The Closer Carousel: Who’s next in line?

Each year we all play the closer carousel.  Even those who draft big name guys to guarantee themselves they will have little problems get hit (looking at you Aroldis Chapman).  The best way to be prepared is to identify the guys who are struggling and look behind them to see who’s available.  Last year we all knew it was just a matter of time before Brandon League was removed from the closer role, but how many people were shrewd enough to stash Kenley Jansen on their bench in advance.  John Axford hasn’t been great this year and the last few years have been a disaster.  Cody Allen (who many thought would be the closer before Axford was sighed) has been very good in the 8th inning; just like Jansen last year, how many of you found a spot for him in advance of the Axford demotion?

It’s this sort of procrastination and lack of foresight that separate the top teams from the bottom.  Last week Paul talked about relievers and strikeout rates, and a number of players he mentioned (Jansen, Uehara, K-Rod “the nickname is relevant again”, Rosenthal, Robertson) either took over the closer role last year or are closing this year.  Players like Jansen you know will take over eventually and players like Uehara are thrust upon us because of injury.  Regardless of how those two men got their chance at the 9th, you should have had them identified before it even got to that point.  Knowing who is next in line is important regardless of the team because while we can spot a potential demotion coming, we can’t anticipate injuries…but we can be prepared for them.

 Cody Allen was supposed to be the man in Cleveland, but those plans changed when the Indians signed Axford. Originally in this spot I talked about Axford and how it was only a matter of time before Cleveland ate that 4.5 million dollar contract and did what was right for the team.  That time came yesterday afternoon, but instead of naming a closer the Indian uttered those words we all hate to hear “Closer by Committee”.  I say that is all smoke and mirrors as Allen is the clear choice to close games here.  Allen’s current line is better than his final line from last year and he’s shown improvement everywhere. 

Year IP W SV HD K ERA  WHIP BAA
2013 70.1 6 2 11 88 2.43 1.25 .233
2014 14.2 2 1 7 22 1.84 1.16 .222

If you play in a holds league I’m sure Allen is rostered somewhere.  If Allen is available in your league, go out and grab him now.  Even if he is not named as the closer, Allen puts up good enough numbers to be owned in mixed leagues as well.  He should be started in all leagues with 12 or more teams.

Just like Cody Allen, Danny Farquhar was set to be the closer in Seattle, but the Mariners went out and signed Fernando Rodney to an obscene 2 year 14 million dollar contract.  The money is in line with todays salaries, but for that kind of money you would have expected something better in return.  Rodney had a rocky start but has settled in as of late, but given the numbers he’s put up over his career one has to wonder when they will start going south again.  Farquhar had some hiccups last year leading the M’s to sign Rodney, but he has been stellar in the setup role.  Should Rodney become injured or revert to his old ways while Seattle is in a playoff hunt, Farquhar will be the man to get the call.  There is no need to roster him right now, but keep him on your watch list.

Huston Street is having a phenomenal season and will not be losing his spot in the ninth; that is unless there is an injury, and this is Huston Street so it’s should only be a matter of time.  Last year Joaquin Benoit proved he’s more than capable of handling the closers role and just like Street, he is having a terrific year.  Should Street become sidelined for any length of time, Benoit is a virtual lock to take over the closer role for the Padres.  Unless you play in a holds league, you can probably leave Benoit on the waiver wire for now, but be prepared to pounce if you see a pothole forming in the street.

Everyone believed that Rex Brothers would be the closer in Colorado with the departure of Rafael Betancourt .  The Rox went out and signed 41-year-old LaTroy Hawkins dashing those hopes.  Hawkins doesn’t get many K’s and because he’s hittable the WHIP is a little high, but he is getting the saves.  Should Hawkins become injured or lose his job, the Rockies have another option besides brothers that seems poised to take over.  Adam Ottavino was a below average option as a starter, but he is quickly growing into a very good reliever.  The strikeout rate is improving, he seems to have conquered his walks issue and his H/9 is the lowest it’s been in his entire career.  He’s also outplaying Brothers right now; that doesn’t guarantee he will be next in line, but it should.

