A closer look at the best free-agent closers

There are a number of quality back-end relief pitcher on the free-agent market this offseason, and a number of teams are expected to have heavy interest.

Here's a look at the cream of the crop, the best three closers available.

Heath Bell

Lowest Strikeout Rate, 2011 Closers with 30+ Saves

Even if Heath Bell stays in San Diego and pitcher-friendly Petco Park, as expected, there are signs his future performance may not match that of his past performance.

Bell struck out just 19.9 percent of the batters he faced in 2011, his lowest rate in eight career seasons. That strikeout rate ranked just 85th among 144 qualified relievers (minimum 200 batters faced), and only three of the 19 closers with at least 30 saves had a lower strikeout rate than Bell.

Besides missing fewer bats than ever, Bell also benefited from some good fortune on balls in play. His BA on balls in play was .269 in 2011, a number that’s likely to regress back toward his career mark of .307 next season.

Ryan Madson

MadsonRyan Madson

Ryan Madson has been one of the elite setup men in baseball for years, but after getting his first full-time shot to close in 2011, he seems poised to cash in as a free agent. Madson is a rare late-inning reliever who has the ability to miss bats and get ground balls.

He was one of only four right-handed relievers in 2011 (minimum 40 innings pitched) who struck out at least 25 percent of the batters he faced and got a ground ball on over half the balls in play.

Lowest xFIP Last Season
Among Relievers With 50 or More IP

xFIP: ERA estimator based on a pitcher's K rate, BB rate and HR/fly ball ratio

Jonathan Papelbon

Jonathan Papelbon is set to hit the free agent market coming off one of the best seasons of his career.

The right-hander had both the second-highest strikeout rate (34.1) and second-lowest walk rate (3.9) of his career in 2011.

These factors helped lead to a 2.16 xFIP last season, the best of his career.