Early bullpen shakeups bring drastic changes to closer rankings
Craig Kimbrel is No. 1, but he's joined in the top 10 by out-of-nowhere names
Carlos Zambrano, Shaun Marcum and Matt Moore are solid two-start options
Daniel Bard, Jake Arrieta and Aaron Harang are best to avoid using next week
You hear that? Yeah, me neither. It is the sound, or the silence, of Closer Gate 2012. It seems the roller-coaster first weeks' dust might have finally settled at the unsettled position. (Knocking on wood, not the retired Kerry Wood.)
Naturally, after Aroldis Chapman has taken his rightful place at the closer's throne in Cincy and Kenley Jansen and Addison Reed are in the stopper roles where they belong -- perhaps for years -- we have to sort through the wreckage. Fernando Rodney and Jim Johnson cannot possibly be the best closers in fantasy, although their numbers to date say otherwise.
Rodney and Johnson just haven't had their market corrections (read: implosions) yet. They will come and knock them down a peg, or 10.
We take a breath -- like the anxious one baseball's managers take every time to go to the bullpen -- cross our fingers it doesn't change drastically yet again (it certainly will) and re-rank the closers of fantasy baseball for the rest of the season.
Things look different almost all the way through, most notably with Chapman near the top. Heck, he can make a case for No. 1, if not for some uncertainty with manager Dusty Baker on his usage. Only the Braves' Craig Kimbrel and the Phillies' Jonathan Papelbon have held their elite value. Chapman, Jansen, the Giants' Santiago Casilla and the Yankees' Rafael Soriano (for now) are top-10 fantasy options.
Even if all these closers pitch perfectly -- yeah, right, dream on -- we are still going to see some significant adjustments in the closer landscape.
With a few more weeks of steadiness, previously struggling John Axford, Heath Bell and Jose Valverde can return to their once lofty status. Then, over the next couple of months, Drew Storen (elbow), Sergio Santos (shoulder), David Robertson (ribs), Huston Street (lat), Andrew Bailey (thumb), Kyle Farnsworth (elbow), Carlos Marmol (hamstring) and even Brad Lidge (abdomen) can come off the DL to strengthen the position's depth, yet complicate things for fantasy owners.
It is not an easy science, this closer roulette, but it at least seems to be calming down and making something a tad closer to making sense.
Here is how we would rank the top 40 relievers in fantasy right now (with their preseason rank in the right-hand column):
Now, to next week's starters ...
1. Carlos Zambrano, Marlins (61 percent active) -- After a remarkable run of quality starts, Big Z pitched like his 2011 self last time out. We should fully expect him to come through in divisional play next week (Nationals and Phillies).
2. Shaun Marcum, Brewers (58 percent active) -- He had his worst outing of the season, but fantasy owners shouldn't really be worried about this steady veteran arm. After facing the Dodgers early in the week, he gets the Pirates on the weekend.
3. Matt Moore, Rays (47 percent active) -- He has been a frustrating first-year starter thus far, but the strikeout numbers are good. Stick with him.
4. Matt Harrison, Rangers (42 percent active) -- He has had some rough starts this season, but the Mariners and Angels (despite a mild Albert Pujols awakening) should not scare you off Harrison.
5. Trevor Cahill, Diamondbacks (41 percent active) -- He hasn't been a worldbeater with his new team yet, but the Giants and Padres in two very good pitcher parks has the makings of a great week.
1. Daniel Bard, Red Sox (45 percent owned) -- The transition to the rotation hasn't gone that poorly for Bard, but the numbers suggest he is not right. He is walking a lot of batters and surprisingly has stopped striking them out, too. His strikeout-to-walk ratio in his past four starts is a ghastly 8-to-17.
2. Jake Arrieta, Orioles (45 percent owned) -- You are justified liking Arrieta as a sleeper, perhaps, but he has had some stinkers of late. Facing the Blue Jays and Rays on the road might not be a great time to use him in mixed formats.
3. Aaron Harang, Dodgers (34 percent owned) -- He has had some great outings for fantasy owners this season, but he is coming off his worst start and faces a pair of teams (Brewers, Rockies) that aren't going well, but they have some thumpers that are due.
4. Kevin Millwood, Mariners (seven percent owned) -- We have seen stretches like this from Millwood before. We have also seen him blow up our fantasy teams when we try to trust him. A week that opens with a start at Texas is a bad time to jump on board.
5. Zach McAllister, Indians (six percent owned) -- He hasn't pitched poorly to date, but don't let the lure of the Royals and lowly Twins suck you in. He is still dangerous.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. If you miss his Monday baseball trends, Wednesday prospect report or Friday pitching review, you can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).
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