  IP W SV HD K ERA WHIP BAA
LaTroy Hawkins 12.1 1 9 0 5 2.92 1,38 .280
Rex Brothers 15.0 2 0 7 14 3.60 1.40 .208
Adam Ottavino 15.2 0 0 7 17 1.72 0.83 .196

Just like Cody Allen, Ottavino is someone that should be owned in holds leagues and his ratios and K’s make him a worthy stash in mixed leagues as well. 

Grant Balfour is getting the saves in Tampa, but he’s had some Ugly games mixed in there.  His 2 year 11 million dollar contract along with the success he’s had the past few years give him a long leash, but given that the Rays are in last I can see Balfour being on the block by summer and a change being made.  Jake McGee may not be the 8th inning guy, but he is pitching far better than Joel Peralta.  Looking at McGee’s numbers this year, I can’t find one negative thing to say about them.

  IP W SV HD K ERA WHIP BAA
Grant Balfour 13.1 0 6 0 10 4.73 1.43 .174
Joel Peralta 11.0 1 0 3 12 7.07 1.50 .268
Jake McGee 16.0 2 0 3 16 1.69 0.94 .200

If a change were made, putting Peralta in the 9th would be like replacing Balfour with…..Balfour.  Peralta is a good relief pitcher, but McGee is the future and the Rays are always looking towards the future.  Add McGee to your watch list and keep your eye on Balfour and the Rays.  McGee would be an immediate add should it look like a change is brewing.

Addison Reed is no immediate danger of losing his job and the Diamondbacks aren’t exactly racking up wins.  Even so, if Reed’s numbers don’t improve, one has to wonder how much longer Arizona will stick with him in the ninth.  Brad Ziegler isn’t a strikeout artist, but in the past 3 years he’s had an ERA under 2.5, a GB% over 70 and a FB% under 11.  His FB% is at 19.1 this year, but the rest of his numbers are on par or better than previous years.

IP HD K ERA WHIP BAA GB% LD%
18.0 6 14 1.00 0.89 .148 66% 14.9%

Reed has allowed 8 earned runs in 17.2 innings and has a career ERA over 4.0 (4.08 this year).  He’s only 25 so there is time to improve, but the ninth inning might not be the place for him right now while he’s honing his craft.  There has been no talk of replacing Reed, but there is the possibility given his numbers.  Ziegler’s ratios can help if you currently employ several of the bottom closers (and is a good own for holds leagues).  He might not ever get the closing gig, but I’d rather own him over someone like Grant Balfour (saves be damned).

 

Saving Nolan RyanBelow are my current closer rankings and the (alleged) player next in line to for save opportunities.  The format is a little different than what you might have become accustomed to in previous versions, but every now and again it’s good to change things up.

A number of the higher ranked closers will need an injury (or Tanya Harding incident) to remove them from their current role, while some of the lower ranked closers will probably put themselves out of work by their own doing.  If you’re looking for holds, the next in line guy is a good place to start.  For additional holds guys, I will cover them separately in the coming weeks.

 Job security (1 = All Clear, 2 = solid ground, 3 = shaky ground, 4 = rocky ground, 5 = Avalanche…RUN

