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Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back: Closers

Over the next few weeks, writers will be going through each position and identifying two players we predict will take a step forward and improve in the 2014 season; and, three players we anticipate will take a step back and regress.

Two Steps Forward:

Trevor Rosenthal-STL

Like teammates Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, and Lance Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal is a starter by trade that has begun his career in the Cardinal’s bullpen.  St. Louis has a knack for easing their young starters into the big leagues by limiting innings and maximizing value for both player and team through favorable/ high leverage matchups.  This strategy helps build their young pitcher’s confidence by maximizing their potential to succeed.  Rosenthal made huge strides in 2013, improving his walk and strikeout rates while tossing 75 innings with a 2.63 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.  Rosenthal steps into the closer’s role this season, and as he transitions to a starter, fantasy owners can expect an added bonus that they won’t get with traditional closers like Kimbrel, Papelbon, and Jansen. Rosenthal will throw more innings.  The cardinals will most likely begin stretching out Rosenthal, and owners should expect an increase over the innings Rosenthal threw last year. Multiple inning appearances will only add to Rosenthal’s value, increasing strikeouts, potential wins, and adding innings to elite ERA and WHIP.  Rosenthal’s dynasty appeal is even greater; because, in the next few years, 80 innings as a reliever could turn into 180 innings as a starter.

Nate Jones-CHW

Don’t be fooled by Jones’ lackluster 4.15 ERA last season.  The newly anointed Chicago closer was actually better in 2014 than he was in 2013 when he posted a 2.39 ERA.  In 2014 Jones lowered his WHIP, H/9, and BB/9, while improving his K/9, K/BB ratio, and FIP.  Jones is going late in drafts this year, because he plays for a poor team in a hitter’s park.   However, let’s not forget Addison Reed was incredibly valuable under the same circumstances last year. Bad teams tend to win more close games; and, where a good team may win three or four in a row (and be forced to rest there closer during a save opportunity), the White Sox aren’t as likely to run into that problem in 2014.


Three Steps Back:

Sergio Romo-SFG

Considering Romo’s phenomenal 2013, he actually showed regression from his days as the Giant’s set-up man which is pretty hard to believe.  Romo posted a 2.54 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with 38 saves in 2014, but several red flags have been raised during spring training this year.  I’m not one to place any significance in spring numbers other than indicators of a player’s health.  Romo has been getting shelled with a 33.00 ERA and a 4.66 WHIP giving up 11 earned runs in three innings. You might just attribute this to a player coming in out of shape or going through a dead arm period, but the most startling thing about Romo is that he isn’t throwing his slider.  I’m not sure what to make of this? Is he hurt? Is it something as simple as a blister, or is he one press conference away from Tommy John surgery?  I’m not willing to assume the risk of an elite closer that may cost me a higher round pick.  Just yesterday I was offered Romo and Jayson Werth for Rosenthal in a dynasty. You have to respect the Romo owner for jumping off the ship before it hits the ice burg and attempting to exploit the casual baseball fan.  I suggest all Romo owners do the same, because no one wants to waste a DL spot on a closer.

Jonathan Papelbon-PHI

Papelbon’s second season with the Phillies was a noticeably down year. His 7 blown saves made highlight reels as well as his candid postgame press conferences.  Since becoming a closer in 2006, Papelbon posted a career low in saves (29), and save percentage (81%).  Even more alarming was Papelbon’s career low K/9 rate. Strikeouts are incredibly important in a bandbox like Citizen’s Bank Park, and the less balls in play, the less home runs. Paplebon was a rumored trade candidate in 2013. If the Phillies are out of contention this year, owners can only hope he’s moved to a pitcher-friendly park.

Rafael Soriano-WSH

Soriano’s average fastball velocity hit a career low in 2013 at 91.4 MPH.  As a result, his K/9 rate fell from 9.18 in 2012 to 6.89 in 2013. Soriano’s opponents swing and miss rate on strikes fell from a career average of 11.7% to 9.0% last season.   With Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen waiting in the wings, Soriano may be on a short leash in the closer role. He is owed $14 million in 2015, so it’s safe to assume the Nats would be more than happy to move Soriano if they fall out of contention.  After a career high six blown saves in 2013, fantasy owners should no longer consider Soriano as a lock to hold down the closer’s role for the entire season.