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Three Up, Three Down - 2013 Closers
Nate Springfield | Wednesday February 13th, 2013
Don't pay for saves, draft Tom Wilhelmsen in the later rounds. (US Presswire)
Don't pay for saves, draft Tom Wilhelmsen in the later rounds. (US Presswire)
Baseball Press presents a returning miniseries entitled "Three Up, Three Down". We'll review player performances from last season and whether or not we feel they are capable of either improving upon last season's performance, or if the player had a "lucky" season in 2012.

The final piece for fantasy teams are the closers. After covering every other position on your fantasy roster (catchersfirst basemen, second basemen, shortstops, outfielders, and starting pitchers) for the upcoming season, we now turn to the men that collect saves (and hopefully some strikeouts). Relief pitchers are the most inconsistent performers from year to year, so here's some guidance for your draft day decisions.

Three Up

Ernesto Frieri - Los Angeles Angels
Many downgraded Ernesto Frieri once the Halos signed one-time closer Ryan Madson this off-season. It is true, at one time Madson was a more effective pitcher than Frieri, but you can't discount the 27-year-old Colombian's 2012 season, when he posted a 2.32 ERA, collected 23 saves, and struck out 98 batters in 66 innings pitched after joining Los Angeles mid-season. Now, Ryan Madson has not thrown in two weeks due to elbow soreness, and is at risk of missing the start of the season. If this happens, and Frieri starts the season strong, it will be hard to take the ball out of his hand and give it to a guy that has not pitched in a major league game in over a year. The earlier your league drafts, the bigger of a discount you will get on this strikeout machine.

Greg Holland - Kansas City Royals
After reliever Jonathan Broxton was traded to Cincinnati mid-season in 2012, Greg Holland stepped in as the ninth inning man, and was able to record 16 saves and a solid 12.2 strikeout per nine innings ratio. Although he had a few obstacles during the season with his control, Holland seems like he's the favorite to land the closing gig again in 2013. Despite his 34 walks in 67 innings in 2012, the 27-year-old reliever still posted a 2.96 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. The biggest key to overcoming the high walk totals in 2012 was his ability to limit home runs, as he allowed just two in his 67 appearances (3.4% HR/FB rate). The biggest threat to Holland for the upcoming season is the fact that he could be traded mid-season to a contending team, ultimately losing his ninth inning duties.

Tom Wilhelmsen - Seattle Mariners
Prior to 2012, Tom Wilhelmsen had recorded just two saves in his professional baseball career. However, after taking over for Brandon League last season, the 29-year-old righthander recorded 29 saves in 34 opportunities. His minor league strikeout per nine ratio was 7.3 percent, but that's mostly due to the fact that he started 41 of the 57 games he appeared in during his four seasons in the minors. In a brief big-league career of 98 games, he has 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and posted a 9.4 K/9 in 2012. Although he had a 79.5% left on base ratio and .266 batting average on balls in play last season (which likely helped him to a  2.50 ERA) - he should still post an ERA around the 3.25 mark in 2013. If he's able to keep the ninth inning role for the entire upcoming season, it's easy to see Wilhelmsen recording close to 40 saves. However, Seattle manager Eric Wedge has been quick to reassign the closer role based on poor performance, so owners will also want to keep an eye on Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps.

Three Down

Joe Nathan - Texas Rangers
Joe Nathan bounced back nicely for the Rangers in 2012 after a down year in 2011 following Tommy John surgery. Nathan's 2.80 ERA in 64-plus innings pitched, while converting 37 saves, will be hard to duplicate in 2013 for a few reasons. First, his splits. In 2012, as the season wore on, Nathan became less effective in areas that closers must be good in. He allowed five home runs, with a 4.18 ERA in his 28 innings pitched after the All Star break. If you would like to look at more advanced statistics, Nathan's second half FIP sat at 4.13,  his K/BB ratio was 3.67 and that is with a slightly high 78.6% strand rate. If he was a younger pitcher, who had not had his elbow reconstructed, it may not be as big of a deal, but I say buyer beware in 2013 on Nathan.

Jim Johnson - Baltimore Orioles
Jim Johnson and the Baltimore Orioles put together a terrific 2012 season that was filled with a lot of luck. Johnson, 29, recorded 51 saves, good enough for best among all MLB relievers. Sure, it was helpful to fantasy owners, but Johnson's peripheral numbers are just unappealing to most owners. His 5.37 strikeouts per nine innings was the 4th worst among all qualified relievers in 2012. In addition to low strikeouts, he also had a left on base percentage of 75.6% (MLB avg is around 72.5%) and a .251 batting average on balls in play. In addition to Johnson, the Orioles were 29-9 in 1-run games and 16-2 in extra innings - which is absurd and unsustainable moving forward. Johnson isn't a shut down closer, so don't be fooled by his 51 saves in 2012. If Johnson struggles often in 2013, the Orioles could use a closer committee of Pedro Strop and Darren O'Day.

Fernando Rodney - Tampa Bay Rays
Who can name the arm that was supposed to be the 2012 opening day closer for the Tampa Bay Rays? Anybody? That is right, the spot was being held for Kyle Farnsworth, who was just battling with some muscle soreness during spring training. The team gave the nod to Rodney, once Farnsworth hit the DL, with a mixture of Joel Peralta every once in a while early in the season. Rodney still could be an effective closer in 2013, but repeating a 0.60 ERA, with 76 strikeouts, and 48 saves in 74-plus innings pitched is impossible. His 1.8 BB/9 was less than half of his previous career best mark of 3.7 BB/9, and 6.8 points better than his 2011 mark of 7.9 BB/9. He owns a career 3.75 ERA and 1.36 WHIP, even after his stellar 2012, and expect his 2013 numbers to look more similar to those career marks. Joe Maddon has proven in the past he has little loyalty to struggling closers, so look for Jake McGee to get a shot if Rodney hits any kind of extended rough patch this season.


Reggie Yinger and Nate Springfield contributed to this article.
Nate SpringfieldNate Springfield joined the Baseball Press crew for the 2010 season and hosts the site's podcast. His love for the game has grown thanks to fantasy baseball, with a specialty in NL-only auction leagues. You can contact him at nate@baseballpress.com or follow him on Twitter @NateSpringfield.