  Closer

Security

Team Next in Line DL 
1 Craig Kimbrel 1 Braves Jordan Walden
 
2 Kenley Jansen 1 Dodgers Chris Perez
 
3 Greg Holland 1 Royals Wade Davis  
4 Koji Uehara 1 RedSox Junichi Tazawa  
5 *  Aroldis Chapman 1 Reds Jonathan Broxton  
6 Trevor Rosenthal 1 Cardinals Carlos Martinez  Jason Motte
7 Glen Perkins 1 Twins Jared Burton  
8 Francisco Rodriguez 1 Brewers  Will Smith Jim Henderson
9 Sergio Romo 1 Giants Santiago Casilla  
10 Huston Street 1 Padres Joaquin Benoit  
11 Joe Nathan 1 Tigers Al Alburquerque  
12 David Robertson  2 Yankees  Shawn Kelley  
13 Rafael Soriano  2 Nationals Tyler Clippard  
14 Addison Reed  2 Diamondbacks Brad Ziegler  
15 Jonathan Papelbon  2 Phillies Antonio Bastardo  
16 Steve Cishek  2 Marlins A.J. Ramos  
17 Joakim Soria  2 Rangers Alexi Ogando  
18 Tommy Hunter  2 Orioles Darren O’Day  
19 Mark Melancon 2 Pirates Tony Watson Jason Grilli
20 LaTroy Hawkins  3 Rockies Adam Ottavino  
21 Hector Rondon  3 Cubs Justin Grimm Pedro Strop
22 *  Casey Jannsen 3 Blue Jays Brett Cecil  
23 Fernando Rodney  3 Mariners Danny Farquhar  
24 Ernesto Frieri 3.5 Angels Joe Smith  
25 Matt Lindstrom 3 White Sox Daniel Webb Nate Jones
26 Grant Balfour  3 Rays Jake McGee  
27 Jim Johnson Athletics Luke Gregerson  
28  3 Indians Cody Allen  
29 Kyle Farnsworth  5 Mets Carlos Torres  
30 Chad Qualls  5 Astros Anthony Bass Jesse Crain

* should be back any day now

Short of an injury, the jobs of all the players ranked 1-18 are safe.  It’s really 19 as Melancon is safe until Grilli returns, and once that happens Grilli joins the ranks of closers with job security.  Given a little more time and Hector Rondon could join those ranks and round out the top 20.  Some of the remaining teams/players were discussed above while reviewing set up men, as for the remaining players/teams:

In Toronto, Sergio Santos was supposed to be the man to challenge and potentially take over for Casey Janssen.  Walks and home runs derailed that notion and Santos was replaced in the ninth by Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil.  Both men are errelivant now as Janssen is several days away from returning.  If Janssen is sitting on waivers in your league (slim chance, but check anyway), he’s a stable body for your pen.  Brett Cecil is a good name to own as well if you play with holds.  His WHIP is a little high thanks to an extra few walks, but his strikeout totals rival top closers Jansen, Kimbrel and K-Rod.

The White Sox were anticipating the return of Nate Jones, but he suffered a setback that required minor back surgery.  Matt Lindstrom will continue to hold down the ninth inning for now.  Lindstrom walks a few to many and can be hittable at times, but beggars can’t be choosers when you’re dealing with the bottom of the barrel.  Should he stumble, Daniel Webb should be the man to step in.  Webb intrigues me.  His walk rate is a little high, but he’s shown tremendous improvement since being moved out of the starting role in the minors.

The closer situation in Oakland is a little messy.  It looks as if Jim Johnson has gotten his job back, but that’s tentative right now.  Luke Gregerson is lurking right around the corner should Johnson falter again (like earlier this week when he allowed 4 runs in less than an inning).
The Angels Joe Smith has done a good job this year as a setup man and closer, but the team seems set on having Ernesto Frieri as their closer.  Frieri has big strikeout potential, but he has issues with control and the long ball (17 home runs in 83 innings going back to last year).
Niether Johnson or Frieri (despite his high K’s) are worth rostering unless you are desperate for saves, and Gregerson & Smith have little value unless they are closing.  I’d hold Smith & Gregerson if you own them until things work out on their respective teams, but I’d dump (or trade) Johnson & Frieri.

The Mets are running with Kyle Farnsworth as their closer.  He hasn’t been horrible but nothing to write home about.  He’s rosterable, but his job is far from secure.  As for who’s next in line, Daisuke Matsuzaka is challenging Carlos Torres for the setup role so while Torres would be the logical choice to take over, nothing is set in stone here.

Over in Houston,  Chad Qualls is the closer by name only as Anthony Bass has also been said to receive save chances.  Neither man (nor anyone else in the bullpen) should be owned regardless of how bad you need saves.  Jesse Crain should take over the closer duties once he comes off the DL, and while he won’t be a great closer, he’ll at least be someone that shouldn’t hurt your ratios.  If you have a spare DL space (which is doubtful with all the injuries this year), Crain is worth a speculative stash if your bullpen is lacking.

Jim Finch

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The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.