Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Expert League Challenge

I have had the privilege of participating in several fantasy baseball and football expert leagues. I have done well in a few of them but unfortunately have yet to actually win one. I plan to change that this season. Whether you participate in Fantasy Baseball or another type of sports betting the goal is always to win. Sometimes you want to win for recognition (as in Expert leagues) and other times you want to bring home the fantasy league pot. In either case the method is pretty much the same – develop a winning strategy and implement it to the best of your ability. 

On Sunday I drafted in two Fantasy Sports Invitational Challenge Expert Leagues run by Fantasy Sports R Us. One league was an NL-only with 11 teams and the other a nine team AL-only.  My Strategy in both leagues was fairly simple. Draft at least 200 homeruns, 120 stolen bases, two closers and strikeout starters. You can judge the execution of that strategy for yourself. I was more happy with the AL team than the NL team. I was not nearly as obsessed with the Reds and Yankees as the rosters may make it appear. I failed to acquire the quality of pitching I was hoping for but think I have a solid core in both leagues.

The NL-Only Team

C Rob Brantley, Miami Marlins – showed new on-base skills after joining the Marlins
1B Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers – hopefully over his shoulder problems
3B Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds – a talented player in a great lineup
CI Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals – an underrated power source
2B Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds – a top second basemen
SS Alex Gonzalez, Milwaukee Brewers – should see time all over the field and serve as Segura insurance
MI Steve Lombardozzi, Washington Nationals – betting on Espinosa’s shoulder problems
OF Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves – my bet to be a 2014 first round pick
OF Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals – his endurance should be better this season
OF Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates – a youngster with power and speed
OF Carlos Quentin, San Diego Padres – a powerful hitter who is presently healthy
OF Tony Campana, Arizona Diamondbacks – just for the stolen bases
Utl Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres – my rookie of the year pick
SP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds – I think he’s an ace starter
SP Trevor Cahill, Arizona Diamondbacks – trending very well, improved skills
SP Edwin Jackson, Chicago Cubs – an underrated starting pitcher
SP Ross Detwiler, Washington Nationals – him too
SP Kyle Kendrick, Philadelphia Phillies – put it together in the second half of the 2012 season
MR Heath Bell, Arizona Diamondbacks – betting he finds his way to saves somehow
MR Brandon Lyon, New York Mets – next in line for saves in New York
CL Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals – A top five closer
CL Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies – a top skilled closer
R Billy Hamilton, SS, Cincinnati Reds – If he comes up early he’ll save my horrid middle infield
R Jerry Hairston, 2B, 3B, OF Los Angeles Dodgers – love having reserves that play all over
R Erik Kratz, C, Philadelphia Phillies – should be very productive while Ruiz sits
R Gerrit Cole, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates – an ace as soon as he gets the call
R Cory Luebke, SP, San Diego Padres – help down the stretch

The AL-Only Team

C Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox – should see more at-bats in a park built for him
1B Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays – he may not repeat but 30 homers is a cinch
3B Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics – a sleeper pick after getting caught looking elsewhere
CI Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees – the power is not going anywhere
2B Robinson Cano, New York Yankees – worthy of the number one pick in any league
SS Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians – a top shortstop
MI Omar Infante, Detroit Tigers – a quality late round middle infielder
OF Dayan Viciedo, Chicago White Sox – big power potential
OF Nick Swisher, Cleveland Indians – a solid player in a very improved lineup
OF Coco Crisp, Oakland Athletics – the stolen base master of the present
OF Leonys Martin, Texas Rangers – a better hitter than most understand
OF Peter Bourjos, Los Angeles Angels – if he hits he should also steal bases
Utl Darin Mastroianni, Minnesota Twins – knows how to get on base and the speed skills for 70 SBs
SP Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers – better than he looked last season
SP Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox – flashed his former stuff last season, finally healthy
SP Mark Buehrle, Toronto Blue Jays – a solid pitcher on a great team
SP Vance Worley, Minnesota Twins – a pitcher I like more than you
SP Dan Straily, Oakland Athletics – a minor league strikeout leader with a rotation spot
SP Joe Saunders, Seattle Mariners – the park should make him look better than his skills
SP Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals – one of my bets to step up big time in 2013
MR Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics – my favorite relief sleeper
CL Brant Balfour, Oakland Athletics – the only closer left on the board
R Ryan Flaherty, 2B, 3B, OF, Baltimore Orioles – versatile and behind a brittle starter
R Matt Dominguez, 3B, Houston Astros – improved his bat skills last season, starting 3B
R Mike Aviles, Cleveland Indians – versatile reserve on a team with many potential holes
R Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees – a young and versatile player on an aging team
R Roberto Hernandez (the former Fausto Carmona), SP Tampa Bay Rays – the Rays are miracle workers

