Ranking closers is far from an exact science. The bottom line is that their sample size is so small that a lot can change from year-to-year. Jose Valverde was “perfect” in terms of converting saves, but he had a rather pathetic 2.03 K/BB ratio for a reliever. Come February and March, I’ll have the closers ranked into tiers, which is the real way to approach them on draft day.
1. Craig Kimbrel – The workload is a concern, but he threw over 70 innings in the majors and minors combined the year before. Be sure to track his velocity this spring.
2. John Axford – Remember when he gave up that game winning bomb to Ramon Hernandez on opening day? Remember how everyone freaked out about it? All Axford dud was go on to post a 1.95 ERA and 3.4 K/BB ratio to go along with 46 saves.
3. Mariano Rivera – He’s getting older, but perhaps in the way that a fine wine ages. That is to say he actually improved his K/BB numbers from a year ago.
4. Jonathan Papelbon – It remains to be seen if Boston will break out the checkbook to bring their closer back, but chances are he’ll end up somewhere closing out games. He really tightened up his command this season, posting a 3.9 percent walk rate (1.4 BB/9). .
5. J.J. Putz – Continued his career resurgence in 2011. Small injury concerns.
6. Ryan Madson – a 2.25 FIP, 3.9 K/BB rate and 32 saves. He should make some nice cash this offseason as he heads to free agency for the first time.
7. Jose Valverde – See above
8. Joel Hanrahan – Hanrahan finally broke out in 2011, improving his command yet again.
9. Heath Bell – Curious to see where he ends up. May not fare as well in a hitter’s park.
10. Brian Wilson – Wilson wasn’t right this past season and his arm injury seems to have been the culprit. Perhaps the celebrity of his beard was a negative influence on his game as well. If healthy coming into spring training, he should bounce back.
Notables: Drew Storen had a great season, but I’m not convinced he’s going to miss enough bats to recover from what should be a regression in BABIP next season (his BABIP was .246 in 2011). Francisco Cordero hadn’t posted a BB/9 below 4.0 since 2007. Then, in a free agent season, he lowers that mark to 2.8 BB/9. Color me skeptical.