Relief Pitcher Keeper No. 1 – Francisco Rodriguez, RHP – New York Mets – Fantasy Baseball 2009
Francisco Rodriguez is unlikely to approach the record-setting saves totals he piled up a year ago when he finished the season with 62. Rodriguez, however, has shown declining stuff over the past two seasons – not significantly, but a sign that he could very well be leveling out in terms of performance.
Despite the slight drops in velocity, command and the relative lack of spike in his breaking ball, the 27-year-old is still the top fantasy closer in the game, mostly due to his new surroundings in New York.
The Mets have good starting pitching, a highly productive offensive lineup and excellent defensive units on the infield and in the outfield. These dynamics suggest that Rodriguez is going to get loads of save opportunities.
New York also acquired J.J. Putz this winter, and he’ll serve as K-Rod’s setup man, giving the Mets the best 1-2 punch in baseball in the eighth and ninth innings.
Look for Rodriguez to take advantage of the National League’s inferior lineups and put up 40 or more saves and big strikeout totals. His ERA numbers should remain strong, at least for the next couple of seasons. A 40+-save, sub-3.00 ERA, 80 strikeout campaign is at hand for Rodriguez, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue well above-average fantasy closer stats for the length of his three-year contract in New York.
Relief Pitcher Keeper No.2 – Jonathan Papelbon, RHP – Boston Red Sox – Fantasy Baseball 2009
With the Boston Red Sox rich in starting pitching, solid defense and an improved bullpen, Jonathan Papelbon has a chance to surpass the 41 saves he recorded last season.
The 28-year-old right-hander completed his third straight stellar season in 2008, posting a 2.34 ERA to go with the career-best saves total. His mid-90s fastball and splitter serve as a devastating combo that has led to an historic first three seasons for Papelbon, and there’s no reason to believe it will not continue into 2009 and beyond.
Forty saves, a nasty ERA in the 2.00s and more than a strikeout per inning pitched is almost a given, and a WHIP under 1.00 is likely as well, based on his career mark of 0.93. Furthermore, Papelbon has yielded just 161 hits in 230 career innings for a .194 opponent’s batting average.
If you’re looking for a reliable closer to keep over the next couple of seasons, it’s difficult to argue that Papelbon is as good a choice as any in baseball.
Relief Pitchers Keeper No. 3 – Mariano Rivera, RHP – New York Yankees – Fantasy Baseball 2009
Just when you think he’s starting to fade, the greatest closer in baseball history has a season like he did in 2008.
Rivera, 39, saved 39 games last season and posted a 1.40 ERA and a 0.67 WHIP. He gave up just 41 hits in 70 2/3 innings and walked just six batters in 64 appearances. While he’s pushing 40 years of age, the Yankees’ strengths on offense and in the starting rotation figure to strongly support Rivera’s chances of getting tons of save chances in 2009, and there’s no reason to start doubting his elite status.
Rivera could step back from so many multi-inning saves, but the strikeout rates, ERA and save totals should all be there for another year or two.
Relief Pitchers Keeper No. 4 – Joe Nathan, RHP – Minnesota Twins – Fantasy Baseball 2009
Joe Nathan may be the game’s top closer, but when it comes to fantasy baseball draft rankings for 2009, there are a few concerns heading into the new season.
First, the Minnesota Twins don’t score a lot of run, which in one sense suggests there will be a lot of close games, which in turn is typically good for save totals. But the Twins also struggle in the starting pitching department, which means Nathan may not get as many easy saves as in he has in the past.
There’s also the off chance that the Twins are forced to trade their ace reliever for offensive help, which puts his value in jeopardy if he’s owned in an AL-only fantasy league.
But there’s no doubting his talent. Nathan sits in the mid-90s with his fastball and puts hitters away with one of the game’s best sliders. He’s put up three straight years of at least 36 saves and an ERA under 2.00 and is still striking out more than a batter per inning. He is 34 years of age, but there’s no decline in sight, suggesting that he’s a long-term keeper.
Relief Pitchers Keeper No. 5 – Brad Lidge, RHP – Philadelphia Phillies – Fantasy Baseball 2009
In 2008, Brad Lidge was a perfect 41-for-41 in save chances, striking out 92 batters in 69 1/3 innings and giving up just two long balls all season.
His tough stretch in Houston when he surrendered 19 home runs in 132 innings over the course of two seasons seems to be in the rear-view mirror. Lidge has always walked more than his share of batters, but the 35 issued last year produced the worst walk rate since his rookie season in 2003.
His slider is back and the velocity in his four-seam fastball never left, but the key for Lidge was command and confidence. After he helped the Philadelphia Phillies win the World Series, it’s safe to say he’s answered all of those questions.
Lidge is 32 years of age and still throwing as hard as ever and his slider is again one of the best pitches in baseball. With the Phillies’ offense giving them leads, Lidge is sure to tally at least 35 saves again in 2009.
His ERA could take a bit if a spike from the 1.95 he recorded last season, but it’d be a surprise if he was hit enough to push it above 3.00.