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The First Pick of the 2013 Fantasy Draft Is...

My friend Derek Ambrosino at the Hard Ball Times recently posted an article called "Who is 2013's Top Dog?" which debates which player should be drafted first in re-draft mixed leagues this season. To his eyes there are only three candidates - Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun and Mike Trout.

I agree that those three should be candidates. However, I will add three more names for consideration - Matt Kemp, Robinson Cano and Andrew McCutchen. Kemp, Cano and McCutchen are generally going with the fourth, fifth and sixth picks in one order or another but a case can be made that they are each better selections than at least two of Derek's choices.

Before jumping into each player's qualifications I think it is important to decide what is important to acquire in a first round pick, especially an early one. The first pick in the draft would ideally have a track record of success, annual statistics that typically place the player within the top 10-15 players overall, a clean bill of health, a secure position on his team and contribute to five categories. If you are lucky, that player will also be in his prime years of performance and own the potential for further upside in his statistics.

Ryan Braun is at the top of Mock Draft Central's ADP Report.  Braun won the 2011 MVP award and has been one of the top offensive players in baseball for years and contributes to all five offensive categories. He was worth $50 in 2012 according to values. He has been worth at least $30 in each of the last six years and 50-plus the last two seasons. He has averaged over 600 at-bats the last five years. He is definitely in the prime of his career and signed to a long term contract by the Milwaukee Brewers. The only real negative is regarding the suspicion of PED use and the possibility of suspension. After beating the rap before the 2012 season, Braun was one of the names connected to the BioGenesis Clinic. If Braun missed 50 games due to suspension would he still have first round value? Probably, but I certainly would not be happy to have used the first pick of the draft on him.

Miguel Cabrera is ranked second by MDC's ADP Report. He won the 2012 MVP Award and achieved the Triple Crown last season. Cabrera has been worth at least $30 in seven of the last eight years. HQ valued him at $42 in 2012 and at no less than $36 the last three seasons. He has batted no worse than .324 with 30 homers in each of the last four seasons. He has not had fewer than 548 at-bats since 2004. He is still just 29-years old and in the prime of his career. Last season he moved back to third base so he qualifies at a premium position. Cabrera does not steal bases and that is pretty much the only flaw in his game. If you are hunting for a problem you might knock him for some occasional issues related to alcohol but he has not had an issue with that in the last few years.The lack of stolen bases is unfortunate but Cabrera is still an excellent option.

Mike Trout was the stat guy choice for the 2012 MVP. He had a Rookie-of-the-Year season better than anyone else has ever had. He hit for average, for power, scored runs, drove in runs and stole bases almost at will. BaseballHQ valued him at $49 in 2012 and $0 in his 123 at-bat audition in 2011. If Trout did everything at the same rate he did in 2012 over the entire 2013 season he would easily be the number one choice, almost without debate since he would gain more than a month of at-bats at that MVP level rate of performance. many analysts have pointed out that even with some significant regression to his 2012 statistics Trout could still be an easy first round value with an extra 100-plus at-bats added to his season totals. However, Trout, prior to the 2012 season had never displayed the 30-homer power he achieved in 2012. In fact he had never hit more than the 17 he hit at three combined levels in 2011. As Derek pointed out, it isn't unusual for a young player to show big improvement but it is not typical to make such a huge advance in a player's rookie season.Trout may be a great player in the making but one huge season does not make him an ideal first overall pick.

