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You see this question thrown out there all the time, but it always seems to be about hitters or starting pitchers. Who is this year’s Mike Trout? Who is this year’s Chris Davis? Who is this year’s Jose Fernandez? No one ever seems to give the closers the respect they deserve. Well, dammit, I’m here to change all that. I won’t give my usual diatribe about their value because I’ve done that already. I will simply move forward and turn you on to a number of ninth inning firemen you’re going to want on your fantasy teams this season. And to start things off, I’ll answer the question posed in the title: Who is this year’s Greg Holland?
For those who aren’t aware, in his first full-season manning the ninth inning for the Kansas City Royals, Holland finished the year as a top-3 closer. His 47 saves ranked third in the league amongst closers and his 1.21 ERA was second. He posted an impressive 13.84 K/9, good for second in the league and for all you sabermetric junkies out there, his 3.2 WAR ranked second as well. Both CBS and ESPN had him ranked as a top-15 pitcher and I’m sure if I poked around Yahoo and a few other places, they’d have him there too. Top-15 pitcher, mind you. Overall. Not just amongst relievers.
Bottom line is that he was…and is…the studliest of the studs.
The reason he was so valuable, aside from the phenomenal stats he brought to the table, was because he also came at a fairly low cost. Maybe it was because he was on the Royals, a relatively low-profile team that hadn’t had a competitive season since Ronald Reagan was in office. Maybe it was because his track record as a closer was short. After all, he was only given the job very late in the year back in 2012, so there was little opportunity for him to dazzle on a bigger stage. Whatever the case may be, Holland wasn’t going in fantasy drafts until somewhere around the 14th or 15th round at the earliest in most 12-team drafts; roughly an ADP somewhere around 170.
So how about this year? Who are we looking at for a breakout season in the ninth here in 2014? Who is the next Holland?
Well, the problem is, there isn’t one. Not that there isn’t a closer out there who isn’t primed for a breakout season, because there most definitely is. Probably more than one actually. But the closer who profiles closest to Holland is Trevor Rosenthal and the problem with him is that his studliness was put on the big stage during the post-season last year when he tossed 11.2 scoreless innings with 18 strikeouts (13.89 K/9) and four saves. Those numbers, on top of 75.1 regular season innings with a 2.63 ERA (1.91 FIP) and a 12.90 K/9 not only have him on everyone’s radar, but also have him with a 83.04 ADP in NFBC drafts and an ADP near 85 on the rest of the major sites. He could/should post numbers similar to what Holland did last year, but his net return value won’t be as strong.
Then there’s one of my favorites, Nate Jones. If I’m right about him, then his return value should be huge. Similarly to Holland, he had himself a solid breakout campaign the year that included a serious uptick in strikeout rate – it jumped forma 8.16 K/9 in 2012 to a mark of 10.27 in 2013 – and improved command. However, Jones doesn’t technically have the job right now. The White Sox seem to still be in their decision-making mode and are trying to give Daniel Webb a chance to earn the gig. I still believe Jones wins this job in the end, but if you’re drafting sooner than later, you’re not going to be able to draft with the same level of confidence as you did with Holland the year before.
The closers who seem to be falling in line with Holland’s ADP last year, at least the ones who have a job walking into the season are the likes of Ernesto Frieri, Grant Balfour, Jason Grilli and Steve Cishek. Maybe Addison Reed too. But none of those guys profile the way Holland did and none of them are going to touch his strikeout range either. Sure, they could all end up being decent options, but their status as a potential game-breaker doesn’t seem to jibe. And none of them seem to have the job security he had last season either.
The way things seem to be falling in mock drafts right now, your best bet is either to make that early investment – and by early, I’d say roughly the eighth round – or pick up the scraps late. As I’ve mentioned before, guys like Jones, Tommy Hunter and the John Axford/Cody Allen tandem are all falling past the 20th round. There’s obviously more risk involved here though. If you’re one of those fantasy owners, who likes to live on the edge (and chase saves throughout the year) then go ahead and wait, but I’m going to make that early investment and not have to think twice once the season opens.
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