Chasing saves is a fact of life for any hardcore 5x5 gamer, and today we're going to examine a pair of closing options that you can land in the middle of your draft. Jonathan Broxton(notes) ruled the world in 2009 before losing his way last season. John Axford(notes) was one of the waiver-wire heroes of 2010, pushing Trevor Hoffman(notes) into irrelevance then retirement (we assume the Young Brothers sent a nice gift). Who's your stat-grabbing friend for 2011? Andy Behrens and Scott Pianowski have a difference of opinion.
Behrens to Open: The nice thing about this reliever pairing, at least for me, is that I tend to enter the bidding for saves when these two are at the top of the board. As I write this, Axford's Mock Draft Central ADP is 185.7 and Broxton's is 216.2, and both pitchers are going for less than $6 in an average Yahoo! auction. The prices are friendly. This debate shouldn't devolve into an ADP comparison.
I won't spend much effort trashing Axford here, because I like him just fine. The K-rate is solid, the mustache is solid, the fantasy ratios are solid. There's nothing to complain about, really. Command was a serious problem for Axford in the minors (6.0 career BB/9), so you worry a bit about him losing the strike zone, and thus his grip on the ninth. Still, he's a useful addition to a fake bullpen.
The reason I prefer the 26-year-old Broxton in this clash is that his fantasy ceiling is higher. (The floor is basically the same for all relievers: Job loss, public humiliation). He's just one year removed from a best-in-class season, striking out 114 batters over 76 innings, saving 36 games and posting a 0.96 WHIP. I don't think Axford has that sort of season in him — and that's not an insult. Few relievers are capable of producing the stats Broxton delivered in '09.
We all know Broxton lost his way in the second half last year, largely due to a catastrophic loss of control. (Splits here). But he still has his health, he has his manager's trust, he has his velocity — the radar readings in 2010 compare favorably to '07 — and, most importantly, he still has the closer's job.
Pianow to Close: Ceiling is the wrong word to use with a fantasy closer. Sure, we'd like as many strikeouts as we can get, a win here or there is nice, and please help our ratios while you're on the mound. But what we're really hoping for with any early or mid-round closer selection is a full season of save-grabbing. Floor rules the day at this position, because when closers get booted out of the ninth inning, they're no longer doing anything to help us. They're worthless.
Who's got the longer leash in this matchup? We can only speculate; the Dodgers and Brewers both changed managers, so neither stopper has any goodwill built up. But Axford is the man coming off a smooth season (while Broxton had a nightmare), and Axford doesn't have an obvious threat behind him in the bullpen (Broxton has to fear Hong-Chih Kuo(notes), who's coming off a nasty 1.20/0.78 campaign).
It's tricky comparing the career paths of the pitchers since Axford has essentially just one MLB season, but let's note a few things. Axford's strikeout rate is a wash with Broxton's career number. Their WHIPs are just about even. Axford is harder to take out of the park. We're not comparing Goose Gossage to Doug Jones here.
At the end of the day, you're betting on Axford to keep a good thing going or Broxton to take a sad song and make it better (dude, where's my velocity?). I'll side with the guy we could trust last year, I'll side with the midwestern option, I'll side with the man who understands the facial-hair requirement for the ninth. Fill in your own cheesy Axman pun in the comments.
Images courtesy Associated Press