Matt Kemp was the 2011 MVP Runner-up to Ryan Braun. He was given an astounding value of $62 by BaseballHQ in 2011 but just $24 in his injury-plagued 2012 season. Kemp began the 2012 season with a monster month of April but an early May hamstring strain (which he tried to play through) basically put him out of action until the middle of July. Kemp has been worth at least $31 in four of the last six seasons and no less than the $21 he earned in 2010. He usually contributes in all five offensive categories and is one of the rare players capable of achieving 40-plus in both homers and steals. The Dodgers have him signed for the next several years. Kemp is considered a crucial part of the Dodger's core. A player coming off an injury-shortened season is not an ideal first overall pick but Kemp's upside potential is as high or higher than any of the players under consideration.

Andrew McCutchen is just 26-years old but already considered one of the best in the game. He has shown power gains three years running. He has fantastic speed and has spoken publicly this spring regarding his desire to improve his base-stealing techniques.The coveted 30/30 season could be in his future.He was worth $43 according to HQ in 2012 and at least $27 in each of the last three seasons. He hasn't had fewer than 570 at-bats in the last three seasons. He contributes to all of the offensive categories. McCutchen doesn't have a long track record but in his four major league seasons has shown steady improvement while providing excellent fantasy stats. Of the players under consideration, McCutchen has the highest probability of a huge breakout season. None of the MDC drafters took McCutchen before the third pick of the draft but he is capable of delivering a season with that level of value.

Robinson Cano is in the prime of his career and the best player on the New York Yankees. He is an annual MVP candidate. He has been worth at least $30 in each of the last three seasons and has done so while manning second base, a premium fantasy position. Unfortunately, he does not steal many bases. His value comes from very high batting averages and 30-homer power. Statistically he is probably a more appropriate pick for the mid to late picks of the first round but for those owners that prefer to use early picks on scarce positions Cano is a very safe option.

The choice here is for Ryan Braun but as Spring Training continues and Matt Kemp proves himself healthy the decision could change.For now I believe the MDC drafters have it nearly correct. The key difference is that I would not choose Mike Trout in a re-draft league with a top five pick over the other candidates listed here.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

2013 Sleeper: Jaime Garcia

The fraying in his shoulder will keep a lot of owners away from Jaime Garcia. It will also drive his price way down, possibly into the lower single digits. That provides you with an opportunity to purchase a very talented pitcher on the cheap. Garcia has a great swinging strike rate with a solid K9 that should improve. He has good control and a nice groundball rate. He plays for a very good Cardinals team with a nice defense.  For what should be a very small investment you could win big. Garcia is already throwing and will face hitters today (Saturday, Feb. 16th).

Jaime Garcia will face hitters for the first time today since his abortive two-inning playoff performance against the Washington Nationals last October when he throws batting practice to a group of Cardinals position players headed by David Freese.

Today is the first day that pitchers will throw batting practice. Following Garcia, who had shoulder problems much of last season, will be Shelby Miller, who will pitch to a group of hitters including Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter.
Garcia made nine starts at the end of the 2012 season but was forced out of a playoff game after just two innings against the Washington Nationals after experiencing some shoulder stiffness. Garcia was declared fully healthy in November after several sessions with the Cardinals coaching and medical staffs. He has been throwing regularly since early January without set-backs or problems.
Said pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, "He looks incredibly strong. His arm strength is there and he's in a good frame of mind. We look for good things from Jaime."
"It was one of the toughest things I've had to experience in my career," Garcia said. "But you move forward, you learn from the bad and take the good things and move forward and that's what I did this offseason. I went home and had a good, positive mentality and I did everything asked of me to do and worked as hard as I possibly could and I've been saying this the whole time since the Winter Warm-up but I'm feeling healthy, I'm strong and I just want to take it one day at a time.

