2014 Outlook: Hardly a flamethrower or high-strikeout pitcher during the early stages of his pro career, Salazar succumbed to Tommy John surgery in 2010, and two years later was throwing 95-plus mph thanks to a reworked delivery. He made a huge leap in terms of his strikeout rate in 2013: After posting an 18.1 percent K rate from 2008-12, he whiffed 35.5 percent of the batters he faced in the minors in 2013 and then 30.8 percent in the majors after reaching the Cleveland Indians' rotation in July. Salazar made 10 solid starts for the big club, plus another in their wild-card game, with the strikeouts looking most tantalizing to his fantasy owners. Still, while Salazar's K potential is as good as any young pitcher, the Indians have understandably taken a conservative approach to his workload, which might extend into 2014. He'll probably face an innings cap, meaning any excitement surrounding him should be greater in dynasty/keeper formats. Consider him an intriguing, high-ceiling mid-rounder, but don't let your expectations get the best of you.
2014 Outlook: Street's history is to pitch exceptionally well between trips to the disabled list, and a cursory look at last season's numbers looks to be more of the same. However, things aren't always as they appear. Street's strikeout rate fell rather steeply, and he served up a bunch of homers. On the other hand, his hit rate was miniscule, so the end result was a normal-looking season. Chances are the hit and home run rates normalize, which leaves the issue of a falling whiff rate. Due to injury risk alone, Street is a second-tier closer. Factor in the drop in strikeouts, and he's borderline third tier.
2014 Outlook: Gray was a sensation during a 10-start big league stint for the Oakland Athletics during the final two months-plus last season, and before you discount his numbers by comparing them to his less eye-popping Double- and Triple-A stats, consider this: He spent almost his entire minor league career in extremely hitter-friendly environments. Gray's raw stuff is that of a top-to-mid-rotation starter -- his curveball was outstanding, resulting in 48 of his 79 K's -- and all of his command numbers were spot on to those he exhibited in the minors. He'll have a spot in the A's rotation from the start of 2014, and he'll again call a pitching-friendly venue his home -- for a team that has a good track record of developing young pitchers. And considering he totaled 182 1/3 innings between the minors and majors last year, Gray shouldn't face any conservative workload cap. He's an intriguing bargain bet among middle-round options and a building block for dynasty/keeper owners.
2014 Outlook: Apparently Cishek got the message after watching his closer job being handed over to a committee. Cishek was given another chance and took it to the house. At the time of the demotion, he had allowed 10 runs, resulting in a 4.65 ERA. In the ensuing 50 1/3 innings, he surrendered only eight more runs, for a 1.43 ERA. Allowing only three homers all season (one in that 50 1/3-inning stretch) helped, but it's going to be hard to repeat that this summer. But even allowing for a home run/fly ball percentage correction, Cishek should still spin very good ratios. Then it's just a matter of how many chances the Marlins give him, but remember even the worst teams get opportunities.
2014 Outlook: They say possession is nine-tenths of the law, right? Well, Frieri possesses the Angels' closer job, so he should be expected to garner nine-tenths of the Halos' saves. There's just something uneasy about an extreme fly-ball closer with an elevated walk rate, despite how many he fans. Perhaps the approach is to put on a blindfold, pinch your nose, revel in the strikeouts, take the saves and pray he keeps the ball in the yard.
2014 Outlook: Parnell had his 2013 campaign cut two months short by a herniated disc in his neck, requiring September surgery. Early reports are favorable, but the nature of the procedure is such that the final determination on whether he can perform regularly won't be known until spring training when he starts throwing the ball in game situations. Before being felled in late July, Parnell was in the midst of a fine season, though it was being aided by some good fortune. As an extreme ground-ball pitcher, his total is usually low, but one homer allowed in 50 innings is quite fortuitous, as was a .264 BABIP. Health issues aside, expect a correction to his ERA. Assuming no complications, Parnell should return as closer, but until it's clear he's 100 percent, he's a risk, and should be thought of as a speculative third closer.
Stephania Bell: Persistent problems with a herniated disc in his neck led Parnell to September surgery. He began throwing off a mound mid-February and appears on track to open the season as the closer.
2014 Outlook: Injuries ruined Cueto's 2013 campaign; three times during the year he exited one of his starts early and eventually landed on the disabled list, and that pattern threatens to drop him into the risk/reward class in fantasy. He's one of the most talented pitchers in the game when he's healthy -- he has a 2.61 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over the past three seasons -- but he has made just 68 starts during that time, compared to approximately 100 for a healthy full-timer. In Cueto's defense, he would be an outstanding bargain candidate if we had a guarantee of his health, as he lacks the expected wide home/road split of many Reds pitchers, with a 2.16 ERA and 72.4 quality-start percentage in his home games from 2011-13, compared to 2.98 and 66.7 in his road contests. It's an owner's classic dilemma: How lucky do you feel?
