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You know, we spend so much time pissing and moaning about which bullpens are a nightmare and which closers are kicking us in the fantasy groin with each blown save, that we fail to appreciate some of the joys, warmth and security that real quality closers bring us. We’re always lamenting over some clown losing his job or some idiotic manager ruining fantasy values with committee situations that those who actually go out there and do their job properly are often overlooked and in many cases, taken for granted. So for today, I shed the angry, obnoxious, sometime a-hole-ish attitude and I become a champion of the under-appreciated. Today I sing the praises of those who have made their fantasy owners look like geniuses with their top-quality ninth-inning performances and for those who are still sifting through the disasters such as the Astros bullpen, well perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned here.
Francisco Rodriguez, MIL – If you’re going to start a Closer Appreciation Day, then why not start with the No. 1 closer in the game right now? K-Rod has been a masterful find for fantasy owners this season and, in truth, has probably been the best waiver add in the game this season. Undrafted in most leagues, Rodriguez was awarded the closer job in Milwaukee right before the start of the season as incumbent Jim Henderson was struggling with both command and velocity this spring. He has since gone 14-for-14 in save chances and has yet to allow a run over 17.0 innings of relief work. To add to his deliciousness, he is also sporting a rock-solid 12.71 K/9 and has exhibited pinpoint command as evidenced by his 24:4 K:BB. It’s tough to say that he will continue his unhittable ways, but his performance to date certainly locks him down as a closer with high-end job security and the promise for an even higher return value come season’s end.
Craig Kimbrel, ATL – While the return value isn’t nearly as high as that of K-Rod, Kimbrel has continued to prove that investing a high draft choice in him is not going to go unrewarded. He’s 9-for-10 in save chances this year, has a savory 2.18 ERA and is sporting a league-best 18.97 K/9 over 12.1 innings of work this season. There was a momentary flash of concern when he started to experience some shoulder soreness, but while there may have been a fleeting sense of panic, he has turned around and proven that he is both healthy and an elite. If there's a Kimbrel owner in your league who is uneasy with regard to the shoulder, you should definitely think about swooping in with an offer to allow you to steal him away. Nothing wrong with taking advantage of the weak-minded when it comes to fantasy baseball.
Rafael Soriano, WAS – While he has just seven saves on the year, he is a perfect 7-for-7 in save opportunities and who doesn’t love a 25 scoreless-inning streak that dates back to August 27 of last season? Some interesting things are happening with Soriano this season that we haven’t see in the recent past. While his velocity has dipped slightly, Soriano is making up for it by altering his pitch mix and using his slider and cut-fastball a lot more. He may be issuing a few more walks because of that, but he’s still maintained a 3.00 K/BB and he’s missing a lot more bats, as evidenced by his 13.5-percent swinging-strike rate. He’s also seen his ground ball rate jump to a career-best 48.1-percent. Overall, there’s so much to love about what he’s doing this season and his performance has entrenched him in the job with little or no hope for Drew Storen to ever break through.
Sergio Romo, SF – I love targeting guys in contract years and watching Romo mow down the opposition in the ninth this season is the perfect example as to why. He’s never been one to dominate with nasty stuff as his fastball velocity tops out in the 87-89 mph range, but he’s doing it this year with a change in his pitch mix, often relying on his changeup to keep hitters off-balance and induce weak contact. That, in turn, has helped increase his ground ball rate which is helping to shut down innings with guys on base. His performance this year has taken him to a level where the Giants, who love to apparently negotiate in-season, have halted talks on an extension because they have lost any and all leverage with him. How do you lowball a guy when he’s slamming the door at the end of games and keeping runs off the board? The Giants will simply let him do what he’s doing and then make the decision after the season as to how long they want him for and for how much. In the meantime, fantasy owners are psyched because that’s one less distraction and leaving him with an incentive to keep crushing it.
LaTroy Hawkins – Heading into the season we all knew what was up with Hawkins. He was going to close for the Rockies and as soon as they started to fall out of the race, he would be dealt to some team looking to make him a set-up man and Rex Brothers would take over. Well guess what? Yes, it’s still early in the grand scheme of things, but the Rockies are nowhere near falling out of any sort of race, be it division or wild card, and Hawkins is looking pretty damn sharp on the hill right now. He is 9-for-9 in save chances with a 2.92 ERA over 12.1 innings thus far. He doesn’t strike many batters out, as evidenced by the uber-weak 5:3 K:BB, and he pitches to a crazy high amount of contact, so things could get a little hairy for him down the road. However, this is all about appreciation here and for what it cost you to put Hawkins on your fantasy team, you’re way ahead of the game right now.
Huston Street, SD – He gets drafted lower and lower each year because everyone knows that at some point this season, he will land on the disabled list with some type of ailment. It’s as close to a sure thing as you can get sometimes. But in the meantime, do you not see what he is doing for his fantasy owners? He’s the perfect example of a decent closer on a lousy team. While the Padres may not be the big bad-asses of the NL West, Street sure looks like one with his 0.60 ERA and 17:3 K:BB over 15 innings. Oh yeah, and he’s 10-for-10 in save chances. Joaquin Benoit is probably sitting on your bench or your waiver wire and that’s just fine. He’s insurance. But so far, he’s like the insurance you get at a blackjack table. Just wave it off until you start risking the really big bucks.
Joakim Soria, TEX – I really couldn’t be happier for this guy. Two Tommy John surgeries under his belt and he’s closing out games like a 21-year old kid making his big league debut. He’s 7-for-7 in save chances and is sporting a nasty 16:2 K:BB with a 2.77 ERA over 13 innings. The lower ground ball rate might be a little nerve-wracking, especially because the home park is Arlington and we haven’t hit those hot summer months, but he’s missing so many bats right now that it almost doesn’t even matter. His current 12.1-pecrcent swinging-strike rate is the best it’s been since 2009 and even if it does regress a little, his slider and curve are inducing such weak contact that most of these lazy fly balls are going to stay lazy. Continue to roll with Soria with complete confidence this year. Neftali who? Exactly.