"I came into camp like any other pitcher and obviously there's things I have to take care of which are a part of my career, doing my rehab stuff (between starts), but that's just part of it. But checkups with doctors, we're all clear of that. It's been normal the whole time."

Friday, February 15, 2013

2013 Closer Update: Oakland Athletics

Oakland Athletics
Closer – Grant Balfour
Next – Sean Doolittle
Sleeper – Ryan Cook
Super-Sleeper – Pat Neshek

Grant Balfour should be considered a lower tier closer. This was made obvious by his inconsistent performance during the 2012 season and the team's willingness to change closers. Balfour gained the closer role twice during the 2012 season and also lost it. He comes into 2013 as the favorite for saves but circumstances are already working against him. The San Francisco Chronicle announced that on February 13th, 2013 Balfour underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. He is expected to be out of game action for the next 4-6 weeks of Spring Training which bumps right up against Opening Day. But Balfour and his teammates and organization seem confident he will not need to miss any regular season games though that seems very optimistic.
"I'm not even worried about it, to be honest," reliever Jerry Blevins said. "He's a guy who works hard, and if he's true to form, he'll be back very quickly."
"He'll definitely be back in day one," left-hander Travis Blackley said. "The only thing he'll need is some fine-tuning, finding his release points. And he'll just lock it in, like he always does."
"I feel good about getting it done now," Balfour said. "It will allow me to get ready for Game One of the season. I knew the way I was feeling I wouldn't have been able to pitch through it all season."
Manager Bob Melvin noted that the A's planned to lighten Balfour's spring load anyway, because his workload was heavy last year; this means his arm will get some extra rest. "That's a little underlying positive," Melvin said. Should Balfour not be ready to start the season, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle could close games. 
Without the benefit of Spring Training, Balfour is likely to come into the season with weaker control which almost always leads to problems. We believe that Sean Doolittle will ultimately close for the Athletics but in a short term situation such as this Ryan Cook who closed at times in 2012 is probably the first option.

2013 Closer Update: New York Mets

New York Mets
Closer – Bobby Parnell
Next – Frank Francisco
Sleeper – Brandon Lyon
Super-Sleeper – Josh Edgin
Frank Francisco has been shut down with inflammation in his elbow. Francisco did have surgery to remove bone spurs in December. According to and the New York Post, manager Terry Collins has already decided that Bobby Parnell will begin the season as the team's closer. 
“I think [Parnell] is the future,” Collins said. “We keep talking about 2014, [expletive], why not get a head start?”
Parnell could be a long term closer if he can increase his strikeout rate which could easily be better given his stuff and above average swinging strike rate. The extra strikeouts would mean less balls in play and thus fewer balls in play and less BABIP impact and hopefully more consistent results.
Frank Francisco may be out for quite a while longer than supposed considering he has already been replaced as the closer. The New York Post reported Francisco was to be shut down for two weeks. That would seem to leave him enough time to prepare for the regular season. This could just be the excuse that Collins was looking to use as reasoning to bump Francisco from the closer role. 

Thursday, February 07, 2013

2013 Sleeper: Josh Donaldson

Donaldson’s numbers as a major leaguer look mediocre overall. It would be pretty easy for a fantasy owner to overlook a player with a .232/.280/.386 slash in 328 plate appearances. But if you look at Donaldson’s entire history he becomes a bit more interesting. Last season after his 3-for-32 start he was optioned to the minors. He was called up again in May to cover for Yoenis Cespedes’ first DL stint but was, again, rather useless at the plate. He was sent back to the minors in June and stayed there until Brandon Inge went on the disabled list in August.
This is where it gets interesting. He hit a very solid .290/.356/.489 with eight homers, 26 RBI and three steals in 47 games after returning from Triple-A.  Just 27-years old, general manager Billy Beane has declared that Donaldson will be the starter at third base in 2013. While 47 games is just a small sample of Donaldson’s season – his line at AAA Sacramento was .335/.402/.598 with 13 homers and five steals in 234 plate appearances. Donaldson has BABIP issues. Last season in the majors it was just .278 (far below average) and an indication that his poor start to the season was at least to some degree bad luck.
UPSIDE: .280/.350/.450 with 15-20 homers and 5-10 stolen bases.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

