Our Fantasy Assembly crew attempted the impossible in yesterday’s release of the 2015 Dynasty/Keeper Rankings for Relief Pitchers. We’ve all heard the saying that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Few of us understand this saying and those that do are liars and just asked Siri to look it up three seconds ago. I Siri’d it for you already and the saying basically suggests that the sure thing you possess is more valuable than the greater prize you are attempting to track down. This is often true but not necessarily when it comes to chasing saves in this little game of numbers we play. You see, there are no guarantees when it comes to tracking down saves.
Nothing is more agonizingly tough to predict in the world of fantasy baseball than the saves category. Hence the strategy of not paying for saves. In December a year ago, who would have predicted that Fernando Rodney would lead the league in saves or that the likes of Francisco Rodriguez, Zach Britton, Mark Melancon, Hector Rondon, Jenrry Mejia, LaTroy Hawkins, or Sean Doolittle would eclipse 20+ saves in 2014?
There are only so many Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and Greg Holland types to go around. 39 relief pitchers reached 10 saves in 2014. 15 of those to reach the 10-save mark were not selected in the top 30 relief pitchers on average in 2014 drafts according to ESPN’s ADP data. Going into next season we know who the elite options are and even the second and third tier options, but who are the veterans that might be overlooked or the young arms that might emerge as cheap sources of saves in 2015? The guys identified below didn’t finish the 2014 season as closers for their respective teams but I see each of these 15 options as solid bets to earn at least 10 saves next season:
Dellin Betances (Yankees): This really comes down to what the Yankees decide to do with David Robertson. At this time I see there being a 51% chance Betenaces gets the nod and gives his owners a shot at a Kenley Jansen level of production. My 51% guess comes from the Yankees inability to lock up their homegrown product, David Robertson during the 2014 season. After the season, Robertson declined their qualifying offer and has now hit the open market as the most highly coveted 9th inning man and he’s looking to lock up a huge contract. With the Yankees facing uncertainties in what Masahiro Tanaka may be able to provide in 2015 and still unsure if Hiroki Kuroda will return, their priority has to be placed heavily on starting pitching. The smart move would be to throw some money in the direction of Max Scherzer and go with a cheaper late inning option such as Sergio Romo or Jason Grilli that could fill the 8th inning role Betances locked down in 2014.
Brandon Boxberger (Rays): Coming off a season where he put up a 2.37 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, and 104 Ks in 64 innings pitched, Brad Boxberger could be yet another guy who could post a Kenley Jansen type of season in 2015 at a fraction of the investment. Standing in his way is Jake McGee and his 2014 leap to elite status. McGee ended the season with a 1.89 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 90 Ks in 71 innings pitched. What Boxberger has going for him is that he’s the right-handed option of the two. This really comes down to whether or not the Rays want to continue playing the role of contrarian and stick with a lefty 9th inning man or if they want to fall in line with every other team in the league outside of the Orioles and A’s and go with a righty option at the back-end of their pen. My best guess is that McGee and Boxberger will share the 9th inning role as the Rays play the matchup game and each will be good for 15+ saves in 2015.
Ken Giles (Phillies): Giles is the Phillies closer of the future. All he did in 2014 was arrive to throw 45.2 innings that led to a 1.18 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 64 Ks. He features an average fastball velocity of 97.2 MPH, topping out at 101 MPH and could be the righty version of Aroldis Chapman in the near future. The problem here is that the Phillies might be the worst run organization in baseball. Can someone please tell the Phillies’ brass that they have about as good a chance of competing in 2015 as a lactose intolerant man in a cheese scarfing contest? I have to think a trade of Jonathan Papelbon is coming either this winter or this summer and whenever that happens we should get a full launch of Ken Giles as closer.
Kevin Quackenbush (Padres): Quackenbush is not a flame thrower like some of the names that led off this list. His fastball averaged 91.2 MPH in 2014. However, he did have a set of six saves in 2014 while Joaquin Benoit missed some time and there’s a chance more save opportunities will be up for grabs in 2015. Benoit is in the final year of his deal and if the Padres fall out of contention as expected, he could become trade bait, clearing the path for Quackenbush. Like the panda heads in San Francisco the past couple years, I can see the people in San Diego busting out some Howard the Duck heads when Quackenbush takes the hill to close out a game.
Joe Smith (Angels): Huston Street is currently expected to hold down the Angels’ 9th inning role in 2015. Street has been a solid option for years now and should be expected to throw well as long as he’s healthy. You can also count on him to miss some time at some point of each year. When that happens, Smith will pick up the scrap saves as he did 15 times in 2014.
