Just about every fantasy baseball league includes saves as a stat under its scoring system. Unlike positions like outfield, which is very deep, there can be only 30 closers, but not all of them are viable enough to cut it. With a group of maybe 15 or 20 viable pitchers, closer is a highly sought after position, which leads to the overvaluation of guys who will pitch 70 innings in a year in the pursuit of one stat: the save. Despite a smaller workload than starter pitchers, closers are expected to contribute towards more than one stat. To keep from blowing games, a real closer is expected to rack up the strikeout numbers and keep a very low ERA, which really makes a closer a two-and-a-half-tool pitcher (2.5 because they contribute in saves and ERA, but in total K numbers they won't have that big of an impact). Because of their scarcity and perceived value, everyone likes to keep track of every team's closer situation to locate potential breakouts and any viable source of saves.
But what about holds? Set-up relievers are just as important, for without the hold there can be no save. To overcome to scarcity of closing pitchers, many leagues incorporate the holds stat to give everyone a fighting chance at having a top-notch group of relief pitching. However, most of your true contenders will have more than one set-up guy, and when a closer needs a day off, is injured, or is traded, the team's top set-up pitcher on the pecking order will be used as the closer. Do you know every team's late-inning pecking order? Have you heard of Luke Gregerson, Sergio Romo, Clay Hensley, or Tyler Clippard? If you're just a casual fan, probably not. But if you are looking for guys who can help you out with a low ERA and gaudy strikeout numbers with holds and/or potential for saves, look no further. Below you will find every team's most important relievers organized to help you keep on top of the ball and dominate your fantasy league.
Arizona DiamondbacksPitchers you should know: J.J Putz, David Hernandez, Juan Gutierrez
Because he is the most talented and most experienced guy in Arizona's bullpen, Putz has a stranglehold on the closer role and will have to be downright abysmal to let go of it. Hernandez is a young kid with a good fastball and Gutierrez was closer for some time last season before pitching his way out of the role. In case of injury to Putz, Hernandez, the primary set-up man, is lurking while Gutierrez may see some action in the closer role in Arizona's worst-case scenario.
Atlanta BravesPitchers you should know: Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, George Sherrill
With minor league strikeout numbers that were simply unreal, Kimbrel is probably the front runner to be closing games for Atlanta. Still, manager Fredi Gonzalez hints that he will likely platoon Kimbrel and Venters at closer since both are dominant relievers. With no disrespect to Venters, Kimbrel will likely wrestle the job away for his own by the end of the year. In case one or both regress or battle injuries, George Sherrill, who has experience in the ninth-inning gig, may get his shot to redeem himself after a miserable flameout with the Dodgers.
Baltimore OriolesPitchers you should know: Kevin Gregg, Koji Uehara, Mike Gonzalez
With experience and success as both a closer and a pitcher in the tough AL East, the closer job is Gregg's to lose. Still, if he struggles, is hurt, or is traded, Uehara should be able to step in and get the job done. He got to see some action in the ninth inning last year and was an under-the-radar success for the Orioles, who chose to make Uehara their primary set-up guy.
Boston Red SoxPitchers you should know: Jonathan Papelbon, Dan Bard, Bobby Jenks
Papelbon, who is a free agent after the season, may be traded by July 31. If he struggles again like last year, or if he is sent packing, Dan Bard is the successor to the closer role. In case Bard's dominance doesn't transition well to the ninth inning, Bobby Jenks is waiting in the wings as well. He has lots of closing experience from Chicago, and with an elite defense behind him, Jenks will see drastic improvements in his ERA and WHIP numbers this year.
Chicago CubsPitchers you should know: Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall
Marmol has a very safe job as closer for the Cubbies, but after rediscovering his game following a trade from Cleveland last summer, Kerry Wood makes for a steady source of holds. Sean Marshall has established himself as the team's lefty-set-up man, and will likely finish with better strikeout and ERA numbers than Wood but with less opportunities for holds.
Chicago White SoxPitchers you should know: Matt Thornton, Chris Sale
Thornton and Sale may have been battling for closer, but I think it was more of a formality. Thornton has solidified himself as a reliable cog in Chicago's bullpen while Sale has just one year under his belt. As good of a year as Sale had last year, he's going to have to wait his turn to get his crack at the closer role. Thornton isn't likely to fall on his face, so plan on him getting the saves.
Cincinnati RedsPitchers you should know: Francisco Cordero, Aroldis Chapman
By now Cordero is a stranger to no one, however last year his performance slipped a little bit so the biggest factor in his closer job may just be his lucrative contract. Aroldis Chapman, who is/was being developed as a starter, went from being average to lights-out in his transition from starting rotation to bullpen last season, and to keep his arm from wearing down they may experiment with him as a reliever in the long run. Don't be too surprised if Chapman overtakes Cordero sooner or later.