Stephania Bell: Three DL stints in 2013 and mechanical adjustments were all part of Cueto's attempt to get past a significant lat strain. He says he's fine now -- and will continue with a modified delivery -- but until he endures the season, questions exist.
2014 Outlook: Wow. A career-best season in terms of ERA (3.24), quality starts (23) and quality start percentage (71.9) wasn't enough to land Santana a long-term deal before spring training started? Don't take the delay as anything more than teams being hesitant to forfeit a draft pick. Santana was at the top of his game last season, ranking 34th among starting pitchers on our Player Rater. On the strength of his slider, he has managed a sub-4.00 ERA in four of the past six seasons, and in 2013, he balanced his home/road splits, something he had trouble doing during the earlier stages of his career. His new team will have much to say about his fantasy value -- he's not the kind of pitcher who wants to pick a bandbox ballpark as his home -- but there's every reason to think he'll be a back-of-your-staff mixed league type wherever he winds up.
2014 Outlook: Peavy is a great example of why inducing groundballs should not automatically be thought of as a skill. If you limit walks and strike out at least the league average, then the damage inflicted by a gopher ball is minimal. And since a fly ball pitcher generally sports a low WHIP, fantasy-wise, a potentially bloated ERA doesn't hurt so much. The key is keeping the ball in the yard, and in albeit a small sample, Peavy was able to do just that after being dealt to Boston. And since Fenway Park is fairly resistant to homers, there's a good chance Peavy will carry that into 2014. Now the question is health. Peavy is at minimum a spot-starter in most fantasy rotations, just be ready to fill his spot elsewhere in the event of injury.
2014 Outlook: The good news is Soriano's walk rate is trending in the right direction. Unfortunately, the tradeoff is fewer strikeouts. Of course, the most important aspect of a closer is saves, and Soriano has topped 40 for two straight seasons. Soriano's track record and job security put him in the top 20. His low strikeout total and volatile ratios push him toward the back end.
2014 Outlook: Give Masterson credit for his solid 2013 season: Despite facing a greater number of left-handed batters -- that historically has been his weaker side to face -- he was considerably more successful against them, with their .698 OPS against him marking a career low. Skills-wise, Masterson's fastball-slider-sinker combo hasn't been as effective against lefties over the course of his career, but greater reliance on his slider made much of the difference. That bodes well for his 2014 campaign, which happens to be a contract year for him, though bear in mind that he has a history of being closer to a matchups than every-start type. In fact, of his 10 worst starts, going by Bill James' Game Score, four were against top-six offenses (using wOBA), and two others were at hitting-friendly venues Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards. You'll want to mix and match if you're afforded the luxury, but Masterson is worth the look in AL-only leagues or as you fill out a mixed-league staff.
2014 Outlook: Straily's peripherals are OK, nothing great. In fact they basically define league average. But so long as your league uses more than half the available players, he has a place on a roster. Then it becomes a matter of upside and growth and that's where the glass is half full. His floor is high, aided by a favorable park, with another level or two before he reaches the ceiling. Therefore, there's decent upside without the risk of Straily killing your ratios.
2014 Outlook: Only two pitchers totaled more than Rodney's 85 saves the past two seasons combined: Jim Johnson (101) and Craig Kimbrel (92). Keep that in mind if you worry about his lengthy wait before landing a closer job with the Seattle Mariners in February or his more than 2 1/2-run increase in ERA in 2013, as $14 million does a lot to convince a team to keep dishing out save chances. Rodney's step backward was the product of his walk rate returning to pre-2012 levels, although he kept the high strikeout and ground ball rates that fueled his late-inning success. He is not the WHIP source he was during his sensational 2012, but he's plenty capable of 30-plus saves, and that alone will propel him into the lower tiers of AL-only and deep-mixed closers.
2014 Outlook: More often than not, parsing stats is more narrative than tangible cause and effect, but Liriano's home numbers last season are too extreme to ignore. He sported a home ERA of 1.47 as compared to 4.33 on the road. The thing is, his strikeout and walk rates in and out of PNC Park were similar, with the small increase in road walks nowhere near enough to account for the huge ERA gap. The reason for that was extreme good fortune as demonstrated by a .231 BABIP and 3.7 percent home run/fly ball rate at home, both significantly below league average. Some correction at home has to be anticipated, which puts him with a line better than his road numbers, but considerably worse than 2013 as a whole.
2014 Outlook: It took three winter months for us to get definitive word that Burnett planned to return for a 16th major league season in 2014 -- he was long rumored to be considering retirement -- and another couple weeks after that for him to choose his 2014 team, the Philadelphia Phillies. Under the tutelage of Ray Searage in Pittsburgh, Burnett enjoyed his best single-year strikeout rate (26.1 percent) in 2013, and he had a 3.41 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in his two years as a Pirate, reviving a career that previously was slipping away from him. In Philadelphia, Burnett moves to a more hitting-friendly environment, and one that might not result in the kind of win potential he enjoyed in Pittsburgh. He's a capable matchups candidate in mixed leagues, and a middle-of-your-staff option in NL-only.