2013 Pre-Season Closer Report - National League

National League East

Atlanta Braves
Closer – Craig Kimbrel
Next – Johnny Venters
Sleeper – Jordan Walden
Super-Sleeper – Eric O’Flaherty
The Braves are holding the best closer in the league and one of the best bullpen staffs. Craig Kimbrel is as dominating as they come with a 16.66 K9 in 2012. His continually improving control just makes him look better and better, his BB9 has improved every season to 2.01 in 2012. Johnny Venters was hit a little harder than usual in 2012 but on the surface his indicating stats are mostly unchanged. Although Venters continued to throw in the mid-90s he did see his velocity reduced by around 1MPH. Walden was the closer for the Los Angeles Angels in 2011 and with a solid performance this spring could move ahead of Venters in the closer rankings. Walden throws in the high 90s (though he too saw his velocity reduced a bit in 2012) and strikes out more than a btter per inning but has the type of control that can make managers nervous in the ninth.

Miami Marlins
Closer – Steve Cishek
Next – A.J. Ramos
Sleeper – Ryan Webb
Super-Sleeper – Jose Ceda
Steve Cishek is a favorite to be replaced as closer during the season. He lacks truly dominating stuff and lacks the control to be consistently effective. Ramos has slightly better stuff and slightly better control with less experience in the Major Leagues. However, Ramos has been an effective closer in the minors and should get goods odds as the near-future closer for the Marlins. Ryan Webb is a solid relief pitcher but does not accumulate the strikeouts associated with the closer role.

New York Mets
Closer – Frank Francisco
Next – Bobby Parnell
Sleeper – Jenrry Mejia
Super-Sleeper – Josh Edgin

For now Frank Francisco remains in place as the closer. He is likely much better than his 2012 performance but understandably most owners will be reluctant to put their faith in him. The Mets have reached out to several potential replacements including Roy Oswalt (yes, as a closer), Jose Valverde and Francisco Rodriguez without any success so far. Francisco is likely to begin the season closing for the Mets and will hold the role until the Mets just can not take it any longer. Bobby Parnell is a hot prospect to take over the closer role at some point. Parnell should get more strikeouts than he does with his high 90s stuff and above average swinging strike rate. Without the higher K9 associated with the position he would probably be a mid-tier closer at best.

Philadelphia Phillies
Closer – Jonathan Papelbon
Next – Mike Adams
Sleeper - Phillippe Aumont
Super-Sleeper – Antonio Bastardo

Jonathan Papelbon had another great fantasy season in 2012. There are some warning signs for 2013 that should not eliminate him from your consideration but may convince you not to throw in that extra dollar in your auction or to grab Jason Motte instead. He pitched a career high 70 innings this season, at age 32 this is not as bad as it would be for a younger player but he did see a velocity drop as a result. He also had a career high HR/FB that was largely hidden by a fairly high LOB percentage. The home runs could be a fluke but it could also be a result of the move from Fenway Park To Citizens Bank Park. Papelbon is unlikely to lose his job thanks to his huge contract but his results could start to decline this season.

Washington Nationals
Closer – Rafael Soriano
Next – Drew Storen
Sleeper – Tyler Clippard
Super-Sleeper – Christian Garcia

Some analysts claim that fantasy owners should avoid the Washington Bullpen because of the three potential closers. That seems like bad advice to me. Rafael Soriano is the closer to start the season until he does something to cost him the job. Given his track record no one should be counting on Soriano to fail. Soriano should be one of the better closers in baseball in 2013. Drew Storen certainly has the stuff and I expect him to take a big step up in results this season as far as K9 is concerned. The previous low K9s are likely part of the problem Davey Johnson (an old school manager is there ever was one) had with Storen in the closer role (that and being so inexperienced). Storen's swinging strike rate took a huge step up to 13.3 in 2012 which if it holds up would indicate elite K9 results in his future. Those in long term keeper leagues should pay attention to Christian Garcia. Garcia was a former top prospect of the New York Yankees whose career was nearly ended by a series of Tommy John Surgeries. The Nationals gave him a chance to return as a reliever and he rampaged through their system. His high 90s stuff returned with his hammer curve and solid change. He should be a bullpen factor at some point in 2013.

