Wild Photography
Mariano Rivera is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, but figures to anchor the Yankees' bullpen once again.
4. Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs: If these rankings were based solely on dominance, Marmol would arguably top the list. His 95 mph heater has caused many a batter to buckle at the knees and he held the league to a miniscule .135 batting average against in 2008. His transition to closer should be relatively smooth, but anticipate a bump or two. Chief Competition: Kevin Gregg
3. Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins: Steady veteran who knows how to weather adversity. Never flustered, Nathan continues to get it done, averaging better than a strikeout per inning in 2008. He has finished four of the past five seasons with an ERA under 2.00, a testament to his consistency. Chief Competition: Jesse Crain
2. Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals: Consecutive seasons of excellence (converting 59 of 66 save opportunities) and his relative youth vault him past some better known rivals. The Mexican Magician has been virtually unhittable, compiling a .169 batting average against and 0.86 WHIP last season. Chief Competition: Kyle Farnsworth
1. Jonathon Papelbon, Boston Red Sox: The consensus Number One. A dominant closer with a 95 mph heater who relishes getting the ball with the game on the line. The only blemish is an ERA that has risen each of the past two seasons. Chief Competition: Manny Delcarmen
What do you think of Robert's list? Let your comments be heard below.
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