Your Early-Season Fantasy Baseball Closer Report

As we open the baseball season, we don’t know who will close in Detroit. The Tigers were not comfortable giving the closer role to fireballing rookie Bruce Rondon after a shaky spring. It was his job to lose, and he did just that. He issued nine walks in just over 12 innings, earning a ticket to Triple-A Toledo. He should be back with the big club at some point, but first he’ll need to find the strike zone, and the Tigers might be best served by giving him a setup role at first. He is a non-factor in Fantasy now, and unless he is named the team’s closer at some point, that won’t change.

Jim Leyland has decided to open the season with our friend, the “closer by committee” (a close relative of the “player to be named later.”). Some combination of Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Al Alburquerque will be called upon in the ninth inning of Tigers games.

The “committee” will come down to the better performer between Alburquerque and Benoit, I believe, with the younger Alburquerque eventually emerging. Coke is both too effective against lefties and too dreadful against righties to be a closer; he’ll settle into a left-handed specialist role. Dotel is just not effective enough to counter the talents of the other bullpen arms.

In his return from elbow surgery last year, the 27-year-old Alburquerque (in just eight games) yielded a high ground ball tendency (63 percent to 26 percent FB percentage), a tiny 0.68 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP.

Benoit, in 73 games last year, had a 3.68 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He’s a good control pitcher, but with a 44 percent FB percentage in 2012 – combined with Alburquerque’s ground ball prowess – makes him a solid set-up option for the club.

Benoit and Alburquerque should both be owned in most Fantasy formats, both for speculative saves and supporting statistics (ERA, WHIP and K totals).

Also of note in major league bullpens:

* Casey Janssen is expected to be ready and at full-strength to close games for the Toronto Blue Jays. Manager John Gibbons expressed confidence that Janssen – returning from off-season shoulder surgery – will be ready for Opening Day. Janssen has hedged his bets, saying his comeback is gradual. But after a strong closing week in spring training, coupled with a struggling Sergio Santos, Janssen should be good to go, though you can expect Santos to earn an occasional save should Janssen be used frequently early on.

* Carlos Marmol failed to close the door for the Cubs on Opening Day. He entered with a 3-0 lead and gave up a run and was pulled when the potential winning run came to the plate. He was typically wild in his one-third of an inning. Set up man Kyuji Fujikawa earned a one-out save in the 3-1 Cubs win over the Pirates. If Fujikawa is available in your league, snatch him up right now. He might be the team’s closer by the end of the week.

* John Axford blew the save for the Brewers on Opening Day. He was mostly sharp, striking out the side, but surrendered a 2-out solo home run to Dexter Fowler. Axford had a down year in 2012, mostly due to bad luck, but blown saves are the easiest way to make managers and fans alike uncomfortable. Axford is solidly the team’s closer, but he’s worth watching closely in the early going.

Photo via CNN