Cleveland IndiansPitchers you should know: Chris Perez, Rafael Perez
After 23 saves and a sparkling 1.71 ERA last year, Chris Perez has guaranteed himself the Indians' closer role. Even taking slight regression in his peripheral stats into account, Perez looks like a possible breakout candidate at closer. If he doesn't pitch like a young Mariano Rivera, but still has really good numbers, the lack of media coverage he'll receive in Cleveland may/should help keep him under the radar. Rafael Perez, despite being a guy who tries to pitch away from contact who gets hit a lot anyways, looks like the other Perez' top set-up guy. Most of Cleveland's other options for the late innings are even less viable than Rafael Perez, who should go unowned in all formats barring a career year.
Colorado RockiesPitchers you should know: Huston Street, Matt Lindstrom, Rafael Betancourt
Street's prior success and $7.5 million salary virtually guarantees he'll be closing all year, but because Street is injury prone, the question isn't if he will be injured, but when and how serious. Lindstrom has closing experience, but Betancourt has better stuff. Unfortunately for Betancourt, manager Jim Tracy prefers him in a set up role. Both Lindstrom and Betancourt will be reliable sources of K's and holds, but if/when Street goes down there is definite saves potential as well.
Detroit TigersPitchers you should know: Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, Ryan Perry
Injuries and second half struggles ended up overshadowing Valverde's flawless first half to 2010, and free agent addition Joaquin Benoit is lurking to try and yank the closer role out from under the veteran Valverde's feet. Should both Valverde and Benoit fail or succumb to injury, 23-year old Ryan Perry has great stuff and should excel in the ninth inning.
Florida MarlinsPitchers you should know: Leo Nunez, Clay Hensley, Ryan Webb
For the third consecutive season, mostly because of a lack of relief depth, the Marlins will be rolling with the inconsistent Leo Nunez at closer. He has shown flashes, and he is definitely most talented than most other guys in the Marlins bullpen. Clay Hensley was phenomenal last year, but as a reclamation project the Marlins will probably want to see if he can continue his success from last year. If he does, and/or if Nunez struggles, Hensley is chomping at the bit to take over the ninth inning role.
Houston AstrosPitchers you should know: Brandon Lyon
After trading Matt Lindstrom, the Astros don't even have anyone to push Lyon for the ninth inning. With no clear-cut late inning guys aside from Lyon who look to be useful fantasy contributors, the Astros' 'pen leaves much to be desired.
Kansas City RoyalsPitchers you should know: Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejeda
With no desire to be traded, Joakim Soria isn't going anywhere and will likely be slamming the door for KC for years to come. Soria is as dominant as they come at closer and his job couldn't be any safer. Tejeda won't be pushing Soria for saves, but should contribute nicely in ERA, strikeouts, and holds.
LA AngelsPitchers you should know: Fernando Rodney, Scott Downs, Jordan Walden
Despite being a complete liability, Fernando Rodney continues to get chances to close. Because of his already low and decreasing strikeout rate, increasing walk rate, and consistently high WHIP, Rodney will most likely not be closing at the end of the year. Scott Downs will probably have another great year, but he is best suited to pitch the 7th or 8th inning, and Jordan Walden is a dark horse candidate to close. Keep an eye on him.
LA DodgersPitchers you should know: Jon Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Kenley Jansen
Broxton is getting another shot at the ninth inning this year, but if he has another meltdown...his time as closer for the Dodgers is likely over. Because of his significant injury history, the Dodgers like to protect Kuo from a heavy workload, which means he will never close for more than short stretches, but he remains a dominant and premier set-up option. Kenley Jansen was terrific last season, and may end up as Broxton's replacement down the road, barring a rebound from LA's incumbent closer.
Milwaukee BrewersPitchers you should know: John Axford, Takashi Saito
Axford, after bursting onto the scene last year, by all accounts has a very safe role. If he were to take a big step back this year or get hurt, the Brewers have a solid fallback guy in Takashi Saito, who brings much needed experience to the Brew-Crew's bullpen.
Minnesota TwinsPitchers you should know: Joe Nathan, Matt Capps
After Tommy John surgery last spring, Nathan is looking to come back to his role as the Twins' closer this year. Because of his hefty contract he will likely get the first crack at getting his job back, but should he miss a beat because of the readjustment period that comes with TJ surgery, the Twins probably won't have a problem plugging Matt Capps into the ninth inning role.
NY MetsPitchers you should know: Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell
Despite his off-field woes last year, K-Rod returns to the Mets with his closer gig practically etched in stone. Parnell is good for a low ERA and holds, though he may not yield much in the way of strikeouts. There's also the possibility of Parnell being converted to starting, which would take away one of New York's better late inning options.
NY YankeesPitchers you should know: Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson
There's nothing left to be said about Rivera, he's simply the best, hands down. His primary set-up man, an elite source of strikeouts, ERA, and strikeouts at this position, Rafael Soriano, is arguably one of the best set-up guys in the game, if not the best. Those two will be a truly fearsome two-headed late inning monster, but Rivera's age provides some light at the end of the tunnel. David Robertson is a gifted young hurler, but may not see many opportunities to prove himself in high-pressure situations. With Soriano and Rivera in the fold, that's not surprising.