National League Central

Chicago Cubs
Closer – Carlos Marmol
Next - Kyuji Fujikawa
Sleeper – Alberto Cabrera
Super-Sleeper – Hector Rondon

The Chicago Cubs tried to dump Marmol off on the Los Angeles Angels early in the offseason but it did not work out. They have since declared their support for Marmol as their closer even as they signed his replacement in Kyuji Fujikawa. Fujikawa is not as flashly as Dice-K or Yu Darvish but has been a very effective pitcher in Japan. His name means "Baseball Kid" He was given the name because he was born the day after his father threw a No-Hitter. He has a career 1.77 ERA and 11.8 K9 in 12 seasons. He was once considered to have the most explosive fastball in Japan but his velocity has decreased in his later years. He still throws in the low to mid 90s with good movement on multiple fastballs including an effective splitter and outstanding control. Judging by Patrick Newman's scouting reports he has fallen from Craig Kimbell levels to J.J. Putz levels and that is not so bad.

Cincinnati Reds
Closer – Jonathan Broxton
Next – Sean Marshall
Sleeper – Aroldis Chapman
Super-Sleeper – Jose Arredondo

It would appear that Jonathan Broxton has recovered from years of abuse at the hands of Joe Torre. His strikeout rate and fastball velocity will probably never be what they were again but Broxton has learned to be effective with what he has which is a still a nice low to mid 90s fastball. As long as his control is there he should be an effective mid-tier closer. Only the return of Aroldis Chapman to the bullpen would force an effective Broxton from the closer role.

Milwaukee Brewers
Closer – John Axford
Next – Jim Henderson
Sleeper – Burke Badenhop
Super-Sleeper – Mike Gonzalez

Throwing in the mid to high 90s will earn you a lot of forgiveness from crotchety baseball managers. However, Axford needs to get his stuff under control or he will become a highly paid middle reliever. The good news is that his absurd 19.2 percent HR/FB rate is extremely unlikely to be repeated. Jim Henderson is old for a rookie but his minor league experience is not so different from Axford's. Henderson throws in the mid-90s and has inconsistent control. Burke Badenhop doesn't have typical closer stuff. He throws in the high 80s usually but with excellent control. He is probably the best pitcher in the bullpen but finesse types tend to have a tough time convincing managers they can do the job and fantasy managers prefer strikeouts.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Closer – Jason Grilli
Next – Mark Melancon
Sleeper – Jared Hughes
Super-Sleeper – Tony Watson

Jason Grilli is not very different from the departed Joel Hanrahan but he comes a tiny bit cheaper. Grilli has low to mid 90s strikeout stuff with mediocre control. He has improved considerably the last couple of seasons mostly by improving from weak control of his fastball to the mediocre or decent control he has now. Marc Melancon can also close in a pinch but Grilli should get an extended opportunity and as long as his control holds he should be secure in the role. Melancon has similar stuff with fewer strikeouts but more consistent control. Melancon probably won't take the role in anything less than a full blown collapse by Grilli but he should receive the occasional save chance.

St. Louis Cardinals
Closer – Jason Motte
Next – Edward Mujica
Sleeper – Mitchell Boggs
Super-Sleeper – Fernando Salas

Jason Motte has been drafted as a top 4-5 closer in many early leagues. He gives his owners more innings than the typical closer thanks to his frequent use in the eighth inning. He throws in the high 90s with excellent control and an improving swinging strike rate and K9 rate. He is as locked into the role as any closer can be these days. His manager seems to have a great deal of faith in him and he has delivered nearly every time.

