by Eddie Mayrose

Perhaps nothing in Fantasy Baseball is more uncertain than relief pitching.  Each year, there are closers coming off big seasons that lose their jobs, others whose names you’ve never heard who register 30 saves off of the waiver wire and those tragic few that spend more time on the disabled list than the mound.  Mix in the many different strategies regarding when they should be drafted and the value of set-up man and it’s easy to see why the bullpen causes so much stress to Fantasy Owners.

So, how to evaluate this fickle group; the only one in Roto Baseball that has a category all to themselves.  One, adapted by a few leagues, is to eliminate Saves as a category.  For the rest of us, a reliable system for evaluating closers is as elusive as it is necessary.

Because Saves, like Wins, are dependent on so many factors, they are relatively incidental.  The peripheral stats are also less of a concern, as the WHIP and ERA of a relief pitcher will not overly impact your team’s totals because of the low number of innings thrown.  It comes down, then, to two vital criteria: youth and strikeouts.

Closers seem to have a shelf life; watching their dominance wane after a few seasons. (See Jonathan Papelbon, Brad Lidge and Frankie Rodriguez.) Unless your name is Mariano Rivera, a long dominant career is the exception rather than the rule.  Even Joe Nathan, right at the top of the ratings with Rivera for the better part of the last decade, underwent Tommy John surgery last year and is now making the long climb back.  Which is why its become a credo to populate the roster with young, power closers; the guys who wil likely remain healthy and, regardless of their peripheral numbers, ring up the strikeouts, allowing for some flexibility when piecing together a starting rotation.

With most Fantasy Drafts in the books, here are three guys that will make you very happy to have them on your roster.

Joel Hanrahan- No one thinks that three early Saves will translate into a record season, but Hanrahan does have the potential to anchor your pen.  Too many shy away from relievers on bad teams, thinking that opportunities will be scarce.  Yet, each year, those guys manage to post 25-30 Saves.  With Pittsburgh’s Hanrahan, you’re looking at those numbers with the added bonus of more than 100 K’s.

Craig Kimbrel- Atlanta’s new closer had one of the game’s best K ratios as a set-up man in 2010.  While he’s off to a fast start over the Braves’ first week,there will absolutely be the bumps in the road that plague all youngsters.  Don’t be swayed, though, as his dominance will carry him through.

John Axford- You could almost hear Axford’s bandwagon crash after his blown Save in Milwaukee’s opener. Fact is, even though he got roughed up, a brain cramp by 3B Casey McGehee extended the inning.  Stick with Axford or, better, swoop in and pluck him from an impatient owner.

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