Oakland A'sPitchers you should know: Andrew Bailey, Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour
Bailey is easily the most talented and best suited to be closer when healthy, but that's the problem. After undergoing shoulder surgery, the A's are not likely to rush Bailey back into action, which means Fuentes should see most early-season save opportunities to let the younger Bailey come back at a reasonable pace. Fuentes, better suited to be a lefty specialist, may yield a lot of save chances to Balfour while Bailey is sidelined, so monitor the situation closely if you need to dig deep for saves. This may be your gold mine.
Philadelphia PhilliesPitchers you should know: Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson
Both Lidge and Madson are prone to being wildly inconsistent. They will either be pitching like some of the best guys in the game or some of the worst; rarely do they show an in-between. If you need to rely on Lidge for saves or Madson for holds, have a viable backup plan ready to go in case either struggles. It's not too far fetched.
Pittsburgh PiratesPitchers you should know: Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek
Hanrahan has the closer job—for now. His experience and strikeout numbers were key in helping him win the job, but this is not the last we will hear from Evan Meek. It is not out of the question that Hanrahan becomes trade bait by July, allowing Meek to step in to the closer role and show what he can do. Either way, both Hanrahan and Meek are talented, underrated pitchers who should far outperform their draft position.
St. Louis CardinalsPitchers you should know: Ryan Franklin, Jason Motte
Ryan Franklin is not the most sound option for the ninth inning, and Motte has been regarded as the teams' closer of the future for some time now. 2011 is Motte's chance to snatch the job, because the Cards don't have the financial flexibility to find a closer from outside the organization. Because Franklin is an experienced pitcher, Motte will have to pitch his way into the role, and/or Franklin may have to pitch his way out of it. But stranger things have happened.
San Diego PadresPitchers you should know: Heath Bell, Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams
Most teams have one really good closer and one really good set-up man. San Diego has one top-notch closer and two top-notch set-up men to go with him. Bell is obviously one of the top 5, maybe top 3 fantasy closers, and both Gregerson and Adams are worth owning for holds. Each pitcher is good for 20+ holds, gaudy strikeout numbers, and low ERA's. Bell, Gregerson, and Adams may just be the most dominant three-headed beast of any bullpen in baseball.
San Francisco GiantsPitchers you should know: Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo
Wilson has established himself as one of the best (and most awesome) closers in the game, and there's not much more to be said about him. Sergio Romo, his much less talked about set-up man, is very underrated. Despite being a fly-ball pitcher, Romo can offer a big boost to your ERA and strikeouts, especially in NL-only formats. If your league scores holds, Romo is one of the steadiest sources of these out there.
Seattle MarinersPitchers you should know: David Aardsma, Brandon League, Dan Cortes
Aardsma won't debut until late April or even mid-May following offseason hip surgery, which is too bad because of his dominant stretch from June-September 2010. Until Aarsma gets going and is ready to come back, League will be closing games, while the hard-throwing Danny Cortes should see some late inning action as well. Despite inconsistency and off-field issues, Cortes has a good slider and a fastball that can touch 99 MPH, so the cellar-dwelling Mariners have to give him a look before dismissing him.
Tampa Bay RaysPitchers you should know: Jake McGee, Kyle Farnsworth
McGee deserves to be Tampa's closer because he is easily their most talented candidate. The problem is that he is young and has virtually no big league experience under his belt. Farnsworth is making a serious push for the closer gig because of his experienced track record, but expect McGee to pitch himself into the ninth inning role by the second half of the season.
Texas RangersPitchers you should know: Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando
With Feliz seemingly headed to the starting rotation, don't draft him with plans to be a source of saves. However, his situation is still fuzzy and he may end up in the ninth inning after all. Only time will tell for sure. On the other hand, Alexi Ogando is another youngster with electric stuff who could step in to the ninth inning. Ogando, who generates a bunch of strikeouts and ground balls with his 97 MPH slider, is likely to take a role in the 8th or 9th inning after the departure of reliever Frank Francisco.
Toronto Blue JaysPitchers you should know: Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel
Frank Francisco is going to be closing for Toronto heading into the season, and this could go either way. Francisco has been pretty inconsistent over the years, so it's not unrealistic to envision him being unseated by Rauch or Dotel, both of whom also have closing experience. Rauch really excelled in the ninth inning for Minnesota last year, so the Jays won't hesitate to give him a chance if Francisco's not working.
Washington NationalsPitchers you should know: Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett
Storen has been groomed as a closer since day one, so the ninth inning is his to lose. Both Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett offer great potential for strikeouts, holds, ERA, and situational saves. Last year, Clippard was even a useful player in the Wins category, a very rare occurrence for a set-up pitcher. He likely won't ever sniff double digit wins again, but Clippard is still one of the better set-up options out there.