03/23/10 8:00 AM ET
Fantasy draft tiers: Relievers
Quality bullpen can tilt balance in key categories
By Matt Chaprales / MLB.com
It's impossible to overstate the importance of constructing a solid bullpen, especially in head-to-head formats where stats reset on a weekly basis.
Closers obviously deliver saves and setup men provide holds in leagues that count the category, but quality relievers also can tilt the balance in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts.
Loading up on dominant relief arms also helps to make up for injuries or shortcomings in your rotation.
What distinguishes these three firemen from the masses is not their ability to rack up saves, but how surgical they are in fulfilling their duties. All are capable of holding the opposition to a sub-.200 batting average, and while Broxton lacks the control of the others, he makes up for it with more strikeouts than any other reliever. Price tags on these superstars are always high on draft day, but their individual dominance can affect entire fantasy staffs.
Frankie had an up and down 2009 campaign, as he was forced to make do without the high-octane heater he once possessed. Bell seamlessly transitioned from the role of setup man to closer, which is why he enters the 2010 season as a legitimate Tier 2 fireman. That said, Soria remains the gem of the trio thanks to his career 0.97 WHIP and .190 batting average against.
Most of the guys in this group know how to get the job done with relative consistency, which is a key component to drafting a closer. Valverde could come at a bargain rate after a calf injury limited his time on the mound last year. Marmol and Bailey aren't proven options, but both have the potential to ascend to elite status.
Any solid bullpen must contain at least a pair of dependable closers. Owners who abstain from drafting a fireman long enough to see the guys on this list highlighting the best of what's remaining will want to snag at least one of them. The dropoff in consistency is steep after this group.
Because a few implosions from a closer can be quite injurious to a fantasy staff, Lidge is an extremely high-risk investment. The Phillies closer struggled mightily in 2009 after a stellar 2008 campaign in which he converted every one of his save opportunities, and his unpredictability going forward is a deterrent. Drafting Francisco also has its risks; he's known to get lit up on occasion but is nonetheless a safer play than Lidge.
If consistency is a determining factor in choosing a closer (it is), then the guys on this list should be considered ancillary contributors in standard mixed leagues. All come with varying amounts of baggage, as all suffered through some subpar stretches over the last few years. Buyer beware.
In addition to containing at least two capable firemen, a strong bullpen can be helped by the addition of an overpowering setup man. These guys not only supply holds in leagues that count the category, they also stand as likely candidates to step up and fill in at closer if needed. It's unclear who Toronto's main ninth-inning guy will be, so keep a close eye on the situation in Spring Training to see if Gregg, Frasor or Downs emerges. Also, don't let Wood fall under the radar, as he could prove to be a shrewd late-round pick if your league allows a DL slot.
Tier 8: Neftali Feliz, Michael Wuertz, Phil Hughes, J.J. Putz, Matt Guerrier, Hideki Okajima, Takashi Saito, Daniel Bard, Fernando Rodney, Joel Hanrahan, Matt Lindstrom, Juan Gutierrez, Peter Moylan, Brian Bruney, George Sherrill
Depth in the bullpen is important, and the acquisition of at least one of these setup men -- be it in the final rounds of the draft or via the waiver wire -- could provide owners with a few bonus saves, strikeouts, strong ratios and sometimes all of the above.
Matt Chaprales is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.