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks
Closer – J.J. Putz
Next – David Hernandez
Sleeper – Heath Bell
Super-Sleeper – Brad Ziegler

To some J.J. Putz still has a reputation as injury prone but that really should be considered a thing of the past if at all. Put has good stuff and has a nice strikeout rate and very good control. Putz should be as solid a pick as they come but former closer Heath Bell is certainly a huge presence in the Diamondbacks bullpen despite the announcement that he would typically be pitching in the seventh inning. There is also David Hernandez. Hernandez has improved quite a bit since joining the Diamondbacks (from the Orioles). He has gained nice control over his mid-90s stuff and has a rising swinging strike rate that lends hope that his gains in K9 in 2012 could stick around.

Colorado Rockies
Closer – Rafael Betancourt
Next – Rex Brothers
Sleeper – Wilton Lopez
Super-Sleeper – Matt Belisle

Rafael Betancourt should have been a closer years ago but bad results in very small samples always ruined his chances. In 2012 Betancourt finally finished a season as a team's closer and is a lock to start the 2013 season as the closer as well. Betancourt has an excellent low-90s fastball with an excellent change-up and outstanding control. Rex Brothers is the closer of the future but he'll need some time to get his mid-90s fastball under better control. Brothers also has an excellent slider and a solid change-up. Wilton Lopez is in the Rockies bullpen now thanks to an Astros/Phillies trade un-done thanks to a problem with an examination of Lopez's elbow. Lopez is an extreme groundball pitcher with excellent control and a decent (but not ideal for fantasy) strikeout rate. If Lopez is healthy he should be an excellent contributor to the Rockies pen and a potential closer in a pinch.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Closer – Brandon League
Next – Kenley Jansen
Sleeper – Javy Guerra
Super-Sleeper – Ronald Belisario

The Dodgers seem to start every season with a new closer. Brandon League has pretty good stuff but has been plagued with inconsistent control his entire career. The Dodgers acquired him from the Seattle Mariners where he was having a tough season. The Dodgers helped him make an adjustment to his mechanics and League finished the season well and the Dodgers rewarded him with a three-year contract. His control is unlikely to ever be great but when he is going well he induces a ton of ground balls and is a solid relief pitcher but not many fantasy owners idea of a closer. The Dodgers have declared that League will be their closer to open the season. Kenley Jansen who was considered the Dodgers future closer last year has been reduced to next-in-line again thanks to an unfortunate problem with his heart that required surgery. Jansen is expected to be completely prepared to pitch in 2013 but the Dodgers seem understandably shy about putting too much pressure on him.

San Diego Padres
Closer – Huston Street
Next – Brad Brach
Sleeper – Luke Gregerson
Super-Sleeper – Dale Thayer

The Padres have a loaded bullpen led by closer Huston Street. Street gets the strikeouts and has excellent control. Petco Park tends to contain the long fly balls. Street is not the most durable pitcher in the league but he is very effective when healthy. Street owners should consider investing in the key members of the Padres bullpen as insurance. Luke Gregerson is probably the short term replacement when Street is unavailable but I like Brad Brach as the longer term closer. Gregerson's pitches in the high 80s and though he has a nicely above average swinging strike rate he does not put up the strikeout totals that would indicate. Brach pitches in the low 90's with his fastball and should have very nice strikeout totals for a middle reliever. His control needs work but was excellent coming through the minors.

San Francisco Giants
Closer – Sergio Romo
Next – Javier Lopez
Sleeper – Heath Hembree
Super-Sleeper – Jeremy Affeldt

Sergio Romo lives by his slider. He has a high 80s fastball with nice movement but does not use it much. He gets the strikeouts that owners expect from their closers and he complements them with excellent control. The Giants are calling their closer a collective effort of the entire pen but Romo should get the bulk of saves. Heath Hembree has yet to make his Major League debut but has owned the closer of the future label.Hembree did not have a great 2012 season but is essentially ready to be tested by the big leagues.