Sergio Romo (Free Agent): At this time, I see Romo as a better closer option than what currently exists in the pens of the Brewers, Blue Jays, Astros, and White Sox. He could possibly sign with the Diamondbacks, Rangers, or Cubs too and slide into the closer role as a cheap alternative for teams that miss out on the services of David Robertson. Sure, Romo was demoted from his 9th inning gig in San Francisco this past season but he rebounded to have a 1.80 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP in the second half. Romo is battle tested from three World Series runs and his veteran resume suggests more opportunities for saves could be in his future.
Rafael Soriano (Free Agent): Just about everything said above about Romo above applies to Soriano as well. I’ll just say that I trust Romo a tad more than I trust Soriano.
Jonathan Broxton (Brewers): Francisco Rodriguez is likely to leave as a free agent and Jim Henderson has some injury question marks to overcome, leaving Broxton as the best option left in the Brewer’s pen at this time. Broxton has held down the closer role before and his 2014 performance featured a 2.30 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. You might be surprised to know that despite Broxton’s success on the surface, he also tied for the league lead in blown saves this past season. There’s a solid chance the Brewers bring in someone to give Broxton some competition but they aren’t exactly a big market team that’s going to break the bank for a clear-cut closer like David Robertson.
Jason Grilli (Free Agent): Simply put, Grilli has held down the 9th inning role before and seems healthy going into the 2015 season. This alone should qualify him as a possible source of saves in 2015 depending on his landing spot in free agency.
Casey Janssen (Free Agent): Okay, so Janssen technically finished the season as a closer which goes against the criteria I outlined for this list. Still, I’m guessing most people don’t expect him to be in a prime position to earn saves in 2015. Janssen’s stuff has deteriorated but he still has 81 saves versus 10 blown saves the past three seasons. Experience alone could lead to more opportunities in the future.
AJ Ramos (Marlins): The Marlins are the most bipolar act in the game. They’re all in, and then they’re having a fire sale, only to be all in once again. Right now they appear to be heading in the direction of being all in. As it becomes apparent they aren’t quite ready to compete for a playoff spot in 2015, who knows which players might become available from this Jekyll and Hyde organization. Because of that, I’ll say there’s a fair chance another organization takes up interest in Steve Cishek which could open up the 9th inning role for Ramos.
Jordan Walden (Cardinals): With Pat Neshek and Jason Motte likely out of the picture and Carlos Martinez possibly ticketed for a spot in the Cardinals’ rotation, Walden could be next in line should Trevor Rosenthal continue looking like a high wire act.
Joakim Soria (Tigers): The Tigers put up with a lot from Joe Nathan in 2014. I doubt his leash will be that long in 2015. Barring a big free agent signing or trade, Soria is the obvious choice to see saves if Nathan has a repeat of his 2014 performance.
Bobby Parnell (Mets): Remember him? He was lost to Tommy John surgery at the start of the 2014 season but only has Jenrry Mejia standing in his way at the back-end of the Mets’ pen. That’s the same Mejia who luckboxed his way to a 3.65 ERA despite a horrid 1.48 WHIP in 2014. If the Mets don’t hit the free agent market to pad the back-end of their bullpen, Parnell should be earning saves for the Mets by mid-season at the latest.
Adam Ottavino (Rockies): Colorado or not, saves are saves and Ottavino could be in line to rack up some of them in 2015. For now, the closer role is being held down by LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins qualifies for the early bird special at Denny’s and had a Swinging Strike Percentage (SwStrk%) of 6.2% in 2014. Adam Ottavino is a big righty who pitched well in 2014 and averaged 94.3 MPH on his fastball. He posted a SwStrk % of 11.3%. If Tavares finishes the season as the Rockies’ closer then we made need to find out if their upper management is taking tips from the Phillies’ organization. The Rockies should clearly be in rebuilding mode and at some point they need to see what they have in guys like Ottavino.
Each of these guys are strong options to earn at least 10 saves in 2015 and any one of them could fall into an opportunity where they emerge as next season’s version of Sean Doolittle or Mark Melancon. In the case of guys like Dellin Betances, Brad Boxberger, and Ken Giles you might want to prioritize them as solid strikeout contributors who can help scrub your ERA and WHIP regardless of their bullpen role. Maybe your relief pitcher crystal ball is clearer than mine but I trust less than half of the projected closers at the time of this write-up. Like you, I’m going to have to invest in some of those “projected closers” in each of my drafts, but I’m also not going to start overpaying when the pool thins out. Instead of overpaying in my deeper formats for guys that might seem like they will offer you saves in the hand like Joe Nathan, Jenrry Mejia, and LaTroy Hawkins, I might wait it out and settle for two guys like Quackenbush instead.