2011 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Relievers

San Francisco Giants Brian Wilson throws the ninth inning against the Texas Rangers in the World Series at AT&T Park in San Francisco on October 27, 2010. The Giants defeated the Rangers 11-7. UPI/Terry Schmitt

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Ah, the fantasy closer. They’ll screw with you just as bad as that hot chick you used to have a thing for back in high school.

Damn she looks good today…No wait, it’s a trick. She’s making me think that I need her to become a winner. Well I don’t. I don’t need her. I’ll just go out with two less attractive girls and I’ll be just fine. Or…yeah, I don’t need any girl! I’m going to punt girls altogether and focus on other things like schoolwork, sports and hanging out with my friends. I don’t need her – I don’t need any of them!..Oh, but look at her. She’s everything I need. She’s way better than two less attractive girls or no girls at all and hey, if she breaks my heart it’s okay. Sure, I would have passed on the two less attractive girls but then I can take on three really, really, really less attractive girls that still might give me what I need in the end. It wouldn’t be so bad…wait, NO! I don’t need her! Stay away from me you freaking serpent woman!

And the cycle continues year after year.

Look, no matter how you want to tackle the conundrum that is the fantasy closer, just make sure you have a plan of attack. If you want to take one of the top guys in the sixth or seventh round, fine. Just know going into your draft whether or not you’re going to invest in saves or take your chances with two or three guys that you select later in your draft. (Or, punt the stat altogether and load up on offense and starters.)

If you want our advice, draft two or three closers in the 12th round and beyond and call it a day. Maybe the combination of Brian Wilson and Huston Street will get you 80 saves, but a trio of Francisco Rodriguez, Leo Nunez and Joel Hanrahan could rack up the same amount and here’s the kicker: you wouldn’t need to invest picks in the seventh and 13th rounds to acquire K-Rod/Nunez/Hanrahan (who can all be had in the 14th round or later).

If you want to take our advice and select closers later in your draft, here are five pitchers to keep an eye on. All of them are projected to go in the 13th round or later in 12-team leagues.

Francisco Rodriguez, Mets
Is he a little whacked? Sure, but who isn’t? Is his stuff the same as it was earlier in this career when he was with the Angels? No, but K-Rod has adapted well by ditching his slider and relying on his fastball and changeup to get hitters out. He’s a 35-save man these days and he’ll chip in 70 strikeouts while keeping his ERA in the 3.20-range and his WHIP below 1.20. As previously mentioned, pair Rodriguez with guys like Leo Nunez and Joel Hanrahan and you’ll be fine. (It’s also comforting to know that this is a contract year for K-Rod and thus, he better be on his best behavior.)

Jose Valverde, Tigers
Elbow injuries in the second half of the year ruined a solid first half for Valverde in 2010. But if he’s healthy and can hold of Joaquin Benoit for the closer job, he should muster 30-plus saves and 60-65 Ks. Just keep an eye on him in spring training. If it looks like he’s having health issues, cross him off your list and move on. There are plenty of other options late in your draft.

John Axford, Brewers
While Trevor Hoffman collapsed last year, Axford came out of nowhere to thrive. He struck out 11.79 batters per nine innings and actually improved bumped that rate to 12.38 after the All-Star Break. His ground ball percentage of 48.1 has us encouraged about his potential in 2011. He certainly doesn’t have the makeup of a traditional closer, but that shouldn’t bother you. It’s probably reasonable to expect 25-30 saves, 80-85 Ks and an ERA around 3.20.

Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers
We think Broxton has major comeback potential this season after imploding in 2010. Will he be one of the top closers in the game again? Maybe not, but at the very least he should a) hold onto his job the entire year and thus, b) greatly improve his production in 2011. After compiling just 22 saves and 73 Ks with a 4.04 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP last year, you can probably expect a line of 32-85-3.40-1.30 from Broxton in 2011.

Joe Nathan, Twins
Nathan’s an interesting case study because some owners will either treat him like the plague or count on him being one of their late-round sleepers. He probably won’t be 100% by the start of the season as he continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery, but the key is that he’s making progress. If you can nab a couple of closers in rounds 12-17, Nathan might be there in 18th and you can shelve him until he’s ready. Then, assuming he returns to full health, you’ll reap the rewards of being patient and planning ahead on draft day.

New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera delivers during the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago on August 29, 2010. The Yankees won 2-1. UPI/Brian Kersey

2011 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Relievers

1. Brian Wilson, Giants
2. Heath Bell, Padres
3. Joakim Soria, Royals
4. Mariano Rivera, Yankees
5. Neftali Feliz, Rangers
6. Carlos Marmol, Cubs
7. Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
8. Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers
9. Francisco Rodriguez, Mets
10. John Axford, Brewers
11. Andrew Bailey, A’s
12. Chris Perez, Indians
13. J.J. Putz, Diamondbacks
14. Jose Valverde, Tigers
15. Huston Street, Rockies
16. Brad Lidge, Phillies
17. Ryan Franklin, Cardinals
18. Drew Storen, Nationals
19. Francisco Cordero, Reds
20. Joe Nathan, Twins
21. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
22. Matt Thornton, White Sox
23. Leo Nunez, Marlins
24. Frank Francisco, Blue Jays
25. Brandon Lyon, Astros
26. Fernando Rodney, Angels
27. Kevin Gregg, Orioles
28. Hong-Chih Kuo, Dodgers
29. Ryan Madson, Phillies
30. Joel Hanrahan, Pirates
31. Chris Sale, White Sox
32. Jake McGee, Rays
33. Evan Meek, Pirates
34. Sergio Romo, Giants
35. Daniel Bard, Red Sox
36. Octavio Dotel, Blue Jays
37. Rafael Soriano, Yankees
38. Luke Gregerson, Padres
39. Rafael Betancourt, Rockies
40. Jonny Venters, Braves

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